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Southern Vietnam

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Southern Vietnam covers the Mekong Delta, the extreme southern end of the Mekong River, and the area around Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam.

Mekong Delta, April 2002

As all deltas, it receives the bounty of the siltation from the upper Mekong, and as such is a very rich and lush area, covered with rice fields. It produces about half of the total of Vietnam's agricultural output (in fact the delta produces more rice than Korea and Japan altogether), and is the place for timeless sceneries of farmers planting or harvesting rice.

The Mekong splits in Cambodia into two main rivers, the Bassac (Hậu Giang) and the First river (Tiền Giang), then in Vietnam into a more complex system, creating a maze of small canals, rivers and arroyos interspersed with villages and floating markets.

Life in the Mekong Delta revolves much around the river, and all the villages are often accessible by river as well as by road.

The high times of life in the Mekong delta are the lunar new year (Tet, or Tết), and the mid-autumn festival (Tết trung thu), where children will set hundreds of candles on their way on the river on as many tiny skiffs.

If you know how to take your time, or are guided by an able guide, you will certainly enjoy your stay in the Mekong delta.

Cities[edit]

Other destinations[edit]

If the most populated places are rather much visited, as soon as you get away from the crowds, you are getting in touch with the nice people of the delta and their always welcoming attitude. Consider a trip to sleepy Ben Tre just over the river from My Tho or Khmer-culture influenced Soc Trang in the very southwest to get that real life feeling.

Talk[edit]

In the villages there are not many people who speak languages other than Vietnamese or Khmer, though in the cities you will find more that do. Try to bring a book with common phrases if you are venturing out away from a tour or into places that are not listed in your guidebook.

Get in[edit]

The Mekong delta is near Ho Chi Minh City, and Can Tho (Cần Thơ) is merely 4 hours' drive away, so it is easy to access by road, although there is only one main road, and as such it is rather crowded.

There are some flights between Ho Chi Minh City and Rach Gia, and also between Ho Chi Minh City and the island of Phu Quoc. Rach Gia can also be reached by boat or plane from Phu Quoc.

There used to be hydrofoil connections from Ho Chi Minh City to My Tho(Mỹ Tho) then to Can Tho(Cần Thơ) in about 4 hours, but the option does not exist any more. Alternatives are speed boat transfers, or for those who would enjoy unspoilt nature, cruises from Cai Be(Cái Bè) to Can Tho or back.

The Mekong delta is also a natural passageway from southern Vietnam to Cambodia, which can be entered overland or by river. Visas on entry to Cambodia are possible at some (but not all) entry points, however visas for Vietnam must be obtained in advance.

You can travel from Phnom Penh, Cambodia's capital, to Chau Doc on a boat-bus journey. You can also enter at the border crossing on the way from Kampot in southern Cambodia to Ha Tien. Bus connections are also now available between Phnom Penh and Can Tho.

By tour[edit]

There are many tours available that start in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). Some of them end in Saigon, others in Phnom Penh (also available the other way around: Phnom Penh to Saigon). You can book them in travel agencies and hotels in Vietnam and Cambodia. There are only a few tour operators available, however, it can be difficult to find out what tour operator is behind the tour you want to book, as many travel agencies pretend that it is their own tour and prices between agencies can vary significantly for the same tour. To make things a bit more complicated, tour operators often share buses and boats when they don't have enough travelers and they combine different tours (e.g. a 2 day and a 3 day Mekong Delta tour). You may have to change the buses often. Everybody seems to sell the same kind of tour, which is of pretty bad quality.

Beware of Mekong Tours. Their two day tour with crossing Cambodia-Vietnam border means that you spend only 4 hours on a boat. "we take air-con bus to the boat dock. First we take a cruising trip on Mekong river from Cambodia to Vietnam" in reality means, that you spend 3 hours in a bus to go to border, cross it on foot and the boat will be waiting on the other side. Next day you will visit fish farm and Cham minority village, all of them no further than 1 km from Chau Doc, after 1 hour you will be back to Chau Doc. In this one hour you will see both attractions and will travel between them.

Get around[edit]

Bus[edit]

Travel by bus in southern Vietnam is quite convenient. There are extensive connections between most cities and towns, just go to any town's bus station and you should be able to find bus connections to where you want to go, or at least pretty close to it.

The fastest means of bus travel is by express bus. There are a few companies that run express buses, but the most popular and reliable is Mai Linh. They operate green minibuses that leave promptly at the scheduled time and arrive at the destination the fastest. They have air conditioning, though it's not always strong enough to keep the cabin cool. While the buses go the fastest, they also have a reputation for driving the most dangerously. Though accidents with buses are rare, the ride on an express bus will likely be more stressful than on a local bus.

Local buses will be large and old and will belch exhaust. They will be slightly cheaper than express buses, but may be a more interesting experience if you enjoy the grittier aspects of local culture. The buses usually won't have air conditioning, but they'll keep the windows down so sometimes they can end up being cooler than the express buses. They will make frequent stops along the road to pick up travelers. If you want to get off somewhere between the main cities, you should take a local bus. Express buses will only stop at bus stations.

Bicyle and Motorbike[edit]

The Mekong Delta is a great place to explore by bicycle and motorbike. The terrain is flat and the roads are well-maintained. Traffic isn't too heavy, especially on back roads off Highway 1A. The road between Chau Doc through Long Xuyen to Can Tho is easily the most dangerous in the delta, with quite a lot of big trucks and buses rumbling along a narrow road. Be careful when riding along this stretch and hug the edges of the road.

You'll never have to worry about finding a place to sleep. You'll never be more than 30-40 kilometres from a town with a guest house(nha nghi) or hotel (khach san). If the biking gets too tiring, you'll also find cafes at least every 4-5 kilometres where you can rest and have a drink. There are also mechanic shops every few kilometres where you can get flat tires and other mechanical problems repaired.

A lot of local life happens just next to the road in the delta, so exploring on two wheels can be a great way to get closer to it. You'll see farmers working their fields and walking their buffalos home in the evening. People dry rice, coconut husks, lemongrass and other spices on the side of the road. There will be plenty to see!

You can rent a motorbike in most of the bigger cities in the delta. Renting a bike for a longer trip around the delta might be difficult to work out, but you can also buy a cheap bike for just over $100. There's no need to buy a fancy bike, you can ride comfortably on a cheap bike as the rides aren't too challenging. You can also usually rent bikes in each town for day trips, or maybe even for a few days at a time.

Most of the interest of the place resides in its floating markets, and the life around the rivers criss-crossing the area; also the national parks and nature reserves.

It is possible to take tours on small boats around My Tho (Mỹ Tho) and the islands north of Ben Tre (Bến Tre); around Cai Be (Cái Bè) and the An Binh peninsula; and around Can Tho (Cần Thơ). Both Cai Be and Can Tho feature floating markets.

Delta Adventures run 2 & 3 day tours. The 3 day misses much of the Cai Be (Cái Bè) and the An Binh peninsula. It is a long trip home on day 3, and avoid it if you can. 2 day appears to be a little better, although again the trip home is 7 hours by boat, followed by 3 on a bus. I'd try for a land based return, around 6 hours.

It is also common for the guide to offer upgrades during the trip, at cheaper than the tour asking price, so avoid buying the expensive version,as an upgrade is waiting in the wings.

It is also possible to get away from the main road and into the more remote rivers on board larger river cruisers for discovery cruises of the area in comfort.

Mt. Cam is a notable but not very advertised attraction worth seeing. It is a mountain in the An Giang province where you can either hike or take a motorbike tour to the top to see a lake, a very large buddha statue and a temple with a few pagodas.

How to get there - Vinh Long[edit]

Vinh Long is 70km from Mytho, 34km from Can Tho and 136km from Ho Chi Minh City. The inter-province bus station is 5km from the centre of Vinh Long. There are buses between Vinh Long and Ho Chi Minh City, Can Tho, Mytho, Long Xuyen, Sa Dec, Rach Gia, and other Mekong Delta destinations. National Highway No.1A and No.53 also runs through the province.

How to get there - Can tho[edit]

Cantho is 34km from Vinh Long, 62km from Long Xuyen, 63km from Soc Trang, 104km from Mytho, 116km from Rach Gia, 117km from Chau Doc, 169km from Ho Chi Minh City and 179km from Camau.

Road: Cantho has National Highway No.1A, 91, 80 linking to An Giang, Kien Giang provinces. Waterway: Cantho has Cai Cui international seaport. The city is the centre of waterway network of Mekong Delta. There are no longer any daily hydrofoils between Ho Chi Minh City and Cantho City. Airline: There is Tra Noc Airport.

How to get there - Soc trang[edit]

Soc Trang is 231km from Ho Chi Minh City, 60km from Can Tho. National Highways No.1A links the province and Can Tho, Bac Lieu.

Do[edit][add listing]

Sam Mountain, a few kilometres from Chau Doc, is a regional Buddhist pilgrimage site and is a good place for a hike. The "mountain" is only 160 metres tall and there are steps of concrete and stone all the way to the top. You'll find numerous colorful temples as you climb to the top, and there are many cafes along the way where you can relax with a fresh coconut or glass of milk coffee. If you can, save your cafe break until you get near the top, where you can relax in a hammock and enjoy the breeze while looking out over the delta and even into neighboring Cambodia. Sam Mountain is the only hill for a long way in every direction, so you can get a great view of Chau Doc and the patchwork or rice fields run through by canals all around.

Phu Quoc Island is the adventure center for the delta area. You can go scuba diving or snorkeling here, though there aren't so many fish left nowadays. Nha Trang, in central Vietnam, has more marine life to see. Phu Quoc is best for exploring by motorbike. There are roads covering a good portion of the island, and they're generally passable as long as it hasn't been raining too much. There are few signs, though, so bring a map and find out how to ask for directions.

The roads on Phu Quoc are mostly compacted dirt and you can't travel very fast, so be sure to give yourself plenty of time before sunset if you're planning to go out exploring, especially in the northern part of the island which is sparsely populated. If you do go out, though, you can ride through some otherwise untouched forest and go for at least 15 kilometres without seeing another bike, which is surely a record in southern Vietnam. The road that hugs the western coast of the island is great to drive along in the evening to enjoy the sunset.

Eat[edit][add listing]

  • Nem Nuong Thanh Van, 17 Hoa Binh St, Can Tho. very famous for its "nem" or spring roll, grilled pork rolled in rice sheet with vegetable, herbs and served with dipping sauce.  edit
  • Nam Bo Restaurant, 50 Hai Ba Trung St, Can Tho. beautiful restaurant set in a French style villa with Hau river view from second floor, good food and so is the service.  edit

Drink[edit][add listing]

Sleep[edit][add listing]

  • Hotel Xoai (Value mini-hotel in Can Tho City), 93 Mau Than Street, Xuan Khanh, Ninh Kieu, Can Tho City, Vietnam (Just around the corner of Cantho University main campus and opposite Quang Duc Pagoda.), +84 (0) 907 65 29 27 (), [1]. checkin: 2pm; checkout: 12pm. Young and friendly atmosphere. 23 compact rooms with double or single beds, private bathroom with shower, toilet, fan, air conditioning, phone. Rooms have windows with views to the University or Pagoda. Excellent free wifi throughout the hotel. On the roof terrace guests can relax in a cozy hammock. Helpful staff, moderate prices for tours, no fees on bus bookings and lots of tips for travels in Vietnam. US$10/15/20/26. (10.031389,105.775000) edit
  • Lazi Beach Resort, Ly Thai To Street, Tan Tien, Lagi, Binh Thuan, Vietnam, +84 62 387 4458, [2]. Mom Dac Chim Lazi Beach Resort & Spa is a place for relax, with beautiful sence and fresh enviroment. Emerges like a mirage, an oasis sat between the beautiful stretch of beach and famous sand dunes beside the East China Sea.  edit
  • Mekong Lodge Eco-resort, Hamlet5, Dong Hoa Hiep, Cai Be, Tien Giang, Mekong Delta, +84 933 449 391, [3]. Clean room of traditional setting, rustic design with characters, relaxing atmosphere and surroundings and polite local staffs. from US$60.  edit

Stay safe[edit]

Don't swim in the river itself, as there is a chance of picking up parasites. Bring repellent and sun-screen with you. Make sure hotel has mosquito net. Also, as you will travel by boat and ferry quite often in Mekong Delta, be careful when embarking or disembarking. Check out best time to visit Mekong Delta and stay tuned to weather forecast for flood news in the area if any. Then just enjoy your trip!

Get out[edit]

Most travellers visit Mekong Delta as a two or three day trip from Ho Chi Minh City. After Mekong Delta, it is best to travel to Phu Quoc or Cambodia via Chau Doc. You may also fly out of Mekong Delta via Can Tho airfield.



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