Is it any surprise that this natural wonder features on practically every Vietnam visitor’s bucket list? Fecund and atmospheric, the Mekong Delta is one of the most expansive wetlands in Asia, formed by the vein-like tributaries of the river, where it idles into the Gulf of Thailand. This is an ecologically fragile place where humans have made huge inroads, yet beauty hangs on in there. Rare wildlife, abundant forests and low-level yet vibrant floating markets all await.
Phu Quoc, across from the Delta in the Gulf of Thailand, is a popular resort island. Its forests – protected as a National Park – are a refuge for hornbills, nocturnal lorises and long-tailed macaques. A lot of it is off-limits but visitors can wildlife-spot in the Khu Rung Nguyen Sinh Forest – or hike to the peak at Mount Heaven.
Packed your binoculars? Not far from Chau Doc city is Tra Su forest, a plantation left to run wild as a reserve in the 1980s. Now it’s a haven for birds, including threatened species such as the painted stork. Between September and November, you’ll see them early morning or late afternoon, when they’re most active and the forest floods. A canoe tour passes along leafy waterways spanned by romantic, rustic wooden bridges.
Above the vast flatness of the Mekong plains, 60km (40mi) or so from the city of Long Xuyen, Sam Mountain (Nui Sam) rises like an isolated blister of rock. It is a sacred site for Buddhists, encircled by a pilgrims’ village and speckled with dozens of pagodas and Buddha statues. Paths take you upwards to a temple at the broad peak. From up here, you can look out over patchworks of paddies cut with ribbons of water and groves of palms.
Travellers love this rural complex of camps, huts and jetties in the midst of Dong Thap Muoi wetlands close to the Cambodian border; particularly in the wet season, between September and November, when the flower ponds of lotuses are in bloom and locals offer canoe rides. Follow wooden causeways cut among the cajeput trees – known for their essential oils – and climb the observation tower for drone-worthy views over the wilderness.
The Mekong Delta delivers an intoxicating mix of drifting serenity and floating-market mayhem, the best way to absorb it all being a two-day cruise aboard a sampan. Most tours leave from Ho Chi Minh City and drift through the Mekong’s tangled backwaters, canals and floating villages, taking in Cai Be and Cai Ro markets along the way. Cabins and dining rooms, under palm-thatch canopies, are airy and cool at night. Bring plenty of repellent.
This is an updated rewrite of an article originally by Piumi Rajapaksha.