Top Things to See & Do in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam

Mekong Delta | © Mack Male/Flickr
Mekong Delta | © Mack Male/Flickr
Photo of Alex Robinson
28 July 2021

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.

Enjoy a romantic evening at Ninh Kieu Wharf

Park
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Colorful night walking bridge in Can Tho, Vietnam. This is Ninh Kieu wharf area along the waterway center in the Mekong Delta from the early 19th cent
© Thoai Pham / Alamy Stock Photo
In Can Tho city, find peace at this flower-filled park overlooking the Song Hau river. It’s most beautiful at night when the scent of jasmine lingers and walkways sizzle with food stalls. The other eye-catcher is a sinuous pedestrian bridge topped with two giant replica lotus flowers, shimmering green and red on the rippling surface. Couples court strolling arm in arm to Cai Khe, an islet with pretty views of Ninh Kieu and the city skyline.

Browse Cai Rang Floating Market

Market, Vegetarian
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Cai Rang floating market at the Mekong Delta, Can Tho, Vietnam, Indochina, Southeast Asia, Asia
©Yadid Levy / robertharding / Alamy Stock Photo
Just a 6km (4mi) voyage from Can Tho, this floating market makes for a lively day trip and is a magnet for travellers with cameras – hence the crowds. Boats burst with watermelons, barges overflow with pineapples, tiny dugouts carry pigs and hawkers in conical hats yell their prices while bagging bundles of greasy banknotes. This is Cai Rang. Come early morning to see the best of the action, beat the tour buses and snap Instagrammable shots in golden light.

Stroll the brilliant Vinh Trang Pagoda

Buddhist Temple
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It’s a mesmerising sight, in bougainvillea-laced gardens by the Songgo river near Mỹ Tho city. The main structure, raised in the early 20th century, glitzily weds French-rococo mansion and Confucian prayer hall, opening onto an atrium that holds a Gongshi (scholar’s) rock encrusted with a miniature temple. Cloisters ring with giant bronze bells, effigies of scholar-saints sit shrouded in incense and two huge Buddhas bask in the grounds.

Shop at Cai Be Floating Market

Market, Vietnamese
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A decade ago, this beautiful sight in the small town of Cai Be was as big and busy as its counterpart Cai Rang. It’s quieter nowadays and you’ll need to arrive early for the best of the trading as people finish business before mid-morning heats up. For ease, visit from HCM City (an hour’s less travel time than from Cai Rang) and you’ll still get those snaps of locals balancing on barely-there dugouts as they buy bags of baguettes from bobbing barges.

Relax in Phu Quoc National Park

Natural Feature, Park
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Suoi Tranh waterfall in Phu Quoc, Vietnam
© Frank Fischbach / Alamy Stock Photo

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.

Disappear into Tra Su Mangrove Forest

Natural Feature
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traveler sightseeing over the traditional  boat in tra su forest, Mekong Delta travel, vietnam
© THANANIT SUNTIVIRIYANON / Alamy Stock Photo

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.

Sam Mountain

Natural Feature
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Temple at Sam Mountain, Mekong Delta, Vietnam, Indochina, Southeast Asia, Asia
© Matthew Williams-Ellis / robertharding / Alamy Stock Photo

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.

Tan Lap Village

Architectural Landmark
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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.

Tram Chim National Park

Park
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Before they were wrecked by agriculture, reed-bed ecosystems dominated the Mekong Basin. This is why Tram Chin – a government-decreed restoration project – is so internationally important. The nurtured wetland is a crucial habitat for rare species – you may spot the world’s tallest flying bird, the Sarus Crane. It gets busy so arrive early morning – or two hours before sunset on a weekday – when crowds are a trickle and the birds most active.

Sampan Cruise

Architectural Landmark
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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.

These recommendations were updated on July 28, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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