Mekong Delta lies just South of Ho Chi Minh City aka Saigon, from Ho Chi Minh City till the southernmost tip of Vietnam. Famous for its muddy waters of Mekong river and floating markets, Mekong Delta is a must visit while traveling to Southern Vietnam. When traveling to Vietnam by air, you will most probably land in one of the two major international airports, Tan Son Nhat International Airport of Ho Chi Minh City in the south or Noi Bai International Airport of Hanoi in the north of the country. Be sure to spend a few days in Mekong Delta after you check out Saigon which usually takes just a day or two with most of its attractions limited to the central area around District 1 of the city.
1. Rent a motorbike and ride through countryside Mekong
If you are an adventure lover, renting a motorbike is the way to go. There are tons of bike rental shops in Pham Ngu Lao and Bui Vien streets of the backpacker area in District 1. Even in other areas of the city such shops are easy to spot while walking down the streets. I chose to buy a motorbike as I was gonna spend a whole year in Vietnam, which is a better idea if you are gonna spend a month or more traveling in Vietnam or you plan to depart from another city in Central or North Vietnam. You can easily sell it anywhere for a few dollars less, or to another traveler. Just be sure to keep the vehicle registration copy with you at all times.
2. Cu Chi Tunnels
One and a half hour ride from District 1 of Saigon towards the Cambodian border lie the Cu Chi tunnels from the Vietnam war era. Every one of the dozens of travel agents on the Pham Ngu Lao street provides a half day trip to the infamous war-torn Cu Chi tunnels. Choose your day and time with one of them and report 15 minutes early from the departure time. You will be given a slip/ticket with departure time and place mentioned. Furthermore, one of their guys will walk you to the bus that will depart from the Pham Ngu Lao street itself or the bus station at the end of the street.
The tunnels extend over 250 km underground in the rural town of Cu Chi. Yet only a few small tunnels are accessible to crawl through. However, you need to be careful and think if you can make the nearly 100 m crawl as the tunnels are tight, dark and filled with bats. Some of the weapons including camouflage traps used by Vietnamese and French soldiers are on display. It’s worth a visit only if you are interested in crawling through a tunnel.
3. Backwaters Boat Ride and Floating Markets
A boat trip through the muddy waters of Mekong river is something that can’t be missed while traveling to Mekong Delta. In fact, it’s the only thing that majority of people travel to Mekong Delta for. Most floating markets open only in the morning. It’s best to take a boat trip early in the morning to visit the floating markets. A normal boat ride is around 4 hours and costs 300k -500k VND i.e. approximately 15-20 USD. It will also take you to some orchards and factory visits where they make stuff like coconut candy. You will get to taste samples of herbal and honey teas, snake wine and several types of candies.
I took a boat ride from 7 am – 11 am in the Cai Be floating market, barely a 5-minute walk to the river coast from my hotel. The town is small and walkable from anywhere. You can choose to visit one or more of the following floating markets in Mekong Delta:
Cai Rang floating market in Can Tho
Cai Be floating market between Vinh Long and Tien Giang
Phung Hiep floating market in Nga Bay
Tra On floating market in Vinh Long
Nga Nam floating market in Soc Trang
Long Xuyen floating market in An Giang
4. My Tho
My Tho is the first town you visit when traveling to Mekong Delta from Ho Chi Minh City. It’s just a couple of hours drive from the central District 1 of Ho Chi Minh. It has a newly built wide path alongside Mekong river lined up with restaurants. I strolled along the pathway looking at the river and the large beautiful bridge. I enjoyed a local fried rice delicacy in the evening, sitting next to the river, taking in the view. Next morning, I visited the Vinh Trang temple for a couple of hours.
5. Tra Vinh
Tra Vinh was the third town I visited during my trip to Mekong Delta. If you want to get an authentic feel of the culture of a small town in Mekong Delta, this is the place to go. You won’t be bumping into any other foreigners or even local tourists. The guest house I stayed at, hadn’t seen a visitor in a few months. It was quite evident from the spider net condition of the room. I had to get the bed sheet changed as it had some lizard poop lying on it.
I took a walk on the path built alongside the river during the evening, crossed a bridge and a bought some tropical fruits from the vegetable market along the other side of the river. Walking further into the town, I munched on a vegetable cheese Banh Mi sandwich. It cost me a mere 12k VND, that’s half a dollar, even with extra Go cheese.
6. Buddhist Temples
A trip to Mekong Delta is incomplete without checking out a Buddhist Temple. I would recommend the Vinh Trang temple in My Tho. There are numerous statues, paintings and antiques to feed your eyes. Two huge white Buddha statues, a laughing Buddha and a lying Buddha are on the outside of the main temple building. The architecture of the temple in itself is stunning.
7. Sugarcane juice
Every other roadside cafe in Mekong countryside has a sugarcane juice stall. A glass of iced cold sugarcane juice is something you need to refresh yourself from the scorching heat of Mekong Delta. It’s known as Nuoc(water) Mia(sugarcane) in Vietnamese and costs 5k or 10k VND. What better way to satisfy that sweet tooth! I stopped my motorbike on a roadside cafe whenever it felt too hot and enjoyed a Nuoc Mia lying on a hammock. Yes, most of the country cafes have hammocks, some even more than they got chairs.
Alternately, you can always have a cold coffee or coconut juice.
8. Coconut Candy
Missed some candy while in Vietnam? Mekong Delta has got you. I noticed 3 big open-air candy shops while driving just outside Ben Tre town, on my way from My Tho to Tra Vinh. They got several flavors of coconut candies, most of them toffees. A box of 50-100 candies would cost you 25k – 80k VND. You can also get a gift packed box to take back home for your loved ones. I bought a pack of 50 candies in 3 flavors for 30k VND. Alternately, you can taste one during a boat trip and see how they are made in a factory.
9. Snake wine and herbal tea tasting
Are you a fan of wine tasting? Try a shot of snake wine during your factory visit included in the backwaters boat trip. Wine is stored in glass jars with a snake literally floating inside the jar. If you really like it and got money, you can buy that expensive bottle. It’s also available to buy in some shops and shopping malls in Ho Chi Minh City.
In addition to wine, you can also try herbal teas like Jasmine tea made from fresh honey straight outta beehives.
10. Phu Quoc Island
Missing that tropical sunny beach? It’s time to head further south of the mainland. Phu Quoc is the largest island in the country with two farthest points less than 60 km. An hour’s flight from Ho Chi Minh City would take you to the center of Phu Quoc island. Nearly half the island is labeled as a national park. You can enjoy luxury resort stays on the sandy beaches. Also, you can see plenty of marine life including unique turtle species and corals.
Furthermore, you can check out other places in Mekong Delta including Sa Dec, Bac Lieu, Ca Mau, Ha Tien, Soc Trang, Rach Gia, Chau Doc, Long Xuyen and Ha Tien.