Mekong Delta has a water system that is over 33,500 miles long. The residents have built their lives around it, from the famous floating markets to the vast agricultural industries; a variety of fruits, flowers, and livestock grow in the region. It’s a place to nap in a hammock or drift downstream in a sampan. If you are visiting the Mekong Delta, you must see some of the following:
Opening early in the morning, and at its liveliest at around 5 a.m., this is the biggest floating market in the Mekong Delta. Here, clusters of boats sell all sorts of locally grown fruits and vegetables. There’s a bridge that serves as a great vantage point for photography. This is a wholesale market, so look at what’s tied to the long pole above the boat to see what they’re selling. Take your time to observe what life is like for those that live here – how they conduct their business, how they eat, drink, sleep, and live life on boats.
Can Tho is the fourth largest city in Vietnam and is surrounded by a system of sleepy canals. For a small fee, you can hire a rowboat for a few hours to tour these waterways, stopping at small workshops to see how rice paper and noodles are made by hand. Several rustic hotels offer rooms where you can relax with blissful views of the water.
This pagoda, located in My Tho, Tien Giang province, was built in 1849. The architecture is a melting pot of Chinese, Vietnamese, Khmer and European styles, and the site features various Buddha statues, a beautiful ornate gate built by craftsmen from Hue, mosaic decorations made out of broken pottery, and intricately detailed woodwork inside. Visit around 10 a.m. and you will hear the sound of monks chanting peaceful Buddhist prayer verses.
Phu Quoc is an island a bit out of the way and accessible by flight from Saigon. The most atmospheric and best-value place to dine on Phu Quoc island, Duong Dong’s busy night market has stalls of snacks, coconut ice cream and a parade of outdoor restaurants serving a delicious range of Vietnamese seafood, grills and vegetarian options. Quality can be mixed, so follow the discerning local crowd. A post-meal meander among the stalls of clothes, souvenirs and peppercorns is essential.
The Mekong Delta provides 70 percent of the fruit consumed throughout Vietnam, and there are plenty of fruit orchards scattered around the different provinces that make up the Delta. You will be able to find a wide variety of fruits including mango, grapefruit, guava, apple, jackfruit, dragon fruit, mangosteen, plums, durian and more being cultivated.
Cai Be is one of those places where almost every Mekong Cruise stops to explore the local attractions. Cai Be Orchard is the largest fruit orchard in the Mekong Delta. You can take a tour through the premises, and pick ripe fruit of the trees to eat right then and there.
Ba Chuc’s memorial, 25 miles south of Chau Doc, stands as a ghastly reminder of the horrors perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge. Between 18 April and 30 April 1978, the Khmer Rouge killed 3157 villagers here, leaving only two survivors. The memorial consists of two parts: the ossuary housing the skulls and bones of more than 1100 victims; and the memorial room next door, displaying harrowing post-massacre photos.
Tan Lap Floating Village is an eco-tourism site located in Long An province. Here, you can walk on elevated paths through a gorgeous cajuput forest or take a boat along the Rung Canal. You can also enjoy beautiful panoramic views of the forests from the observation tower, relish local dishes, participate in campfires, barbecues, picnics and other outdoor activities. November is the best time to visit — when the lotuses bloom, adding contrasting colors to all that greenery.
This small speck of an island in Ha Tien is covered in lush vegetation and with clear blue waters, has a sordid 500-year history as a pirate haven that only came to an end during the reunification in 1975. Today the inhabitants make their living from the sea. A paved motorbike trail circles the island; you can hike up to the hill temple and visit the tranquil beach. Rumors of pirate treasure have circulated for years, and in 1983 the army promptly expelled from Vietnam a couple of foreign treasure-seekers who arrived illegally by boat from Cambodia, equipped with metal detectors. The best beach on the island is Bai Bac on the northern coast, which also offers some local beach shacks to feast on fresh seafood. Going out on a fishing boat at night, you may see the sparkly shapes of fish shooting through the water, thanks to the phosphorescence phenomenon.
During the American War, the VC had a base in this forest, where top-brass VC lived in underground bunkers. The Americans never realized that the VC generals were living less than two miles from a US military base. Nowadays, a marvelous 20-minute canoe tour takes you past old bunkers and former minefields along a narrow canal loop choked with water hyacinths (luc binh) beneath the forest canopy. It’s an exquisite experience. A walking trail parallels the canal and allows you to duck into the Z- and L-shaped VC bunkers and admire the expertly hidden, tiny trap doors through which the VC disappeared underground.
Founded in 1847 on the site of an earlier shrine, the current structure of this Buddhist Temple on Sam Mountain dates from 1958. Aspects of its eclectic architecture, particularly its domed tower, reflect Hindu and Islamic influences. Its main gate is of traditional Vietnamese design, and on its roofline romp figures of lions and two dragons fighting for possession of pearls, chrysanthemums and lotus blossoms. The temple itself is guarded by statues of a black elephant with two tusks and a white elephant with six tusks. Inside are arrayed fine carvings of hundreds of religious figures, most made of wood and some with disco-light halos. The temple’s name, Tay An, means ‘Western Peace’.
Located on the bank of Tien River and surrounded by trees, this is a place where you can see over 400 species of snakes. You can also see how the venom is removed for use in medicines. There is a snake-breeding zone, as well as crocodiles and other species of birds and animals.
In a fantastic location facing the Can Tho River and decorated with huge, constantly burning incense coils, this Chinese temple with its fragrant, smoke-filled interior is set inside the Guangzhou Assembly Hall. It was originally built in the late 19th century to worship Kuang Kung, a deity symbolizing loyalty, justice, reason, intelligence, honor and courage, among other merits. Wait long enough and you’ll see how the incense coils are lit and hung on long poles. Approaching the engraved screen, the right side is dedicated to the Goddess of Fortune and the left side is reserved for the worship of General Ma Tien. In the center of the temple is Kuang Kung flanked by the God of Earth and the God of Finance.
This wonderfully atmospheric 1895 house on the riverfront in Sa Dec was once the residence of Huynh Thuy Le, the son of a rich Chinese family who had an affair with Marguerite Duras in 1929, when she was only 15. She immortalized the romance in The Lover, eventually made into a film. Today those who plan to travel to Vietnam, often watch it to get “in the mood” and as a result, seek opportunities to visit the Delta.
The house is a Sino-French design and a treasure trove of nostalgia, with intricate interior woodwork, mother-of-pearl inlaid doors, heavy wooden furniture, stained glass windows, and original cement floor tiles made and hand-painted in France. In the entrance hall there are photos of the Le family as well as Marguerite Duras, and stills from the film itself. The story of Duras’ family and her complicated relationship have put Sa Dec forever on the literary map. But beyond the house on Nguyen Hue St., Sa Dec has countless mansions and ornate temples on its tidy riverfront streets. Stroll the streets along the river to appreciate the town’s architectural gems.
There are many small nurseries lining the river and canals here, each with a different specialty, although the town is most famous for its roses, while marigolds are sold in abundance to temples.
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