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A Guide To The Red River Delta In Vietnam

Small fishing boat at sunset near the bridge

In the north of Vietnam lies the Red River, the second-largest in Vietnam, famed for its terracotta hues that give it its name, and its delta, one of the highest populated areas in the whole country. Steeped in history and of great importance for so many reasons, this short guide aims to add even more color to the remarkable Red River Delta.

Where is the Red River Delta? 

The Red River Delta is a strategically important area for the economy, foreign affairs, society, defenses, and politics. It spans roughly 120 km long and a huge 140 km wide in the center of northern Vietnam. The river rises in China’s province Yunnan and passes course 1,175 km southeast through tapering gorges, where it realigns its route to enter Vietnam where, after flowing through the capital city of Hanoi it discharges to the Gulf of Tonkin. Tourists visiting Hanoi often add the Delta and its villages to their itinerary.

Most of the region is no more than three meters above sea level, some of it even one meter or less! This has a simple cause and effect – there is a phenomenal risk factor for flooding in the immediate and surrounding areas. Nearby canals help protect the delta from the floodwaters.

The Red River is used as a main highway and mode of transport between Vietnam and China. This integral transportation route has been used by the local communities for centuries. The river contains a large quantity of silt – this proportion of soil is generated from the surrounding lands, including the red lands from where it takes its name. Traveling down the river the material is deposited in the river’s delta, a chunk of environment that spans over 7000 square km. The regional biodiversity is distinguished by the flat topography of delta, midland, and some mountains including substantial mineral resources such as coal and limestone.

The Red River Delta upholds a rather fluctuating volume throughout the year and has become famously known for its remarkable flooding in history. In 1971 there was a huge flood killing 500 people in the surrounding areas with damages causing an effect to a further 2.7 million. Unfortunately, due to the time period, there was a crossover with the Vietnam Civil War, causing little documentation to have been made around this subject. We do however know that the destruction wiped out valuable crops causing further hardship during this horrifying time.

River surrounded by hills

Red River Delta karst formations

Community and Lifestyle

A total of eight provinces are combined with two municipalities to create a mass population of almost 23 million people. This is a shockingly high body count for such a small area! Given that the Delta utilizes only 5% of Vietnam’s real estate a massive 20% of the entire countries population lives here. Due to such a large population, the living spaces are generally very closely packed, limiting the improvement of living standards. Historically noted and still to modern-day up to 80% of the inhabitants here work in the agriculture field. Most of the land in the Red River Delta is dedicated to rice cultivation, making this area the second most important rice-producing area in all of Vietnam (the first being the Mekong River).

Other crafts have been learned by natives to produce fine silks, wooden furniture, and even pottery. Generally speaking, locals in the area choose to wear clothes of simple style and color and are elegant, spiritual, hardworking people. Residents here enjoy Vietnamese cuisines inspired by Chinese and European counterparts in addition to their cultural activities; folk games, Cheo singing, and water puppet shows, a tradition that dates back as early as the 11th century.

Sampan on the river

Boating on Red River


The region has long been famous for the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Halong Bay at the mouth of the delta, but the Red River delta itself is now opening up to tourism and Red River cruises are available. It is very much worth considering when creating the itinerary of your Vietnam vacations.


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This entry was posted June 21, 2019
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