This post was last updated on February 20th, 2020 at 02:23 pm
A visit to Vietnam is not complete without a visit to the fascinating Mekong Delta. Despite the rapid development of the country, you can still see how people live here like they have been doing for centuries.
The endless waterways take you on a fascinating journey through vast green rice fields, sleepy villages, pagodas, khmer temples, mangrove forests, floating markets and a variety of inspiring dishes.
The Mighty Mekong Delta – Vietnam
The Mekong Delta feels like a kind of fairy tale where life takes place on and around the mighty Mekong. It is a miracle of Mother Nature that you end up in. Sailing in a boat you can see everything passing by. Floating houses, market, and schools are very normal here.
Visiting the Mekong Delta is one of the highlights of your trip through Vietnam. It is one of the best-known attractions in Vietnam.
TIP – In Ho Chi Minh City you can book different tours to the Mekong everywhere.
There are so many beautiful waterways in the Mekong Delta
A visit is an escape from the dizzying bustle of the cities in Vietnam. They say that in the Mekong Delta, life passes by only half as fast. Water buffalos relax in the rice fields, boats full of coconuts, fruit or rice pass by at a leisurely pace and through the narrow, brown rivers you can discover local life as a kind of fata morgana.
9 Fun Things to Do in the Mekong Delta
Tourists not only come here for the beautiful rice fields and the mighty Mekong Delta. What the Mekong Delta is mainly known for is the life around the river. The residents in the region are friendly and open.
And in addition to viewing the rice fields, you can taste colorful fruits, visit orchards or fish farms, see floating markets and villages, cook with the locals or do a “homestay” in one of the many traditional villages.
1. Visit the Floating Villages and Markets
The Mekong Delta is mainly known for its life on the water. Everything really happens here on and around the river. It is, therefore, not surprising that you will find many floating villages and markets here. The floating markets that you will find here are especially popular to visit.
A trip to the Mekong Delta would not be complete if you do not visit the floating markets. It is interesting to see how the residents of the Delta have built their lives around the water, live their daily lives, work, eat, earn money and even go shopping on the water. The floating markets have been around for more than 100 years!
The special thing is that the locals really use the Mekong. You will also find floating houses built on rafts and oil barrels. Because of this, there are complete floating villages. In addition to the floating villages, you will also find floating markets (such as in Bangkok) that you absolutely should not miss.
A floating market in the Mekong Delta. Everyone just comes together with their boat!
Markets You Should Visit
There are six floating markets in the Mekong Delta: Cai Rang, Cai Be, Phong Dien, Nga Bay, Nga Nam, and Tran On. These are spread over the various provinces of the Mekong Delta.
Cai Rang is the largest, most popular and also the one that is easiest to reach. The market is located in the province of Can Tho and starts around 3 a.m., but only really gets lively around 5 a.m. Here you can mainly find fruits and vegetables that are transferred from one boat to another.
2. Book a Mekong Delta Cruise
As soon as you search for the Mekong Delta on Google you will see images of the small traditional wooden boats (sampan). Everything is transported by boat. Because of this, it can get pretty crowded on the rivers.
Boats are the best way to explore the maze of rivers that are part of the Mekong Delta, and residents actually use these boats as taxis.
From Ho Chi Minh City, you can travel all the way to Ben Tre. You can also go by bus, but traveling by boat is more interesting. You can stop the boat anywhere. You can find rice fields, fruit orchards, special production houses, and river restaurants/cafés. The locals are also extremely friendly and sometimes they will invite you to their home. It is THE way to discover life in the Mekong Delta.
Mekong Delta Tours
If you are in the Mekong Delta you can step into a boat anywhere and let yourself be sailed around. If you’ve booked a tour in Ho Chi Minh, there is often already a boat trip included in the tour.
TIP – A trip with a sampan often costs you no more than $5 per person.
3. Boat Trip Through Tra Su Indigo Forest
Tra Su Indigo Forest is a flooded mangrove forest with an abundance of flora and fauna. September and October is considered the best time to visit Tra Su Indigo Forest because this is the flood season and it is very beautiful during this time.
4. Visit the Temples
Vietnam is not a country that’s known for its many temples. Yet there are a few to be found. In the region around Soc Trang and Tra Vinh, there are impressive buildings from the Khmer era. And these are fairly easy to visit. This region was in fact populated until the 17th century by the Khmer who built different settlements here.
Vinh Trang Pagoda
The Vinh Trang Pagoda is a large, quiet Buddhist temple near My Tho and is worth a visit when you are in town, especially during the morning prayer.
5. Learn to Fish From the Locals
You can learn to fish here if you want. You can fish exactly as we are used to, with a fishing rod. The locals fish in a different way; they fish while swimming. This activity is at its best from September to December because the water levels are higher during this period.
You can participate in the local’s way of fishing, although we wonder if it is very sensible. It might be wiser to just watch the locals with their giant nets trying to get the fish out of the water.
WARNING – Never just go into the water at the Mekong!
6. Rent a Bike
Although life here is largely on the water, there is also plenty to discover on the side and there is no better way to do that than by bike. The landscape around the Mekong Delta is very impressive.
Rent a bike (around $5) and cycle through forests, past green rice fields and the well-known vegetables and fruit gardens. In addition, it is nice to cycle along the many small villages with wooden houses. Life here is relaxed and everyone will be very welcoming to you, try waving at them!
7. Climb the Sam Mountain
About 6 kilometers from the city of Chau Doc on the Cambodian border lies the Sam Mountain. This is the highest mountain in the Mekong Delta and is mainly known for its beautiful view, but also for the stories and buildings. There are dozens of temples and pagodas, some of them even in caves.
You can take a short walk on Sam Mountain to visit the Khmer village and witness the daily life of people who live on the mountain. When you reach the top of the mountain, you will have a beautiful view. Not only of the Mekong Delta but also of Cambodia.
8. Taste Delicious Fruit
Mother Nature gave the Mekong Delta a wide range of tropical fruits such as oranges, mandarin, dragon fruit, mango, durian, jackfruit, coconut, and pineapple. There are few places in Vietnam where you can find fresher fruit than here. Many locals here also have their own garden where they grow fruit (and vegetables).
It is fun to listen to the host’s story and learn about how they grow fruit here. There are also some coconut plantations where you can learn all about the products that they can make using coconuts. If you’re a real daredevil you can also try snake blood (we haven’t tried it!)
TIP – Many tours in Ho Chi Minh City include these sights in their tours.
9. Walk Through the Bang Lang Stork Garden
Bang Lang Stork Garden is home to various species of storks and thousands of birds. At dusk, they fly and float across their breeding grounds. Turn up an hour before sunset to see this amazing view.
Mekong Delta Hotels
The Mekong Delta is a huge area and we can imagine that you don’t know where to start a visit. Fortunately, a lot of travel organizations in Ho Chi Minh City offer excursions to the Mekong Delta. A day trip is a good option to explore the region, but we recommend staying a bit longer so you can visit as many of these places as possible.
Can Tho is the most important city in the Mekong Delta. Although it is not very large, it feels like a metropolis after a few days of wandering in the backwaters of the Mekong. Can Tho can be seen as the economic, cultural, and transportation center of the Mekong Delta.
You can arrange many trips and tours from here. It is a bustling city with pleasant boulevards full of gardens. It is an attractive mix of narrow streets and wide boulevards.
Bang Lang is a beautiful area. It is a bird sanctuary with a beautiful view of the different birds that live here. There is a viewing platform to spot the birds. The best times to see this special spectacle are around sunrise and sunset.
TIP – It is close to Can Tho. You can walk there in around 30 minutes. Taking a taxi costs around 25,000 Dong (US $1).
Ben Tre is an absolute must. It has long had an isolated existence due to its location in the Mekong Delta. The construction of a bridge between My Tho and Ben Tre makes it a lot easier to reach today. This has not (yet) led to a massive flow of tourists.
The town is picturesque on the waterfront with old buildings. The city is also great to explore on foot because there is not much to see in Ben Tre. The reason people go here is for the environment. Boat trips are very popular here and can be arranged everywhere. You can take the bus from Can Tho to Ben Tre. This will cost around 65,000 Dong.
My Tho is about a 2-hour drive from Ho Chi Minh City, making it a popular day trip destination. You can take a boat trip here and view various colorful temples. Unfortunately, My Tho lacks the special floating markets that are present in the nearby Can Tho.
Hotel or Homestay?
Because the Mekong Delta attracts many visitors, a wide range of accommodations is available. Depending on your budget and travel style, you can choose between luxury resort hotels, simple hostels and cozy homestays.
If you are looking for a nice retreat where you can enjoy the beautiful scenery and benefit from great facilities such as swimming pools and spas, then a hotel or resort is the best choice.
For travelers who want to get close to the residents of the Mekong Delta, a homestay is probably the best option. This means that you will be staying at someone’s home, sharing meals and maybe even taking a private tour with your Vietnamese host family.
How to Get to the Mekong Delta
You can get there by plane, but this is quite pricey and the distance is easy to cover by bus, scooter or car. Most tourists travel from Ho Chi Minh City to the Mekong Delta by bus.
To the Mekong Delta by Bus
From Ho Chi Minh City, buses run to the Mekong from Mien Thay bus station every day. Most buses go to My Tho, the gateway to the Mekong. You can also travel to Bent Tre. This is a direct connection through the newly constructed bridges, it is not necessary to take the ferry.
TIP – It will cost you around 125,000 Dong and the journey takes 3 hours. You can buy a bus ticket at the station or at your accommodation.
Best Time to Visit the Mekong Delta
The best time to visit the Mekong Delta is from December to April. The sky is crystal clear, the landscape is lush and the water is calm. It can be hot and humid from June to September. This also means that nature is beautifully green and there is a lot of tropical fruit available, for which the Mekong Delta is known.
In October and November, you should expect occasional floodings, especially in remote areas around Dong Thap and Tra Vinh. Therefore, stay informed of the regional weather forecast before you leave for the Mekong in these months.
One of the best times of the year to visit the Mekong Delta is during Tet (Vietnamese New Year). Celebrations take place everywhere, giving the area an authentic Vietnamese feeling.
Average temperature and rainfall in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam
Transport in the Mekong Delta
If you are going to travel independently through the Mekong Delta, you must be prepared to catch a local bus from time to time. And we can tell you, they ain’t so bad! The buses do not have air conditioning, but you can open the window that breeze from the outside ensures that you do not get overheated.
The bus stops regularly to drop people off and pick them up, so it does take a little longer. The advantage is that it is really cheap. For about 2 US dollars per person (including luggage) you can cover 40 kilometers (about 25 miles).
If you don’t like to travel like this by yourself, you can travel with Futa buses. This bus company has good buses with air conditioning. You can buy tickets online or simply at the bus station. We only used Futa once, because they had no connections between Can Tho and Vinh Long and between Vinh Long and Ben Tré.
If you only want to travel with Futa buses, you may have to change your route a little. On their website you can see exactly what connections there are, what time they are running and what it costs.
A Typical 2-Day Mekong Delta Tour
Most trips to the Mekong Delta last 2Days/1Night. Boats/companies that offer the more luxurious trips are Mekong Eyes, Song Xanh and Le Bassac. All three charge around 300 USD per person for a 2-day trip. The tour goes from Cai Be to Can Tho and then from Can Tho on the way back to Ho Chi Minh City.
You can easily book the Mekong Delta tour at a tour desk or at one of the basic hotels in Ho Chi Minh City or Can Tho. Sinh Tourist is one of the most popular touring agencies in Ho Chi Minh City.
A cheaper alternative is to book a standard boat trip in Cai Be on site. Many touring agencies have recently moved their trips to Ben Tre and skip the floating market of My Tho (near Cai Be/Vinh Long) because it is often very busy there with day trippers (tourists).
You can also travel directly to the city of Can Tho and book an overnight stay there so that you can get up early the next morning to arrive on time at the floating market of Cai Rang or Phoung Dien. The floating market at Phoung Dien is seen by many travelers as the most beautiful floating market in the Mekong Delta.
Tips For a Visit to the Mekong Delta
- The further you go, the better the local floating markets usually are.
- Avoid swimming in the rivers of the Mekong Delta.
- When you sleep in basic guesthouses it is best to bring a mosquito net yourself.
- Ensure adequate DEET (mosquito repellent spray/gel) and sunscreen.
- Some places with beautiful floating markets are: My Tho, Cai Be, Vinh Long and Can Tho (Cai Rang or Phoung Dien).
- When renting a scooter, be aware that you are not allowed to ride a scooter with more than 50cc in Vietnam. You are also uninsured in the event of accidents. A large part of the Mekong Delta is fairly flat, so you can also ride around with a bicycle. Riding a scooter in Vietnam is entirely at your own risk (and sometimes not without risk).
- A logical sequence of a trip through South Vietnam is: Ho Chi Minh City – Mekong Delta – Phu Quoc Island.