Mekong Delta: Best Things to Do Along the Nine Dragons River

Mekong Delta or Nine Dragons River Delta (Vietnamese spelling: Đồng bằng sông Mê Kông or Đồng bằng sông Cửu Long) is the largest delta in Vietnam. The region is home to more than 21 million people – about a fifth of Vietnam’s population. The Mekong River has its source in the icy glaciers of the eastern Tibetan plateau and flows through six countries namely, China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and finally Vietnam.

The Local Name “Nine Dragons River”

In Vietnam, the Mekong is called the “Nine Dragons River”. There are two major channels, the Tien mainstream and the Hau. They branch off into seven other channels along 200 kilometers to the sea. Hence the nine dragons.

The Mekong Delta has always been viewed as the backyard of Ho Chi Minh City. When you leave Saigon to travel to the Delta, you’ll first come to the Tien and then the Hau Rivers.

The Different Parts of the Mekong Delta

For many travelers, the Mekong Delta brings to mind floating markets and sampan rides through mangrove tunnels. There are, however, countless places you can visit in the region. A day trip is better than not going at all, but a couple of days exploring the delta is something you won’t regret.

The Different Parts of the Mekong Delta
[ by Tho-Ge from Pixabay ]

My Tho 

My Tho (Mỹ Tho) is the most visited city in Mekong Delta. Thousands of travelers and visitors come to this city every day. Besides the famous floating market, there are also some impressive pagodas and local orchards to visit. It only takes about two hours to get here from Ho Chi Minh City by bus.

Best things to do in My Tho:

Can Tho 

Can Tho (Cần Thơ) is the biggest city in the Mekong region. This is a large, somewhat industrialized city and serves as the cultural center for the surrounding rural areas. It takes around four hours to get to Can Tho from Ho Chi Minh City by bus.

Best things to do in Can Tho: 

Rach Gia & Kien Giang Province

Rạch Giá City in Kiên Giang Province is a gateway to Phu Quoc Island, also part of the same province. Ferries depart from here, but Rạch Giá also has an airport with daily flights from Hanoi and HCMC. Another option for a ferry is Hà Tiên town which is a little to the northwest of Rạch Giá.

Best things to do in Kien Giang: 

Top Things To Do in Mekong Delta

Some of the best things to do in the Mekong Delta are not just around the populated cities. In the upper reaches are two important eco preservation areas, and at the southernmost tip is Vietnam’s most famous cape. 

View all locations mentioned

1. Vinh Trang Pagoda 

Vinh Trang Pagoda
[ image from Facebook ]

Vinh Trang Pagoda (chùa Vĩnh Tràng) is the most well-known pagoda in Mekong Delta. It’s 3 km from My Tho city.  The pagoda is known for its unique architecture which fuses Eastern and Western motifs. 

It also has splendid decorative and manicured gardens. There are fruit-bearing trees, bonsai trees, and over 60 statues both inside and around the pagoda.

After its completion in 1850, it was named Vinh Truong meaning, ‘forever’ or ‘eternal’. Just ten years later, when French colonial forces were fighting the Nguyễn Dynasty for control of the southern regions of Vietnam, the pagoda was heavily damaged. Luckily, the restoration was successful.

2. Thoi Son Islet

Thoi Son Islet
[ by Anne Lin from Unsplash ]

Thoi Son islet (Cồn Thới Sơn) is in the Thoi Son commune, My Tho city, Tien Giang Province. This is the largest islet of the four islets on the My Tho River (a Tien river branch) and covers ​​about 12 km2. It’s also known as Con Lan or Unicorn Islet. 

Farmers on this island make their living mostly by growing fruit trees such as longan and sapodilla, and activities such as beekeeping, fishing and aquaculture. The bees here mainly get nectar from longan flowers, giving the honey its distinct boldness. It’s a nice thing to try when you visit.

The boat trip there takes about 2 hrs through attractive landscapes. Once on the island you can sample local foods, observe candy making, and view other products. A special treat are the sweet melodies of Đờn Ca Tài Tử – the traditional music of Southern Vietnam.

3. Dong Tam Snake Farm 

Dong Tam Snake Farm
[ by Moka Joe Mag from Facebook ]

Dong Tam Snake Farm (Trại rắn Đồng Tâm) is about 9 km west of My Tho City in Chau Thanh District. It’s the largest center for snake-raising in Vietnam. The farm is where venom is produced for local use and export from a collection of over 50 species of snake. 

This 12 hectare (0.12 km2) area was formerly run by a retired Vietnamese soldier and expert-at-snake named Tran Van Duoc (Tu Duoc). It’s now managed by the  military and includes animals like crocodiles, bears, turtles, sheep, and ostriches.

4. Floating Markets in Mekong Delta

Floating Markets in Mekong Delta
[ by Quang Nguyen Vinh from Pexels ]

Due to the complexity of the extensive river delta system, floating markets have been a way of life and trade for over 100 years. These markets are where people buy and sell fruits and vegetables grown locally. 

The traders sell their goods directly from the boats and hang products on long poles so people can see far away what’s for sale. Smaller boats are used as mobile cafes where you can buy soda, coffee, or noodle soup, and banh mi for breakfast.

Six best floating markets in Mekong Delta:

  • Cai Rang –  the largest and most popular in Can Tho City. 
  • Cai Be – in Cai Be Town of Tien Giang Province.
  • Long Xuyen – in Long Xuyen City of An Giang Province.  
  • Phong Dien – 17 km southeast of Can Tho City. 
  • Tra On – in Tra On town of Vinh Long province on the Hau River before it flows into the sea.
  • Nga Nam – in Soc Trang Province and the most central market in the region.  

The first two markets, Cai Rang and Cai Be, are the closest to Ho Chi Minh City and also popular with travelers. The last four markets are less popular, but in a sense  more authentic. 

View all markets mentioned

5. Tra Su Cajuput Forest

Tra Su Cajuput Forest
[ by diGital Sennin from Unsplash ]

Tra Su Cajuput Forest has long been a tourist destination in Chau Doc – An Giang Province. It’s 10 km from the Vietnam-Cambodia border and is a special-use forest covering 15 km2.

The forest is one of the best places for outdoor adventure and eco-tourism in Vietnam as well as scientific research into unique ecosystems. The best time to visit Tra Su is from September to the end of the year when water floods the entire forest area creating an unforgettable landscape.

You can travel through the forest by motorboat or small row boat, along the small canals. You will observe green water-fern, thousands of white storks covering the forest, and many other species of birds, forest animals and fish.

6. Tram Chim National Park

Tram Chim National Park
[ Image from Facebook ]

Tram Chim National Park sits along the northern reaches of the Mekong Delta about 40km from Cao Lanh City. It takes around 6 hours driving from Ho Chi Minh City

The best time to visit the national park is during the dry season between December and May. Especially, if you travel from February to May, you can observe the Sarus Crane which is on the IUCN Red List. 

Also, you will have the opportunity to admire thousands of beautiful lotuses as you drift along by boat through a magnificent natural canvas.The lotuses in this park have big and thick petals with multiple layers in white or pink.

7. Binh Thuy Ancient House

Binh Thuy Ancient House
[ image from Facebook ]

Binh Thuy ancient is located at 26/1A Bui Huu Nghia Street in Binh Thuy Ward, in the Mekong Delta city of Can Tho. The house was built in 1870 by the Duong family on an area of nearly 6,000 square meters. Its raised foundation is about one meter above the ground.

Inside are beautifully embossed reliefs, and the exterior facade is a unique harmony of Eastern and Western architecture. The elegant beauty of the house has lasted over two centuries and has also been used as a movie location. 

Binh Thuy ancient house has become one of the must-see attractions in Can Tho. The main house is a wonderful rendezvous for travelers who like to explore unique architecture.

8. Truc Lam Phuong Nam Zen Monastery: The Largest in The Region  

Truc Lam Phuong Nam Zen Monastery
[ by Bùi Thụy Đào Nguyên from CC ]

Truc Lam Phuong Nam Zen Monastery is in the style of Buddhism from the Ly – Tran Dynasty. It’s one of the largest monasteries in South Vietnam and the Mekong Delta region. It was built at a cost of 145 billion VND, or over 6M USD. It is in My Khanh village, Can Tho City. 

Covering four hectares, the monastery features a hall that can hold as many as 500 people. The extensive gardens and vegetation create an ideal spiritual harmony with nature. The solemn atmosphere of the monastery is enhanced by the meticulous detail of skillfully crafted sculptures.

9. Travel to Cape Ca Mau: The Southernmost Tip of Vietnam

Travel to Cape Ca Mau
[ by Mũi Cà Mau from Facebook ]

Ca Mau Cape is a place that endears much national pride and sentiment, similar to Mount Fuji or Rushmore. It’s the southernmost point of mainland Vietnam about 100 km from Ca Mau City.

The cape is also famous for the beauty of its unique location where you can watch the sun rise from the east over the sea and set overland in the west.

Here, you can also visit a national landmark which is a symbolic ship sailing full wind facing the sea. It’s an ideal photo opportunity at this most southern tip of Vietnam. 

10. Wake Up in Ha Tien: Oft-Overlooked Gem in Mekong Delta

Wake Up in Ha Tien
[ by Phạm Trung Kiên from Thamhiemmekong ]

Ha Tien City is nestled among limestone hills along the Giang Thanh River. It has real charm and character, especially along its quiet, shady backstreets and bustling waterfront.

Most travelers stop by for a day, but Ha Tien deserves at least two full days of exploration. If you stay the night, you can wake up to the sun rising across the Eastern Sea and  Phu Quoc Islands glistening further to the west.

Ha Tien is easily reached by bus from Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and most major cities within the Mekong Delta region. By sea, regular passenger and vehicle ferries connect Ha Tien with Phu Quoc Island (90 minutes away by boat).

11. Phu Quoc Island: A Blessing from the Sea

Phu Quoc Island: A Blessing from the Sea
[ by Steven Lasry from Unsplash ]

Phu Quoc Island (đảo Phú Quốc) is the largest island in Vietnam at around 574 km2. The island is technically part of  Kien Giang Province (tỉnh Kiên Giang) with a population of around 103 000.

Just one and a half hours by plane and you can arrive at this wonderous pearl of the Gulf of Thailand with its sub-equatorial monsoon climate. 

You can also visit here straight from Ha Tien (just 90 minutes by boat). As mentioned, there are various departure points for Phu Quoc, including Ha Tien, Rach Gia, and Ho Chi Minh City.

Discover more about Phu Quoc 

How to Get from Ho Chi Minh City to the Mekong Delta

There are five different ways to get to the Mekong Delta. You can travel by bus, car, plane, motorcycle, or cruise.  

  • Bus – most popular option and easily affordable.
  • Plane – fastest and most comfortable. Direct flights go to Can Tho from major centers except HCMC. 
  • Private Car – popular, you can go anywhere you want, but more expensive.
  • Motorcycle – cheapest way with most freedom to explore.
  • Cruise – a unique experience but comparatively expensive.
  • Semi-automatic motorbike rentals range  from 3.5 USD (~80.000 VND) to 9 USD (~200.000 VND).

Getting to Mekong Delta from Ho Chi Minh City by Motorbike

Motorbiking to the Mekong Delta from Saigon can be a remarkable adventure for a lifetime. The motorbike trip takes around 1.5 hours to My Tho city (the nearest city from Saigon) and around 4 hours to Can Tho city.  

If you are a first-time traveler to Vietnam it’s recommended to aim for My Tho, Can Tho. These cities are known for the local floating markets, alongside the green rice fields and an intertwined river system.

Getting to Mekong Delta from Ho Chi Minh City by Cruise

A Mekong Delta cruise trip from Ho Chi Minh City will definitely be an unforgettable experience. You can pick up 1 day as well as  2-3 day trips from local tour agencies or online. 

Depending on your budget, you can choose whether to take a day river cruise or one  overnight. A full package includes cruise and accommodation. Cruise tours are around 130 USD for a one-day trip.

Other Transport to the Mekong Delta

Here are the basic prices for other ways of getting to the Mekong Delta from HCMC: 

  • Bus – 65 000 to 80 000 VND one-way. 
  • Plane to Phu Quoc – 33 USD to 87 USD one-way. 
  • Private car rental – around 87 USD for four persons, 100 USD for seven persons, 130 USD for overnight.

Best Time to Visit Mekong Delta

The ideal time to visit is from November to January in the dry season. You can comfortably enjoy outdoor activities without worrying about the rain.  Blue skies and quiet waters are more assured for cruising the floating markets.

Where to Stay in Mekong Delta

Can Tho, Ha Tien, Rach Gia City are the recommended choices. You can get the best of both worlds meaning comfortable accommodations in the city center with easy day trips available to the picturesque agricultural communities. Hotels, lodges, luxury resorts, and homestays can be found on popular online booking portholes.

Related posts

Central Highlands of Vietnam: Unbounded Plateaus and Vivacious Folk

Escape the heat to the Central Highlands of Vietnam and explore their diverse plateau cities. Dalat and Buon Ma Thuot are more well-known, but on-the-rise Gia Nghia, Pleiku, and Kon Tum are great nature getaways too. Each has its own unique culture and history to share.

Discover Six Senses Resorts and the Amazing Island Getaway of Con Dao

Just an hour from Saigon is Con Dao Island — an idyllic getaway not to be missed. Here, a singular stay at Six Senses will open your heart and mind to new possibilities. With a focus on sustainability and holistic wellness, Six Senses pioneered the luxury resort in Vietnam.

Vietnamese Noodles — Flavorful World of Broths, Toppings, and Sauces

Vietnamese noodles partly reflect the regional diversity of Vietnam. Read about 7 types of Vietnamese noodle strands including rice vermicelli bun, pho, cellophane noodles, hu tieu, and more. These make up countless Vietnamese noodle dishes and we detail 20 of the tastiest.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *