Mekong Delta, Vietnam
Vietnam’s ‘rice basket’, the Mekong Delta is a watery landscape of green fields and sleepy villages, everywhere crisscrossed by the brown canals and rivulets fed by the mighty Mekong River. Its inhabitants – stereotyped as friendly and easygoing – have long toiled on the life-sustaining river, with their labours marked by the same cycles governing the waterways.
The delta, which yields enough rice to feed the country with a sizable surplus, was formed by sediment deposited by the Mekong. The process continues today, with silt deposits extending the shoreline by as much as 80m per year. The river is so large that it has two daily tides. Lush with rice paddies and fish farms, this delta plain also nourishes the cultivation of sugarcane, fruit, coconut and shrimp. Although the area is primarily rural, it is one of the most densely populated regions in Vietnam and nearly every hectare is intensively farmed.
The uniquely southern charm with its welcoming introduction to life along the river is the real draw, and visitors can explore quaint riverside towns, sample fruits bartered in the colourful floating markets or dine on home-cooked delicacies before overnighting as a homestay guest. Other highlights include visits to local orchards, flower markets and fish farms. There are also bird sanctuaries, rustic beach getaways like Hon Chong and impressive Khmer pagodas in the regions around Soc Trang and Tra Vinh.
Those seeking an idyllic retreat will find it in Phu Quoc, a forested island dotted with pretty beaches, freshwater springs and empty dirt roads (ideal for motorbike adventures). Good diving and white-sand beauty have led to its growing popularity, with a mix of cheap bungalows and five-star resorts along an uncrowded coastline.
The Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam is a vast maze of rivers, swamps and islands, home to floating markets, Khmer pagodas and villages surrounded by rice paddies. Boats are the main means of transportation, and tours of the region often start in nearby Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon) or Can Tho, a bustling town in the heart of the delta.