WELCOME TO WATER WORLD

Chau Doc, Cham villageTHE MEKONG DELTA occupies Vietnam’s southern tip, where the Mekong River ends its 2700-mile trip across Asia by splitting into nine rivers named for dragons. The setting makes for ‘classic Vietnam’ experiences — boat trips, bike rides, bamboo-pole ‘monkey bridges.’

HIGHLIGHTS

Tra Su BoatsDIY BOAT TRIPS Setting up boat trips – to tight canals near VINH LONG, or to CHAU DOC’s floating villages – is cheap, easy and more rewarding when you’re not neck-to-neck with package travelers.

SPLURGE BOAT TRIP Mekong River cruise on a traditional rice-carrying wood ship to floating markets; arrange one from a Saigon operator; see the tours section.

HOMESTAY From VINH LONG, arrange a night or two in a rustic island setting, like a bonsai garden of a former Viet Cong who sits with you during dinner.

FOOD Cha gio egg rolls are breaded in the Mekong, but the best is the canh chua (sweet-and-sour fish soup), particularly in CHAU DOC.

BEACH Mekong’s known for rice and rivers, but the swooping beach at HON CHONG is a paradise for seafood fans.

Monkey Bridge, MekongThe mostly flat region is famed for feeding Vietnam — and beyond — from its fertile rice fields, fruit farms and fishing villages. ‘We feed the country,’ one local farmer boasted about his region’s output. ‘But they take the money too.’ Most visitors go on group tours to witness traditional life — bamboo-roofed coconut candy factories, floating markets where banana-packed boats trade on the water. Most visitors go on tours — and they can be wonderful — but this guidebook also tells you how to do it on your own, as I did. Follow the links (above right) to learn about Mekong group tours, and many of the Mekong’s most popular and rewarding destinations.

Most daytrippers see My Tho; Vinh Long and Chau Doc are more worthwhile boat-tour destinations for those with a couple days (at least) to spare. Off-the-beaten-track seekers will enjoy Sa Dec’s flower market, Tra Vinh’s Khmer pagodas, the remarkable bird sanctuary at Tra So (near Ha Tien), and the cave temple near Ha Tien.

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