The Mekong Delta (in Vietnamese: “đồng bằng sông Cửu Long” (“Nine Dragon river delta”) is the region in southwestern Vietnam where the Mekong River approaches and empties into the sea through a network of distributaries. The Mekong delta region encompasses a large portion of southeastern Vietnam of 39,000 square kilometres. The size of the area covered by water depends on the season. The heart of the Mekong Delta are Can Tho, Vinh Long and Sa Dec Provinces, from where it is possible to reach the remotest confines of the delta, South towards the mangroves and the South East Asia Sea, North towards Chau Doc, or West towards the island of Phu Quoc.
The Mekong Delta forms both the far southern region of Vietnam and one of country's two main ricebowls. Dominated by the Mekong River and its many tributaries, the surrounding lands are comprised of low lying rice paddies and the rivers are bordered by dense mangroves and palms. The tributaries of the hectic Mekong River highway provide a comprehensive network of canals and channels acting as on and off ramps to the main throughfare. For the independent traveller, these rivers and tributaries can be the best method to explore the Mekong Delta at a leisurely pace and offer the opportunity to experience the truly unique Mekong River lifestyle.
By embarking on a comprehensive exploration of the Delta, you will have the opportunity to observe and participate in an extra dimension of Vietnamese life and culture. The attractions to this region of Vietnam include the way in which life exists around the comprehensive river system. However much you decide to explore, cruising up one of the many river, as the sun sets over the distant coconut trees, is a truly remarkable experience that will stay with you forever.
An Giang Province is best-known for being home to pastel-painted Chau Doc, the closest large town to the Vietnamese/Cambodian border crossing on the Mekong River. Wedged between the Cambodian frontier, Kien Giang and Can Tho provinces to the south and Dong Thap province to the north, An Giang is a particularly riverine province, with both the Bassac and Mekong Rivers within its boundaries. The nondescript provincial capital Long Xuyen lies around 50km southeast of the border with Cambodia. Some travellers may find it convenient to pass through here for its transportation connections but there are otherwise few other reasons to stay in the capital. Long Xuyen boasts a sprawling and rather interesting riverside market, a huge cathedral and a smattering of colonial relics, but is otherwise a nondescript spot. Few travellers and backpackers choose to stay here and it is easy to see why - most head here only to make a transport connection. Nevertheless ample accommodation aside from the dozen dodgy places outside town are on offer and restaurants are scattered across town. The most interesting attraction in Long Xuyen town itself is the massive wet market that runs along the river's edge to the east of the central pier, where you could easily lose yourself for a couple of hours. From the pier, you can also organise short boat trips into the surrounds, priced by the hour. You needn't look for a boatman or woman - they will find you.
Aside from the market and a boat trip, start planning your escape to a more interesting destination. Chau Doc sits at the junction of a tributary linking the Bassac and Mekong Rivers and the Bassac River itself. An incredibly friendly and bustling little city, Chau Doc has a colour scheme to match its ambience, with bright pastel hues of green, blue and purple adorning many of the newer shopfronts. If you're arriving here from Cambodia, be prepared for the shock into technicolour paradise. Chau Doc locals are known for being very warm and approachable - even the xe dap loi drivers, as pestering as they are, are friendly. English is spoken in most of the foreigner - targeted guesthouses and hotels, and most restaurants have an English menu. A highlight of a visit to Chau Doc is a boat trip on one of the small paddle boats that collect near the western end of the park. For a few dollars an hour they will paddle you around the many floating raft houses and fish farms. Doing this at dawn can be very photogenic and rewarding. Chau Doc is also the closest large town to the Vietnamese/Cambodian river border crossing. If you're heading to or from Phnom Penh by boat, you'll pass through Chau Doc, so try to allow for an overnight stay.