Vietnam has so much to offer the traveller, from the mountain regions of Sapa and Mai Chau to the seaside resorts of Hoi An and the many islands off its coast such as Phu Quoc. You can fly into Hanoi in the north, Danang in the centre or Ho Chi Minh City in the south of the country. One of its beautiful regions is the mighty Mekong Delta. The beautiful lush Mekong Delta of Vietnam is located in the south of the country and can easily be accessed from Ho Chi Minh City or on a speedboat from Phnom Penh in Cambodia.
Visiting floating markets in an authentic traditional sampan, dining on local Vietnamese cuisine in a French Colonial Villa, visiting the local markets in Can Tho and Chau Doc and staying in luxury accommodation along the way and more is what you can expect from a 4-day 3-night experience in the Mekong Delta. A private Victoria Voyages tour that whisks you away from frenetic Ho Chi Minh City to the lush green ‘rice bowl of Vietnam’ the Mekong Delta and then onto Phnom Penh by speedboat. Where else in South East Asia or in that fact the rest of the world could you enjoy so many wonderful experiences.
The Mekong Delta conjures up images of endless waterways as far as the eye can see, a water highway where boats of all shapes and sizes ply the waterways making their way from town to town and market to market. In Vietnam 3/4 of all cargo is transported by boats down the Mekong River and its tributaries. Vibrant green paddy fields line the waterways, wooden houses on stilts gently swaying with the wash of passing boats and children enjoying playtime in the murky brown waters. The Mekong Delta is like no other.
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We wanted to enjoy our limited time in the Mekong Delta with a private tour where we could relax and enjoy our surroundings at leisure and not have the hassle of organising a DIY tour. We travelled with Victoria Voyages on their Ultimate Mekong Delta Experience with the speedboat at the end of the tour from Chau Doc to Phnom Penh. Our tour was hosted by Victoria Voyages and as always our opinions are our own.
Our 4-days 3-nights itinerary:
Map of the Mekong Delta Tour
View our YouTube Video on Day One on the Mekong Delta
Depart Ho Chi Minh City to Cai Be the gateway to the mighty Mekong Delta
Board your private Sampan
A rowboat ride to the islet of Tan Phong
A visit to a traditional century-old Vietnamese house
Lunch at Le Longanier
Overnight at the Victoria Can Tho Resort
View our YouTube Video on Day Two on the Mekong
Breakfast on the Cai Be Sampan to the Cai Rang Markets
Visit a rice paper factory and local fruit farm
Travel to Chau Doc for 2 nights at the Victoria Chau Doc Hotel
View our YouTube Video on Day Three on the Mekong
After breakfast visit the local Pagoda, a Khmer Village and the Tra Su FloatingForest
Lunch at the Victoria Nui Sam Resort
Return to Victoria Chau Doc Hotel
View our YouTube Video on Day Four on the Mekong from Chau Doc to Phnom Penh
Take the speed boat to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia or return to Ho Chi Minh City
Day One – Ho Chi Minh City to Can Tho
Our Victoria Voyages “Journey of Distinction” began when we left Ho Chi Minh City early in the morning weaving our way through the early morning rush hour in our private air-conditioned car. For three hours we sat back and enjoyed passing through small towns and villages before arriving in the lush green Mekong Delta and the town of Cai Be.
Row Boat To Tan Phong Island
Our Cai Be Princess sampan was waiting for us for a short gentle cruise to one of the small tributaries for our row-boat ride to Tan Phong Island. Our very fit lady owner of the small rowboat was 73 years old, honestly, she looked about 50. This was her way of keeping fit whilst earning a living for her and her husband. Her 4 children, two boys and two girls now live in Saigon.
We were gently rowed up the small canal admiring the fruit orchards and local houses along the way. At times fast speedboats would whizz past us creating quite a strong ‘wash’ but we were in good hands. Tan Phong Island is considered the home of the fruit ‘rambutan’ with many of the farms producing rambutans and several other local fruits.
Back on the Cai Be Princess, we were offered fresh fruit and coffee and tea before continuing up the river learning about life on the river in the Mekong Delta. The floating markets on the Mekong Delta open between 3 – 4 am each morning and the best time to visit is between 6 – 7 am.
Along the way, we witnessed the daily life of the people who live on or beside the river.
Water hyacinths are grown on the river banks to protect the banks and the wooden stilt homes from the strong tides.
Some of the more expensive brick homes can be purchased along the river for between USD40,000 and USD50,000.
Cai Be Floating Markets
The floating market sampans are home to the traders. They live in the middle of the boat and sell their goods and produce at the front. We noticed long bamboo sticks attached to the front of many of the produce boats with either pineapple, sweet potatoes and other fruit and vegetables attached to them. This tells the buyer what they are selling that day. There could be up to 5 people living onboard the market boats. Their sleeping quarters are at the rear.
Ba Duc Ancient House
As part of our tour on the Mekong Delta, we visited the Ba Duc Ancient House that was first constructed in the 19th century. The house was a traditional Southern Vietnamese home built with wooden boards that were bounded together. The house was reconstructed with a concrete foundation in 1938 by Mr Phan V Cuong taking inspiration from Vietnamese and French colonial architecture.
The house sits proudly high on the riverbank, which protects it from regular flooding, amongst 3 hectares of gardens and fruit orchards. The house has been furnished in classical antique furniture which was all hand made and inlaid with snail or mussel shells. The house also contained many images of dragons which means strength, turtles for long life and birds for a beautiful life. We also noticed the traditional Vietnamese flower the lotus was also represented in the furnishings and paintings.
Address: 155 An Loi Hamlet, Dong Hoa Hiep Commune, Cai Be District, Tien Giang Province, Vietnam
Why Do Vietnamese Boats in the Mekong Have Eyes Painted on Them?
All boats on the Mekong Delta had eyes painted on the front of their boats. We were intrigued by this and questioned our local guide on this tradition.
There are several legends surrounding the painting of eyes at the front of Vietnamese boats. One of the legends is that the ‘scary demon-like red eyes’ are painted on the front of boats for protection from large crocodiles that used to inhabit the Mekong River. The 2 eyes of Buddha will protect the boats and all who sail in them. Other legends state that they are painted for good luck and fortune or that they will help the boats return back home safely.
The painting of the eyes on the boat ‘or opening the eyes of the boat’ is a traditional ceremony carried out by all Vietnamese for their boats to bring it to life or to launch it.
Local Cottage Industries
A cruise down the Mekong River should include a visit to some of the local cottage industries. As we stepped off the sampan right in front of us was a 3.5-metre long python snake that was 10 years old and weighed around 27 kilos. We were pleased that the python was in the cage. Not sure whether it was the family’s pet or that it was being fattened up to make snake wine which is apparently good for stomach issues. The family sold baby cobra whiskey from the Mekong which was 35% proof.
Under the same roof, we enjoyed the making of rice paper. Rice shell is used as the burning mixture to heat up the stovetop that the rice paper is cooked on. The rice paper is made from rice flour that has been steamed for 30 seconds. They make between 400 – 500 rice papers per day here and during the Lunar New Year celebrations they can make up to 1000. The rice paper is used for noodles, the wrapping of the coconut candy that is made in the factory or as spring roll wrappers.
Have you tried coconut candy? The very sweet coconut candy is made here from coconut milk that sugar has been added to and cooked for 2 hours until it forms a caramel type sweet that can be kept for 5 – 6 months. The candy is covered by rice paper which can be eaten as part of the candy itself. Other flavours are Pandan Leafe and chocolate which turned out to be our favourite.
Crossing the River By Ferry
Many small ferries operate from one side of the river to the other. As a foot passenger, the cost is VND3, 000 (USD$0.13) and if you crossing with a bike VND5,000 (USD$0.21).
Lunch at Le Longanier Restaurant
After a busy morning, we tied up at the riverbank and wandered down one of the small laneways till we reached Le Longanier restaurant. The colonial-style villa nestled in the lush tropical garden took our breath away, we were not expecting such beauty. The Restaurant is only open for lunch and we would suggest that you make reservations in advance if you are considering visiting on your own. Mekong style cuisine is served which combines fresh herbs, locally grown vegetables and local fish.
Address: Phú An, Cai Lậy District, Tien Giang, Vietnam
Our banquet included:
- mixed green vegetable soup
- Le Longanier fried spring rolls
- fried elephant ear fish
- stir-fried mixed vegetables
- caramelized pork in clay pot
- steamed rice
- steamed banana cake with coconut cream
We were the only diners that day (we were in low season) and we felt like Kings and Queens being waited on and having the whole restaurant to ourselves. Of course, we had the best table in the house with the best views.
After a short walk by the river and down another small laneway we arrived at our car which was waiting to take us to the Victoria Can Tho Resort about 70 km away where we would spend the night.[su_note note_color=”#ffc400″]You can read our review of the Victoria Can Tho Resort Hotel here[/su_note]
Can Tho is the largest city in the Mekong Delta made up of 1.5 million people from Kinh, Chinese and Khmer ethnicity. Can Tho is situated on the Hau River which is a distributary of the Mekong.
On arrival, at the Victoria Can Tho Resort, we enjoyed a complimentary neck massage after check-in before heading to our luxurious room to relax. Before we headed out for the evening we enjoyed a full 1-hour body massage with essential oils at the resort.
The Victoria Can Tho Resort offers shuttle boat transfers from its own dock to the Ninh Kieu Wharf. From here you can wander to the left and head into the market area. The market sells coconuts, mulberries, plums, mangosteens, guava, locally produced vegetables and herbs, local fish and household goods. We caught the 5.30 pm shuttle from the hotel and arrived in time to witness the buzz of the market place where locals were stocking up on fresh produce for the evening dinner. Those who did not want to cook queued up at the local street food stalls for an array of tantalising Vietnamese dishes.
Day Two – Can Tho to Chau Doc
Buffet Breakfast Sailing on the Mekong Princess
A great way to start the day is to enjoy a private buffet breakfast aboard the sampan Mekong Princess. From 7 am to 10.30 am we visited the Cai Rang Floating Market before heading off to visit a local noodle factory and a fruit farm.
We dined on local fruits, cereals, pastries and had choices of our favourite style egg breakfast dish or Vietnamese Pho with coffee and juice.
The floating market was a hive of activity, a lot of banter between the sellers and the buyers. The exciting bit was that we were right in the midst of all the hustle and bustle and not missing the fun seeing the action from the river bank.
The market sellers have farms 30 km away where they grow their local produce. They sell at the Cai Rang Floating Market for around 4 – 5 days or until their product is gone and return back to the farm to restock. They advertise their products by placing them on the top of bamboo sticks positioned at the front of their boats.
After the market, we headed off to visit a small local factory that made spicy noodle pizza bases and tried our hand at making rice paper. They make it look so easy. If they are making 400 – 500 a day, we guess it just comes naturally.
We visited the local fruit farm where 3 generations have owned and worked the orchards of pomelo, mangosteen, coconuts, papaya, dragon fruit and morning glory before heading back to the hotel.
Chau Doc is 117 km away from Can Tho and 250 km west of Ho Chi Minh City. It lies on the Bassac River which is a tributary of the Mekong Delta. Chau Doc is situated in the An Giang province of Vietnam which borders Cambodia.
7 km away from the city of Chau Doc is the Sam Mountain which is home to many shrines and temples and is a local pilgrimage site especially at full moon time.
We spent 2 nights at the luxurious French Colonial-inspired 4 star Victoria Chau Doc Hotel. The view from our hotel room overlooking the Mekong Delta was stunning. We would encourage you to wake early at sunrise, you won’t be disappointed.
In the evening enjoy their signature cocktails in the Tan Chu Bar before heading into dinner at their Bassac Restaurant, both are located with views over the Bassac River. After a day of sightseeing, the swimming pool with its views over the river is the perfect way to unwind and relax.[su_note note_color=”#ffc400″]You can read our hotel review of the Victoria Chau Doc Hotel here.[/su_note]
Day Three – Chau Doc Sightseeing
After a hearty breakfast in the Bassac Restaurant, we headed out for a day of sightseeing.
Chau Doc is located in the An Giang Province which has 7 mountains. The 7 mountains are between 10 – 20 km apart. Sam Mountain which lies 7 km from the city is the tallest in the Mekong Delta at a height of 230m. You can trek up the mountain and along the way visit the several temples and pagodas. The views are outstanding from the peak and if it is a clear day you will see as far away as Cambodia.
A visit to the Ba Chua Xu Temple at the base of Sam Mountain is a must. It is one of the important Buddhist sites in Chau Doc. Inside the temple is a statue of Ba Chua which means ‘country lady’. Worshippers flock to the temple to ask for her protection and guidance.
In the fourth lunar month of the year, one of the biggest religious festivals is held here between the 23rd and the 27th.
Next on our day out was a visit to the Khmer Village of Van Giao. 80% of the population of Van Giao are Khmer where they grow rice, produce palm sugar and weave fabrics. The Khmer lady we visited sells her woven garments for VND 1,500,000 or USD65.00. It can take up to one month to make one of the larger Brocade shawls. Brocade is also known as Khmer silk. What a fascinating traditional skill to watch. The Brocade is made into wedding dresses, head shawls and clothing for traditional events.
The Tra Su Floating Forest is one of the top things to see in Chau Doc. It lies 30 km south-west of Chau Doc and is spread over 850 hectares. On arrival, there is a small pier where small boats will take you through the mangrove flooded forest.
The Forest is home to fish, birds, animals, reptiles and 140 types of flora.
Lunch at the Victoria Nui Sam Hotel
The 3 star Victoria Nui Sam Hotel is located on Sam Mountain and has breathtaking views over the rice paddy fields, Chau Doc all the way to Cambodia.
Not only can you have an outstanding lunch with magnificent views you can enjoy staying a few nights at the hotel in their range of bungalows and villas.
We had to try their Mai Tai and Daiquiri cocktails from the bar whilst enjoying the views.
We had the best of Vietnamese cuisine with vegetarian options at lunch which included:
- tofu salad sesame crackers
- chicken salad prawn crackers
- pumpkin tofu soup
- pumpkin minced port soup
- tofu and mushroom
- basan fish in hotpot
What a banquet!
Day Four – Chau Doc to Phnom Penh
We enjoyed an early morning breakfast at the Bassac Restaurant before we headed into Cambodia via speedboat.
The port for the Victoria Speedboat is a few minutes walk from the hotel. Just before 7 am our bags were whisked away and we headed to the speedboat.
The journey takes approximately 5 hours but it depends on the processing time at the borders of Vietnam and Cambodia and the water currents and tides.
From Chau Doc to the border takes approximately 1 hour, processing time at the two borders is around another hour and then a 3-hour journey from the Cambodia border into Phnom Penh.
Drinks are available onboard, WiFi depends on the strength of the signal on the day and the crew will assist in the process of filling out the immigration forms.
Along the way, you will pass by fish farms, Khmer temples, farms and villages. It really is such a scenic border crossing and was one of our most relaxed border crossings ever.
Most travellers will require a visa to enter Vietnam, it is an easy on-line process.
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Frequently Asked Questions on the Mekong Delta
When Is The Best Time To Visit The Mekong River Delta?
November to March is high season and April to September is low season. May through to November is the wet season. We visited in September and we experienced rain showers daily but it did not deter us from enjoying the joys of the Mekong Delta.
Temperatures during the year hover around the 28 degrees.
What is the best way to enter the Mekong Delta?
If you are including Cambodia in your travel plans consider travelling from Phnom Penh to Chau Doc arriving at sunset.
Is the Mekong Delta safe to travel around?
Yes, the Mekong Delta of Vietnam is safe to travel around. As usual wherever you travel take care of your personal belongings.
Have you taken a Mekong Delta tour?
General Travel Information for Visiting the Mekong Delta
Airports close to the Mekong Delta are:
- Can Tho
- Ca Mau
- Phu Quoc Island
There are regular flights to Can Tho, the largest city in the Mekong Delta from Hanoi and Danang. Can Tho Airport is located 9 km from Can Tho City.
The Victoria Speedboat operates from Phnom Penh to Chau Doc.
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