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Mekong Delta

Introduction
The Delta region is formed by the various tributaries of the mighty Mekong River. The Mekong is one of the world's great rivers, beginning its journey in the mountains of Tibet and winding its way for 4,500 km through China, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and southern Vietnam. The Vietnamese name for the Mekong is "Cuu Long", meaning 'Nine Dragons', symbolizing the nine major tributaries of the Mekong that flow through the Delta to the East Sea.

The Delta is an incredibly fertile region of rice paddies, fruit orchards and mangrove swamps and is known as Vietnam's "rice bowl" as it produces the majority of the country's rice supplies and exports.

Over the centuries, local residents have created an ingenious system of dykes, canals and waterways for irrigation and for transportation. Perhaps the best way to view the daily lives of the people in the Delta is to take a boat tour through some of these waterways. A brief float through the Delta provides a vivid glimpse of life in Vietnam's rural areas, where nearly 80% of the country's population still lives.

Places of interest

My Tho
My Tho is the first Mekong Delta city one reaches when driving south from Ho Chi Minh City. Its proximity to Ho Chi Minh City and its location alongside one of the Mekong's major tributaries makes My Tho a major trading hub of agriculture and seafood products.
A typical day trip to My Tho begins with the drive from Ho Chi Minh City through rice paddies and small villages. Upon arrival in My Tho, it is best to transfer to a sampan to ply the small canals and waterways. The sampan ride includes stops at fruit orchards and at islands mid-river.
A recommended stop is Thoi Son Island, which has a thriving business cultivating bonsai trees. The island is filled with varieties of fruit trees and plants. After returning to My Tho, a good place to get refreshed before the trip back to Ho Chi Minh City is the Ngoc Gia Trang Restaurant, an outdoor café also set in a bonsai garden.

Vinh Trang Pagoda
The pagoda is a beautiful and well-maintained sanctuary. The charitable monks here provide a home to orphans, disabled and other needy children. The pagoda is about 1km from the city center. The Vinh Trang pagoda is the largest in Tien Giang province. Built in the 19th century, the pagoda is a harmonious mix of colonial French, Chinese, Vietnamese and Khmer architectural styles. There are many precious statues made of wood inside the pagoda.

Thoi Son Islands
This is the highlight of a visit to My Tho including a sampan cruise through the maze of small canals and a visit to friendly local families and tasting fruits in orchid gardens.
Dong Tam Snake Breeding Farm
Located 9km away from My Tho town, Dong Tam is the centre of snake breeding for taking venom for exportation, as well as medicinal plant cultivation and the study and treatment of snakebites for people in the Delta. There is a snake-breeding area with dozens of species to feed or even play with. There are also crocodiles and other species of birds and animals on hand.

Vinh Long
An hour further south from My Tho is the riverside town of Vinh Long. The canal network and villages surrounding Vinh Long are more rural than those seen in My Tho, and are perhaps more representative of village life in the Mekong Delta.
The trip to Vinh Long takes about three hours from Ho Chi Minh City, with at least one hour spent on ferries crossing major tributaries. The first ferry crossing is at Cai Be. After the crossing, it is best to have a break from the drive by taking a scenic sampan cruise through the nearby waterways. During the cruise one can see local cottage industries such as fishing, boat building, rice and fruit cultivation, and production of rice paper - a staple of Vietnamese cuisine.
Local seafood specialties include a variety of fresh-water fish. The best place to try local dishes is, probably Mr. Giao's Restaurant, an outdoor eatery set in a bonsai garden.

Cai Be Floating Market
This bustling river market runs from 5am to 5pm, but is best early in the morning. Wholesalers on large boats moor here, each specializing in one or more types of fruit or vegetables. Customers cruise the market in smaller boats and can easily find what they are looking for as the larger boats hang samples of their goods from tall wooden poles.

Binh Hoa Phuoc Island
The island of An Binh-Binh Hoa emerges from the middle of the Tien River, just opposite Vinh Long. The island covers 60 sq. km and has four villages: An Binh, Binh Hoa Phuoc, Hoa Ninh and Dong Phu. Its soil is fertile and ideal for rearing bonsai trees and tropical fruit. Several of the orchards are open to the public:
Mr. Sau Giao's Flower Garden in Hoa Ninh has hundreds of various ornamental plants such as yellow apricots, "Chieu Thuy" plums and jasmine. Longan and mango tree gardens and fish ponds surround the garden.
Mr. Muoi Day's Stilt-House. This wooden house sits on the Ninh Hoa Canal. Beside it are fruit orchards of longan, grapefruit and mangosteen. The house also serves tourists lunch and provides a place to stay for the night.
Mr. Hai Hoang's Old House. Built in the French colonial style with a large yard, the rear garden contains rambutan and longan orchards. Lunch and evening stays are also provided for tourists.

Can Tho
Can Tho is the capital of a province of the same name and is located in the very heart of the Mekong Delta. This bustling city, the largest in the region has broad boulevards and an elegant waterfront which connects it to the rest of the Mekong Delta via a system of rivers and canals. A boat trip along these canals is the highlight of a trip to Can Tho. In addition a visit to the nearby floating market early in the morning is a must-see.

Cai Rang Floating Market
Cai Rang is the largest floating market in the Mekong Delta and the best time to view it is early morning when it is at its liveliest, though some vendors can still be seen up until noon. Unlike the floating markets you may have seen in Thailand, where small wooden boats thread narrow canals, most floating markets here are on the banks of wide stretches of river and the Cai Rang market is no exception.

Thot Not Stork Garden
This is a 1.3-hectare stork sanctuary, popular for group tours that come to view the thousands of storks that reside here. Inside the sanctuary there is a tall wooden viewing platform and the best time of day to see the birds is from 5 to 6am and again between 4 and 6pm. The sanctuary is 42km away from Can Tho.

"Xe loi"
A trip to Can Tho wouldn’t be complete without a ride on the ubiquitous ‘xe loi’. Unique to the Mekong Delta, these makeshift vehicles are the main form of transport around the city. A "xe loi" is essentially a two-wheeled wagon attached to the rear of a motorbike, creating what resembles a motorized cyclo, but with 4 wheels touching the ground rather than two.

Chau Doc
Chau Doc is a port town near the Cambodian border. The city's 60,000 residents are an intriguing cultural mix of Chinese, Cham, Khmer and Vietnamese people and this is reflected in the town’s architecture. Each community has their own distinctive temples and pagodas. The town has a thriving cross-border trade with Cambodia and is also renowned for its fish breeding industry. The fish are raised in ingeniously designed underwater cages kept underneath peoples’ floating homes on the river. The homes are kept afloat by a combination of empty wooden drums and wooden stakes.

Sam Mountain
Sam Mountain is 7km from Chau Doc. There are dozens of pagodas and temples around the base of the 260m mountain, some of which are set in caves. Climbing the peak is the highlight of a visit to Sam Mountain and from the summit you can see the Cambodian border.

Tay An Pagoda
The pagoda is renowned for its fine wooden carvings. Aspects of the building's architecture reflect Hindu and Islamic influences and the pagoda dates from 19th century.

Lady Chúa Xu Temple (Ba Chua Xu)
Sam Mountain’s most famous temple is Ba Chua Xu, founded in the 1820s. The original structure was made of bamboo, though most is now concrete. The temple is very popular with pilgrims, particularly in the fourth lunar month of each year. Votive offerings sometimes include roast whole pigs providing an interesting photo opportunity.

Tomb of Thoai Ngoc Hau
Thoai Ngoc Hau was a high-ranking mandarin who served the Nguyen Lords and later the Nguyen Dynasty. In early 1829 he ordered his tomb to be constructed at the foot of Sam Mountain. The site includes the tomb of Thoai Ngoc Hau, his wives and some of his officials.