A tributary of the Mekong River
In the foreground, typical Vietnamese boat with eyes painted on the bow.
The Mekong River Delta of Southern Vietnam
Enjoy the peacefulness of the region with local traditions.
The land of Southern Vietnam is crisscrossed with the Mekong River and its many branches. To truly understand the bond between the local people and the river, you must take a trip to Long An, Tien Giang and Ben Tre. Here, the immense river system including the Vam Co Dong, Vam Co Tay, Tien River, Hau River and many others all together guide the daily life of the folks of Southern Vietnam.
For a visitor, all you have to do is sit on a canoe, known locally as motor boat, and drift slowly over the water. Let the wind caress your hair, feel the cooling water against your hands, and experience the natural scenes of indigos, mangroves and reeds on both sides of the river. Rent a small boat and row it to one of the small branches of the river; let yourself be fully covered by the green canopy overhead. Listening to the sounds of the native birds helps you feel all the stresses of life drift away with the water.
Following the Vam Co Dong southward to where it flows into the Nhut Tao River, there stood the battle of Nhut Tao in the year 1861 where the French battleship L’Espérance was burned by Nguyen Trung Truc. His memorial shrine and statue still stands on the edge of the river looking out to the fork, as if still watching the burned ship.
For things to do in Dong Thap Muoi, nothing is better than taking a short walk on dirt road winding between the lush indigo forests lined with wet leaves thickened with time. At the end of the road, you’ll board a boat which will take you to the lotus fields where both the lotus flowers and water lilies bloom throughout the year. The small boat sneaks in between a vast forest of lotus plants, as far as the eyes can see – the leaves, the flowers, the buds – all the colors of yellow, green, pink and purple floating high and low, blending together like a painting.
When you reach out and part the lotus leaves to reveal the clear green water of the lake, you will see your reflection staring back at you. Then you can reach in and pull off a flower or two. The lotus is a flower that adapts to the height of the water. During a drought, the stalk will only reach about 1 meter high, barely above the water. However, during the monsoon season when the swamp is flooded, the long-stemmed flowers can reach up to 3 or 4 meters high. The small lotus pod inside the flowers contain seeds that once picked, taste sweet and crisp with fresh the scents still lingering from the flower. With the water gently rocking the boat and the peacefulness of the swamp, it’s easy for travelers to become immersed in the scenery and completely lost track of time.
The water of the Tien river is the bloodline of the people at My Tho. There’s nothing better than to enjoy a bowl of hot noodle soup while floating on the river. The native people in this area live their whole lives on the river; everything they do is tied to the waters that flow beneath them. Small ecological tours are offered in many places in this region. Travelers can leave their car behind, take a short walk to the dock where a slender wooden boat rocks lazily in the waves, then let it idly take you through the many canals to explore the intimate relationship that exists between the natives and the river which nourishes them.
Stop by Phung Island to visit one of the largest coconut candy factories in Ben Tre. See for yourself how the candy is made, cut and packaged. The candy comes in a wide variety of flavors, such as milk, taro, durian, green bean, peanut, pandan and more. Don’t forget to pick up a few souvenir items made from the materials of coconut trees, such as chop sticks, spoons, forks or combs.
Your next stop should be Thai Son Island, which is known for having great fresh coconut. You can ask the store clerk to cut off the coconut top and put in a straw for you, then board a horse drawn carriage and take a tour of the island while sipping fresh coconut juice. A trip like this can cost around $6 USD, a very small price for most tourists. The carriage then brings you to an old house where you can experience the plantation lifestyle and architecture of the landowners in ancient Vietnam. Here, you’ll be offered a cup of honeyed tea while listening to a few tunes of Southern Vietnamese folk music.
There are many scenes like this awaiting travelers in Southern Vietnam. From Can Tho to Soc Trang or Kien Gian, all are beckoning for you to board a boat and drift toward the floating markets, or canoe into the primitive swamp in Ca Mau only to emerge at the southern tip of the country and watch the spectacular sunset spreading its colors onto the water all around you.