Fed by snowmelt from the Himalayas of Tibet, the Mekong flows 2,700 miles to the sea in South Vietnam, a distance comparable to that between Los Angeles and New York City. The Vietnamese call it Song Cuu Long, the Nine Dragons River, for the nine branches of the Mekong Delta where land and water intertwine to make perfect conditions for growing rice.
The Mekong Delta is one of Vietnam’s most dynamic and interesting regions – a stark contrast to the largely modernized Ho Chi Minh City. The agricultural zone produces more than half of Vietnam’s rice and a wealth of other produce. As an important hideout for Viet Cong guerrillas during the war, the Mekong Delta also played a vital role in the country’s history, so if you really want to understand Vietnam’s past and present, plan to make a trip to the area.
Since the Mekong encompasses such a large region, you’ll serve yourself well by planning to spend at least a couple days exploring it. On a four day tour, you’ll get to see rural Vietnam in depth with local boat tours of the deltas and waterways, visits to floating markets and villages of stilted houses, drive through the picturesque rice paddies and learn about life and livelihood along the river banks.
If you have limited time in Vietnam, it’s possible to get a taste of the Mekong Delta on a day trip from Ho Chi Minh City. A Mekong River cruise from Ho Chi Minh City will take you to the “rice bowl of Vietnam” to see the canals, waterways and floating markets that make the region famous. Once back in the big city, you’ll have a much better understanding of Vietnam’s people, culture and economy.
Best Time for Mekong River Cruises
Although Mekong River itineraries are offered for most of the year, the optimum time to go is during the winter, from November through February; it’s cooler then (although still plenty hot) and the rainy season, which runs from July through October, has passed. But even during the rainy season, rains – while dramatic – typically last only 30 minutes or so.
Note that the cruise portion along the Mekong River and Lake Tonle Sap in Cambodia can be affected by seasonal water levels, so itinerary details are subject to change. The river reaches its highest level in September. Weird fact: The Tonle Sap River, which links the lake to the Mekong River, reverses its flow during periods of flooding. The surge of river water increases the lake’s size six-fold, and transforms it into one of the world’s most productive fisheries.