The Mekong Delta is the culmination of the great Mekong river’s journey through south east Asia from the mountains of Tibet. The river is the world’s 12th largest in terms of length and 10th largest by volume draining an area of 795,000 km². From its source in the Jifu Mountains of Tibet it runs 4909 km through China’s Yunnan province (where it is called the Lancang River), Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Between Cambodia and the Vietnamese border near Chau Doc the Mekong splits into two and the Bassac River runs parallel to the main river as they enter Vietnam.
This Mekong River map will help you to get a clearer idea of the river’s journey.
Once into the Mekong Delta area of Vietnam the river splits further into a complex series of small canals and rivers where sediment from the river has been deposited and turned the region into an extremely fertile agricultural zone. This area is heavily cultivated and the rich soil enables enough rice to be produced to feed the whole country. The colourful villages and floating markets are one of Vietnam’s most important tourist attractions.
Historically the region was part of the Khmer kingdom and to this day is still called ‘Lower Cambodia’ by neighbouring Cambodians. Following attempts by the Khmer Rouge to take control of the region the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia in 1979 and ejected the Khmer Rouge from power.
Geographically, the Mekong Delta is the result of the build up of silt deposited by the Mekong river which extends the shoreline at the mouth of the river by around 80 meters per year. The result is a highly fertile area where intensive farming produces vast quantities of rice, sugarcane and fruits. Thanks to this fertility Vietnam is not only self-sufficient in rice production, the nation’s staple food, but is also the world’s 2nd largest exporter after Thailand.
Getting to the Mekong Delta and Getting Around
Most visitors to the Mekong Delta arrive on scheduled tours from Ho Chi Minh City (see Mekong Delta Tours ). Some such tours are just for one day which barely scratches the surface of this vast area whilst others include overnight stays which allow you to go deeper into the region.
Travelling independently of these scheduled tours is the only way to really get deep into the Mekong Delta and really experience daily life off the tourist circuit. Options include renting a motorbike to get around or hiring a private vehicle with guide from HCMC.