Mekong Delta & Islands
70 km from Saigon, My Tho is the first major city in the Mekong Delta, sitting alongside one of the larger tributaries of the mighty Mekong River – or one of the nine tails of the dragon, as legend would have it. All Vietnam holidays should include My Tho, which flourishes amongst the fertile ‘rice bowl’ and lifeblood of the country: The Mekong Delta.
Because of My Tho’s proximity to Saigon, tourists generally just take a quick dip into the city: passing along one of the coconut-canopied canals in a jumble of traditional sampans, and soaking up the watery parade of stilted houses, squirming fish markets, and exotic fruit orchards. For those who’d like to explore My Tho in a little more depth on their holiday, you can also visit the 19th century Vinh Trang Pagoda (truly beautiful with its ornamental gardens); cycle into the surrounding lanes and rice paddies, or just sit and relax at My Tho’s large man-made lake where you’ll often get chatting with the locals.
If My Tho is the place to see the Mekong Delta’s watery ‘alleys,’ then Can Tho is the place to see its sprawling floating-market ‘squares.’ The biggest city in the Mekong Delta, and with the largest branch of the delta (the Hau River) running right the way through it, Can Tho requires a little more time to explore on a Vietnam holiday.
Driving over Can Tho’s famous cable bridge (the largest of its kind in South East Asia) visitors will then enter the watery world once again. First stop has got to be the historic working port of Ninh Kieu, which is known for its mind-boggling array of sea-food, and small but frenzied factories making everything from rice paper, coconut sweets, fish sauce, and noodles. After this, a sun-rise trip to the famous Cai Rang floating market is an absolute must: drifting through the steaming fish-smelling broth, with its fruit laden boats, snake sellers, and a lunch like no other, with each course plucked from a different vessel.
The island of Phu Quoc actually lies closer to Cambodia in the Gulf of Thailand, and has some of the most stunning beaches in Vietnam. Relatively untouched by tourism, this sleepy island has long been a bolt-hole for those wanting to escape the masses – including Nguyen Anh who fled here to escape the Tay Son brothers in the 18th century.
Much of the island is covered by a National Park, with the thick jungles and mangroves doing their best to protect the unspoilt white sand beaches and impossibly clear waters. Many of these beaches can only be reached by basic dirt tracks, meaning that visitors will rarely be disturbed by others as they dive and snorkel the incredible coral reefs (some of the best in the world); watch the legendary sunsets, before driving past pepper plantations and heading up into the mountains to swim in the streams and waterfalls.
A diving and snorkelling heaven, the Con Dao archipelago is made up of 15 stunning islands in the South China Sea, most of which are barely inhabited and lie within protected marine and national parks. Exactly what weary travellers will have been craving on the tourist trail, the Con Dao Islands offer beautiful beaches, and the chance to get back to nature on a Vietnam holiday.
The best place to start on Phu Quoc is underwater, with some of the most exciting wall dives, wreck dives, and neon swirling coral reefs in Vietnam. It’s also amazing to kayak with the sun on your back: looking out for endangered turtles and dugongs in the ultra-clear waters, before cycling to the bustling fish market and the shady roads which are almost completely devoid of traffic. Finally, visitors may wish to visit the harrowing ‘tiger cages’ which were used to detain Vietnamese dissidents during French colonial rule, and again during the Vietnam War.