Waterways and Wonders: Cruising the Mekong Delta in Vietnam

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Waterways and Wonders: Cruising the Mekong Delta in Vietnam

The Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam is a vast network of rivers, swamps and rice paddies fanning out into the South China Sea. Exploring this fertile “Rice Bowl of Vietnam” by boat reveals a tropical paradise of lush green landscapes, exotic fruits, colorful floating markets and vibrant riverside villages.

A Mekong Delta cruise takes you along narrow waterways and major channels, surrounded by beautiful scenery and cultural glimpses into traditional Vietnamese life. From tranquil countryside to lively towns, it’s a chance to immerse yourself in the rhythms of the mighty Mekong.

An Introduction to the Mekong Delta

The Mekong Delta is one of Vietnam’s most iconic and fascinating regions. Here are some quick facts:

  • It covers around 15,000 square miles in southwest Vietnam
  • The fertile delta was formed from centuries of sediment deposited by the Mekong River
  • Landscapes consist of emerald rice paddies, orchards, swamps and jungle
  • Over 17 million people live in the Mekong Delta – 20% of Vietnam’s population
  • Main economic activities are rice farming, fishing, crocodile farms and fruit orchards
  • Floating markets are a hallmark of the region, where boats gather to sell local produce
  • The area has a tropical savanna climate with a distinct rainy season from May to November
  • Cruising along the waterways is the ideal way to explore and experience the culture

The Mekong Delta is classic Vietnam, with traditional villages, Buddhist pagodas, French colonial architecture and mouthwatering cuisine. A boat tour lets you soak it all in.

Why Cruise the Mekong Delta?

A cruise through the Mekong Delta offers an intimate look at life along the river’s banks and communities. Here are some key reasons to add a boat tour to your Vietnam itinerary:

See the Countryside – Sail through remote rural villages and rice paddies only accessible by river. Watch farmers tending fields and buffaloes wading through shallows.

Visit Floating Markets – See bustling riverside markets where boats cluster to barter and sell fresh local produce and snacks. It’s a visual feast.

See Local Industries – Stop at family workshops making coconut candy, rice noodles and other artisanal goods to gain insight into traditional livelihoods.

Cultural Immersion – Experience how millions live along the Mekong, influenced by French colonialism yet steeped in Vietnamese customs.

Exotic Fruits – Sample some of Vietnam’s most delicious tropical fruits cultivated in the delta like jackfruit, dragon fruit, mangosteen and rambutan.

Pho and Seafood – Savor fragrant pho noodle soup and fresh grilled river fish at waterside restaurants along your route. The cuisine is exquisite.

Relaxing Pace – Life on the delta moves at a serene rhythm. A boat tour lets you sit back and soak in the scenery, leaving stress behind.

Cruising these historic waterways provides a taste of rural Vietnamese lifestyles, culture, cuisine and incredible hospitality.

Popular Destinations to Visit

Many excellent boat tours of the Mekong Delta are available, each showcasing the region’s highlights. Here are some top attractions and activities usually included:

My Tho – This bustling river town is the gateway to the delta. Visit Vinh Trang Pagoda and a honey bee farm before boarding your cruise.

Turtle Island – Stop at this sanctuary that protects endangered softshell turtles native to the delta. Learn about conservation efforts.

Cai Be Floating Market – See the region’s largest riverside market with colorful wooden boats piled high with fruits and vegetables.

Family workshops – Visit local candy, rice crispy and puffed rice makers. Observe traditional methods of production.

Coconut candy tasting – Sample freshly made candies, a specialty of Ben Tre Province. All parts of the coconut are used in unique treats.

Row boat rides – Take a hand rowed sampan along narrow canals through the lush wetlands. Witness the delta’s natural splendor up close.

Lunch at An Binh Island – Feast on traditional Vietnamese food like banana flower salad at this open-air restaurant surrounded by gardens.

Bonsai Garden – Enter this unique nursery cultivating miniature trees. Vietnam has a long history of miniature landscape gardening.

Cai Rang Floating Market – See Vietnam’s biggest floating marketplace with hundreds of boats trading fruits and vegetables. It’s a photographer’s paradise.

Can Tho City Tour – Most cruises conclude with a tour of Can Tho. See the bustling Ninh Kieu Pier, Binh Thuy Ancient House and 17th century Xuyen Tac Pagoda.

With stops at small workshops, boat tours provide valuable interactions with locals and artisans keeping traditions alive.

When is the Best Time to Go?

The Mekong Delta can be visited year-round, but the best time is during the dry season from December to April. Here’s an overview of the seasons:

Dry Season (December to April)

  • Pleasant weather with temperatures around 27°C/80°F
  • Low humidity and rainfall make it very comfortable for sightseeing
  • Rivers and canals are lower, providing scenic views
  • Fruit harvest season with mangoes, rambutans and jackfruit

Wet Season (May to November)

  • Very hot, humid and rainy (especially June to August)
  • Flooding is common which can limit boat access
  • More mosquitoes and potential for storms
  • Rice planting season is very scenic to witness

While cruises run year-round, the dry months provide ideal weather. However, visiting during September/October lets you see farmers planting rice seedlings if you don’t mind some rain.

Aim to book a cruise anytime between late December and April to enjoy the delta at its best.

Cruise Options: What to Look For

From luxurious multi-day cruises to budget day trips, you have many options to experience the Mekong Delta by boat. Here are some things to consider when choosing a cruise:

Route – Make sure key attractions like Cai Be and Cai Rang floating markets are included. Most tours follow similar routes.

Group Size – Bigger boats accommodate more people while small boats offer a more intimate experience.

Duration – Day cruises allow you a good overview while multi-day cruises provide deeper immersion.

Inclusions – Entry fees, meals, guides and transfers to/from Ho Chi Minh City should ideally be covered.

Quality – Read reviews and look at photos when choosing. Higher end boats offer better comfort and service.

** Budget** – Prices range from around $50 per person for day tours to over $1,000 for luxury cruises.

Reputation – Pick a reputable operator known for professionalism, safety standards and certified guides.

While short day cruises let you sample the delta, extended cruises provide a more in-depth look at local life. But tours are designed so that even 1-day tours hit all the highlights.

Extending Your Stay on Land

Many cruises start and end in Ho Chi Minh City. But you can extend your time exploring the Mekong Delta on land as well. Here are some worthwhile places to visit:

Can Tho City – The delta’s modern hub offers French colonial architecture, buzzing markets and tasty street food.

Tra Su Mangrove Forest – Take a row boat through this gorgeous protected wetlands area 20 miles west of Can Tho.

Phong Dien Floating Market – Visit this bustling market 20km from Can Tho to see boats overflowing with tropical fruits and flowers.

Cai Rang Bird Sanctuary – At this wetlands preserve, spot over 40 species like egrets, herons and cormorants.

Long Xuyen City – Explore this lively riverfront provincial capital near the Cambodian border. Visit the bustling Hao Hao Pier.

Chau Doc City – Tour fish farms, hike Sam Mountain and see the French Gothic architecture of this charming border town.

The towns and countryside of the delta provide further cultural immersion and natural beauty beyond the cruises. Don’t limit yourself to the water.

What to Pack for Your Cruise

When preparing for a Mekong Delta cruise, here are some essential items to pack:

  • Sun protection (hat, sunglasses, high SPF sunscreen)
  • Lightweight, breathable clothing. Temperatures can get very hot.
  • Swimwear if your boat has a pool or jacuzzi
  • Motion sickness medication if prone to nausea
  • Mosquito repellent – especially during wet season
  • Camera to capture scenic views
  • Extra memory cards and batteries
  • Vietnamese phrasebook or translation app
  • Motion sickness remedies if prone to nausea
  • Light jacket/sweater for air conditioned interiors
  • Anti-itch cream to soothe mosquito bites
  • Small backpack for carrying essentials during excursions
  • Refillable water bottle to stay hydrated in the tropical climate

Packing appropriately will let you fully enjoy every minute aboard your Mekong Delta cruise.

Helpful Tips for Your Cruise

Here are some tips to make the most of your Mekong Delta cruise experience:

  • Try to book a private balcony cabin for the best views from your room
  • Get up early to catch sunrise over the waters – it’s spectacular
  • Sit on the open upper deck for great scenery along the route
  • Bring a lightweight poncho in case of rain during wet season months
  • Carry pocket-size hand sanitizer since facilities can be limited in rural areas
  • Have small bills to shop at floating markets and family shops
  • sample tropical fruits being sold – the selection is amazing
  • Interact with your guide to learn about local life and customs
  • Dress modestly and avoid wearing expensive jewelry when disembarking
  • Ask crew about the meaning behind traditional Vietnamese dishes served onboard

With some advance planning, you’ll enjoy a smooth and comfortable Mekong Delta cruise.

What to Expect: Life Aboard a Mekong River Cruise

Mekong Delta cruise ships range from luxury vessels to more simple local boats. But life onboard typically follows a similar relaxing schedule:

Morning: Wake up and enjoy a light breakfast in the dining hall or your cabin. Watch daily life unfold along the riverbanks as farmers work the fields and children commute to school.

Late Morning: Disembark for the day’s touring activities. Browse floating markets, tour family workshops and local factories, or take a sampan ride through canals.

Afternoon: Return to the ship for a refreshing lunch buffet and afternoon relaxation. Enjoy spa treatments, sip a cocktail on deck, or relax in your cabin.

Evening: Dinner is served in the dining room, featuring delicious local Vietnamese cuisine. Evenings are low-key with live music or cultural performances.

Late Evening: The boat drops anchor at a new spot. Gaze at the stars on deck before retiring to your cabin for the night.

With guided excursions, meals and entertainment arranged, you simply sit back and watch river life drift calmly by.

Sample Multi-Day Cruise Itinerary

To help you visualize what a multi-day Mekong Delta cruise is like, here is an example 3-day/2-night itinerary:

Day 1

  • 7:30am – Pickup from your Ho Chi Minh City hotel
  • 10:00am – Arrive in My Tho City, visit Vinh Trang Pagoda
  • 11:00am – Board your boutique riverboat. Enjoy welcome drinks and lunch onboard
  • 1:30pm – Sampan boat ride through palm-lined canals to Turtle Island
  • 2:30pm – Return to cruise ship and relax as the boat continues downriver
  • 6:00pm – Savor a gourmet dinner in the dining hall
  • 8:00pm – Relax on deck with after-dinner drinks under the stars

Day 2

  • 6:30am – Tai chi class on the sundeck (optional)
  • 7:30am – Breakfast while cruising towards Cai Be
  • 9:00am – Walk through Cai Be’s unique floating market, seeing local trading
  • 10:00am – Visit local family workshops producing traditional treats
  • 12:00pm – Traditional Vietnamese lunch onboard
  • 2:00pm – Rowboat ride through mangroves, small canals and gardens
  • 4:00pm – Return to ship. More relaxation on deck
  • 7:00pm – Farewell dinner followed by cultural performance

Day 3

  • 6:30am – Light breakfast
  • 8:00am – Disembark for walking tour of Can Tho’s markets
  • 11:00am – Checkout. Return transfer to Ho Chi Minh City

This provides just a taste of what you’ll experience and discover during your Mekong Delta cruise. Each day provides rich cultural immersion.

Is a Mekong Delta Cruise Worth It?

Taking a multi-day boat tour through the Mekong Delta is absolutely worth the investment. A cruise provides:

  • Access to areas of the delta only reachable by boat
  • Convenience of having transport, meals and lodging arranged
  • Local expert guides to provide context and stories
  • A cozy floating base to relax on between excursions
  • Effortless cultural immersion at a leisurely pace
  • New perspectives of daily life and landscapes from the water
  • Great value compared to arranging all logistics yourself

For travelers with limited time who want to see the highlights of the Mekong Delta, a cruise is highly recommended. The tours hit all the top sights while handling all the planning work.

Just avoid the rainy season, read reviews carefully when choosing a cruise company, and pack appropriate clothing. A Mekong riverboat journey will likely become the most memorable part of your Vietnam visit.

Frequently Asked Questions About Mekong Delta Cruises

Here are answers to some commonly asked questions about taking a boat tour in the Mekong Delta:

What is the best type of cruise to take?

Mid-range cruises offer the best value. You get good comforts without paying premium pricing. Luxury cruises are also amazing if you prefer a high-end experience.

What cruise duration is ideal?

The 3 day/2 night tours provide a great overview of the highlights. If you have more time, longer 4-5 day cruises allow for a more immersive experience.

What are the cabins like?

Cabins range from small with basic amenities on budget boats to finely appointed staterooms on luxury ships. Most mid-range cruises offer comfortable, moderate sized rooms.

Can kids go on cruises?

Absolutely yes. Many activities like cycling, row boats and village interactions appeal to kids. Some luxury boats have minimum age requirements however.

Is motion sickness common on the boats?

Motion sickness is rare since cruise ships remain docked or anchored most nights. River currents also move gently. But those very prone may feel occasional mild nausea.

What languages are spoken?

All cruise staff speak English very well. Guides are also fluent in French, Russian or other languages. Most tours have translators onboard.

What are the restaurants like?

Dining rooms offer buffet spreads with Vietnamese and international cuisine. Expect fresh seafood, pho noodle soup, spring rolls, curries, stir-fries and tropical fruits.

Is WiFi available?

Yes, all cruise ships provide free WiFi in common areas and cabins. But connections can be slow in rural parts of the delta. You may have periods without service.

Can I pay by credit card?

Most midrange and luxury cruise companies accept major credit cards like Visa and MasterCard. Some smaller boats are cash only.

Are cruises wheelchair accessible?

Unfortunately no, cruises are currently not wheelchair accessible as boats have stairs between decks. But check directly with the operator.

A Mekong Delta cruise lets you sit back and experience the Very best of southern Vietnam at a relaxing pace. With beautiful scenery, cultural insight and amazing food, it’s sure to be a trip highlight.