The Mekong Delta makes up the greater part of the area southwest of HCMC. It offers the visitor a fabulous yet easily accessible destination with diverse attractions from cruises and river tours to boat trips through maze-like waterways connecting small farms, forests and mangroves. Cycle tours with guides introduce the visitor to the welcoming communities and farms, and accommodations can be found to suit all budgets from basic overnight stays to luxury resorts.
Video source: Hải Hoàng
The gateway to the Mekong Delta area lies within easy reach of HCMC with the nearest major river crossing of the Mekong river distributaries at My Tho, being easily reached along a good highway, only 75 km from HCMC airport, and approximately 1 hr 35 mins by car, providing safe highway travel to the edge of the delta. The region maintains its small-community charm, catering to diverse tourism sectors from mass tourism for large tour groups, to expat families seeking weekend breaks.
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While currently lacking a direct flight to HCMC, the regional capital of Can Tho (a fairly long drive of around three hours), has an international airport, with regional flights to Hanoi, Phu Quoc and Da Nang, allowing for the air traveller to explore the Delta waterways, or even to continue upriver into Cambodia on the many available river cruises.
The principal attraction has to be the natural beauty, as Françoise and Michel Scour the French founders and managers of The Island Lodge at My Tho described: “For sure water is everywhere you go, from small arroyo [creeks filled by the near-surface water table] to large navigable canals constructed in the French period to ease river navigation, to innumerable small canals to irrigate plantations,” orchards and rice fields. Many of these can be explored by boat, by foot or by widely available guided cycle tours where you can encounter local communities of farmers and fishermen.
The Mekong offers a broad choice of accommodation, from the highest quality resorts and boutique hotels to overnight budget hotels and B&Bs. Packaged tours can easily be found through numerous travel agencies and tour groups, commonly varying from two to eight days in length suitable for an array of activities, such as cycle or boat tours.
In our conversations with local operators we heard about the importance of the local tour agencies to them. Benoit Perdu of the “9 Dragons Mekong Delta Cruise” organisation talked of how they “cherish agents with long-term commitment to the area, to their clients and to their customers”.
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Jean-Luc Voisin also points to the importance of building a sustainable tourism industry here: “Agro- or eco-tourism is one solution to help the farmers stay on the farm.” This also provides a very good opportunity for small farms to continue that may otherwise be economically difficult to maintain.
He adds, “Bed & breakfast need political [local government] authorisation to set up, and support from travel agencies to help local businesses learn what the different needs are from the Vietnamese visitors to the international visitors.“
Water tours are booming. These range from mass-tourism scenic tour boats and party boats, to more relaxed cruise boats offering cruise-based accommodation and dining. Some visitors may enjoy the foods principally, other groups may prefer the packaged and busy guided tours, while others may prefer a relaxed pace, or perhaps a mix of relaxation with activity locations such as a visit to a floating market, a cycle through a fruit orchard, enjoying a wonderful meal prepared on a farm stay, or a shorter smaller craft excursion, all planned on a day or multi-day cruise.
Talking to Benoit Perdu, we learned that:
While international visitors come from all over the world, that outside of the mass tourism sector, the visitors returning to the region are most often from groups broadly belonging to European cultures, such as France, Britain, Germany and Australia, possibly appreciating the more niche boutique appeal of many resorts and attractions.
Dining throughout the Mekong will surprise you with the abundance of locally farmed produce, fresh fruits and vegetables and of course fresh seafood. Cuisines can be found with strong influences from many local and nearby Asian cultures, to more Western and some IndoChine and French influences.
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One of the more attractive aspects to the mass tourism groups, especially for Vietnamese tour groups, is the large choice of dining, with local and seafood restaurants meeting the needs in large numbers.
The Mekong – Economic Miracle
The Mekong river, its tributaries, its maze of narrow waterways and broad expanse of wetlands supports a massive region. With agriculture, manufacturing, fisheries and river transport, the region is of significant economic value both nationally and internationally. However, the natural beauty of the province is in no way compromised by all this economic success.
Jean-Luc Voisin describes that in his decision in choosing to build his business in Vietnam and the Mekong Delta; following a career working around the world with engineering companies, and having considered many things like education, business possibilities and security, he says simply that “Vietnam got the gold medal!”
Tourism development in the Mekong Delta region appears to build from the same foundations, with an approach that fosters relationships not only between tour agencies and operators but also between operators, in many ways building a synergy that combines tour agencies with specialist operators or service providers. With such relationships, an organisation can, as shared by Benoit Perdu, “identify your segment and stick to that”.