Don’t leave without seeing the Mekong Delta, one of Vietnam’s most interesting and scenic regions. An organized tour, even the most low-budget version, offers action-packed days with bus and boat trips to small craft villages, mangrove swamps, island orchards, and spectacular floating markets. Day trip isn’t quite enough to fully delve into the delta, so plan on an overnight — best in the delta’s urban centers of Can Tho or Chau Doc near Cambodia (try to stay at the Victoria in either location).
The delta is a web of Mekong River waterways covering an area of about 60,000km (37,200 miles) across three provinces. The region is densely populated with 18 million souls, most engaged in farming and fishing. Called the “rice basket” of Vietnam, the Mekong Delta accounts for more than 50% of all rice and produce in the country, exporting between 4 million and 5 million tons of rice per year. The land is tessellated with bright green rice paddies, fruit orchards, sugar-cane fields, and vegetable gardens, and its waters stay busy with boats and fish farms. Rice production and harvest still involves water buffaloes instead of tractors, as well as backbreaking hand planting of rice shoots, weeding, and hand harvesting.
Impoverished under socialist agricultural programs, the region benefited greatly from the 1980s Doi Moi reforms, and rice paddies that once yielded just one crop now produce three crops per year, an important part of Vietnamese economic self-sufficiency.
The Mekong delta was a hotbed for Viet Cong guerillas during the war with the U.S., and some tours will take you to the vestiges of old Viet Cong hide-outs, complete with hideaway ambush holes and a ride among the mangrove swamp where stealth forces disappeared after raids in Saigon.