Ho-Chi-Minh-City, 05.08.2012 - Since it became easy to travel from Cambodia’s coastal town of Kampot right away to Prek Chak/Ha Tien in Viet Nam’s Mekong Delta, the new entry border post there sees more and more tourist arrivals on a daily basis, most of all backpackers, who explore the huge and fertile Mekong Delta as a new playground.
In the age of ecotourism, a rich agricultural region like the Mekong Delta has the greatest potential to develop a growing and booming tourism industry. Situated in the most southern section of the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS), the Mekong Delta covers some 40,000 square kilometers and counts some 18 million people. Famous for its countless rivers, canals and waterways, 13 provinces of the Mekong Delta are eager to welcome tourists to show them their myriad of natural, cultural, and social attractions.
For tourists coming from Cambodia, Ha Tien is the first stop. Some 360 km southwest of Ho Chi Minh City, the town is located in Kien Giang Province and is a place of converging cultures of four different ethnic groups: Vietnamese, Chinese, Khmer, and Cham. The area was part of the ancient Oc Eo civilization known as the Kingdom of Funan, which straddled all over the Mekong Delta, and boasts some picturesque limestone mountains, caves, ponds, islands, and the romantic Mui Nai Beach.
Most of the tourists take a modern ferry boat from Ha Tien to Phu Quoc Island to arrive there at Nam Ninh on the eastern site of this holiday destination. It takes at least three days to explore the island, whose national park has a diversified ecosystem of flora and fauna. Returning back to the mainland, there is also a ferry boat to Rach Gia, which is the provincial capital of Kien Giang. There is a small museum with some finds and objects of the Oc Eo civilization and the famous Nguyen Trung Truc Temple, which is not very far from where the ferry boat stops.
From Rach Gia, tourists can take a bus to reach the more visited places of Can Tho City as well as Chau Doc in An Giang Province, both places at the Hau Giang, which is the lower southernmost branch of the Mekong River. Famous sites in Can Tho are the big statue of Ho Chi Minh in the heart of the city near the Old Market and the wholesale floating market of Cai Rang, which is some 5km away. All kind of fruits and vegetables are sold there and the place shows a bustling bee-hive of activities.
Chau Doc near the Cambodian border is an important market town. It is famous for its floating fish-farms, the holy Sam Mountain pilgrimage place and a village of the Cham ethnic minority, who are Muslim and praying in mosques. Chau Doc as well as Can Tho offer best accommodation options with their respective colonial Victoria Hotel & Resort, where tourists find time for cooking classes, bicycling tours or boat rides. For more information, please go to: www.victoriahotels-asia.com
Interesting to note is that from Long Xuyen, the provincial capital of An Giang, it is only 30 km away to reach Oc Eo. This important archaeological site worth visiting boasts a small museum on top of Ba The Mountain. But most of the important finds and objects of Funan are in the provincial museum at Long Xuyen. The rice-rich province also saw the evolution of modern religions, such as the ones of Cao Dai and Hoa Hao.
From Long Xuyen, there are busy car ferry boats to bring customers across the Hau Giang. The road follows to Sa Dec in Dong Thap Province, which is famous for its flower villages, and then arrives in Vinh Long Province, from where the monumental My Thuan Bridge was built across the Tien Giang, which is the upper northernmost arm of the Mekong River called Cuu Long in Vietnamese. After that you are in Tien Giang Province and - before reaching Ho Chi Minh City on a modern superhighway - it is highly advised to stop in My Tho, the provincial capital, which is 85 km away from Ho Chi Minh City.
My Tho is labeled as the Mekong River’s pretty girl and famous for the four islands in front of the river promenade. Tourist boats just take 20 minutes to reach Phoenix Island, where luxuriant orchards are full with exotic fruits. Also, My Tho features one of the biggest Mahayana Buddhist temples of Viet Nam named Vinh Trang Pagoda.
Leaving the city towards the east to reach the South China Sea, there are the vestiges of the Oc Eo-Go Thanh civilization to prove that the whole Mekong Delta was once the realm of the Khmer people - until the coming of the Vietnamese. Some 30km east of My Tho is the Royal Mausoleum of Go Cong to house the tombs of the Pham Dang maternal family of Nguyen dynasty’s kings to show that the place is older than Ho Chi Minh City. Reaching the coast, you’re in a new zone of tourism development with sun-bathing facilities and water-based sports.
Back in My Tho, on every evening people gather around the statue of Thu Khoa Huan, a Vietnamese hero of colonial times, when the Vietnamese fought against the French. It is recommended to stay in the small budget hotel Minh Tai to be near the market hall. To continue towards Ho Chi Minh City, you have to pass Tan An, the provincial capital of Long An Province, which boasts a museum of Oc Eo golden artifacts. All in all, there is still more to see in the Mekong Delta, if you have enough time.
Finally, for tourists who arrive in Ho Chi Minh City from abroad, it is highly recommended to book a tour into the Mekong Delta with one of the many tour operators in town, such as Asian Trails. For more information, please contact: www.asiantrails.info
As tourism development in Viet Nam has so far concentrated mainly in urban and coastal areas, just to mention Nha Trang, Hoi An, Da Nang, Hue, Ha Noi as well as Ha Long Bay, and has already begun to produce negative impacts, it will be only sustainable or community-based tourism in particular to counterbalance the problems of mass tourism. That is why the whole region of the Mekong Delta should be save-guarded and protected to become another UNESCO World Heritage Site as the new Garden of the East in the southern part of Viet Nam.
Reinhard Hohler is a GMS Media Travel Consultant based in Chiang Mai/Thailand and can be contacted via: firstname.lastname@example.org