Published: January 20th 2011January 20th 2011
The Mekong Delta is the bottom half of Vietnam's two rice baskets, the other being the Red River Delta in the North . This vast delta is formed by the deposition of the multiple tentacles and tributaries of the mighty Mekong River which has its origin in the Tibetan highland plateau 2,800 miles away.
From its source, the river makes its way through China, Myanmar (Burma), Laos, Cambodia and South Vietnam before flowing out into the South China Sea. The Mekong's Vietnamese name, Cuu Long, means Nine Dragons for the nine mouths that terminate the flow of this great river as it is absorbed by the sea.
To the Vietnamese, the region is known as Cuu Long, "Nine Dragons", a reference to the nine tributaries of the Mekong River which dovetail across plains fashioned by millennia of flood-borne alluvial sediment. By the time it reaches Vietnam, the Mekong has already covered more than four thousand kilometres from its source high on the Tibetan Plateau; en route it traverses southern China, skirts Burma (Myanmar), then hugs the Laos– Thailand border before cutting down through Cambodia and into Vietnam – a journey that ranks it as Asia's third-longest river, after the Yangtse and Yellow rivers. Flooding has always blighted the delta; ever since Indian traders imported their advanced methods of irrigation more than eighteen centuries ago, networks of canals have been used to channel the excess water, but the rainy season still claims lives from time to time.
Surprisingly, agriculture gripped the delta only relatively recently. Under Cambodian sway until the close of the seventeenth century, the region was sparsely inhabited by the Khmer krom, or "downstream Khmers", whose settlements were framed by swathes of marshland.
One of the most attractive aspects of the Mekong Delta is its diversity. Some visitors would single out its sweeping panoramas of paddy, fruit orchards and Khmer pagodas, others the friendliness of its people, but for most it's the delta's skein of waterways, canals and tributaries that makes the region so special. It's difficult to overstate the influence of the river: the lifeblood of the rice and fruit crops grown here, it's also a crucial means of transportation, teeming with craft that ra
One of the most enjoyable ways to experience riverine life is on a boat trip, and trips are organized at My Tho, Vinh Long, Can Tho and Chau Doc. Since they all follow a similar itinerary (a visit to a floating market and stops at cottage industries on the shore), you'll probably want to choose just one. Though Can Tho is most popular for its good range of hotels and restaurants, you're likely to see more tourists than locals in the nearby floating markets. A good alternative is Vinh Long, from where boats head out in many different directions through the canals of An Binh Island to the floating market at Cai Be.
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