Adrift on a body of water cloaked with greenery – boats, markets and houses call the Mekong their home, a lively delta that feels like a world away from terra firma. A vast collection of rivers, canals and streams intersect and criss-cross, turning water into a confusing trail for those unfamiliar with its twisting, winding paths.
Whether seasoned travellers or novice explorers sailing through the Mekong, one thing is for sure: the river itself is gilded with all manner of breath-taking sights to see as you serenely pass through. From temples and shrines to its famous floating markets, where vendors sell their wares from long, kayak-like boats. Here, we’ll guide you through six breath-taking temples and sights that can be found along the Mekong.
Vinh Trang Pagoda
A favourite of travellers and tourists, the opulent Vinh Trang Pagoda is one of southern Vietnam’s most famous temples. Built in the 19th century, this serene and peaceful temple was originally built in the 19th century, gilding five acres of land with its quiet but impressive ambience.
Beautifully maintained by monks, huge statues of Buddha tower over the grounds, a feature that may sound imposing at first, but only adds to the welcoming, warming atmosphere felt throughout the temple. With mosaic decorations made out of pottery, flower gardens and fruit trees, this palatial place of worship is the perfect place to go if you’re looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Cai Rang Floating Market
Of all the floating markets found along the Mekong Delta, the Cai Rang markets are the biggest and are certainly well worth checking out while you’re here. A prime example of the vibrant local life on offer in this part of the world, seasoned visitors recommend getting here as early as possible to experience them when the temperatures are milder and the markets themselves aren’t so busy. There’s a bridge nearby that affords some superb photo opportunities of the activity below, where wholesale rice and fruit are sold in large quantities.
A quintessential slice of Vietnam, it’s a bit different from your average tourist attraction but one that is well worth checking out while you’re here. If the crowds are too much, try the Phong Dien markets instead. They’re smaller and more intimate, and the vendors use stand-up pole boats rather than the motorised ones at Car Rang. Unfortunately, its peak hours of activity are between 5 and 7am – we don’t expect you to be awake at this time when you’re on holiday.
Halfway up Sam Mountain lies this peaceful sanctuary that’s another great go-to if you need a breather from the city. Its location means there’s some excellent views to take in, while the lush, verdant greenery creates a calming atmosphere for you to bask in. The lower part of the pagoda houses the monks’ quarters, as well as two hexagonal tombs in which its founders, a female tailor Le Thi Tho and a former head monk, Thich Hue Thien, are buried.
As its name suggests, the pagoda also features a network of winding caves, in which statues of the Buddha and other deities reside, including a thousand-armed, thousand-eyed goddess which always grabs onlookers’ attention.
Situated near the Can Tho river, Ong Temple is a place of worship that’s a treat for the senses. Lit from day to night, enormous coils of incense decorate the grounds, filling the temple with fragrant aromas and an uplifting, invigorating atmosphere.
Built in the 19th century, the temple was meant to serve the worshippers of Kuang Kung, a deity symbolising justice, loyalty, intelligence, honour and courage. If you time your visit just right, you can see just how the incense coils are lit and hung up on their poles. Even for those who aren’t spiritually-inclined, a visit here is an affirming, refreshing experience that’ll stay with you long after you’ve left Vietnam.
If you’re looking for somewhere to really unwind and recharge, then leave your cares by the side of the road, head to this strip of pure white sand in Phu Quoc and soak up the sun like the locals do. Curving around a body of water that’s so clear you can see starfish at the bottom, this is a postcard come to life; think swaying palm trees, cooling shade and a horizon that stretches for miles.
With shack-style restaurants serving up delicious food and beachfront deck chairs for you to settle into, this crescent-shaped swathe of paradise is sure to delight from the second you step foot on its sands. A contender for the best beach in the area, locals say that you haven’t really visited Phu Quoc if you haven’t been to Sao Beach.
Tra Su Bird Sanctuary
This sprawling nature reserve is around 800,000 hectares of natural beauty. Home to 140 types of flora, 70 species of birds, 11 types of animals, 25 species of reptiles, and 23 kinds of fish, Tra Su brims with life. Although its wetlands are off-limits to visitors, the deeper you go into this verdant sanctuary, the quieter it gets, with the noise of the city gradually fading away to nothing. What’s more, you’ll be traversing this vibrant ecosystem by boat, so for some serenely-paced relaxation, this is an excellent way to let the world pass you by.