A Guide to the Mekong Delta
The Mekong Delta (Vietnamese: Đồng bằng Sông Cửu Long, literally Nine Dragon river delta or simply Vietnamese: Đồng Bằng Sông Mê Kông, “Mekong river delta”), also known as the Western Region (Vietnamese: Miền Tây) or the South-western region (Vietnamese: Tây Nam Bộ) is the region in southwestern Vietnam where the Mekong River approaches and empties into the sea through a network of distributaries. The Mekong delta region encompasses a large portion of southwestern Vietnam of over 40,500 square kilometers (15,600 sq mi). The size of the area covered by water depends on the season. Before 1975, Mekong Delta was part of the Republic of Vietnam. Mekong Delta was home to the IV Corps region during the Vietnam War. IV Corps is the only corps in South Vietnam that VC didn’t attack significantly until the last President Duong Van Minh surrendered to North Vietnam.
Today, the region comprises 12 provinces: Long An, Đồng Tháp, Tiền Giang, An Giang, Bến Tre, Vĩnh Long, Trà Vinh, Hậu Giang, Kiên Giang, Sóc Trăng, Bạc Liêu, and Cà Mau, along with the province-level municipality of Cần Thơ.
The Mekong Delta has been dubbed as a “biological treasure trove”. Over 1,000 animal species were recorded between 1997 and 2007 and new species of plants, fish, lizards, and mammals have been discovered in previously unexplored areas, including the Laotian rock rat, thought to be extinct.
Mekong River Delta
The Mekong Delta is a network of distributaries in southwestern Vietnam, between Ho Chi Minh City and Cambodia. The river itself starts in the Himalayas and passes through China, Myanmar, Thailand, and Cambodia before reaching Vietnam, which partly explains why the waters are so murky. More than half of Vietnam’s rice and fish come from the delta region. It’s vital to the Vietnamese economy and diet.
Life in the area revolves around water, from the famous floating markets to the vast agricultural industries. An amazing variety of fruits, flowers, and livestock grow in the region. The Mekong River Delta is the rice basket of Vietnam, providing the sustenance for millions.
Mekong Delta Vietnam
The Mekong Delta is a region in southwestern Vietnam where the mighty Mekong River, a river that runs through six different countries in Southeast Asia, empties out into the sea.
The Delta is an incredibly interesting and important region, covering more than 15,000 square miles. It’s biologically diverse, with over 1,000 different animal species. It’s the agricultural heart of southern Vietnam. And it’s also one of the most important fishing regions in all of Vietnam.
Taking a day trip to the Mekong Delta is something you should definitely consider.
Mekong Delta Tour
Our trip into the Mekong Delta began in Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City. We took a bus a little over two hours outside of the city to the Delta port town of My Tho. We boarded a boat and began navigating down the Mekong River, learning about how important its waters are to this part of the world.
Eventually, we transferred into small sampan boats, our conical hats in place, to cruise through the canals and quiet waterways of the Delta.
As the local man rowing our boat took long, sure strokes to propel us through the groves of water coconut trees, we all marveled at the beauty of this part of Vietnam.
Yes, this part of Vietnam is densely populated and filled with fisheries and farms. But it’s still beautiful in its simplicity.
I’ve heard of others who have taken Mekong Delta trips and hated them. Who has said that they were too go-go-go and included too many stops at local agricultural sites and shops?
It’s true that tours in Vietnam tend to include stops at souvenir stands or local factories, but I found this to be true throughout much of Southeast Asia. It’s just how things are here, in a place where tourism is swiftly becoming an important industry of its own.
On my Mekong Delta tour, after our relaxing float on the sampans, we stopped for lunch at a local restaurant, where they brought us out delicious fresh spring rolls, whole grilled fish, curries, rice, fresh fruit, and more. We then took about half an hour to laze around in hammocks (yes, this really was part of our itinerary!) before setting off to explore more of the Delta.
Mekong Delta Vietnam War
On Jan. 31, 1968, Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops attacked over 100 of South Vietnam’s cities and towns. The offensive on the evening of Tet, the Vietnamese lunar New Year, came as a complete shock to both the United States and the Republic of Vietnam. Over time, the allies reconquered almost all of the lost ground and inflicted significant losses on the enemy, but the scale and ferocity of the attacks proved a major political blow for the U.S. war effort in Southeast Asia.
For the U.S. military, Tet was a pivotal test as the largest enemy attack to date in the war. Two of the most critical battle areas of Tet were the northernmost military region of South Vietnam (I Corps) and the southernmost (IV Corps), which contained the Mekong Delta. When Tet occurred, IV Corps became a high priority for the U.S. Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) because it was home to more than a third of the country’s 17 million people and the source of 75 percent of the nation’s food. It also abutted Saigon, the capital. In the Mekong Delta, the communists attacked 64 district capitals. Much of the defense of the delta fell upon the shoulders of U.S. Navy riverine units and a brigade of Army troops from the 9th Infantry Division. During the offensive, Navy small boats were employed for fire support, troop transport, amphibious assault, forward basing, logistical support, and numerous other missions. They, along with the U.S. Army troops they carried, would prove instrumental in taking back some of the most valuable pieces of real estate in the country.
The ability to operate and fight on rivers and shallow coastal areas (known as brown-water or inshore warfare) was critical to Tet and the broader war, but this capability had withered in the U.S. Navy since World War II. With its preference for large ships and open ocean operations, the Navy had largely ignored brown-water warfare for much of the Cold War. The Vietnam War and Tet, in particular, demonstrated that the U.S. Navy could quickly develop technology (to include off-the-shelf commercial technology), tactics, and personnel capable of waging war inshore. The story of how the Navy built a multi-mission, brown-water navy from scratch during the first three years of the war helps explain why it had such an impact during Tet. As the Navy continues to focus on lethality, it would be wise to remember both the struggles and triumphs of the “Brown-Water Navy” in Southeast Asia.