The Mekong River... at a glance
Far East expert Rathi Sivasothy shares the best times to visit Mekong river, where to stay, what to eat and what to do.
The Mekong river, which flows from Cambodia into southern Vietnam, is best visited between November and April when the weather is typically dry and warm. Many river cruises do not operate in May, when ships undergo restoration work.
If you’re visiting Vietnam’s colourful floating markets in Can Tho, stay at the all-suite Nam Bo Boutique Hotel, which offers panoramic views over the Mekong. There are just seven spacious suites and a choice of two restaurants, as well as a rooftop lounge. If you want to get to the heart of the Mekong delta then the Coco Riverside Lodge is the place to stay. The four bungalows are set in peaceful gardens and there is a bar with river views. Various community projects are supported by the lodge, which benefit the loc al Vũng Liêm district. For old-world charm, nothing can beat the lavish Raffles Hotel Le Royal in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Dating from 1929, this grand colonial hotel offers art deco guestrooms. Sip a Million Dollar Cocktail in the Elephant Bar, cool down by the pool, relax in the spa or dine on delicately flavoured Khmer dishes.
In Vietnam, the delta’s fertile soil produces a wide array of delicious tropical fruit. Look out for dragon fruit, a bright fuchsia-pink fruit with a sweet flesh and edible seeds. In Cambodia, fish amok, a coconut and fish curry steamed in banana leaves, is the classic dish on every menu and is as healthy as it is tasty.
Try honey tea. Honey from local bee farms is mixed with lime juice, dried honeycomb and weak tea to make a refreshing drink.
For those visiting Ho Chi Minh City but lacking the time for a luxury multi-night Mekong cruise, try an overnight houseboat stay. Equipped with comfortable private cabins and en suite bathrooms, these houseboats allow you to see the delta in the early morning and late evening when the waters are quiet. Or take a day cruise on a sampan, a traditional flat-bottomed boat. with relaxing day beds on which to lounge and watch life along the river. If you’re looking for a more cultural outing, visit Sa Dec, once the home of French writer Marguerite Duras. It was here that Duras met Huynh Thuy Le, the son of a wealthy Chinese family, and it was their love affair that formed the premise of her novel, The Lover. You can still visit the former residence of Huynh Thuy Le. For wildlife enthusiasts, go in search of the Irrawaddy dolphin. This endangered freshwater species may be spotted in a protected conservation area of the Mekong river near Kratié in Cambodia. There are thought to be as few as 80 Irrawaddy dolphins left in the Mekong river, but this is the largest of the five populations remaining in the world.
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