Lang Du

The mighty Mekong originates from the Tibetan Plateau, flowing south over more than 4,200km. It crosses six nations – China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam – before finally reaching the ocean. In Vietnam, the river has created a prosperous delta rich in alluvial soil.

Fields in Tien Giang

The legend of the nine dragons 

When it flows into Vietnam, the Mekong – the Mother of Rivers – gains a beautiful and fitting new name: the Nine Dragons. The river splits into two main streams, the Tien Giang and the Hau Giang. Further on, it splits in many directions, accreting more alluvial sediments before reaching the Eastern Sea via nine streams. For this reason, our forefathers named the delta the Cuu Long, or Nine Dragons, upon exploring this southern region. I was inspired to follow the nine winding streams to the sea to explore the Nine Dragons Delta.

According to the Tabula Geographica Imperii Anamitici by Jean-Louis Taberd, published in 1838, the Nine Dragons River had nine river mouths. From the north to the south they were: the Tieu Estuary, Dai Estuary, Ba Lai, Ham Luong, Co Chien (on the Tien River), Cung Hau, Dinh An, Ba Thac, and Tran De (on the Hau River).

Countryside in Tinh Bien - An Giang

No matter how great nature’s changes, what’s important is that the Mother River has created a peaceful land that’s formed the foundation for one of the most diverse and culturally rich communities in Vietnam, making great contributions to our cultural heritage. Centuries have passed since Lord Nguyen explored this wilderness and established sovereignty. Thanks to its many rivers, Vietnam’s Cuu Long Delta is a region where many unique attributes meet. It is home to a hospitable rustic culture.

Local hospitality

If you wish to explore the fascinating land of the Nine Dragons, you must visit during two seasons: the flooding season and just before the Lunar New Year (Tết).

A southern woman

The flooding season is also called the floating season. It happens in September or October each year. From Go Cong (Tien Giang), towards Ben Tre, Vinh Long, Tra Vinh, and finally Chau Doc (An Giang), you will be amazed by the abundance of fish and other river species on offer. Not only are they bountiful, but also diverse. You cannot visit during the flooding season without trying a pot of fermented fish stew, or hot steamed tiny mud carp sour soup with a dip of fish sauce. The floating season is the best time to see the local fishermen at work and explore their raft village system, an economic mainstay in this region. Only when you arrive in Chau Doc and look from the Basa Fish Sculpture in the city’s centre to the raft fishing villages on the sides of the Hau River will you understand the scale and potential of this area’s aquaculture industry.

A boat carries flowers to a floating market

In this delta, trade still takes place in floating markets, a typical way to do business for people who live on the water. In the past, merchants could only transport and trade goods via their boats. They later formed trading communities and finally created floating markets.

I visited Nga Nam Floating Market (Soc Trang) in the chilly last month of the Lunar Year. In the run-up to the Lunar New Year, the market is alive with vendors selling fruit, trees, bonsai, staples, sweets, and utensils for the biggest traditional festival of the year. Why did I choose Nga Nam over other popular floating markets? Nga Nam has a prime location, at the intersection of five rivers. More importantly, the market is wholly focused on trade rather than tourism so there are more unique things to discover. Nga Nam is also one of the largest floating markets in the South. I loved the festive atmosphere, with everyone floating on little boats, edging between vendors displaying enchanting stacks of vegetables, fruit, and flowers. I sampled many types of food and drinks sold directly off the boats.

Melaleuca forests in Dong Thap

The people here are truly kind and welcoming. If you’re invited to join a family on a raft for a meal, please say yes. Just lie back on the wooden floor of a breezy house, sip some spicy rice liquor, and listen to heart-felt folk songs beautifully sung by your hosts. This will truly complete your experience of the Nine Dragons Delta.