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Discovering Vietnam Through Waterways

By | March 3, 2015

I am puzzled why many tours of Vietnam don’t include the Mekong Delta. It’s one of the world’s great rice baskets, verdant and tranquil, and although it may not be as spectacularly beautiful as Ha Long Bay or as compellingly charming as Hanoi, I have always found that exploring its waterways puts visitors in touch with the soul and heart of Vietnam. On Smithsonian’s Discovering Vietnam tours, the delta is a major attraction that visitors never seem to tire of.

Can Tho, Vietnam’s fourth largest city, is the commercial hub of the Mekong Delta. The drive in a comfortable motor coach from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) takes about four hours, including a leisurely lunch at the Mekong Rest Stop, which offers a bountiful menu of fresh fish. A treat awaited us at the end of journey—the Victoria, a five-star boutique hotel surrounded by a lush, tropical landscape on the banks of the Mekong.

Our group of 23 Smithsonian travelers set off early the next morning in a motorized sampan to explore the floating market. Hundreds of small boats bobbed in the Mekong’s calm currents as merchants and venders swapped their wares and haggled over prices. Their boats pressed close to ours. Women on conical hats reached out to us, offering watermelons, pineapples, bananas, even freshly brewed coffee. The whole scene is a photographer’s delight.

The Mekong’s name comes from the Thai’s mae num, which translates as “mother water.” The river, one of the world’s longest, has its birth in the plateaus of China’s Tibet region. It flows for 2,700 miles through Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Laos, Cambodia before reaching Vietnam and emptying into the South China Sea. Scientists consider it one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world.


Learn more about our Discovering Vietnam tour here. 

Discovering Vietnam Vietnam

David Lamb

During a 40-year career with United Press International and the Los Angeles Times, David Lamb gained a reputation as the quintessential foreign correspondent. He has reported from more than 100 countries on all seven continents and covered many of the world’s most compelling news stories, from Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan. His reporting has been nominated for eight Pulitzer Prizes. In 1968, David volunteered for an assignment in Vietnam as a battlefield reporter for UPI. He spent two years there, then returned in 1975 to cover the fall of Saigon for the Los Angeles Times. Two decades later, in 1997, The Times sent him back to Vietnam for four years, this time based in Hanoi, to run the paper’s first peacetime Indochina bureau. “To discover that Vietnam is a country, not a war, was an extraordinarily rewarding and fascinating experience," he recalls. David is the author of six books. His most recent book is Vietnam, Now: A Reporter Returns.

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