Ha Tien may be part of the Mekong Delta but lying on the Gulf of Thailand it feels a world away from the rice fields and rivers that typify the region. There are dramatic limestone formations peppering the area, which are home to a network of caves, some of which have been turned into temples. Plantations of pepper trees cling to the hillsides.
Rach Gia is something of a southern boom town, flush with funds from the thriving port on the Gulf of Thailand but also benefiting from a serious injection of Viet Kieu money, as former boat people ride the wave of development. The population includes significant numbers of both ethnic Chinese and ethnic Khmers.
The boulevards of Tra Vinh, one of the prettiest towns in the Mekong Delta, are still lined with shady trees, harking back to an earlier era. Boasting more than 140 Khmer pagodas scattered about the province, Tra Vinh is a quiet place for exploring the Mekong’s little-touted Cambodian connection.
Soc Trang isn’t the most charming of Mekong towns, but it is an important centre for the Khmer people who make up 28% of the province’s population. It’s a useful base for exploring some impressive Khmer temples in the area, although you can probably pass on these if Cambodia is on your radar.
Aside from a few minor sights and a lively market, the capital of An Giang province offers little to detain travellers. It’s a relatively affluent city, making its money from agriculture (particularly cashew nuts) and fish processing. Long Xuyen was once a stronghold of the Hoa Hao sect.
The drowsy former capital of Dong Thap province, Sa Dec is a comparatively peaceful city of tree-lined streets and fading colonial villas, ringed with orchards and flower markets. It has a minor claim to fame as the setting for The Lover, a semi-autobiographical novel by Marguerite Duras, made into a film by Jean-Jacques Annaud.
A holy place for Buddhists, Sam Mountain (Nui Sam, 284m) and its surrounds are crammed with dozens of pagodas and temples. A strong Chinese influence makes it particularly popular with ethnic Chinese but Buddhists of all ethnicities visit here. The views from the top are excellent (weather permitting), stretching deep into Cambodia.
Built on the swampy shores of the Ganh Hao River, Ca Mau is the capital and the only city in Ca Mau province, which covers the southern tip of the Mekong Delta. It’s a remote and inhospitable area that wasn’t cultivated until the late 17th century. Owing to the boggy terrain, the province has the lowest population density in southern Vietnam.