Experience Natural Beauty in the Mekong Delta

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Its trade ports date back to the 1st Century. Tens of thousands of animal species call it home. The rivers and canals are its lifeline. Welcome to the Mekong Delta in Vietnam.

Mekong Canal
Cruising in a boat just over the Vietnam border on our way to Chau Doc

This culturally rich region deep in the south of Vietnam thrives on the abundant waterways streaming from the Mekong River that runs south from China before terminating into the sea.

Chau Doc Floating Market
Locals transporting goods they bought at the Chau Doc Floating Market

In keeping with our desires to explore the roads (or in this case, rivers) less traveled, we stayed in Nui Sam as we started our exploration of the Mekong Delta. Nui Sam is located just 4 miles (7 km) from the bustling town of Chau Doc.

Victoria Nui Sam Lodge
Outstanding Vietnam countryside views at Nui Sam Lodge

A rejuvenating 3-day stay at Victoria Nui Sam Lodge was just what we needed after a busy week of exploring ancient temples in Cambodia.

Victoria Nui Sam Lodge
Sam enjoying the view from the pool at Nui Sam Lodge

Though relaxing by the pool certainly had its perks (and amazing views), it was time for us to get out yet again and explore the natural beauty in the Mekong Delta! We met up with a guide from Buffalo Tours to experience the full-day Mountains, Monasteries, and Bird Life tour in and around Chau Doc.

Khmer Village Visit
Local woman in Khmer ethnic village

Too often people travel to foreign lands just to ‘see the sights’ and rarely interact with locals beyond ordering a meal at a restaurant or hailing a taxi. What we loved about this particular tour was that it started with a visit to a local Khmer ethnic village. The locals were genuinely excited to meet with us and welcome us into their home. Many Cambodians (Khmer) still refer to the Mekong region as ‘lower Cambodia’, and to this day, there are a large number of Khmer ethnic minorities living in the Mekong Delta region.

Khmer Village Visit
This local Khmer man was quite impressed with Sam’s height!

They didn’t speak much English, but our guide Tu acted as a translator when she could (as they spoke Khmer, not Vietnamese). We sipped on herbal tea together as they admired our ‘high noses’, which is considered a beautiful feature in their eyes.

Khmer Village Visit
Local Khmer woman demonstrating how she weaves on a loom

We relished the opportunity to watch the youngest daughter perform her trade of traditional weaving on a loom before moving on to our next stop. So much attention and precision goes into creating this beautiful handicraft.

Entrance to Van Rau Pagoda
Entrance to Van Rau Pagoda

Just a few minutes down the road from the village we came upon the Van Rau Pagaoda, a Buddhist monastery.

Van Rau Pagoda
Khmer Buddhist Monastery – Van Rau Pagoda

Because of this region’s Cambodian influence, the Khmer monks here practice a distinct form of Buddhism, different from that of a traditional Vietnamese monk.

Van Rau Pagoda
Spiritual statue at Van Rau Pagoda

As we stood admiring this statue, a woman entered the center, kneeled on the mat, and performed an offering of gratitude. The grounds of the monastery were peaceful, minus the one beggar who approached us immediately as we arrived. Otherwise, it was just us and a handful of individuals, including a few Khmer monks, walking around.

Van Rau Pagoda
Tomb of prestigious monks at Van Rau Pagoda

All too soon, we left the Khmer village behind, but excitement grew as we drove to the next destination on our tour. Motorbikes whizzed by, many carrying more cargo (and passengers) than you would think they would be capable of transporting. The countryside of Vietnam is beautiful, lush, and vibrant. We considered the transportation time during our tour as a highlight in itself!

Chau Doc, Vietnam
Motorbikes are the most popular method of transportation in Vietnam

After about 30-45 minutes, we arrived at Tuc Dup Hill, an iconic war site. This hill is also known as $2 Million Hill, because reportedly the US spent $2 million trying to destroy this Viet Cong stronghold, though they never did.

Tuc Dup Hill
Tuc Dup Hill – An iconic Vietnamese war site

The plan was to climb through the series of small caves leading to the top of the hill where we would have the opportunity to talk with a Vietnam war veteran. Unfortunately the caves were a little too cramped for our liking and we turned back after just a few minutes. We are both very tall people, so the series of narrow passageways and steep ladders defeated us in the end.

Tuc Dup Hill
Views from Tuc Dup Hill, also known as $2 Million Hill

We were extremely disappointed at missing out on the opportunity to hear first-hand stories about what it was like to live here during the war, but we simply couldn’t muster the courage and strength to continue up the treacherous hill. It did, however, make us realize how crazy the living conditions were for the Viet Cong members who spent months on end in the confines of this hill.

Bananas and Rambutan
Discovered a new-to-us delicious fruit – Rambutan

Following our failed little ‘mountain adventure’, we sat down for some regional cuisine. We were impressed from the get-go, as we got to try a new fruit for starters- rambutan. It’s known as chom chom, or “messy hair”, in Vietnamese. The multi-course meal we were served was flavorful and filling! We sampled a sour soup, fresh cooked vegetables, and delicious baked fish. Yum!

Lunch at Tuc Dup Hill
Enjoying a multi-course meal of regional cuisine

Our second to last stop, and probably our favorite of the day, was the Tra Su Nature Reserve, a flooded eucalyptus forest, and home to the Tra Su Bird Sanctuary.

Tra Su Forest
Waiting for our boat to come in Tra Su Forest

Here you will find Vietnam’s largest population of birds (over 80 different species), including egrets, storks, cormorants, and peafowl. But, you certainly don’t have to be a bird enthusiast to fall in love with this luxuriant wetland.

Tra Su Forest
Exploring the waterways of Tra Su Forest by boat
Tra Su Forest
Tra Su is also a bird sanctuary and is home to over 80 different species of birds

Wanting to feel the part, we donned traditional palm-leaf conical hats, known as a non la, as we cruised through the forest.

Tra Su Forest
When in Vietnam…
Tra Su Forest
Wearing the traditional Vietnamese hats with our tour guide, Tu

With chirping birds, and rustling tree leaves from a gentle breeze as our soundtrack, our favorite portion of the day was spent in a row-boat gliding over the thick water-logged vegetation.

Tra Su Forest
Cruising under a thick canopy surrounded by chirping birds
Tra Su Forest
The vegetation was so dense, you felt like you were gliding over a thick carpet

After hopping in another boat, we sped deeper into the forest to make our way toward the observation tower.

Tra Su Forest
A mild power boat guided us to the location of the observation tower
Tra Su Forest
Observation tower providing panoramic views of the nature reserve below

The tower provided breathtaking panoramic views of the forest below and Nui Sam (Sam Mountain) way off in the distance.

Tra Su Forest
Trees as far as the eye can see… and Nui Sam (Sam Mountain) in the distance
Tra Su Forest
Sam enjoying the scenic views

Tra Su is a nature-lover’s paradise.  Throughout our visit, I was experiencing a constant internal struggle of “put the camera down and just enjoy it” and “oh my goodness, this scenery is unreal, I must capture it“! Fortunately I had enough time for both!

Tra Su Forest
So much beautiful vegetation can be found in the nature reserve
Tra Su Forest
On a boat heading back toward the exit… do we have to leave?!

We can’t recommend a visit to this nature reserve enough! It’s the perfect way to escape the mild chaos from nearby towns and reconnect with nature!

Tra Su Forest
Grateful that the rain held out during our visit to the forest
Tra Su Forest
So many wonderful views in the Tra Su Nature Reserve

On our way back into town we stopped off at the Ba Chua Xu Temple. It was actually not a scheduled stop on our tour, but our guide Tu, a Chau Doc native, wanted to share with us one of the town’s most notable attractions. According to legend, in the early 1800s, villagers found a statue of a lady dating to the 6th century in the forest. They built a temple in her honor hoping that she would bestow upon them abundant crops and better lives. It is now one of the main religious sites in the Mekong Delta attracting thousands of religious pilgrims seeking a prosperous life.

Lady Chua Xu Temple
Ba Chua Xu Temple – One of the Mekong Delta’s most popular religious attractions

The day started at 8 am and ended around 4 pm. It included local experiences and cuisine, culture, tradition, and history. It was refreshing to be on a guided tour, but still feel as if we were having an authentic experience, as opposed to a touristy check-list of popular attractions. Our tour was provided compliments of Buffalo Tours, a leading travel company providing outstanding customized tours throughout Southeast Asia. They design expertly-crafted itineraries and tailor-made travel packages with the customer’s interests in mind and take it a step further to ensure their guests have enriching and cultural experiences during their travels. After our experience, we can highly recommend you look into booking with Vietnam’s Leading Tour Operator, as recognized in the 2015 World Travel Awards.


  1. What a revealing look at the Mekong River and its people, Sam and Toccara! I have been considering a Viking River cruise on the Mekong for a while now, and your post and pictures have definitely heightened my resolve.

    • You definitely should look into a Mekong cruise, but be sure to also get off the bigger boat and onto a little boat to go through some of the smaller canals. That’s where the culture of the region can really be found!

  2. Wow. it looks beautiful! I really want to try a Rambutan now!

  3. Your photos are simply stunning. This is something I’d absolutely love to do, and after visiting the Angkor Temples, I could have also used some time like this to relax and take in daily life. Thanks for sharing and getting me thinking about my next trip to SE Asia. (Luckily, though, I can find rambutan right here in NYC’s Chinatown!)

  4. Another great read! Really like the photography, and the place, obviously. Saw a documentary the other day about the Mekong Delta and now recall some of it.

    Would love to visit! 🙂

  5. I love all your photos! Vietnam looks so green and lush. It’s never been high on my travel list but maybe I’ll bump it up a few places lol. Gotta get me one of those hats!

    • The hats are too cute. It’s really not a touristy thing either (well, there aren’t a lot of tourists in this region anyway); so many of the locals wear them as they carry on with their daily lives.

  6. a) Food looks delicious
    b) I so want one of those hats

    Love these photos – looks like such an amazing spot. Can’t stress enough how badly I’ve been wanting to go here and do these exact same things!! 🙂

  7. Looks like an amazing place. Beautiful scenery, delicious food and great people. Definitely on my list. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Wow! It looks like you guys were able to really get in there and have a pretty authentic experience. I’m jealous!

  9. Gorgeous!! VIetnam and the Mekong Delta has been on my to do list for 10+ years. Looks absolutely amazing. It’s making me re-think my birthday trip for next year…

    • Now is the time to visit! It’s still relatively undiscovered, so I recommend you go sooner rather than later before everyone else discovers how amazing it is! It was incredible how welcomed we felt, because they just aren’t used to seeing too many foreigners… YET!

  10. Wow, it seems that you have discovered in depth the Mekong Delta. Chau Doc is a bit far from Saigon and not many tourists come there. You were very lucky.

  11. Mekong Delta is one of my favorite destination in Vietnam. I have visited it many times and enjoyed every single day there. You didn’t write about Chau Doc gastronomy? For me, it is also excellent, especially “lau mam” (hotpot): very tasty!

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