Cruising the Mighty Mekong: 3 Best Cultural Experiences

Cultural Experiences

A few rivers in the world come to mind when speaking about their potential to sustain life for millions of people around the globe. One of them is the Mekong, which drains more than 810,000 square kilometers of land, starting from the Plateau of Tibet to the South China Sea. 

It is estimated that 70 million people in the Mekong River Basin depend on the river’s rich natural resources. As communities along the river have built their lives around fishing and agricultural practices, it is important that this vast waterway is protected in light of climate change as well as the negative environmental impact of dams and deforestation.  

As a life-sustaining force for numerous diverse communities along its path, the Mekong river offers a unique traveling adventure and an unconventional way to experience Cambodia and Vietnam. Instead of visiting overcrowded mainstream tourist attractions, cruising along the river enables travelers to see and experience what life is like for the river dwellers of these two countries. 

Enjoy Authentic Experiences

From the hustle and bustle of floating markets in dynamic communities to off-the-beaten-track natural landscapes, journeying along the river offers a wide array of authentic experiences. If you are one of these travelers that want to explore the longest river in Southeast Asia, stretching over 4,350 kilometers across six countries, there’s no better way to go about it than taking a Mekong delta cruise.

If you decide to venture on such a journey, there are several places that you should not leave off your travel list. Below are some of the top picks, though it is hard to choose when each place along the Mekong has its own unique story. 

Mekong Delta Floating Markets

There’s no better way to get to know the local culture than visiting bustling places of commerce, and this is especially true for Cai Rang, which is the most popular floating market in the Mekong Delta. You have to be an early bird to experience the market from the first flush of the morning until noon when the market usually closes. The market produce includes a wide variety of seasonal fruits and vegetables along with local specialties and even wine and smuggled cigarettes. In the maze of small and large boats, sellers advertise their products by hoisting them up on a pole as a signboard.

Located in Can Tho province, the market has a lively atmosphere filled with the chatter and laughter of hundreds of sellers, market-goers, and tourists, along with the noise of hundreds of boats. The Cai Rang market, which was designated a national intangible cultural heritage in 2016, is an amazing experience that will bring you closer to the cultural traditions of Vietnam that have been happening for centuries and still continue today.

Floating Markets

Cambodian Floating Villages 

Lake Tonle Sap and the Tonle Sap River, which connects it to the Mekong River, are both home to numerous floating villages hosting small communities of various ethnicities that have built structures that support them both through the rainy and dry seasons. The mobile houses enable residents to relocate their homes during the rainy season when the water levels rise. But besides relocation, the villagers have had to get accustomed to living with plenty of other challenges that come with life on the water. 

To see the local way of life in these places, you can visit any of the hundreds of villages on the lake, but there are a few that stand out:

  1. Kompong Phluk, which translates to “Harbor of the Tusks”, is a group of communities that relies on fishing shrimp for survival 
  2. If you are a bird-watching lover, Mechrey floating village, which lies at the entry point into the Prek Toal Core Bird Reserve, is the right choice for you 
  3. A less visited destination on Tonle Sap is Kompong Khleang village, which might be the right choice for people looking for more authentic experiences. This village contains both stilted and floating houses as well as schools and temples 

Tan Chau

Situated right before the border with Cambodia, this Vietnamese town provides a great must-see destination when cruising the Mekong River. Town Chau is populated by Chinese, Kinh, and Khmer people, so there are plenty of different cultures to immerse yourself in once you arrive there. 

However, one of the most representative things of this city is its silk. Called Lãnh Mỹ A, the silk originating from this town has a longstanding history that is still honored to this day. The method for producing this kind of silk is an “heirloom” that has been passed down from parents to children for generations. If you want to familiarize yourself with the process of making this traditional Vietnamese silk, you can visit the Tan Chau silk village and see the craftsmen working on producing this material up close. 

The Ideal Choice for Culture Vultures

These are just some of the great experiences you can look forward to when you cruise the Mekong. They are perfect for those who want to enjoy unique exploration and immerse themselves in the fascinating culture.

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