In 2023, there were approximately 2.1 million international visitors to the Mekong Delta, a modest number.

This statistic was mentioned at the third forum on tourism development cooperation between Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta, held in Ben Tre Province on April 17th.

Nguyen Van My, chairman of Lua Viet Tours Co., Ltd., a travel firm based in Ho Chi Minh City, noted that in 2023, 10 out of the 13 Mekong Delta provinces and cities recorded revenue per visitor – a critical metric for assessing the effectiveness of tourism – of less than VND1 million (US$39.2), with three provinces even falling below VND500,000 ($19.6).

For comparison, a foreign tourist spent an average of around $117.8 per day when traveling in Vietnam in 2019, according to online statistics portal Statista.

Tuoi Tre News gathered feedback from foreign visitors to understand the strengths and weaknesses of Mekong Delta tourism, aiming to enhance the region’s appeal and draw more tourists.

‘A must-visit destination’

For Ottavia Galbiati, a 34-year-old female traveler from Italy, the Mekong Delta is a must-visit destination for anyone visiting Vietnam for the first time.

Two highlights of Galbiati’s trip in the region were the professionalism of her tour guide and a short bike ride, which she described as “really, really lovely.”

Over the course of two days and one night, Galbiati’s Mekong Delta tour at the end of December 2023 included visiting a floating market, boating through canals, cycling around a village, and participating in a session to learn how to make bánh xèo (Vietnamese sizzling crepe).

The solo traveler also had the opportunity to try many fruits she had not encountered before.

Ottavia Galbiati, a 34-year-old tourist from Italy, cycles through the scenic Mekong Delta in Vietnam, December 2023. Photo: Ottavia Galbiati

After exploring a floating market near Bangkok in Thailand, Galbiati anticipated more exciting experiences at the Cai Rang floating market in Can Tho City.

However, her expectations were not met by the reality.

“In the end, the experience was good but I expected more, especially from the floating market that I think was too touristy,” she said.

“Even the boat tour was really touristy.

“The river was full of people.”

Overall, she found the tour to be overly touristy and quite rushed.

“Probably I won’t go there again if I visit Vietnam in the future,” Galbiati stated.

“But if someone asks me whether it’s a place to visit for the first trip in Vietnam, I’ll say ‘yes’.”

Ottavia Galbiati, a 34-year-old tourist from Italy, tries her hand at making ‘bánh xèo’ (Vietnamese sizzling crepe) during her visit to the Mekong Delta in Vietnam in December 2023. Photo: Ottavia Galbiati

‘The friendliest’

Galbiati is not alone in her unfavorable impression of the floating market in Can Tho.

“What struck me most was the amount of trash in the river,” said Sally Bell, a tourist from Malta.

“It is a pity because Vietnam is a beautiful country.”

Bell visited the Mekong Delta, specifically Can Tho, with a relative in February 2023. Their trip was meticulously arranged by locals and turned out amazing on the whole.

Sally Bell, a tourist from Malta, tries making ‘bánh hỏi mặt võng’ (rice vermicelli interwoven in layers) during her visit to Can Tho City in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam in February 2023. Photo: Sally Bell

During their three-week north-to-south travel itinerary across Vietnam, they stayed in the Mekong Delta for only two days.

Bell said that the food, especially bún nước lèo (Vietnamese noodle soup with seafood) and a variety of fruits, was a highlight.

“The hosts were incredibly friendly, the friendliest we met in Vietnam,” Bell recounted.

They had the opportunity to try their hands at making bánh hỏi mặt võng (rice vermicelli interwoven in layers) and gỏi cuốn (fresh spring rolls).

They also made a banana cake with assistance from a local woman and visited a place where chocolate is made from pure cacao beans.

A bowl of ‘bún nước lèo’ (Vietnamese noodle soup with seafood) that Sally Bell, a tourist from Malta, ate during her visit to Can Tho City in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam in February 2023. Photo: Sally Bell

‘The heart and soul of Vietnam’

For long-term expatriates like Australian Ray Kuschert, the Mekong Delta is quite familiar.

Just last year, Kuschert visited My Tho City in Tien Giang three times, and Can Tho City and Long An Province once each.

He particularly enjoyed cycling to My Tho on two occasions, viewing it as an ideal weekend getaway whether traveling by bus, motorbike, or bicycle.

“I have never heard any foreigner speak badly of the Mekong Delta bicycle adventures,” Kuschert said.

“It is just one of the world’s greatest cycling adventure locations because you don’t have to be a superman to do it.

“The roads are OK and flat and the region has a good number of hotels and places to stay no matter where you go.”

Kuschert and his friends typically begin their journey on Saturday morning, stay overnight in the delta, and return to Ho Chi Minh City on Sunday morning.

Each trip offers him memorable experiences.

Ray Kuschert (right), hailing from Australia, enjoys a cycling excursion with friends in My Tho City, Tien Giang Province, Mekong Delta, Vietnam. Photo: Ray Kuschert

“You meet people on small back roads and in villages,” the man recalled. 

“They are so friendly.

“The rivers and farmland are so beautiful in the morning.

“You just see so much of the real heart of Vietnam along the way.”

“And with the variety of places to stay, many of my friends will make it a longer adventure and stay in homestays or resorts on the river.”

However, this frequent visitor to the Mekong Delta also noted that self-guided trips, whether alone or in groups, are easier “if you speak Vietnamese.”