Mekong, to the south of Vietnam, is a lush coastal area known for its large rice fields, and, of course, the diverse wildlife of its delta. It is an extremely fertile area, and as such of vital importance to the Vietnamese economy in that 50% of its overall agricultural output derives from here. In fact, the Mekong Delta produces more rice than Japan and Korea combined.
The Mekong River itself rises in Cambodia, where it splits into two rivers – the Bassac and the First River. By the time it arrives in Vietnam it has meandered into a far more complex system of rivers and tributaries, creating a veritable maze of small canals and rivulets, interspersed with small fishing villages, rice farming communities and floating markets. As much of the surrounding landscape is completely waterlogged, the villages in the Mekong Delta are very often far more readily accessible by river.
For visitors, the best time of year to be visiting the Mekong Delta is during the lunar New Year (known locally as Tet), or during the mid-Autumn festival. During this time, Vietnamese children will release a galaxy of floating candles into the river, on tiny skiffs.
Particularly unusual location in this part of the world is Phu Quoc Island, lying 15 kilometres off the Cambodian coast, in the Gulf of Thailand. This is becoming increasingly popular with Vietnamese visitors, as well as tourists from various parts of the Far East, and beyond. The actual shape of the island is very unusual. It seems to rise from its slender southern tip, almost like a genie being released after countless centuries trapped inside a bottle. As recently as a decade ago Phu Quoc was virtually unknown to outsiders. However, even the best-kept secrets have a habit of becoming public knowledge. Know the island welcomes large numbers of visitors, drawn to its soft white sands, swaying palm trees and mild waters. In fact, Phu Quoc is rapidly becoming one of Vietnam's top beach destinations, rivaling Nha Trang.
It isn't a tiny tropical paradise either, running almost 46 kilometres from north to south. With a land mass of 593 square kilometres, it is Vietnam's largest island – although Cambodia also claims ownership, under the title Ko Tral.
Phu Quoc's natural landscape consists of topography and vegetation that are unique amongst the rest of the delta. The combination of verdant plant life and isolation meant that has been a hiding place for some of Vietnam's most famous historical fugitives. In the late 1700s Nguyen Anh took refuge here while on the run from the Tay Son brothers. In the 1860s Nguyen Trung Truc, the fisherman turned militia leader, holed up here during his guerilla campaign against the French colonists in the Mekong Delta.
For all its turbulent past, the island today is home to some 80,000 charming residents. There is also a sizeable population of indigenous canines – recognizable by the hair running along their spines rather than down! The island is now famous for its natural produce – principally fish sauce (nuoc mam, which is graded like olive oil) and black pepper.