The roughly oblong-shaped province of Vinh Long sits on a long Delta island, with the Tien Giang (Mekong) river running along its northern border and the Hau Giang (Bassac) river running to its south. Lush and heavily cultivated with both rice and fruit orchards, the province is criss-crossed with canals and tributaries all flowing into the teeming rivers that form its borders. It’s not surprising that the name Vinh Long translates to "eternal prosperity".
Most travellers will spend their time in the eponymous provincial capital. While a medium-sized town, most points of interest in Vinh Long town sit in the northeast corner where the Co Chien river meets the Long Ho canal. This corner of town is also a popular spot for locals to sit back, slurp coffee and scoff banh mi while the chocolate brown river waters roar past (and it does roar here). This area also hosts a large wet market that borders a bustling central market, some gold shops and plenty of eating opportunities.
Vinh Long is used as a base for those visiting the floating market at Cai Be (which is actually in Tien Giang province) and is known for its homestays on An Binh island to the north. While just a trickle of foreign travellers come through, compared to My Tho further downriver, the boat trips here are more affordable and the homestays offer a terrific opportunity to experience Mekong life firsthand – it's worth stopping here. The tours operating out of Saigon often hop, skip and jump through, combining a trip to Cai Be on the way to Can Tho so very few people overnight here -- don't be surprised when you're the only Westerner in the town's sole disco.
The Vinh Long tourist office can organise homestays and boat trips but both are significantly more expensive than organising something on a more freelance basis -- walk up to the ferry to An Binh island and don't be surprised to be approached for a homestay or boat trip at lower prices. While the tourist office warns, "Using an outside operator carries no insurance should very bad things happen", we didn't find anything very bad happening.
Unlike other floating markets, Cai Be operates well into the day, so if you're in a rush, it's feasible to arrive in Vinh Long early in the morning (say from My Tho), do a boat trip out to the market and returning to Vinh Long by early afternoon with plenty of time to push onto Can Tho. Most trips to Cai Be run for at least three hours as the trip there takes about 45 minutes each way (depending on the route taken and the boat used).
Aside from the river trips and the homestays, Vinh Long isn't screaming out with grade A tourist attractions -- it's other claim to fame is Van Thanh Mieu pagoda, a sprawling complex set in a tranquil garden setting. About 20 kilometres west of Vinh Long lies Sa Dec, a pretty riverside town that was the backdrop to 1991 French movie The Lover.
Vinh Long doesn’t have the tourism infrastructure of My Tho or Can Tho so expect to rough it a bit. However, the city has a certain charm and the homestays in An Binh are refreshingly hassle-free and worth a night or two. Also, if you have your own transport, getting out into the surrounding countryside is well worthwhile.
From the Vinh Long river bank, if you look to the west you can see the twin towers of the My Thuan bridge jutting into the sky. Built with financial assistance from Australia, the bridge did away with the ferries and greatly improved access to the greater Delta from Saigon. One does wonder why it is so high -- perhaps the AusAID officials in Saigon wanted to be able to point out its spires from their offices.
The riverside corner of town houses the post office (14 Hoang Thai Hieu) and most corners around the central market have ATMs. The hospital is a bit out of town on Tran Phu and unless it’s an emergency, we suggest making the trip to Ho Chi Minh City where medical care is better.
By Vinh Dao.