Vinh Long

For most travellers, Vinh Long is the first place in the Mekong Delta where it’s possible to gain a reasonable experience of the area’s distinctive culture. Most head straight for a boat to cruise some of the Mekong's famous canals and channels. This is a pity, for the town itself is something of a backwater is thus worthy of attention by those wishing to escape the commercial side of tourism.

The town has interesting attractions, including some fine French buildings one of which is of singularly unusual design. From there, a 2km stroll will take you to the Temple of Literature. Although not on the scale of Hanoi's Van Mieu, it is nevertheless a good example of nineteenth century Vietnamese architecture. The temple is dedicated to Confucius – unusual in the south of Vietnam. It will probably be locked, so you'll need to ask your guide to find out who has the key.

A bonus is an opportunity to explore some of the tiny back streets on the way to and from the temple. Watch out for some of the traditional Mekong crafts: you might get an explanation over tea with the locals, and maybe a chance to try your hand.

The Vinh Long Cong Than Temple, destroyed by the French, was later rebuilt and is unique in retaining 85 official diplomas bestowed upon local mandarins during the reigns of Kings Thieu Tri and Tu Duc.

The 5,000 troops of the US Army 9th Infantry Division arrived in Vietnam on December 16, 1966, landing on the beaches along the south bank of the Co Chien River at Vinh Long. Little remains of their nine-year presence apart from some rusting remains in front of an unappealing local museum.

Many of the surrounding hamlets within easy reach have interesting temples and communal buildings.

The main targets for visitors to Vinh Long are the boat trips and floating markets, both of which are ‘must-see’ elements of an itinerary. However, those of a more independent disposition would probably enjoy taking a short ferry trip to An Binh Island (which is nothing of the sort – it’s a vaguely-defined collections of pocket handkerchiefs of land poking up from the mud). Apart from a good pagoda and a fish sauce factory, wandering past and trough the orchards and scrambling across the narrow monkey bridges that link the islets is a delight.

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