While the provincial capital of the same-named province is a medium-sized town, most of the points of interest sit in a small area in the northeast corner, where the town is bordered by the Co Chien River to the north and a wide canal to the east and it is from here that the boat trips to Cai Be floating market and the island homestays depart. This corner of town is also a popular spot for the locals to sit back, slurp coffee and scoff banh mi while the chocolate brown river waters roar past (and it does roar here). There's also a bustling central market, with a large wet market along with a dry goods section, a bunch of gold shops and loads of eating opportunities.
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, yet few independent travellers tend to make it here. The tours operating out of Saigon often hop, skip and jump through, combining a trip to Cai Be with a snack stop by the river, but very few people overnight here - don't be surprised when you're the only westerner in the town's sole disco.
Aside from the river trips and the homestays, Ving Long isn't screaming out with grade A tourist attractions - it's other claim to fame, the Van Thanh Mieu pagoda was being renovated when we visited, and the museum kept such odd hours we never seemed to be around when it was open.
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 - stand around by the riverbank for about five seconds and don't be surprised when a boatman edges up whispering "boat trip" to you in hushed tones. While they're mainly trying to sell you a trip over to Cai Be, they can also organise a stay at the homestays for significantly less than what the tourist authority asks, though, as the tourist office warns, "Using an outside operator carries no insurance should very bad things happen".
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, 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).
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 considerable financial assistance from Australia, the bridge did away with the ferries and greatly improved access to the greater Delta from Saigon - one wonders though why it is so high - perhaps the AusAID officials in Saigon wanted to be able to point out its spires from their offices.
Food and Drink
If you're staying amongst the cluster of hotels by the river, the first thing you'll notice is the fruit -- a fantastic array of it is sold on the footpath, so if you're after a vitamin C hit, this is a good place to start. Across the road on the river's edge sits the Hoa Nang restaurant which does coffee and cold drinks during the day and belts out karaoke in the evening. Further upriver from the Hoa Nang is the Phuong Thuy restaurant, which has an English menu and does standard Vietnamese fare. Along the southern stretch of the market there's some excellent stall eating during the day and a small night market sets up behind the main market. If you're after more coffee, take the laneway between the Van Tram Guesthouse and Cuu Long Hotel and follow it around, you'll reach another entry to the market where there's a bunch of coffee stands. If you're staying at the Phuong Hoang 1 and couldn't be bothered to walk up to the river, Pho 19, on the corner of 2 Thang 9 and 30 Thang 4 Street does (you guessed it) pretty good Pho and the shop-owner's daughter speaks fine English. For nightowls, aside from the karaoke scene in the Hoa Nang, there's always the disco inferno at the 4.1 nightclub on 1 Thang 5 St and there's a handful of coffeebar spots on Hung Dao Vuong St, near the internet cafe -- one of them has a pooltable, but we lost the coaster with it's name on it! -- you'll find it.
Van Thanh Mieu Pagoda
Set a good four km to the south of Vinh Long, this venerable pagoda was undergoing substantial renovation when we visited, and it was difficult to tell if it would still be worth a peak once the work is finished. While you could walk out here, a xe om shouldn't cost more than 7,000-10,000D there and back including waiting time. If you feel like walking, just head south on 30 Thang 4 St, which becomes Tran Phu St after the small bridge, and just keep going -- the pagoda will be on your right.
Getting there and away
Vinh Long has two bus stations, the old bus station is in the centre of town but buses from there run only to Can Tho and very occasionally to Ho Chi Minh City. For transport to other Delta towns and more frequent buses to Saigon and Can Tho, you're better off to head out to the new bus station a 10,000D xe om motorbike ride from downtown. If you arrive at Vinh Long on a through bus to another destination you may be dropped on the bypass road from where it's a 6,000D xe om ride into town.