Flights within Vietnam are about to get a lot easier. Bamboo Airways, a new startup airline, is supposed to start flying this fall (currently scheduled for October). Hanoi, the capital, is on the inaugural list of destinations. So is the coastal city of Quy Nhơn, the riverside city of Đồng Hới, and the island of Phú Quốc. More cities—and, eventually, international destinations—are in the works, as well. So what’s on your Vietnamese wish list? Cần Thơ is pretty high on the long list.
Cần Thơ is the western (the southwestern, really) capital of Vietnam. It’s also the gateway to the Mekong Delta. This agriculturally and aquaculturally rich area is the rice basket and the most important fishing region of the Southeast Asian country. Most of the 15,000-square-mile area is filled with flat floodplains. Rivers and canals connect villages instead of roads. The city, more than 100 miles from Ho Chi Minh City, wasn’t established until the early 18th century. The south bank of the Hậu River, a tributary of the Mekong, is now home to the fifth-largest city in Vietnam.
Despite its size, few flights currently connect Cần Thơ to the rest of the country. Most fly to Hanoi, of course. A few go to Da Nang and Côn Đảo. It’s left this part of the country largely unexplored by tourists. The Cần Thơ Bridge, the longest cable-stayed bridge in Southeast Asia, is here. So are bird gardens, pagodas, temples, and rice paper-making villages. The floating markets, where local farmers and fishermen sell their crops and catches, are the biggest draws, though. You can’t wait to ride a sampan—a flat-bottomed, wooden boat—to see them.
Since you’ll be spending so much time on the water, you should stay as close to the river as possible. How about an island? Au Island is a 52-acre islet in the middle of the Hậu River. The oasis from the city is just a 10-minute speedboat ride from a pavilion along the shore. You arrive to find droopy banyans shading the island. Azerai Cần Thơ was built among the trees.
Azerai Cần Thơ just opened last spring. The peaceful resort was inspired by those traditional sampans that drift through the floating markets. Its open-air lobby has a panoramic view of the river, a lotus-filled lake, and a long infinity pool. Low buildings house rooms full of rattan, wood, and soothing tones. Your favorite spot in yours will quickly become the daybed on its wide terrace. When you aren’t there, you’ll be eating homemade phở topped with lots of fresh basil at the cafe, drinking rambutan juice during afternoon tea in the lounge, or relaxing in sweet almond oil while your body is scrubbed at the spa.
At least during the day. Early mornings and late afternoons are reserved for the river. Before it gets too hot, eat freshly baked croissants and sip sweet Vietnamese coffee en route to the market, where boats are overflowing with dragon fruits, longans, mangosteens, and pomelos. A half-day cruise will bring you to a hidden Khmer sanctuary; this area was known as Khmer Krom when it was part of the Khmer Empire. Then a sunset tour—champagne and canapés replace coffee and pastries—will weave through dangling pond fronds and the canals when the heat starts to subside. This is the way to finally see the Mekong Delta.