Vietnam is a land of stunning beauty surrounded by traditions and a very rich cultural background. Travelling around this part of Indochina can be challenging due to the local language problem but it could also provide you the adventure of a lifetime to discover more about this unique country and its people. This article will cover the fascinating mosaics of livelihood in the Mekong Delta – a very lush bounty area for agricultural crops that feeds this large nation
The local women in traditional Aozai costume singing folk songs revealing the life of the river people in this Mekong Delta brings up a very nostalgic atmosphere by its musical rhythm. In most part of this delta people can be very simplistic but faced daily challenges in earning their livelihood. Therefore, our eyes must be trained not just seeing at the surface level but to be able to see much deeper using our heart.
Life in the Mekong Delta revolves much around a maze of rivers, canals, villages and floating markets. Most villages can are accessible by the Mekong river and modern development in the last few years had made road travelling easier with connecting bridges. However, the identity of Mekong is best portrayed by sampan boats and conical hats made from bamboo
If you have been to Vietnam before and when you consume the sweet array of tropical fruits, have you ever wonder where they actually came from. The answer is most likely from the vast fruit orchards within this delta basin
Mekong Delta in Vietnamese is called Đồng bằng Sông Cửu Long, meaning 9 dragons river due to its
many distributed river networks that provided many food source in this country. Can Tho and Hau Giang are the 2 important provinces for agriculture and aquaculture. To really get a taste of the Mekong Delta, this travel story will bring audience to the starting point of our journey at My Tho town
The River Journey Begins
This lush delta is located in Southern Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) is where we shall begin this discovery journey to look into the life of the delta people. It would take approximately one hour and 45 minutes by land transportation to get to My Tho from HCMC. A sense of relief was immediately felt upon looking at the beautiful sights of wooden boats around the river banks. These are mostly tourist or “Du Lich” boats for hire from the many tour counters at this tourist station.
You can easily find a tour operator in HCMC to make all the necessary travel arrangement or just go to My Tho by your own. But in my case I received kind assistance from my trusted local Vietnamese friend to help bring out the best of this SEA travel story in the heartland of Vietnam.
Worlds away from overcrowded cities, this murky yellow river is the economic heartbeat for many centuries that throws a lifeline support for the people that depended on the river’s rich food resources. Tradition old economic tradings are still being carried out to this day in this massive network of rivers connecting the entire delta. In Vietnam, the largest floating market can be found in Can Tho province.
As the boat roars its engine we slowly departed the harbor to discover inner Mekong for the first time. In the distance horizon, the thick greenery gradually affirming the unquestionable allure of this earthly land of bountiful harvest.
Mekong is dubbed the treasure trove for scientific discovery of new invertebrate and many other species in the forest and freshwater habitats. Swimming in these murky river water beneath is never a good idea as you may get in contact with parasites or a stinging bite from something sinister lurking below. I will not even think about snorkeling nor scuba here. Legend has it that Nagas or sea dragons had been sighted in this murky river by local fishermen. I’m not going to get myself wet in these murky water just to test this legend or myth.
As our wooden boat began to throttle down its diesel engine to a halt, our Vietnamese guide explained the first tour of the day. Alongside I had my trusted friend and translator who’d brought me to this part of the world to enlighten me with a deeper knowledge about Vietnam
After alighting from the boat we walked into a small village with many small stalls made from bamboo and thatch selling Vietnamese handicrafts, paintings, clothing and of course fruits as we are stepping onto a fruit heaven
An array of tropical fruits – Lychess, rambutans, durians, dragon fruits, banana, etc.
One of the highlights included traditional songs about love, folklore, harvest and fertility. This formed a truly unique identity of Vietnam’s own heritage and culture. The message passed through those songs are very clear to say that life will continue to flourish with strong determination and hope in the mind of the Mekong people.
An assortment of flowers are also grown here (lotus, orchids, water lilies, etc.) in this Mekong Delta apart from the many variety of fruits. Everywhere you look around are plants, fruits and flowers. A very inviting landscape for those green environmental lovers. There’s a sense of feeling as though you could harvest the tropical fruits by self-picking whenever you want it.
Inside one of the farmer’s house, a Chinese altar can be seen displayed at the hallway indicating that Chinese-Buddhism is a common practice in Vietnam. From a historical standpoint, many of Vietnamese ancestors here in this Mekong Delta are migrants from southern part of China. This would perhaps provide some explanations about Chinese-Buddhism and Confusion teachings in their way of life here.
Having visited this orchard village, I must say that they also have a very colourful music, arts and songs that are just as vibrant as their traditional costumes. Their songs will surely resonate through your memories.
It won’t be complete without having the thrill from a sampan boat tour in Mekong. Otherwise we won’t call this a nature’s splendour. Getting a taste of peddling a wooden sampan in one of this river channel had aroused my nostalgic feeling of what it’s like for the many past generations of Mekong people. This is the only mode of transportation for the folks in the past and it is still being used today.
Tourists will certainly bewildered by this river experience. Wearing the conical hats to shield away the scorching sun we ventured out on this river boat tour. Trust me your tour will not be complete without this sampan boat ride.
Majority of the boat rowers are women. Vietnamese women in general are known to be very hardworking and sometimes they are the bread winners in this old fashion setting. This is a real fact and it’s uncommon to see women carrying heavy tasks to provide food for the family. Interestingly, Vietnam is the only country in Asia that celebrates Women’s Day on 20th October each calendar year. This is an occasion where the society show their love and respect to Vietnamese women. On this day, roses, post cards and wishes are given to Vietnamese ladies as a sign of respect from men. Isn’t this fascinating in such a tight knit male dominant culture?
“The beautiful journey of today can only begin
when we learn to let go of yesterday”
At the end of the river canal, we joined our waiting tour boat to visit another part of the Mekong Delta. A splendid river tour from the boat rowers.
Honey and Bees Anyone?
After a mere 15 minutes cruising downstream we finally reached our destination. The dense trees surrounding the river bank are almost identical. This river is estimated to be around 30 meters deep. It is not a small river to be taken lightly. Anyway, we alighted immediately for the next tour destination to see what’s coming ahead.
Bees and honey is all about this village tour. Savor the anti-oxidant and nutritious honey drink that was freshly prepared on our arrival. Mixing the honey with warm water and ginger, the concoction was a perfect relief from our tired feet. While quenching our thirst the local guide came around showing the bees nest that produced those sweet honeys.
The highlight of this honey cultivation farm is a friendly juvenile python that visitors could take photograph with it hung on your shoulder free-of-charge. Say cheese! This is not for the faint-hearted.
A local coconut plantation was our next visit. At this bamboo thatched roof factory we witnessed the making of coconut produce. Candies, cookies, sweets, biscuits, etc. are all made from coconuts. Handmade and packed ready to be consumed, you can purchase these fresh produce from the sales counter.
This cottage industry produces coconut foodstuff to supply mainly to the local market. This is enough reason to say that a majority of the cottage industry here caters for local consumption. It’s interesting to watch how these industrious folks rolled the coconut candies with such precision and accuracy for a quick packing. They must have been doing this chore from dawn to dusk for most part of their life.
Horse Cart Ride
At the end of this fascinating tour, we were taken for a horse cart ride to our waiting boat about a kilometer away. We passed by many village houses along the way on this bumpy ride. Horses are still being used by farmers in some remote part of the delta.
When it was finally over when we’re back at My Tho harbor, I felt so thankful to have this memorable experience with the lovely people from this remote delta. The bountiful harvest and river life here had totally changed my view about Vietnam – a high spirited country with cultural significance.
The healthy cuisine of Vietnam is internationally known with freshness and flavours that is authentically Asian. After a long day out at the delta, a good lunch will be very rewarding not to mention the experience of nature, adventure and culture in just a day.
We came upon a nice open-air restaurant on the way back. Thanks to my local friend whom recommended this sumptuous restaurant for lunch. A busy restaurant packed with hungry visitors and tourists alike returning from a day tour to various parts of the Mekong Delta.
Ice Milk Coffee
Rice paper, peppermint leaves, bean sprouts, cabbage, an assortment of spicy sauces are the must-have on the dining table. Don’t forget Vietnam’s favorite “Caphe Sua Da” or Ice Milk Coffee where the coffee powder is slowly strained down from the filter mug into a cup. Condensed milk is usually added as sweetener. When added with crushed ice, it gives this beverage its name. A truly original Vietnamese coffee where you can find at every restaurant or street corners. A marvelous coffee drinking culture.
Enjoying Caphe Sua Da at the street side
Freshly cooked, freshly steamed, freshly deep fried. Almost everything here in Vietnam are fresh. This is perhaps the eating culture here in Vietnam that demands only the freshest food to be served on the table.
Freshly Steamed Vegetables
Deep Fried “Elephant Fish”
The many variety of freshwater fish, river fish, prawns, crabs, etc. are either caught or cultivated in this Mekong Delta. Majority of restaurants in Vietnam likes to serve fresh food. Therefore, it is very common to see an assortment of fresh waters produce on the menu.
Blessed with soil so rich and fertile, it is no wonder that this 9 Dragons River is so important to make Vietnam a self-sustainable nation in order to feed its 85 millions population. The picture-perfect beauty of the countryside and direct experience in this fertile wonderland had taken my breath away. I’m very certain every visitors will be astonished too from this travel experience.
Returning to the bustling city center famed for its massive motorcycles is a testament to Vietnam’s original facade. The next time you’re in HCMC, a visit to the Mekong Delta and its river canals will surely mesmerize you forever. Why settle for a regular holiday when you can have an unforgettable one?
My travel story on the Mekong Delta ends here as the inhabitants of the river returns to their homes before starting another day again.
This is a sponsored travel story. Special thanks to co-sponsors particularly BB, Hon, in helping us to lift up this story to a new level that will delight other travelers to this part of the world.