Before I headed north from Saigon towards Da Lat in the Southern Highlands of Vietnam, I took a short trip out to the Mekong Delta in the south west by bus.
The Mekong Delta is host to one of the largest rivers in Asia – the self-named Mekong River – one that stretches over 4000km crossing through Laos and Cambodia from Northern Vietnam. The natural design of the province with its numerous brown-coloured meandering canals provides a perfect watery habitat for small quiet provincial villages built on huge lush rice fields. The area is most famous for its production of rice and to this day remains the most important source of rice for the country, with enough surpluses available for foreign export. The area is so densely irrigated, it also provides perfect cultivation for all kinds of fruit, coconuts, sugarcane and fish.After only about an hour’s bus ride, I arrived in the small town of My Tho, the closest point of entry to the Mekong Delta from Saigon. Much like the Floating Markets of Damnoen Saduak in Thailand, the area attracts droves of tourists to check out the local delicacies, culture and landscape. With limited road access, I hopped on a river boat trip as this was the only real way to properly gain a glimpse of life in the district. The banks of the river were lined with numerous floating houses and markets, each standing on precarious foundations high above the water line to escape the daily rising tides. The dense green jungle sat behind the buzz of the river industry, with the Mekong River slithering its way out into the distance.
As we chugged along the river, we passed by local industries going about their business – anything from fishing and agriculture to rice transportation, as well as the production of sugar cane and fruits. The area is the largest exporter of rice to neighbouring Thailand in the world, and also has a large industry of shrimp, catfish and basa fish, all again hugely exported.
With access to local villages restricted mainly to the waterways of the Mekong, we stopped off on one of the banks to the South and entered the jungle on foot for an early lunch. The heat intensified greatly throughout midday, with the jungle vegetation enough to at least keep the sun rays from beating down on us.
After a short break, we then moved on further down the river by kayak. The Mekong District is renowned for its export of coconuts and fruit including bananas, so we managed to pass by some sizeable coconut and banana plantations, stopping off at the factories en-route to see how they prepared coconut candy. A couple of farmers also impressively climbed the huge coconut trees to show us how dangerous and rigorous their daily labour lives were. There were no health and safety precautions in place – just a bunch of guys jumping from tree to tree knocking coconuts to the ground using their huge machetes. The farmers had big rough hard working hands, with years of labour showing on their faces. Their core strength and skills were ordinarily enough to keep them out of trouble, but one of the farmers explained to me the plight of falling from great heights, showing me the marks of a huge puncture wound in his side.
Once the coconuts reached the production line, they would then be cracked open using industrial machines to extract the lush milk from inside. The milk would then be mixed with sugar cane and other ingredients, before being melted down and blended together. Once thickened, the mixture would then be stretched out onto a long preparation board and cooled down before being cut up into sizeable chunks for packing and shipping out.
Later on after tasting some of the sweet goodness, we strolled through the jungle towards a rice wine factory. This whole afternoon was a strange experience and not quite how I imagined entering my first jungle. I had vivid pictures of the Vietnam War jungles in my head, but this was more like a luxury holiday stroll through less deadly terrains with some other tourists in tow. We were in the jungle, but apparently risk free.
As we headed away from the rice wine factory, we took to the kayaks to move onwards. The canals slithered in and out as we passed down through the huge dominating jungle and bamboo trees, the thick dense foliage making it difficult to see further than a few metres in. The ride through was completely tranquil, with a chance to absorb the sounds of the jungle life ringing around you.
At the other end of the ride, we then stopped off at a snake sanctuary which gave me my first ever chance to hold one. Of course, there was nothing to worry about as the snakes were tamed, but I couldn’t help but be slightly fearful of the beautiful creatures. Despite the appearance, it’s skin was actually quite sticky, yet so tough. The animal was so dense, it was quite a weight on the shoulders.
As the snake was finally passed around and I had one last chance for a close up, the visit came to an end and I headed back to My Tho before heading back on the bus to Saigon. This was a brief glimpse into to rural life of Vietnam and a perfect introduction for what was to come…
Further Reading on The Mekong Delta
Wikipedia History – Mekong Delta
Lonely Planet Guide to Mekong Delta
More Photography :
“The Photography Collection” by Antematters