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Living between water in the Mekong Delta

From Saigon we book a tour through the Mekong Delta, the area in the South of Vietnam where the Mekong river splits in multiple streams before it reaches the sea. On the last day of our 3 day tour, instead of returning to Saigon we will move on via the water to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. On top of that we take an extra day in Chau Doc, to see how people celebrate Tet, Vietnamese new year here.

Monkey bridge in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam

After a long ride we finally get to leave the bus, and are led to a few long tail boats. With 10 people per boat we set off through some small canals in the Mekong Delta. The water is very low, since the low tide, which has its influence even this far land inward. We can see the roots of the trees, struggling to hold the earth in between them. Between the trees, there are houses on poles and many side canals, span by small bridges. On one side, these bridges are just big enough for motorbikes, but on the other side they are not much more than a tree trunk with a branch for support. The Vietnamese government has the intention to replace all monkey bridges in the Mekong Delta by solid ones, but that might take a long time to accomplice.

Doing the dishes in the Mekong RiverAfter an hour in the boat it's time to get out. We arrive at an nature reserve where the Vietcong leaders used to take shelter. We are transferred into small boats which are maneuvered through the swamps. Between natures beauty we see the entrance of tunnels, hide-outs with cane roofs, but especially signs telling us what is there. Interesting, but we enjoy the beautiful nature more.

After lunch we head for Can Tho, the largest city in the Mekong Delta. Halfway, we are transferred into large boats, with which we are navigating the larger branches of the Mekong river. But we also pass several smaller canals, waving at lots of swimming children. At this time of day, everybody seems to bathe in the not so very clean water.

Can Tho

Garbage thrown in the water in the Mekong DeltaIt is dark when we reach Can Tho. It is a large city in the middle of the Mekong Delta, featuring as a hub for everybody visiting the area. The city itself is not very special, we just stay hear in order to leave early the next morning. After checking in in a hotel, we follow our guide to a restaurant, assuming he would know a good one. And there we are wrong, the meal isn't very good, not to mention the snake wine we are offered.

After dinner we visit the crowded flower market, and pass a statue of Ho Chi Minh before we go to bed.

We get up early the next morning in order to visit the floating market. It is a day before Tet (Vietnamese version of Chinese new year), and we expect a crowd. Wrong again, a few boats are trading especially fruit and that's it. So after a short while we move on. Again, we pass small canals where we can see how the people live on and around the water. From their house on poles, people fish in the water, do the laundry and their dishes in it, use it for cooking, etcetera. But it also serves as the sewer.

Noodle factory

Noodle factory in the Mekong DeltaThen we make another stop, this time at a kind of noodle factory. Some kind of porridge, made from rice, is poured onto a heated pig skin and covered by a lid. After a few minutes, it has become some kind of pancake, which is dried in the sun. Then, noodles are made from it, but it is also the way rice paper is made for the famous Vietnamese spring rolls. It is an interesting process, but the smell of the heated pig skin is terrible, so we leave quickly.

When we return to our boats, it's time to say goodbye to half of the group. With five people we head for the Cambodian border crossing, while the rest returns to Saigon. On our way to Chau Doc, we first visit a stork breeding site, and later picturesque mount Sam. Mount Sam is situated in a kind of Dutch landscape, green rice fields resemble the meadows in our home country, with small canals and roads cutting through them. But in Holland, we do not have a mountain to climb from which to enjoy the view and sun set.

Tet in Chau Doc

Children celebrating Tet in VietnamChau Doc is a small border town in the Mekong Delta where we will stay the night before we cross the border to Cambodia. It is the beginning of Tet, and during our dinner we are surprised by children dressed up as a Chinese lion. In the evening we visit a similar, yet professional performance at the river bank. After that we wait for midnight and the fireworks. Some of it is lit in the middle of the audience, causing a little panic because of the noise and the smoke. When everybody, including ourselves, has found a safe place to watch, it's time to enjoy the festivities.

After the fireworks, we hang around a bit longer to see what people are up to. Another performance starts, this time with a snake, but most of the people turn home. In the city, there is yet another similar performance, but other than that, nothing much seems to happen.

We booked another day in Chau Doc to experience Tet. Since it is a family holiday, we expected quiet streets, and closed shops. But the Vietnamese cannot spend a day without sitting on a motorbike, so the streets are crowded after all. A lot of shops are open as well, and so is part of the market.

The second day of Tet we move on to Cambodia. But not before we pay a visit to a floating village and the Cham community of Chau Doc. The floating villages in the Mekong Delta consist of wooden houses floating on empty barrels. Cham woman in her house on poles in the Mekong DeltaUnderneath some of the houses are cages in which they nurse fish to make a living. But the floating houses are especially useful in the wet season, when the houses on poles always risk being flooded.

The Cham community in Chau Doc are descendents from the Champa kingdom, from which we saw the temples in My Son. These people, recognized by a darker skin than the ethnic Vietnamese, nowadays adopted the islam, and therefore have no connection with the cultural heritage of their forefathers. The Cham village, with houses on poles, is not very special, other than that it features a few mosques.

The Mekong Delta is a special piece of Vietnam. It is impressive to see how people live on and between the water. It's a pity, though, that the people are not very hygienic with their environment.



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