The Mekong Delta

Trip Start May 16, 2005
Trip End Nov 01, 2006

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Sunday, August 28, 2005

On route to Phenon Phen in Cambodia, we opted to undertake a three day tour of the Mekong Delta. Southern Vietnam's landscape is dominated by the mighty Mekong river. The agricultural output of the entire nation is heavily dependant on this area. My visions of a lifeless swampy delta proved well wide of the mark. Life is everywhere here, from the shacks and stilt houses on the banks to the numerous house boats and barges battling the strong current.

Our first day was spent as part of a larger group. First up was the tropical fruit market - all the usual favourites available here plus a whole heap of other stuff that we had no clue about. During our stay in Vietnam we had been introduced to the 'green dragon fruit.' This delicious fruit has a bright pink skin and a soft white flesh (see photo). It looks so appealing, the sort of fruit that a sweet manufacturer would design to tempt its customers.

After being subjected to another traditional music performance (more high-pitched cat strangling), we were introduced to the joys of snake wine. Basically this is a semi-sweet rice wine that has a dead cobra put into the bottle. As with all unusual refreshments in Asia, it is said to give great stamina. It tasted OK but nothing to get excited about. We saw some cocks that they use for fighting as well but when we saw them they looked a bit bedraggled and no knives tied to thier legs. Sounds like fun for all the family. We also called in to visit a traditional coconut candy factory - the end product was excellent and manufactured by cooking up large vats of coconut flesh. Other delights of the tour included what had been described as a leisurely trip by dugout canoe in the Mekong canals but was actually more akin to a Dragon Boat race. The locals viewed this as nothing more than a money-making scam and involved women paddling a few foreigners as fast as they could down the canal so then they could race back and ferry more. While being treated to this spectacle, the ones coming back kept on waving dollar bills in our faces while screaming 'Tip, tip' at us. Heavy hinting indeed and not particularly pleasant.

The following day, after a night in a grotty hotel, we were up at six to go and visit the floating markets. Unlike the markets in Thailand, these markets have been around much longer than the tourists. A large bamboo pole is hoisted from each boat with fruit and veg attached. This helps potential customers to see who is selling what. If you happened to have been in the market for some turnips, you would have been in luck as everyone seemed to be selling the things! Not something that we expected to see in exotic Vietnam....

After a short stop off at a traditional rice noodle factory, we headed further upstream towards the border. We stopped en route to visit a crocodile farm. It was packed with crocs of all sizes which are eventually exported live at 3-4 years old to China and Europe. Baby crocs cost around US$100 so i can only guess as to the cost of the fully grown beasts. In one of the corners of the farm we discovered about four small bears in tiny cages who were also being raised for their gall bladders for the Chinese export market. Disgusting.

On our final day, after a night in an even grottier hotel, we were up early again to visit one of the numerous floating fish farms moored on the river. These huge floating cages contain up to 100,000 catfish, most of which are exported to the US. The fish farms also double as homes, with living space built directly above the cages. From here it was a short trip to visit the small Islamic village of the minority Cham people. Then it was around 3 hours upstream past flooded rice paddies and small fishing villages to the border with Cambodia and then a further 4 hours by boat and bus to the capital, Phnom Phenh.
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