Predominantly rural, although also densely populated and intensively cultivated, the Mekong Delta is incredibly important to the entire region. It has been a massive food producer for centuries and was part of the Khmer empire-which was based in Cambodia
. The Khmer Rouge actually tried to "reclaim" the area as their own, and the conflict surrounding sovereignty of the region was partly responsible for the war between Vietnam and Cambodia in 1979. Currently, Vietnam is one of the world's largest rice producers, and this accomplishment is due largely to the productive capacity of the Mekong, which yields up to three growing seasons per year. Rice production actually involves something like 70% of Vietnam's working population, although our guide informed us that it's becoming harder and harder to convince the younger generations that they should devote their lives to this labor-intensive endeavor. In addition to labor shortages, there are other potential problems around the corner for this region, mostly related to over-harvesting and ecosystem degradation.
Our tour centered around boat travel and cultural exploration, and we visited food processing facilities, farms, and temples, were serenaded by Vietnamese musicians, and sampled lots of...interesting local cuisine. All in all, the Delta is a very enjoyable and interesting region, and we could easily have spent our entire trip just drifting along from one little community to the next.
From the early planning stages of our trip, Jennifer had talked about wanting to see "the Delta." I didn't know much about the region, or what it was that was generating such enthusiasm from her end, but the promise of lots of water and even more time out on it was enough to lure me onwards. From HCMC we booked a 3-day tour, thinking that once we'd reached one of our destinations we could, if we so chose, ditch out on the tour and just do our own thing for awhile-we'd heard about some incredible beaches out on Phu Quoc Island, for instance. At the same time, our days together were quickly coming to an end and Jennifer was itchin' to join me up in Cambodia as well.