By Andrew Kolasinski
The delta’s brown silt-laden water has a rich pungent odor. It smells like growth, like life itself. Clumps of water lilies drift down with the current. Many of the tiny islands have floating gardens in front of float homes or stilt houses.
The Mekong River is the world’s 12th longest river, running 4,350 kilometers from its source in Tibet. Each your 457 cubic kilometers of water empty into the South China Sea in the southeastern corner of Vietnam. Along with the water, deposits of nutrient loaded silt are added to the Mekong’s final span, enriching the delta, creating a fertile garden of bountiful crops.
This lush garden owes its very land to the Mekong. Since the last ice age the river mouth has extended hundreds of miles eastward. The river mouth was once near Phnom Penh.
The “Rice Bowl of Vietnam”, the Mekong Delta is more water than land, perforated by channels, canals, and streams. The Vietnamese also call it Cuu Long (Nine Dragons) after the tributaries that criss-cross the lowlands.
A third of the country’s food is grown in the delta. Other big crops are sugar cane, coconut palm, mangoes, papayas, beans, nuts and field vegetables. This is also one of the world’s riches freshwater fisheries. Locals harvest fish for the market and for their own tables and also raise catfish and tilapia in floating fish farms.
Farm living brings a restful peace. The traditional ways appeal to tourists from Vietnamese cities and the world beyond. People get around on bicycles and scooters on the islands. They move over the water in traditional canoe-like boats, propelled standing up using stern oars. Farmers still work the rice paddies using water buffalo, and iconic woven conical hats are standard protection against sun and rain.
Much of this land and waterscape has been altered by humans. The area has been inhabited for over 2,500 years, though the intense farming only began in the past 400 years. Industrial scale agriculture took off with the increased demand for rice under the French colonial regime. More than 15 million people now live in the delta.
Prior to colonial farming the delta was largely a wilderness of mangrove swamps, the domain of tigers, crocodiles, cobras and ibises. Vast areas of wilderness still exist, and there are pockets of swamp and jungle that provide sanctuary to some of the original natural inhabitants. The southern delta, nearer the river mouth is the wilder part. These unpopulated marshes and forests are only accessible by boat. Scattered villages of fishermen are found within the wilderness, along with nine national parks. .
One of the delta’s most important parks is Mui Ca Mau National Park at the southern tip of the country. This is a restored habit of mangrove swamp and forest, and a Mecca for bird watchers. Species include pelicans, ibis, storks, egrets and other migratory water birds. Another park, Tram Chim National Park (Green Island) has over 200 species of birds. It is significant for the endangered red-headed cranes, one of the tallest flying birds on earth.
Boat excursions are easily arranged from Ho Chi Minh City. Usually these tours include visits to floating markets, flower or fruit plantations, and fish and crocodile hide farms. The delta has a dozen cities, of which Can Tho is the largest with over a million people. It is an easy day trip from Ho Chi Minh City.
It’s best to visit the Mekong delta between December and April, the dry season. During the monsoons the entire area is under water. It is hot and humid year round and mosquitoes can be a problem, so bring repellent. Most guesthouses and hotel beds are equipped with mosquito nets.
Bio: -Born in The Hague, Andrew Kolasinski arrived in Canada as a small child riding in the luggage rack of a DC-7. Since then he has felt at home anywhere. As the publisher and editor of Island Angler, Andrew spends half the year fishing for salmon and trout, and in the off-season he travels the world looking for a story. This article was written on behalf of Tucan Travel, providers of packages to Vietnam and all over Southeast Asia.
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