The Mekong Delta is the bottom half of Vietnam’s two rice baskets, the other being the Red River Delta in the North . This vast delta is formed by the deposition of the multiple tentacles and tributaries of the mighty Mekong River which has its origin in the Tibetan highland plateau 2,800 miles away. From its source, the river makes its way through China, Myanmar (Burma), Laos, Cambodia and South Vietnam before flowing out into the South China Sea. The Mekong’s Vietnamese name, Cuu Long, means Nine Dragons for the nine mouths that terminate the flow of this great river as it is absorbed by the sea.
The people of south Vietnam are often very proud of the richness and vastness of this land. When referring to the rice fields in this area, they often say, “co bay thang canh”, meaning the land is so large that the cranes can stretch their wings as they fly. Today, the region is one of Vietnam’s highest producer of rice crops, vegetables and fruits.
Life On The Mekong
The Mekong Delta was an ancient Khmer territory. The area was mostly marshland and forest. When the Nguyen Lords took control of this region, a series of canals were built and a system of transportation was implemented in the maze of water ways in the area.
The Mekong Delta is divided into 9 provinces: Long An, Tien Giang, Ben Tre, Dong Thap, An Giang, Vinh Long, Kien Giang, Hau Giang and Minh Hai. The people in this region are made up of Vietnamese and some people of Khmer, Chinese and Cham origin. This accounts for the variety of religions that add to the cultural diversity of this area. Among the religions practiced here are: Buddhism, Catholicism, Cao Dai ( Cao Dai temple – Cu Chi tunnel tour ) , Hoa Hao and Islam.
The southwest region of Vietnam is known for the vast rice fields and the huge plantations that make up the core of this region’s economy. The region is also known for the many miles of waterways criss-crossing the land making this area both fertile and unique.
The majority of Vietnam’s fruits come from the many orchards of the Mekong Delta. On any given season, one can find a variety of tropical fruits that are produced by farmers of this region in the markets of Saigon, Hue, and Ha Noi.
For many tropical fruits, the season is very short because they cannot be picked green and they don’t last long in storage where they quickly loose their aroma. The greatest variety of fruits is available during the raining season, from June to September in the South.
After they are picked, the fruits are transported on small boats to floating markets where they are sold to wholesale dealers. In the off-season, many orchards become flower nurseries to meet the peak demand for flowers during the new year celebration in the big cities.
The orchards are divided by a myriad of small irrigation canals with delicate bamboo bridges called “Cau Khi” or monkey bridges crossing them.
Life On The River
The people living in the Mekong Delta make their living as farmers and fishermen. Often, they live right on the edge of the rivers or canals on various structures built from whatever materials found. Consequently, the architecture along the delta varies from place to place.
Often, many homes have fisheries right under them. Enterprising individuals build a cage like structure of bamboo beneath their homes on these waterways to house fishes. As the fishes grew, they sell the whole batch to processors from the city and start with new ones.
Life in the delta is tightly woven with its rivers as daily activities and businesses are conducted on its banks. Markets, stores, ship yards, repair shops are some of the more popular trades.
Floating markets are held every morning from 5:00 to about 11:00. Phung Hiep market is the biggest since it is located at the intersection of 7 major canals. It is also a photographer’s delight because it can be seen above from a bridge. Cai Rang and Phong Dien are two other notable floating markets in the delta.
Boats loaded with produce from nearby orchards of the Mekong Delta converge to the floating market. They carry mostly fruits but also coconuts, vegetables and fishes.
Buyers are local traders with bigger boats snapping everything by the bushels and resell at local markets or to wholesale dealers from big cities, often for a handsome profit.
Large floating markets are not complete without its floating restaurants, floating gas stations and an occasional tour boat filled with tourists.
Another unique industry in this region is the snake farm in the area of My Tho township. In 1977, Lt. Colonel Tran Van Duoc (Tu Duoc), a reptile enthusiast, created Dong Nam Snake Farm. Initially created strictly as a research site for medicinal uses of reptile venom, Dong Nam Snake Farm today is the largest of its kind in Vietnam. The farm boasts 20 different varieties of venomous snakes and is home to other species such as boas, turtles.
Cobras are often soaked along with herbs in large flasks of whisky which can be bought in the snake market in Phung Hiep. This potent drink reportedly will increase your libido as well as cure all sorts of illnesses. Live snakes are also for sale in the market and are exported to other Asian countries to be used as food and medicine.