Vietnamese, to talk about the country, we say “Đất nước Việt Nam” – “Vietnamese Earth and Water”, suggesting the major role of river and the delta in everyday life
The Delta has very varied landscapes: rice field with shady coconut groves, mangrove and deciduous forests, antique villages with craft activities and even traditional industries (fruit drying, extraction of sugar cane, brick making, etc.).
Thanks to natural outgrowth of the Mekong basin, the delta has formed very large alluvium. The Mekong drains during floods up to several kilos of dry soil per cubic meter of water, which will fertilize the whole delta area. The current of Mekong River to Cambodia is reserved, indicating a very low slope. Evaporation of the river and flooded areas along the lush vegetation plays a significant role in the particularly mild climate of the Delta. The temperature is a few degrees cooler than Ho Chi Minh City.
Far from the trepidation of the city, the rhythm is that of a rich and benevolent nature. If the fields are hard, the fruit of that work is rewarding. It’s a rough life as peasants, but it is also a quality of life, made of attention and care for fields, for animals and for the village community. The animals are well treated and well maintained to it is not uncommon to find mosquito net draped barns. It’s the same for the warm welcome. In the Delta, you’ll often be invited to drink tea or eat fruit from the peasants.
The rice bowl of Vietnam
Mekong Delta is the most ecologically productive area of Vietnam. Half of Vietnam’s rice is produced here, in three crops a year, but hundreds of thousands of tons of fish, including the famous Mekong catfish, sugar cane, fruits and vegetables. With this formidable production, Vietnam is the second largest rice exporter in the world. The rice harvest is still mainly by hand, using traditional techniques. The life of the Delta is fully supported by nature.
My Tho (72km from Saigon), which means “fragrant herb”, is the nearest town from Ho Chi Minh City and the capital of Tien Giang province. It is located on the nearest bank of the north branch of the Mekong.
The best way to reach My Tho is to go up the Mekong from its mouth. The surrounding countryside is one of the most luxuriant gardens of Vietnam (coconut, banana, and mango). The city has no interest, except for a boat trip on the Mekong River to explore nearby islands. Cai Be, upstream of My Tho, is also the starting point for many boat trips. We must start early in the morning to see the floating market and stroll along the Mekong arm to reach Vinh Long.
Vinh Long (136km from Saigon) is located at the center of delta area, between two arms of the Mekong. You can visit by boat through small canals leading to Cai Be floating market. Vinh Long, rich land made by alluvium, is the land of mandarins and oranges. The main interest of Vinh Long is the beautiful boat ride in the arroyos (canals dug by men) and a pleasant stop on the road to Can Tho.
From Vinh Long, we can take a day trip to Sa Dec in Dong Thap province. Famous for its horticulture (here grow all kinds of exotic flowers), we had nicknamed the colonial area “The Garden of Cochin China”. It is in this little-known town in the Mekong Delta that Marguerite Duras lived until her adolescence. Her mother, a teacher, also led the girls’ school (still there!). In this authentic town of 30,000 inhabitants, we can feel the atmosphere of a small town in the delta where a few colonial houses still exist and “the house of the Chinese” (from her novel The Lover, also adapted for the screen). The return to Vinh Long in the late afternoon, by road lined canals, rice paddies and coconut trees is beautiful.
Can Tho (34km from Vinh Long, 51km from Sa Dec and 168km from Saigon) is the heart of Mekong Delta. Spreading in the edge of one of the nine major branches of the river, the city lives mainly on river activities and rice. Friendly and vibrant place is a good starting point to visit Mekong Delta. A beautiful market occupies much of the main street, along the Mekong and a boat trip allows you to admire the landscapes of rice fields and orchards. (Nearby, Soc Trang – 65km from Can Tho – worth a stop to the Chua Doi Khmer pagoda. Known as the “Bat Temple”, it is the most beautiful in the region.
Close to the Cambodian border, the market town of Chau Doc stretches on the banks of the Mekong. It brings together a large community of Khmer, Chinese and Cham.
Its economy is based mainly on fish farming. More marginally, many households are still dedicated to silk work, especially in Tan Chau district.
Around Chau Doc, many families traditionally live on the river aboard floating houses under which hang large cages where fish are raised.