We enjoyed having Hue as our guide so much, we hired him again. This time we took a two day tour of the Mekong Delta, where he grew up.
The Delta is the rich estuary created by many branches of the river diverging before joining the ocean. They create an area that’s incredibly lush with green vegetation including lots of palms, and is rich with fruit, vegetables and fish. Certain foods like coconuts or bananas grow here with no encouragement.
Our van stopped in a river town and we boarded a long thin motorized boat. The river is quite brown in color from all the silt collected as the river goes to sea. Some of the buildings along the canals look like the tall thin pastel ones I’ve described in earlier posts.
Others are more squat and still fairly luxurious. And there are many more humble homes with thatched roofs or corrugated metal walls. There is a lot of improvisation with materials, and it’s obvious there’s a lot of variation in income.
But the real action is on the river and canals. Locals are more likely to travel and do business on the river, in boats, than on the road. Hue takes us to a river market — this is where the wholesalers sell to the retailers. One large boat might specialize in coconut, another in turnips, watermelon or cabbage. These large boats often serve as home, warehouse and storefront, all in one; with goods on one end of the boat and laundry drying on the other. The large boats form a loose flotilla, and the smaller retailers’ boats float between as they stop and shop at different wholesalers. Goods are passed from boat to boat and hand to hand, as a retailer buys fruits, vegetables, cleaning supplies. Bathroom Duck anyone?
The retailers buy a variety of goods and take them back to their neighborhood to sell. Their base of operations will probably be a smaller canal. They’ll sell the goods directly from their boat to locals, who may not own a refrigerator and need to buy food daily.
After watching the first floating market, we took a break at the "snack district." There’s a neighborhood where locals make snacks that are sold all over South Vietnam. We watched coconut candy, sweet rice bread with sesame, and something akin to rice crispy treats lovingly made by hand. No electricity was used in the labor-intensive processes.
We ate a tasty snack and got back on the boat. Hue took us to another shore for lunch at a traditional Vietnamese house. The house’s owner, Kim, made a dramatically presented elephant fish lunch for us – really wonderful. Her kids sat and watched cartoons on TV as we ate.
The house has been restored, partially with a grant from the Japanese. It’s hundreds of years old, and inhabited by the fourth generation of a family. The intricate wood and lattice work are impressive, and the family is very proud of their French antiques.
A large room is devoted to an intricate shrine for Buddha and ancestors from both sides of the family. Most homes in South Vietnam seem to have a shrine, of varying complexity.
We finished our meal and returned to the boat.
A lot of children on the shore waved hello as we floated down a little canal.
We saw a dome-shaped brick factory — we saw many of these in small towns on our previous drive.
In addition to homes, we saw businesses, churches and pagodas at the water’s edge.
Occasionally, we even saw people bathing in the river.
The day’s trip wound down, and our boat headed back to the van. We’d covered a lot of distance, and the van met us at a different dock than where we began.