Vacationing in Vietnam 4: Mekong Bay

After visiting the citadel, we returned back to our hotel to catch the bus to Danang to fly back to Ho Chi Minh city. We seem to have had some bad luck with public transport in Vietnam as this bus, although a 1pm departure, did not leave until 2pm and took its time winding through beautiful scenery to reach Danang city at approximately the same time our flight did.

So we made it to the airport in time to watch our plane leave and proceeded to the counter to see what we could do. We rescheduled our flight to the next available time, paid our “late fees” and went to check in our bags. Unfortunately, the counter staff hadn’t actually put our request through and by the time we went back to the counter, the people we had dealt with earlier had left. After approximately half an hour of negotiations, everything was sorted out and we hopped on a plane to return to Ho Chi Minh.

By the time we arrived at the hotel, it was midnight and they had given our room to another “Michael”. They remembered us though and found somewhere else, which was fine except for the early morning argument where a girl had apparently done something that she shouldn’t have and her boyfriend was quite upset (to say the least).

The hotel had however managed to book us in (at midnight) to a tour along the Mekong Delta for the next day so we woke up, repacked our bags and headed off to the river.

Mekong Delta

The Mekong Delta (Vietnamese: đồng bằng sông Cửu Long “Nine Dragon river delta”) is the region in southwestern Vietnam where the Mekong River approaches and empties into the sea through a network of distributaries. The Mekong delta region encompasses a large portion of southeastern Vietnam of 39,000 square kilometres (15,000 sq mi).

To the Vietnamese, the region is known as Cuu Long, “Nine Dragons”, a reference to the nine tributaries of the Mekong River which dovetail across plains fashioned by millennia of flood-borne alluvial sediment. By the time it reaches Vietnam, the Mekong has already covered more than four thousand kilometres from its source high on the Tibetan Plateau.

En route it traverses southern China, skirts Burma (Myanmar), then hugs the Laos– Thailand border before cutting down through Cambodia and into Vietnam – a journey that ranks it as Asia’s third-longest river, after the Yangtse and Yellow rivers. Flooding has always blighted the delta; ever since Indian traders imported their advanced methods of irrigation more than eighteen centuries ago, networks of canals have been used to channel the excess water, but the rainy season still claims lives from time to time.

The size of the area covered by water depends on the season. Life in the Mekong Delta revolves much around the river, and many of the villages are often accessible by rivers and canals rather than by road.

Our tour started off with a boat down the river. We saw a little bit of what life was like on the river in Ho Chi Minh, definitely not as “high-class” as off the river. It did, however, get more attractive as we continued down the river. One of the things that impressed me the most was the range of boats (above) that you could see floating down the river. This includes the numerous amounts of boats that carry silt from up the river to use on land, garbage boats and fruit boats.

As we moved further into the delta, you could see small towns on the river side. We stopped at the one below for some petrol before continuing on to a ferry that took us across to My Tho.

There are four islands near My Tho – Dragon, Turtle, Unicorn and Phoenix.

Tan Long (“Dragon Island”), the least frequently visited boasts sapodilla, coconut and banana plantations as well as highly regarded longan orchards.

Thoi Son (“Unicorn Island”) is the largest and is often the location for lunch on organised tours.

Qui (“Turtle”) Island is the newest of the group, having been formed by sediment in the river, then stabilized by planting mangroves, and is overflowing with longans, dragon fruit, mango, papaya, pineapple and jackfruit. A small, family-run coconut candy factory is located just opposite.

Phung (“Phoenix”) Island is famed as the home of an offbeat religious sect set up three decades ago by the eccentric Coconut Monk, Ong Dao Dua, although there’s not much left to see from his era, and only the skeleton of the open-air complex he established remains.

We boarded some boats and visited two of these islands as well as the coconut candy factory. At the first island we saw some beekeeping and tasted some honey tea and some snake wine. We then hopped onto a really small boat (see above) for what I called a “real cruise” down the smaller canals of the delta. This was the real deal! Imagine fighting a war in this terrain…

We then boarded slightly larger boats and visited the coconut candy factory. Here we watched the coconut being pressed, and the extracted juice being mixed with sugar and heated, then dried and cut into bite-size pieces. We have plenty if you’re interested…

We had a fantastic lunch at a local restaurant (Michael attempting the entrance bridge below) before going for a bit of a bike ride around the town and having a snooze in the hammock. Then, it was time to board the boats again and jump on the bus back to town.

Back in Ho Chi Minh there was enough time for a massage (Michael included) and some nails (Michael excluded) and some dinner before heading to the airport and flying home. Another trip over…a new one just begun? Nope, back home to work with no future trip in sight and not enough money to even consider planning one.