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
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, 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
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.
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
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
Large floating markets are not complete without its floating restaurants,
floating gas stations and an occasional tour boat filled with tourists.
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.
In a typical snake full-course meal, the gallbladder is extracted from the
freshly-killed snake and together with some blood and whisky a drink is made.
The snake is then chopped off and cooked in various ways. Most tourists opt for
a curry stir-fried snake dish just for the thrill of it. General comments are
"too much bone and no taste!". More adventurous travelers have reported severe
stomach cramps after swallowing down the snake drink.
Major Cities Of The Delta
the capital of An Giang province, Long Xuyen plays a very important role in the
commerce of this region. Many of the produce grown in the vicinity are shipped
here before being transported elsewhere. With a population over 100,000 people,
it has a significant number of catholics as the city boasts the largest Catholic
church in the region, seating up to 1000 people.
Long Xuyen is a big town with slow pace living. Unlike its motorized cousin in
Can Tho, "Xe Loi" here is pulled by bicycle. 40 km from Long Xuyen is the hilly
area of Ba The where the ruins of the Oc Eo civilization dating back to the
first century A.D. were discovered. The Oc Eo civilization reached its height in
the 5th century and was part of the foundation of the Phu Nam (Funam) kingdom.
Can Tho is 170 km from Saigon. Since the beginning, Can Tho was already given
the title Tay Do or Western Capital. It is also the meeting point of the various
waterways of the Mekong Delta. Today, it has become an industrious city with big
bottling companies and fish sauce factories. It is is home to 220,000
Can Tho is a busy port capable of accomodating large ships from neighbouring
countries. Hau Giang or Hau River is the main channel that passes through Can Tho. The land mass surrounding the river was developed very early so the
population in this area is probably the largest in all of the Delta region. The
land here is said to be the most fertile because of the deposits from the
various branches of the river.
Ben Ninh Kieu is probably the most well known landmark in Can Tho. The port lies
on Hau Giang and crosses the city of Can Tho. The city opens to the water front
where port Ninh Kieu is the focal point of all activities on the river. Frequent
ferries carry passengers to Xom Chai island, just a short distance away and a
beautiful sight at sunset.
Dec used to be the capital of Dong Thap province, formerly inhabited by the
ancient Phu Nam Kingdom and later the Chan Lap (Tchen La) civilization. In the
1700s, the area was exchanged with the Vietnamese for military aid. Since then
many Vietnamese have settled in this area and effectively annexed this whole
area. The Chan Lap were subsequently wiped out and assimilated by the Vietnamese
and today the population consists mostly people of Chinese, Khmer, Cham and Thai
Sa Dec has become less and less prosperous ever since Cao Lanh was named capital
of the province to reward communist cadres from the area after the war ended.
New constructions and developments are now occuring in Cao Lanh, the commercial
hub of the region.
Chau Doc is the last town in Vietnam before entering Cambodia. The town is
located on the right bank of Hau Giang, 5 km away from Sam mountain, the highest
point on the Delta. This mountain gets the name from its shape of a king crab,
which is "sam" in vietnamese. It is a sacred mountain for many locals since it
is dotted with pagodas and temples. Chau Doc is very famous for "ma('m", a type
of fermented fish used regularly as food ingredients or garnishes.
With a population of 85,000, Chau Doc is a bustling city with heavy trade of
illegal goods crossing the cambodian border. From smugglers on bicycle carrying
cartons of cigarettes on their back to boats loaded with VCR and TV sets to new
cars originating from Thailand, it seems like anything is fair game in the wild
west of Vietnam.