22 May 2010

A Slow Boat Up the Mekong

  P5170514There is no better way to travel through the Mekong Delta than on one of the long boats in Vietnam.  We were headed for our second homestay and would travel up river visiting various industries along the way to spend a night in the home of our local host family who lived on one of the islands in the delta.   Intrepid_ Vietnam-3

I was really excited to be on one of the major river systems in the world and to experience life on the Delta first hand.  From what I have read about the Mekong, this river drains an area of approximately 600 000 km2, and its catchment includes parts of China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Viet Nam!  Imagine the nightmare of trying to manage a river system such as this while we in Australia struggle with resolving issues with our neighbouring Councils!.

I noticed the houses on the Delta are not raised, unlike those further up this catchment.  I was told the flooding downstream was not that severe. and I believe it may be due to the many reservoirs that are part of this basin which changes the hydraulics and conveyance of water in this river system.  The dams are used for both irrigation and hydro power, due to extreme variations in rainfall between the dry and wet seasons here.  Of course this reduces flood levels downstream but unfortunately, these dams together with the levees that are also built along this river are changing the entire ecology of this river system.  Flooding on the Mekong does not result in a lot of casualties as it does in other river systems such as the Brahmaputra but it does destroy crops and infrastructure.  The Mekong Delta is a very flat, fertile floodplain and the entire area is dominated by rice paddy cultivation. 

It is an amazingly beautiful landscape.  I love the coconut palms that line the waters edge and sway in the slight breeze.  It brings a slightly cooling effect to the area and we are grateful for any slight change in temperature.  The palms have the most beautiful flowers..and the trees have many uses including the use of these palms for thatching P5170447roofs and for weaving mats.  We stop at a coconut sweet factory along the way and marvel at the speed with which the girls seem to wrap up the sweets.    We visit a brick making factory on the banks of the river and a place that makes salt.  We are amazed at the conditions under which men and women toil every day for basic wages.  The heat coming from the kilns is as much as we can bear for a more than a few minutes.

Intrepid_ Vietnam-4 Intrepid_ Vietnam1-1

I love just watching the world go by as we cruise up river and we get a lot more intimate with the Mekong as we move in to a smaller tributary.  It is a beautiful trip and we feel excited.   At one point we had to dismantle the overhead covering as there wasn’t enough clearance to pass under the bridge.  We all crouched down low on the bottom of the boat as it only just made the clearing.  We laughed as we thought of all the OH&S requirements at home. You would never have adventures such as this in the western world! 

Intrepid_ Vietnam-5The homestay was very basic but had lots of character, love and atmosphere.  Hammocks were strung across the veranda and we were shown to the one room we would all share that night.  Basic wooden beds with the all important mosquito net were ready for our tired limbs to ‘sink’ into.   

After a bit of a lie down, we had a great afternoon exploring the Delta by bike.  It was wonderful to bike through green paddy fields, stopping for tea and a bit of interaction with another local family and admiring the stunning countryside.

P5170545  One of the most interesting things I noticed was that the Vietnamese bury their dead in the paddy fields.  This enables them to feel close to their ancestors everyday as they go about their work. 

P5170544Very ornate grave stones seem to dot the countryside, where entire generations having been buried side by side.

That night we were treated to a wonderful dinner of fried noodles, soup, fish, tofu and heaps of other dishes.  It was a huge spread and we were ready to tuck in.  It was a truly authentic taste of life on the Mekong and I was thankful for the experience.


"Life is one big road with lots of signs. So when you riding through the ruts, don't complicate your mind. Flee from hate, mischief and jealousy. Don't bury your thoughts, put your vision to reality. Wake Up and Live!"

Bob Marley

No comments: