Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Vietnamese Hat And The Mekong River

Three years ago, I travelled to Vietnam with my bestfriend Ofelia for a few days tour in Ho Chi Minh City. On our third day, we tried a full day tour to the Mekong river. We left early morning in Saigon and the bus took us to a place in the delta about four hours away from the city. From there, the guide toured us in a boat passing through the wide river. The river looked like a city with houses on its banks and the wooden boats that were docked looked confident and familiar in place. These boats came all the way from north of Indochina in Laos and Cambodia and they move along the length of the river to Vietnam all the way to the South China Sea. The people in the boat, some together with their families, navigate through these canals bringing with them fresh fruits and vegetables to be sold in the local town markets found along the river banks. They do business in the river and this has been practiced among the locals as a means of living. The Mekong river, in all its bounty is a source of life for these people. Life for many of them revolves in this body of water.

The boy charmed the tourists on the boat.

These petrol-powered wooden boats navigate the Mekong Delta passing through Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Southern China.

Mekong river cruise.

A way of life for the people living in the river.

Maybe squash was in season when we went there. I like the huge weighing scales.

A boat fully loaded with squash.

The Mekong river is hailed as one of the great rivers of the world. Its length runs from Yunnan province in South China passing Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam to the South China Sea. Its fertile waters support thousands of lives because many depend on it for agriculture. It may look brown and murky but it doesn't have that polluted form and smell you see most  commonly in third-world modern cities. As we passed along the river, I noticed that they do prawn farming in the water and the sides of the river were planted with fruit-bearing trees. The people who lived in this part of Vietnam were mostly into agriculture and farming and they sell their produce to the locals in the boat and these people in turn sell it to buyers in the land. This means of living gave the farmers a modest and comfortable life so unlike the farmers in my native Philippines.

After two hours, we moved to a smaller boat. The wooden vessel was like a canoe paddled by a woman and we passed through smaller inlets and canals until we reached land. We had lunch with some other tourists from Australia and guide gave us a free time to rest and sleep for the siesta. The others biked the neighboring community while I slept in the hammock in the restaurant. Later in the afternoon, we rode again on the wooden canoe. Ofelia and I made silent moves as the lady in the rear of the canoe, paddled the brown water. I was frantic and thought that if I move a lot the boat will capsize and there maybe crocodiles lurking in the water. That horrible thinking made the one hour tour through those canals unbearable. I was glad they lent each of us a Vietnamese hat because the sun was high and it was so humid that day.  

 Paddling through the canals.

Aussie travellers in our group.

The canoe as a transportation for these locals.

Hardworking Vietnamese ladies.


The tourist and traveller navigating the lush foliage.

When we reached the outer end of the canal, we again transferred to a bigger boat because the canoe was too small and unstable to cross the width of the Mekong river. It gave me relief to be in a bigger boat but nonetheless I also enjoyed it, albeit a touristy experience. I realized that if a society takes care of their environment, they can reap bountiful harvests. A classic example is the Mekong river and its people. These people take good care of the land and the water that surrounds it, in turn the river does good for them in a symbiotic relationship.

On my very first trip abroad in 2003 on my way to the Abu Dhabi, I saw the Mekong delta at 35,000 feet above sea level in my window seat. I didn't even know such great river existed in Southeast Asia. Six years later, I was a happy tourist wearing a Vietnamese hat on the Mekong river.