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Discovering The Mekong Delta

The goodbye was teary yet swift.  Ash and I had a date on a slow boat that would take us down the mighty Mekong River from Cambodia to Vietnam’s patchwork delta.  Our hearts ached as the tuk-tuk puttered away from the Palm Tree Orphanage; a chapter in our lives that shall never end.
River Village Along Mekong Fishing Vessel On Mekong River

Ash Enjoying the Slow Boat The boat resembled a brown stick bug as it approached the rickety dock full of feisty bull ants.  At the Cambodia – Vietnam border crossing, 40% of the passengers were denied entry for failure to present valid passports.  It was evident the Cambodian family left behind at the boundary was looking to immigrate to their slightly more prosperous neighbor.  The wooden vessel’s sun deck offered unadulterated views of riverside shanty towns, families fishing from dugout canoes, and young boys herding famished cattle.  As the sun dipped behind rows of palms, Ash and I took time to absorb the starkly different style of life.

Yem, Whom We Helped Study Englsh Twice Before Her Scholarship Competition to Singapore Homes On Stilts

The river split yet again as the floating craft approached the Mekong Delta town of Chau Doc.  The river city’s shanties reached over the Mekong by leaning on tall wooden stilts.  Ash opted for a quick ride to our hostel on the back of a moto while I crawled along in a cyclo – a carriage towed behind a bicycle.  After settling into our accommodation, which had an ophthalmologist office in its lobby, we practiced English with the proprietor’s daughter who had a scholarship contest the following day to study in Singapore.  A simple Vietnamese dinner was inhaled and we called it a night in preparation for an early morning.  Before exploring the area surrounding Chau Doc the following day, we once again went over Yem’s English for her high stakes competition.  We never found out whether she was headed for Singapore, but she was certainly on the right track being both intellectual and driven.

Our Awesome Tour Guide and Boat Driver - Caman Floating Market on Mekong River - Boats Bartering

Floating Market on Mekong River - What A Swell Purchase We encouraged Yem one more time, then met Caman on the Mekong’s muddy bank for an intimate boat ride including the floating markets, a fish farm, and a Muslim minority village.  The Mekong River in many ways is Southeast Asia’s lifeblood.  It provides food, entertainment, drinking water, and transportation.  So it was no surprise to see that Chau Doc’s community depends on the river for survival.  They go as the river goes.  Caman, wearing an iconic Vietnamese cone hat made from straw to match her grinning face, skillfully maneuvered the small boat amongst the listing flotilla anchored together in the middle of the brown river.  Restaurants, families, and wholesalers all bought fruit and vegetables from this market on hulls that turned up each morning.  The vessels would advertise their offering by placing the items for sale on a stick high above the bow.  True to our tastes, we loaded up on banana and pineapple.

Greg and Caman on Fish Farm - Greg Is A Bit Taller Fish Farm on Mekong River - Fish Curing

Cham Muslim Minority Village - Ash Exhibiting Traditional Garments Moving back up stream, Caman dropped us at a fish farm riding the currents of the Mekong atop wooden pontoons.  Our steps were careful amid the myriad of wooden planks and packing crates.  Lilypads surrounded the hectic scene of thousands of fish fighting for pellets of processed rice byproduct after Ash dumped a healthy helping into the commotion.  As we motored over to the petrol station afloat on the Mekong, the farms cured their fish on wooden planks under the sunny sky.  Moving onto to the Cham Muslim minority village, we crossed a rickety foot bridge where the Mekong would typically rise in the rainy season.  We dawned traditional garb woven by local women and toured their quaint living quarters built on shaky stilts.

Boy on Tip of Boat Cham Muslim Minority Village - Foot Bridge and Old Boat

Sadly, Cham Village, Chau Doc, and the greater Mekong Delta have begun suffering from lower water levels due to dams being constructed in upstream China.  Yet the people and way of life continue.

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

1) “Village tours” are usually poor examples of the real thing.  They are designed to bring in tourist money and our experience in Vietnam fit this model.  However, it can still be interesting and worthwhile if you acknowledge and confront this fact prior to booking.

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