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Boating in the Mekong Delta


One of the big (and only) attractions in the Mekong Delta is the Delta itself: the nine arms of the big river branch out and feed themselves in an inextricable network of rivers and arroyos, small canals and flooded plains, the area of which varies hour by hour and season by season according to the quirks of the river and the tides which this one meets at its mouth (the Mekong inverts its stream twice a year - the current goes back upstream).

It would be rather crazy to want to visit the Delta on foot, so one rents a power-driven dugout with its pilot and a guide who knows the region well.

I had the chance to live on the spot and so to know several guides and pilots, and the will to take refuge in the arroyos from time to time to rest away from the noise and the excitement of the city.

By leaving early the morning, at sun rise, one benefits from an extraordinary light and from nice meetings with people who leave for work.

Here it would be necessary to say "dugout - bicycle-work-sleep" rather than to talk about the subway, hmm? Never mind, it's a French expression ;-)

But the Delta is not a dormitory suburb where from the inhabitants all get out to go to work in the city, on the contrary.

Most live there and live on it.

One finds there all the activity sectors, installed on small parts of land, on piles, on floating houses and on boats.

Even farmers, as on this photo!

One finds there post offices, police, private hospitals and schools to which the pupils go on dugout or by "bus-boat".

Businesses are floating also and move from house to house, from boat to boat...

Often with difficulty because the depth can vary, in the same place, from two metres to about 20 centimeters (according to my observations) several times a day.

" If the shop does not come to you, you will go to the shop... "

Here's where intervenes the floating markets, accessible only by boat.

The big floating market consists of big wholesalers boats, whose signboard is the sold product (bananas for example) attached to the top of a perch.

All around, revolve the dugouts of the smallest businesses and of the customers ; it is a synchronized swimming of hundreds of boats creating a huge traffic jam.

And just man next to the big floating market is the big ground market : one accosts, goes shopping, then leaves (having loosened its dugout of the "parking").

Without counting the uncountable small improvised floating markets : a "customer" dugout accosts a "salesman" dugout in an arroyo, then a second "salesman" dugout closes it to propose his goods, etc. Rather quickly, a mini-market builds itself up and will last one hour or two...


Is life's base here more than anywhere else. One lives above and on it.

The big canals are highways where boats are overstuffed with goods, so much that often they drown and then have to be indicated as "stumbling blocks" by means of perches, hardly visible anyway.

I saw numerous boats circulating so loaded that they permanently took water by the top edge ; three or four kids were in charge of taking the rap permanently: the earnings of selling the extra goods surpass the cost of the workforce (basic pay : 1 dollar a day)...

The water of the Delta is used for everything. One washes there its vegetables, uses it for the kitchen, washes its dishes in it, uses it as toilet and bathroom.

It's not rare during a stroll to observe 4 or 5 persons doing all this at the same time just a few metres away from each other on the same arroyo.

There is only for the drink that the water is at first collected then boiled, with the local possibilities, before being drunk in a glass... Washed in the arroyo.

Even near cities, in bidonvilles at the edge of arroyos, the water is used in the same way.

But I suppose that the Vietnamese of this region are absolutely armoured against the lack of food hygiene ;-)

If by the way they do not always understand that us, Westerners, make so much "fuss" when they present us a glass (chipped and dirty) of cold green tea, the inhabitants of this region do not generally take offence at it and are very nice and friendly.

It goes from the incredible number of " Hello! " (to which I invariably answer in French or in Vietnamese ;-)) when one passes near them, to the invitation to eat, or even to stay overnight.

It only makes the stroll more pleasant, besides the small surprises which one discovers on the bend of an arroyo or another...

Like this "chapel" in the middle of nowhere, under the shadow of a magnificent tree...

Or like these two sisters who mutually remove their louses during a break...

Like these tourists smiling blissfully...;-)

While others, in spite of their young age, paddle while mom sits and counts the money gained at the market...

It's noon : let's have a break !

So we stop rather far, at the end of a small arroyo which disappears under the vegetation.

The pilot accosts accross three metres of mud, we climb...

An orchard !

A small house, a very welcoming family...

Madam goes to the kitchen while we visit the "wild", unorganized and unfenced orchard...

But in which the dozens sorts of fruits are magnificent !

Here is the owner of the orchard. He just looks like a small farmer who manages his orchard and distils his fruits alcohol, whom he sells in old Cognac bottles, hmm?

Do not trust appearances : talk with him a little.

After the departure of the Frenchmen, he was a chief-mechanic for the planes of the Americans, whom had sent him to the USA to complete his training and built him this house.

After the departure of the Americans, he could only take refuge in his orchard and not show off... And he just stayed there.

Easy to understand, after all : just taste his wife's cuisine, on the terrace in the shade of guavas, while teasing Mai the monkey and Rang the snake...

The pilot likes singing when he has had a few (!) drinks, and my guide and friend like scratching the chords of this bizarre instrument... Atmosphere !

We're just having a great time, here...

Cannot refuse the multiple "100 %" toasts with fruits alcohol, bottles of which keep coming...

But here is the problem : the Asian, due to the lack of one enzyme in the liver, can't stand alcohol well and are much faster drunk than the Westerners.

As long as we sit in the shade, no problem.

But on the way back...

Even we are on water,
With the speed and the traffic...

I was a bit greenish...

And not because of the alcohol which I had gulped down myself...


Pilot ! No, you are not seeing double,
There are two dugouts, two !

Aim in the middle ! In the middle !


Watch out, there, watch out !

Arroyos... So much good recollections !
Do not miss this if you go to the Mekong Delta !

Next page : I move and go work in Hanoi

Page créée le 14 avril 2002 -  Mise à jour le 16 mars 2003

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