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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).
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.
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.
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".
are floating also and move from house to house, from boat to boat...
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
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.
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.
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").
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
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.
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.
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,
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,
the speed and the traffic...
I was a bit greenish...
And not because
of the alcohol which I had gulped down myself...
! No, you are not seeing double,
There are two dugouts, two !
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 !
Page créée le 14 avril 2002 - Mise à jour le 16
Pierre Gieling - tous droits réservés