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Life in the Mekong Delta

by becca on November 3, 2009

The Mekong Delta is the area in the Southwest of Vietnam where the mighty Mekong River fans out and flows into the sea. Through a tour company that prides itself on off the beaten track experiences, we were able to spend a night in a homestay in the heart of the area, in Vinh Long province.

The river is the source of life in this region. Boats serve as transportation, homes and markets all floating on the many tributaries and canals stretching from the river. Ditches create irrigation for fruit orhards and the fertile soil enables massive rice production. I’ve read somewhere that one rice harvest from just the Mekong Delta could feed all of Vietnam for a year. Now because machines have replaced water buffalo and fertilizer has replaced dung, they are able to harvest two or three times a year instead of one.

The waterways also serve as outside toilets. I was mortified when I walked past one of the adult sons of the family we stayed with and gave him a smile and a nod only to realize that he was taking a crap over a ditch on an “outside toilet.”

My favorite part of our trip through the region was learning a bit of Vietnamese and going shopping in the local market for the ingredients to make spring rolls. We learned to count in Vietnamese, to say “I would like…” “how much,” and “no, that’s too much!” I only wish we had learned these phrases more toward the beginnig of our time in Vietnam.

Other highlights include Nate getting to sample snake wine from a jar of home brewed rice wine that has had a king cobra soaking in it for two years, and eating some local snacks, like a drink made from smashing all the juice out of sugarcane, and sticky rice with sweet and savory pork, chicken, and veggies on top. The fresh fruit was unbeatable.

As we were the only two guests in our homestay, we ate with the family and we ate what they ate. I helped cook yummy fish cakes: fresh anchovies, small slices of potato, onion, and carrot in a spiced batter that you pour onto a skillet and cook like pancakes. But, we were obligated to eating our share of the river eel dish, around the bony spine of the slimy creature and everything.

The trip ended when we were taken to the town of Can Tho to hop on a bus to Rach Gia. 24 hours later, we were on the island of Phu Quoc where we abandoned the muddy Mekong waters for white sand and the emerald sea.

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