And here it was mid-October.
Lanterns, candles and our wishes, launched during the full moon, have probably already reached the South China Sea.
Dragons and demons go hunting. Keep your eyes wide open.
Why? About this at the end of the article.
The rainy season is slowly coming to an end, although in recent days central Viet Nam is experiencing rainfall associated with the tropical depression. They cause floods and landslides. Life there is not easy.
We are waiting for the dry season to come and meanwhile I wanted to draw your attention to the river.
But not on any ordinary river, creek or stream ...
Today's story will be about the 12th largest river in the world and the 6th largest in Asia. Mekong River.
When visiting Viet Nam and Cho Chi Minh City in particular, one of the key points of your stay is a trip to the Mekong Delta. This is one of the many attractions tourists choose.
However, visiting the Mekong Delta in a commercial edition is just a "brush" of the whole topic. A well-prepared but massively duplicated trip plan.
What we observe during our stay in the Mekong Delta is very picturesque and exotic of course. Masses of water flowing into Viet Nam along the river, the length of which is 4,350 km, are impressive. The area, calculated as the length and width of the river, in different sections is practically 795,000 square kilometers. This is more than twice the area of Poland.
Yet the Mekong Delta is the most productive region of Viet Nam. It covers about 2.6 million hectares under all kinds of crops.
Suffice it to say that the Mekong Delta accounts for 47% of the total area of grain crops in Viet Nam and provides almost 55% of the rice that Viet Nam produces - that's as much as 23,000,000 tons of rice that comes from the Mekong Delta.
It is also the bulk of the seafood fishing and production in Viet Nam. Can you imagine that almost half of the Vietnamese fishing boats are concentrated in the Mekong Delta, can't you?
They are responsible for 58% of Viet Nam's fish and seafood production. And we are talking about about 3,000,000 tons of production per year!
This is a huge region and huge production. I would say that this is just a granary of Viet Nam.
It is worth knowing that the river has its source in the Himalayan Plateau.
Interestingly, it is the same plateau that gives rise to other large rivers in Asia.
Among other things, the Yellow River and the Yangtze River, which meet near Shanghai.
The Mekong River flows through many states. It starts in the Chinese Himalayas and then sails through Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia to finally enter Viet Nam.
If you pay attention to the etymology of the name of the river, you can say that it is a transcription of the old Austro-Asiatic languages, where in free translation it is referred to as "Mother of the waters".
The established waterway, despite its wildness in some sections, connects China and the above-mentioned countries with the South China Sea. For centuries, it has been a way of helping the countries of Southeast Asia in trade and communication.
The Mekong River also forms a national border in many sections. Among other things, it forms a natural part of the border between three countries: China, Myanmar and Laos. In its southern course it is also about 100 km border between the mentioned Mynamar (former Burma) and Laos. Then it flows into Cambodia and reaches the territory of Viet Nam.
The history of the Mekong Delta, which is part of Viet Nam today, goes back to around 400 BC.
This part of the world was dominated by the Cambodian Khmers who worked here for many centuries and developed this region. With time, Chinese and Vietnamese were allowed to settle in the Mekong Delta area.
The settlement was initiated, more or less, in 1620 by the King of Cambodia, Chey Chetth II, which resulted in a slow but very effective migration of the Vietnamese to the Delta.
So effective that after about 70 years this area was completely dominated by the Chinese and Vietnamese. The king also allowed the construction of customs structures. The first customs post was the then Prey Nokor - today's Sai Gon.
Moreover, the Lords of Hue sent their representative, Nguyen Huu Canh, to the delta area. He built a strong administration in this area, which in practice led to the full takeover of the Mekong Delta from the Khmer in 1698. Since then, we can speak of Vietnamese rule over the Mekong Delta, from which the Khmers slowly retreated to the territory of today's Cambodia.
Today, the Mekong Delta is inhabited by approximately 17,000,000 people.
Each year, the Mekong moves 1,000,000 m³ of water, and sediments are collected in it along the entire course of the river. In this way, the river "builds" about 150 meters of land each year, increasing the surface area of the mainland. These sediments are also a source of nutritional minerals for the plants grown here.
Interestingly, on the course of the river from China to Viet Nam, we have 3 tributaries - left and right. Main and tributary waters at the borders of Cambodia and Viet Nam already account for 95% of the mass of water carried by the river towards the Delta. The remaining 5% already flows into Viet Nam.
It is here, just across the border with Cambodia, that the Mekong splits into six southern and three northern canals, which together make up the nine main arms of the Mekong. As a result, the Delta territory is one large network of river channels, which are sometimes the only way of communication between towns and villages.
The Vietnamese name of the river - the Nine Dragons - derives from this separation into 9 branches.
It is this region of the Mekong River that all tours departing from the center of Ho Chi Minh City run.
There are many offers. They all come down to being picked up from your hotel in District 1 of Sai Gon, or from one of the many tour operator offices that offer this type of tour.
The trip to the Mekong Delta lasts one day, it starts at 8 am and usually ends around 5 pm. It is quite, I would say, a commercial offer.
Air-conditioned bus, water, English-speaking guide and lunch are standard. The price includes tasting various drinks and fruit during the trip. Groups are usually sixteen people. A two-hour drive on the motorway leads to the town of My Tho, where there is a small river port from which you will be taken by motor boats to the next attractions.
Will it be the "turtle island" or will it be another small island along the way, like Capricorn Island or Phoenix Island, wherever you will visit local plantations, apiaries, orchards to see how honey is produced, drink tea, try snake vodka or see gardens producing orchids.
One of the points worth visiting is the land of coconuts and that's where you can see one of the coconut candy factories.
Besides, you will be able to go on a wooden boat. Local women paddle, operate their feet, take you about a few hundred meters through the channel, the shores of which are covered with wonderful water coconut palms.
After crossing the canal, you can taste local fruit and listen to a local opera. This is folklore, where we are dealing with a typically regional Vietnamese folk opera. It consists of the sung part and the spoken part of the piece. The instruments used in this performance are mainly guitar and zither. This gives an extra musical experience.
It is a short performance, performed in pairs, and indeed it is an opera, which in the verbal part usually tells an interesting story, and in the musical part conveys the emotions accompanying this story.
Part of the excursion offer is a shared lunch on the way to the Mekong Delta. A very commercialized, typical menu. It will almost always be deep-fried fish, seafood, rice and vegetables. Generally tasty and healthy. Drinks are paid extra - be prepared for VND 100,000 to 200,000 in cash. You can pay by card but often the terminals are broken. Interestingly, when visiting an apiary or a candy factory, you can also pay with a bank card. The customer is our master. The cost of the trip depends on the day of the week, the number of participants and the type of offer. Prices range from US $ 18-50 per person.
Considering the above, I would like to recommend you an offer that is available from some tour operators and is called the "non-touristic delta route". It is actually an offer that takes visitors to that part of the Mekong Delta where tourists generally do not arrive.
You will be able to visit the town of Long An, small villages and the local fruit and vegetable market. In addition to the speedboat and rowing boat, you will also get bikes that you will be able to ride through the rice fields, between the orchards of the dragon fruit. See how people live, visit a family, sit in a roadside tent, ask for a fresh coconut or Dragon Fruit straight from the bush. It will still be warm, warmed by the sun - it tastes delicious. A fresh, open coconut will quench your thirst. The elderly people of the Mekong Delta speak English quite well, so you can also sit down and talk for a while about what it was like, how they deal with rising sea levels and current affairs.
I could write a long time about what to see on individual islands, why one is called Capricorn and the other Phoenix. About the fact that you can see a crocodile farm here. However, I will leave at least some unknowns so that you can discover these secrets yourself. Generally, the inhabitants are well prepared to handle tourist traffic. They are very nice, hospitable and the fruit, tinctures and tea they serve are really good.
Even though it sounds a bit commercial, it is a real escape from the gray of everyday life. It is an opportunity to see how people cope and live in an area of the country, which is meshed with numerous rivers and canals. Where the main mode of transport is a boat, not a car. Where the connection between the islands is provided by a network of ferry crossings.
Where there are small shipyards and transshipment ports, and along the river and its branches, thousands of small boats transport children to school, people to work and goods to the market. Where the residents face daily challenges. And there are many of these in the Delta.
We know that the Mekong Delta is basically at "zero level".
It is a few, sometimes several centimeters above sea level.
Global warming is a challenge for local people. Firstly, because the sea level is rising, and here each centimeter of rising waters will cause great losses and the risk of flooding the Mekong Delta by sea waters. It is already happening from time to time and it devastates Dragon fruit or rice plantations. Salt water just kills these plants.
It would seem that the difference of one or a few centimeters in the level of the seas is not much.
However, it may cause, in the near future, a large migration problem, but also an economic one. After all, the inhabitants live off the cultivation of rice and fruit, they live on tourism. Fishing and seafood production largely contribute to the well-being of the entire family.
When production is concentrated on oyster or shrimp farms, every inch of water used to produce food matters.
A visit to the Mekong Delta is an opportunity to realize how little it takes to flood the area with a change in the current climate. It is clear that the river level and sea level are a few centimeters difference, and any change in sea level is a deadly threat to this part of Viet Nam.
At the same time, you can see how the residents are trying to counteract this type of threat. By building houses and their habitats on elevations. By strengthening the banks of the canals and building dikes, they try to extend their chances of a dignified life and work in this part of the river.
After a full-day visit to the Mekong Delta, you will understand what life on the water is all about. You will see how hard the inhabitants of this part of Viet Nam work. At the same time, you will feel a great atmosphere. A rowing boat ride through the narrow canals shaded by palm trees and a water coconut and a speedboat on the river is an attraction in itself. Finally, you will see a river that is definitely different from European ones in terms of water color and temperature. The water is warm and clean, although it carries clay deposits physically and seems dirty.
You will listen to interesting stories because the guides are usually very well prepared and will provide us with many local curiosities and interesting stories during such a whole day trip. One of such curiosities is the story about the way of decorating the boats used by the inhabitants of the Delta. You will surely notice that all boats, fishing boats and river barges have big eyes painted on the bow. According to a local legend, these eyes are intended to scare away ghosts that live in the rivers and waters of Asia. Open, big eyes play a protective, not decorative role. They guard against demons, providing the inhabitants of the Delta with protection from evil forces.
I have been to the Mekong Delta 3 times already. Behind each of them, I discovered something different. And these are horses pulling carts with goods, and these are children returning from school, who are very happy to greet tourists and try their chance in English, calling each tourist "hello". It is very nice, isn't it?
You can also meet Viet Nam War veterans who will be open to tell you about these tragic times.
So be open to all of this. Enjoy and be prepared for tips. These people work really hard all day long to support their family. Every $ 5 extra we can leave there, is great support for them.
After a long day in the Mekong Delta, it's time to unwind. Time for dinner and a walk around Sai Gon at night, to which I cordially invite you. Keep your eyes wide open when you walk. You never know what kind of demon is around the corner.
Remember, the eyes are the Mirror of the soul.
If the soul is good and positive, it will scare away any demons.
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