Pancake flat but lusciously green and beautiful, the Mekong Delta is the southernmost region of Vietnam. It was formed by sediment deposited by the Mekong River, a process which continues today; pilt deposits extend the delta’s shoreline at the mouth of the river by as much as 79m per year. The river is so large that it has two daily dides. At low tide in the dry season, boats cannot even move through the shallow canals.
The land of the Mekong Delta is renowned for its richness, and almost half of it is under cultivation. The area is known as Vietnam’s “bread basket’, though “rice basket” would be more appropriate. The Mekong Delta produces enough rice to feed the entire country, with a sizable surplus.
When the government introduced collective farming to the delta in 1975, production fell significantly and there were food shortages in Saigon.(Although farmers in the delta easily grew enough to feed themselfes). People from Saigon would head down to the delta to buy sacks of black market rice, but the police set up checkpoints and confiscated rice from any one carrying more than 10kg, with the aim of preventing “profiteering”. all this ended in 1986, and formaers in this region have since propelled Vietnam forward to become the world’s second largest rice exporter after Thailand.
Other products from the delta region include coconut, sugar, fruit and fish. Although the area is primarily rural, it is one of the most densely populated regions and nearly every hectare is intensively farmed. The only exceptions are the sparsely inhabited mangrove swamps around Camau province. where the land is not as productive.
The Mekong river is one of the world’s largest. The Mekong originates high in the Tibetan plateau, flowing 4500km through China, between Myanmar and Laos, through Laos, along the Laos – Thai Land border, and through Cambodia and Vietnam on its way to the South China Sea. At Phnom Penh ( Cambodia), the Mekong River splits into two main branches; the Hau Giang wich flows via Chau Doc, Long Xuyen and Cantho to the sea; and the Tien Giang (Upper River), which splits into sereral branches at Vinh Long and empties into the sea at five points. The numerous branches of the river explain the Vietnamese name for the Mekong; Song Cuu Long ( River of nice Dragons)
The water flow in the Mekong begins to rise around the end of May and reaches its higheast point in September, it ranges from 1900 to 38,000cubic metres per second depending on the season. A tributary of the river that emplties into the Mekong at phnom Penh drains Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake. When the Mekong is at flood stage, this tributary reverses its flow and drains into Tonle Sap, thereby somewhat reducing the danger of serious flooding in the Mekong Delta. Unfortainately, deforestation in Cambodia is distrurbing this delicate balancing act, resulting in more flooding in Vietnam’s portion of the Mekong River basin.
In recent years seasonal flooding has claimed the lives of hundreds and forced tens of thousands of the region’s residents to evacuate from their homes, in some areas, inhabitants are not able to return to their homes until the waters fully recede several months later. Floods cause hundreds of millions of dollars in damage and have a catastrophic effect on regional rice and coffee crops.
Living on a flood plain presents fsome technical challenges. Lacking delta residents build their houses on bamboo stilts to avoid the rising waters. Many roads are submerged or turn to muck during floods; all weather roads have to be built on raised embankments, but this is expensive. The traditional solution has been to build canals and travel by boat. There are thousands of canals in the Mekong Delta – keeping them properly dredged and navigable is a constant but essential chore.
A further challenge is keeping the canals clean. The normal practice of dumping all garbage and sewage directly into the water ways behind the houses that line them is taking its toll. Many of the more populated areas in the Mekong Delta are showing signs of unpleasant wast build up. One can only hope the government will take stronger meansures to curb this pollution.
estuarine crocodiles are found in the southern parts of the delta rivers, particularly in the Hau Giang River. there creatures can bevery dangerous and travellers are advised to keep a healthy distance from them at all times.
The Mekong Delta was once part of the Khmer Kingdom. and was the last region of modern-day Vietnam to be annexed and settled by the Vietnamese. Cambodians, mindful that they controlled the area until the 18th centery, still call the delta “lower Cambodia”. The Khmer Rouge tried to follow up on this claim by raiding Vietnamese villages and massacring the inhabitants. This led the Vietnames army to invade Cambodia in 1979 and oust the Khmer Rouge from power. Most of the current inhabitants of the Mekong Delta are ethnic Vietnamese, but there are also significant populations of ethnic Chinese and Khmer as well as a few Chams.
A major activity in the Mekong Delta is doating, indeed, the only way you’re rally going to get a close look at the delta is to four the canals by boat. However, several provincial governments in the Mekong Delta, such as those in Mytho and Vinh Long, have essentially banned private entrepreneurs from renting boats to foreigners. Not every provincial government is so restrictive though there are several places in the delta. Cantho and Ben Tre for wxample where you can simply rent a boat and go where youlike.
Iit is worth mentioning that if you want to visit one of the amazing floating markets, it is nearly impossible do to so on a oneday trip from HCMC. These markets are at their bustling best early in the morning and usually finish befor noon, so you should plan to spend at least one night someplace in the delta; cantho is a good a place as any to do this. and there are several floating markets in the vicinity.
Getting There & Away
Most travellers head to the Mekong Delta on an organised tours. with all of the cheap and easy to book delta tours available now, few choose to Travel independently, particularly those with limited time in Vietnam. The touris are indeed a temptation, and can usually save you a good deal of time, as well as money. But those who do decide to do it on their own will have all the more access to areas that are off the beaten track, with many less visited places to discover.
Travel by public bus is cheap, but can be hair-raising and rough. Express minibuses are nearly as cheap, but faster and far more comfortable. Ther ultimate way to see the delta, however, is by private car, bicycle or rented motorbike. Two-wheeling around delta is good fun, especially getting lost among the maze of country roads! ral hardcores might investigate hopping a cargo boat from HCMC – a low but fascination way to head into the delta.
Wherever you go in the delta, be prepared for ferry crossings. by regulation at many ferry crossings. only frivers can ride onto the ferry in their vehickes; others must walk on and off, and this can include a wait in the baking mekong sun. Fruit, soft drinks and other food are sold in the waiting area. Oh ueas, and lottery tickets! with the complection of the Australian – enfineered.
My Thuan suspension bridge back in 2000, one less ferry ride is neccessary to rach the Mekong River from HCMC, and travel time has thankfully been slashed by around an hour.
Since the opening of the river border crossing between Vietnam and Cambodia at Vinh Xuong ( Near Chau Doc), more and more travellers are choosing this route over the land border at Moc Bai. Don’t forget, however, that visas for entering Vietnam or Cambodia must be arranged before heading to the border.
Organised Tours Pleanty of inexpensive minibus tours can be nooked at travel eagents in HCMC. in cheapest ones are sold around the Pham Ngu Lao area, or booking online with the website: http://www.vanhaitourism.com. However, before you book, make some comparisons/ Ceapest is not always best – remember that you suually get what you pay for.. This is not to say that you need to book a pricey tour, but sometimes “rock bottom” means all you will get is a brief glance at the delta region. The cost largely depends on how far from HCMC the tours goes. The standard of accommodation, transport, food and the size of the group will be other determining factors