Covering an area of over 40,000 square kilometers, the Mekong Delta is home to over 21 million people, about a fifth of the population of Vietnam. Known as Vietnam’s “Rice Bowl” for its abundant rice production, the fertile land of the Mekong Delta is irrigated by Delta water and fertilized by Delta silt.
However, it’s not just the Mekong River which flows through this vast area about three hours south of Ho Chi Minh City. The Mekong actually branches into nine smaller rivers, giving rise to its Vietnamese name of “sông Cửu Long” or the “Nine Dragons”.
In fact, if you find yourself in the Mekong Delta, you’re never really far from the water. It’s estimated that there are 3,600 km of waterways in the Mekong Delta, including the branches of the Mekong along with smaller streams and canals, almost the length of the entire Mekong River itself!
Most of the people of the Delta earn a living through farming and fishing, living their lives close to the land and water. One of the best ways to see river life in detail is on a day cruise from Can Tho, the largest city in the Delta, with stops along the way to visit villages and workshops.
On a recent river cruise organized by Victoria Can Tho Resort, we saw a woman collecting water palm fronds, trimming them, then weaving them together using just strips of bamboo bark. The finished product is then used to thatch roofs and walls as the leaves are naturally water repellent. Once they get old and brittle, it’s simple and inexpensive to replace these all-natural materials.
On the boat trip, you really get to see the vital role the waterways of the Delta play in the everyday lives of people.
You can find people doing their washing in the river…
… and using the waterways as roads. Especially near markets, you can find women acting as boat ferry drivers, ready to row people and goods back across the river.
It’s also amazing to see how nothing really goes to waste in the Delta. The people have found ingenious ways to recycle and reuse materials.
For example, what do you do when your house is by the river and there’s no chance of buying more land? You create more real estate, of course!
That’s just what the people of the Delta have done by planting pylons in the river and creating a bit of man-made land that extends over the water for their stilt nurseries just outside of Can Tho. The framework is disconcertingly wobbly but apparently sturdy enough to support the weight of a few people.
But that’s not all. The nursery process starts out with banana leaves that are trimmed and pinned with a small bamboo sliver to create a “pot” of sorts.
The “pots” are then filled with soil that’s been enriched with ash from burnt rice husks, which are themselves leftover from the rice milling process. What might be considered trash by some is turned into an organic fertilizer which helps to regulate the soil’s acidity.
Seedlings are then planted in the all-natural pots and once they get a little bigger, are sold to farmers.
It’s a beautiful example of the ingenuity of the people of the Mekong Delta, getting the most use out of everyday products and their environment.
See some of these amazing sights yourself with a boat tour of the Mekong Delta organized by Victoria Can Tho Resort, an Indochina-inspired resort set right on the Hau River with its own boat jetty.