Water is life.
Nowhere else is that more true than in the Mekong Delta with its 28,000 kms of waterways including rivers, streams and canals.
Beginning just south of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, the Mekong Delta starts where the mighty Mekong River divides into its two main distributaries, the Mekong and the Bassac. These two further break out into nine channels, which is why Mekong Delta is called the area of the ‘Nine Dragons’ in Vietnamese.
Chau Doc, situated near the Vietnam-Cambodia border is blessed by being surrounded by ribbons of water in practically every direction, including the Hau River (a branch of the Mekong River) and man-made Vinh Te Canal.
Started in 1819, the 87-kilometer long canal provides a direct route to the seaside port of Ha Tien in the Gulf of Siam. The 5-year project involved approximately 80,000 workers and was named after Châu V?nh T?, the wife of its builder.
Today, I set out to explore a small section of the Vinh Te Canal as well as some of the smaller waterways around Chau Doc to see how life is lived along the water.
Immediately noticeable is the incredible fluctuations in the surface level of the water. Tin houses front the road on one side and the river on the other, seemingly precariously balanced on stilts. Where it’s common to see a bicycle resting on a street corner on land, it’s just as common to see skiffs tied up to some of these homes, used to make the occasional run to the Floating Market or to fish or as a means of transport.
Boats are common here for transport, a safer, more environmentally-friendly and cheaper alternative compared to road transport.
We arrive at the tail end of the rice harvesting season (one of three yearly crops) and everywhere, bags full of rice are piled high, ready to be transported from the Mekong Delta, the so-called “Rice Bowl” of Vietnam to the rest of the country and the world. In 2014, Vietnam was the third largest milled rice exporter worldwide, behind India and Thailand.
Larger boats even have “eyes” to guide the vessels safely back home, a distinctive feature of the Mekong Delta boats.
All along the banks, we see people and animals living off what the river provides.
Harvesting wild aquatic plants as food for both people and livestock…
All along the banks, we see stacks of straight, narrow poles piled high…
The locals plant these poles just off the shore, adding vegetation and submerging branches to create a habitat for fish. Every day, they throw in fish food, enticing the fish to make this makeshift pen their home.
Then the day comes when nets are strung across the poles, leaving an entrance for the fish to come in and out as they please until it’s time for the harvest, when the entrance is closed for good and the community comes out to help tighten the nets in an ever-smaller circle. Feeling constricted, the fish leap out of the water in a fruitless attempt at escape. The river has provided yet again.
The people of the Delta are simple folk, living a simple life. Between the floods and the droughts, life can be difficult. But they find joy in being close to nature, living on or near the water.
The Victoria Chau Doc Hotel offers a river tour that includes visiting the Chau Doc Floating Market as well as a floating fish farm and other river-based sights. River excursions can be booked at the tour desk at Victoria Chau Doc or by emailing: [email protected]