Vietnam – Mekong DeltaBack to Story

Mekong Delta - lush waterways

The Mekong Delta is often described as the pantry for Vietnam because of the lush crops of rice, fruit and vegetables. It is certainly a different travel experience to the Vietnam that can been seen up in the North.

The Mekong Delta is the main river route consisting of connecting man-made and natural channels. Life here is very connected to the river and all that it delivers. Houses are often either floating or perched on the banks and most people rely on the river either as a source of food or, in the least, to transport themselves and their produce to the larger towns and villages.

History and Traditions

Historically the Mekong Delta belonged to the Khmer Empire known to us as Cambodia. The Khmer Empire was recovering from war with Thailand in the 11th and 12th centuries and by 1620 had opened up the area to the Vietnamese. Vietnamese settlement numbers increased in the area until 1698 when the area was officially handed over to them. Khmer people still live in the some of the villages.

An obvious cultural difference between Khmer and Vietnamese is what happens to human remains after death. Khmers believe that they should cremate their dead before burial. As a result crematoriums exist probably dating many years to cater for this. Both Vietnamese and Khmer people then bury the remains of their family either in the backyard or in the rice fields. However, the Vietnamese typically consult a fortune teller to ask when they should bury their dead loved ones.

I arrive here on the third day of the Tet New Year and the whole area seems to have ground to a halt. Markets are almost non-existent and all shops are closed. Here, like many parts of Vietnam, ancestor worship is a big part of life. The Vietnamese believe that the dead ancestors join them for Tet celebrations every year. On the third day of Tet they leave their family again so the family prepare chicken typically as an offering and enjoy the chicken themselves.

River Life

The river is the symbolic heart of the area and we make our way down to the river to catch up morning boat to see the local life. There is a small handmade boat floating on bamboo beside our boat and it is released on the third day of Tet into the river for good luck. So many rituals and beliefs surround this New Year time.

There are obvious signs of new bridges and roads in the region which have changed village life for many people. Before everyone was reliant on boats and often children took either a boat or water buffalo cart to get the school. Passage into the local towns was difficult and rarely taken. The changes have meant that many people now have motorbikes and the villages are much less isolated. Electricity has been hooked up to some villages as recently as five years ago and has also made huge differences to the quality of life. Refrigeration is still rare but most people have lights and, in some cases, television.

Rice Fields

Water buffalo were a vital part of village life and the rice fields. They were used to work in the fields and to carry goods to and from the village. Times have changed now and machines have often replace the water buffalo so they may also be facing a changed existence. Traditionally all parts of the rice crop have been utilised. When the rice was separated from plant the remaining plant was used to grow mushrooms. When the mushroom crop was ready the remnants were then used as fertiliser in the field. Rice can only be grown for five years in a row so on the fifth year an another vegetable crop is grown.

There is a plentiful supply of water and a warm climate so the rice can be cropped three times a year. Despite being poor, families are seldom hungry. This seems to be in contrast to the hill tribes who can only grow one crop per a year because and the cold temperatures put pressure on food supplies.

Can Tho and surrounding villages

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