So today was without a doubt my favorite day in Vietnam thus far and let me, in a very long blog post (sorry Brian and Moriah), tell you why! Today we visited the Mekong Delta, which as most people know is the largest body of water that flows through Vietnam as well as 5 other countries.
For a very brief background on the Mekong Delta, it is a key economic and cultural contributor to each country it flows through, with Vietnam being the last of the 6 countries it affects. The countries upstream are trying to damn up the waterway to produce hydropower, which is negatively affecting the following countries (including Vietnam’s) water levels and water quality. The salinization levels are also harming the prosperity of the Mekong delta. Despite these environmental affects that are slowly harming the economic benefits like rice production, the tourism to the Mekong Delta continues to flourish in Vietnam. I will say that besides what I already knew about the hardships that the Mekong delta is facing, as well as the facts that our tour guide told us, I personally did not notice anything evident with regards to the salinization or water levels throughout our journey. Regardless, I am still aware that these negative affects are occurring and so is the Vietnamese government. To my knowledge, the government here is working actively in the delta itself as well as the in the political and foreign affairs realm with the other countries along the Mekong. When our specialist on the Mekong Delta came to give her lecture a few days ago at UEF she did mention that she is working on a team to continue testing the salinization levels of the waterway and they are trying to counteract that natural phenomenon. Vietnam is also trying to prevent the continue damming of the delta by other countries, to prevent continued economic and environmental issues.
I will attribute my lack of those professional observations of the Mekong Delta logistics to the fact that the phenomenal cultures around me were so intriguing that all my focus was on the world around me. This experience as a tourist has been one of the best experiences of my life. I’m sure you want to know what all we did today so here it is:
We began our day with another early start and a 2 hour bus ride from Ho Chi Minh to Ben Tre province where our boat dock was. Quick side note: I bought some great Vietnam apparel at the dock. So from the dock we took a nice big tourist boat across the Mekong delta to the Coconut Candy island. At this island, the locals harvest the coconuts to make this amazingly sweet and chewy candy in a number of different flavors of foods from the island. My girlfriend and both of our families will be happy to read that I bought plenty of coconut candy for everyone to try a lot! I also was able to buy a few nice souvenir surprises for people here and throughout the rest of the day. After seeing the candy process from start to finish all done by hand, we loaded all 30 of us into a few motorbike-carts and traveled 20 minutes deeper into the winding roads of this island. We ended up at a local pig farm and from there we proceeded to a gorgeous gem of a tourist restaurant right along a canal of the delta. We feasted like kings on fish off the bone that were caught from the delta and afterwards we had some time to relax, hanging in the trees on hammocks.
Up next we loaded into smaller boats on a dock next to the restaurant and proceeded down the canal to meet up with our larger tourist boat. We then moved steadily across the delta to another island that is home to the infamous coconut religion. I believe this religion believes that the only source of energy, nourishment and happiness comes from the coconut. For a small period of time it was a strong belief, but the religion is dying off, being that there is only one known woman remaining who follows “coconutism” (lol). Besides that, this was another tourist oriented island with beautiful sights to see and fun things to do. For example, I successfully walked above the water on a tight rope for fun (see the picture below). I did find that this island was slightly more expensive for souvenirs because of its popularity with tourists, but even so it was still cheaper than anything in America!
Moving on, our final destination on this boat tour was to another island where we got to taste honey straight from a hive and taste the delicious tea that they make with it. It is interesting to me that each place we visited had such friendly locals and I believe that is because the people here are genuinely happy and free, but also tourism is their only income and it benefits them to be nice!! Anyway, before moving on from this small village on the island we also got to each take pictures with a python! After this photo-op, I was once again surprised to see our journey along the water continue but this time it was in another small canal on a group of 4 person canoes that were rowed by locals and myself for a short time (see picture below). They took us down stream through 15 minutes of gorgeous foliage to another small village to snack on some fruit and listen to local performers sing. This was the perfect way to end what was without a doubt the most cultural enhancing and diverse day of my life. For the final time after that we hopped on our big tourist boat that met us at this small village and we proceeded back to the main boat dock. We spent this 20 minute ride sipping on the sweet water straight from the coconuts and reminiscing on the great day.
This was a surreal 8 hour experience and I hope that I was able to paint a picture for you of how absolutely amazing it was. Whether I did or not though, the pictures below can do the same thing as will the ones I post on facebook!!!
Until next time,
-(zoo keeper) Danny