Today was easily my favorite day of the trip thus far. We were lucky enough to take a day trip down the Mekong River Delta, and it completely blew me away with its beauty and diversity of people, vegetation, and festivities. Once again, we were led by two fantastic guides, without whom the trip would have been impossible.
The journey began with a quick boat ride over one of the wider parts of the river to a small island no more than a kilometer away. Upon arrival, we got to see one of the major businesses in the delta in action: the production of coconut products. We were led through a small “factory” where a family of workers were in the process of making their famous coconut candies (amongst other coconut products as well). Even as someone who does not typically like coconut, I have to admit the candies were delicious, and I had to buy some to share with family and friends back home.
From there we took a winding and bumpy ride to a more remote area of the island, where we then saw a typical pig farm, a more traditional form of living for the people on the island. Aside from a giant pen of pigs, the owner also had a large garden area out back, where he grew many crops to supplement his income.
After the farm, we were taken to a beautiful clearing in the land that housed the restaurant where we would ultimately eat lunch. The meal that was served was fit for a royal feast, as it included meat, rice, green beans, soup, spring rolls, noodles, and the crown jewel: an entire fish fried whole. The fish was my favorite part, as I enjoyed getting to pick the meat directly off of the bone and, of course, it tasted incredible as well. After the meal we were given time to explore other areas of the clearing, which a few of us used to kick back and relax in the many hammocks scattered throughout the area.
Next, we departed from that island and traveled to an island called Con Phung. This island has become a popular tourist attraction, as it was home to the great Coconut Man, leader of the Coconut religion that was popular for a brief period in the 1970s and 1980s. From the little information I was able to gather, the Coconut Man was a monk who studied many religions, and while still respecting and honoring these, developed his own religion which focused on the worship of the coconut, which he and his followers believed provided great strength and life. At its height, the following reached a peak of 3,000; however, now that the religion is virtually extinct, its island home has become a favorite place to visit among many foreigners and Vietnamese alike. The whole island was very strange, as part of the area contained beautiful pillars and structures all with religious symbolic meaning, while other parts contained various forms of entertainment such as a tightrope bridge, a swing set, rope ladder, and many music bars. I can honestly say it was one of the most unique places I have ever visited, and I can see why it draws such an attraction.
After the coconut island, we traveled to the final island we would visit on the day. Here we first entered a honey farm, which provided us with a specialty drink (involving their honey) that was fantastic. Aside from the plain honey, they also sold products such as banana wine and “royal jelly.” They also randomly had a snake on the farm, which I (hesitantly) got to hold. From there we got to ride in a tiny boat through a canal to another part of the island. The ride in itself was fascinating to me for two reasons. First, the canal was extremely crowded, with dozens of boats transporting tourists up and back. Second, the boats were manned almost entirely by elderly Vietnamese people. This was interesting to me, and it demonstrated how deeply tourism has infiltrated these remote island communities. After the boat ride, we concluded our day by enjoying some traditional Vietnamese music. It was a fitting end, as it rounded out a day full of experiencing every aspect of Vietnamese culture.
The whole journey throughout the Mekong River Delta was fabulous. The food, the people, and the landscape were all magnificent, and it was a nice escape from the hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh City. Additionally, I have to say that I really did not notice any of the issues with salinization that we had read so much about before coming here. Although I understand the issue exists and is becoming more prominent, there should be no mistake made: the Mekong River Delta community is still alive and thriving.