I ate some coconut candy, drank honey and held a snake.

Today we ventured to the great Mekong Delta.

The Mekong Delta is Vietnam largest water resource. In it are century old communities, lots of vegetation and even an entire coconut religion. The Delta represents the soul of Vietnam as it has helped sustain the country’s livelihood and culture, but it currently at risk.

After an exciting two and a half hour bus ride, our enthusiastic tour guide led us to a large boat. The boat had a large dinner table on it and seats for the entire group to sit. Our tour guide then led us along the Mekong Delta. He gave us encouraging life advice and gave us a short summary of his own life. He was raised in the Delta, but went to University wanting to make a better life for himself. He worked hard, but came back to be a farmer. His advice was to remember who you are when deciding a career or even just living life. I appreciated his wise words. Anyway back to the Delta.

Surrounding the tourist boat were passing boats with fishing nets and hammocks. I was memorized by the scenery. I looked across the water to see a deep jungle of green. I thought to myself, “This is Vietnam”. Our tour guide began to explain the different features of the Delta including its water, boats and clustered islands. He then began to touch on the overall importance of the Delta and the environmental problems occurring with the Delta.

Before this trip, our group did research on the salinization of the Delta’s water and the construction of dams upstream the Delta. These were topics that discussed, but I had not thought too much about the actual impact they would have on the Vietnamese people. Our tour guide expressed his concern on these issues and told us that the people are trying to adjust to them. The adjustment is difficult because these people have always lived this lifestyle. It is who they are and it will be difficult to adjust to the impact. The government is slowly starting to react to the changes, but it can only do so much in issues like upstream damming. The government has to compromise with other countries to not dam upstream, as it would cause the lively Mekong Delta to slowly dwindle away.

These thoughts run through my head as we land the first island, the coconut candy island. This island’s main export was coconut. Here we visited a local coconut candy factory and got to witness the candy making process. We were given free samples which caused me to buy a few packs of candy. It was absolutely delicious! Local coconut companies like this factory are in danger of being greatly affected by the salinization of the Delta. Salinization is the increase of salt levels in freshwater like the Mekong Delta, ultimately resulting from climate change. If salt levels rise too high, then plants like the coconut tree will be affect and will, in turn, affect industries like that of this coconut candy company.

After that we rode on the local taxis. Mind you the taxis were open and resembled the backs of pickup trucks. After a long ride through the island, we got to visit a local farm and a local restaurant. The restaurant served each table with about eight plates, one of them being an entire fish. We first thought the fish was simply decoration until the waitress cut it open and served it to the table. It was surprisingly delicious. After the hefty meal, our group relaxed on some hammocks. This led us back on the boat.

The entire time I was in absolute awe of the beauty of the Mekong Delta. The vibrant flowers, towering trees and enchanting waters all amazed me. The next island stop was the island of the coconut religion. This island was the homeland of a unique religion formed from one coconut monk. This monk ate and drank only coconut, He held beliefs of peace and tranquility along with the power of the coconut. He managed to amass about 3,000 followers and even tried to run for president in Vietnam. He did not succeed, but his island still managed to impress our group. On it were, numerous dragon pillars and a naturalistic temple.

The final island was filled with honey, music and snakes. We journeyed on small boats navigated by locals to a local honey shop. There we were greeted with bees and tasty honey tea. Right behind the shop were some scaly friends. Two large snakes that were wrapped around our tour guide’s body. One by one, he placed them each member of our group’s shoulders. When it was my turn, the snake wrapped around my arms. I panicked for a moment because of the snake’s strange exterior. I had never held a snake before and it felt just like one large moving muscle. I didn’t love the feeling, but I’m glad I did it. After that stop, we were given a short presentation of traditional Vietnamese music along with samples of local fruits like dragon fruit. Again we were led to our first boat and given coconuts. Like coconuts we could drink from. I know, I was excited too! Overall, the Mekong Delta did not disappoint.

I was completely in awe of the natural beauty and rich culture of the Mekong Delta.

Until tomorrow, when we visit the Cu Chi Tunnels!

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