Day 11: The Mekong

Today we visited the Mekong Delta, the end of the mighty Mekong River, the region of crisscrossing streams that make up the rice basket of Southeast Asia. After a two hour bus ride we hopped onto a boat floating on the choppy tan water.

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Out first stop was to a small establishment where we were exposed to the folk singing of South Vietnam. This style of singing is unique to the south, as neither the north nor central regions can quite imitate the Southern accent necessary for the music. While we enjoyed the performance of several songs we ate an assortment of fruits and enjoyed lovely hot tea. I particularly enjoyed the jackfruit dipped in the spicy salt. (Those are the most likely names of the items I consumed…. whatever the names ’twas tasty.)

Next we went to see how chocolate is made! That below is a cacao bean on a tree!

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To make chocolate one removes the cacao bean from the tree and breaks it in half. One would then ferment and dry it. Then roast and grind it. Then somehow separate it into cacao butter. We each tried a sample, and this chocolate was absolutely amazing. But the best part was yet to come. After we tried the chocolate, we went to the back where they had a python! That we all got to hold! It was the most amazing thing I have ever felt. It was super strong and soft and kept moving and it was amazing!!

After the snake we went to a coconut farm and learned how different parts of the coconut are used. The husk can be used as fuel (although that causes pollution problems and alternative fuels such as natural gas are being pushed for), the fibers are used to make coconut fiber mats to sell, the meat is used for cooking, and the brown outer part of the meat (no not the shell) is used to make coconut oil. We saw many of the products they make from coconuts there, including many small coconut wood souvenirs, coconut candies, and coconut ice cream!

After the learning about coconuts, we went to a bee farm. We tried marvelous honey drinks that had tea and honey and some kind of fruit. In any case, ’twas delicious!

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Also, we got to see (and hold!) the bees.

After the bees we traveled back to our boat via canoe, then we went to lunch, pictured below.

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It wasn’t as scary as the picture implies, as the waitstaff prepared the fish and the sticky rice ball in a more manageable state. Although they did bring out very large shrimps that were not in a more prepared state. I got to prepare my own shrimp, involving the removal of legs, shell, and head. Also the consumption of the “tastiest part”…. we think it was either the heart or the liver. Either way ’twas delicious. (I googled it, apparently it’s called the hepatopancreas…. so still a mystery.)

So this whole trip (the one to the Mekong Delta not the entire Plus 3 Vietnam program) was coordinated betwixt these several restaurants. They work together to bring in tourists like us, who not only pay for the entire experience but buy snacks and souvenirs and whatnot whilst we are there. This generates revenue in another way, as the area was traditionally a farming region. Even though tourism has increased, the area does still depend very much on farming (even most of our tourism-type visits were farming based). The Mekong Delta is being negatively effected by the building of hydroelectric dams upstream. These dams are preventing fish from migrating, preventing the soil that makes the Mekong so fertile from getting downstream, and causing the seawater to encroach, leading to salination of the water. Although the area is beginning to develop, most of the industry in the area is directly tied to farming, which may become much more difficult if current trends continue.

Today was so absolutely wonderful! I think my favorite day in Vietnam. I hope that these same opportunities will be available in the future.

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