I felt like Indiana Jones today. Our whole day was spent exploring and learning about the Mekong Delta, located here:
It is the top agricultural center of Vietnam. Most of Vietnam’s rice comes from this area, and it is a powerhouse for rural production. The land is also holds deep cultural roots in the form of song, crafts, and skills. We first got to listen to a traditional song from the area while enjoying pineapple, dragon fruit, tea, and the tiniest bananas ever.
Next, we walked to an apiary. We sat down at several tables literally right next to the active bee hives, and we sipped on the best honey tea in the world as bees zipped around us. No one got stung, somehow. The people who worked there were very hospitable. They offered nicely packaged products like honey and face scrub for purchase. This apiary clearly relies on tourists like us for some income, yet it also impressed me with its high quality product. I would not be surprised if it was often exported and sold elsewhere. This whole exchange between us tourists and this small business would have been impossible forty years ago. Vietnam has developed quickly not just in urban areas.
After the bees, we went to a cacao farm to see how chocolate was made. I tried raw cacao bean, and it tasted like a lemony peanut. I bought a bar of their chocolate for the dreadful plane ride coming up.
After the chocolate, we visited a shop that made lots of coconut products, from candy to carvings. I loved watching the skilled craftspeople transform the coconut so quickly. Often times, skills like this are passed down from generation to generation, but with an increase in opportunity in the city, youth are leaving their rural towns for urban areas. It is difficult to say, however, that certain parts of the Mekong culture will disappear completely.
Then, we rode in a small boat through a narrow waterway flanked by jungle. The water was clouded with silt making it appear muddy.
Climate change and upstream damming will affect the Mekong water, the same water I floated on. Rising sea levels can increase salt content in the water, hurting certain crops. Upstream damming can divert water and create malnourished areas of farmland. Both of these scenarios damage crop output and threaten a large portion of Vietnam’s economy. I did not see much evidence of this on my trip, but I did see how easily the land can be flooded through rising sea levels. Saving the Mekong economic output is a top issue for Vietnam.
Tomorrow, I will dress like a true Vietnamese man.