Our final adventure had us on the bus at 8 this morning. We began the trek south from the city to the Mekong River Delta region.
The delta is critical to the production of food, fish, and other resources in Vietnam. The soil is incredibly fertile, which is due to the sediments in the river. The Mekong gets its brown color from this high concentration of sediments. In recent years there has been significant damming of the Mekong upstream in other countries which is starting to have an impact on Vietnam as the important sediments are no longer reaching the country.
Due to the threat not only economically but also culturally, families and farmers in this region have joined forces. Together they have developed tourist attractions that have increased revenue and also awareness.
When we arrived, we got off the bus and headed straight to a boat. The river was much bigger than I was expecting. Tropical plants surrounded the docks and the muddy water gracefully lapped the side of the boat. The captain fired up the engine and we sailed to a distant island. I loved peering out at the vast coastline, feeling the warm Vietnam breeze on my face.
Exiting the boat, we half-hiked through the jungle-y plants until we reached a small pavilion. Surrounded by chickens and crops, we were served a delectable selection of fruits. I am not sure exactly all the names, but they were all freshly grown in the local areas. A group of ladies then performed some songs for us before we continued down the trail. The conditions of the houses we passed were not great. They are almost exactly what one might envision. Again, I tried to picture myself living that life, and I just could not.
Our next stop was at the bee farm. Let me preface by saying that I am not a fan of bees – at all. However, I almost didn’t even mind them swarming me the whole time because the food tasted so good. The ladies prepared tea with fresh honey and a few other ingredients, and it was honestly one of the best drinks I have ever had. Paired with the beverage was other sweet treats made entirely of products grown and sourced there naturally. It amazed me how the bees did not bother anyone. They dive-bombed drinks, camped out on phone screens, and buzzed around spoons, but they were not trying to hurt anyone. I gained some respect for the little creatures today. (Only a little, though).
We continued the tour with a stop at the chocolate production facilities. We were able to sample the chocolate at each phase, starting with the cocoa bean itself. Spoiler alert, the bean is terrible. The last thing I expected was for it to be sour! The bean is terrible even after it is roasted. Once its pressed into butter it is a little better but still very, very bitter. For a dark chocolate person it may not have been too bad but I was personally not a fan. The final product was by far the best one!
Around the corner from the chocolate shop was home to the pythons. Despite being afraid of pretty much everything that exists and moves in the wild, I waited for my turn to hold the beast. I was bracing myself to be covered in slithery slime, but to my surprise the snake was actually almost prickly. I was nervous that he might be irritated after being handled by so many people, but he was super relaxed the whole time. The whole thirty seconds is honestly quite a blur of fake smiles and I do not think I will be making friends with any other snakes soon, or ever, but I am glad to say that I did it!
We then boarded the boat once more and headed to another island. Here we learned about the coconut process! During the boat ride we were given real, fresh coconuts to drink. I had no idea that real coconuts had so many layers and I was super impressed to see elderly women hammering down on them. They do a great job, though, and I can attest because the coconut ice cream was great! They are able to find so many uses of the coconut, from cosmetic oil to food to fuel. It is a huge part of the economic system in the Mekong. It was strange to see this process in person as I use so many different coconut products. I never would have guessed that enjoying one Samoa is the result of multiple people tediously working for hours. It really puts things into perspective.
A short horse-drawn carriage ride brought us to a smaller link of the river. We climbed into smaller canoes and traveled down the river the traditional way. It was so serene and peaceful. I secured the front seat, so I was living my photographer dreams. Water transport used to be the only mode of transportation in the area, and it is still a main one today. Considering the landscape of the area, it makes sense, but I would not want to have to row down the creek just to meet my basic needs.
Also, I put my hand in. I’ve been in the Mekong!
After the relaxing stroll down the river, we hiked to lunch. Honestly, if one did not pay too close attention to the details, we could’ve been anywhere in the world. It almost felt as if I was walking through the woods at home. The palm trees, huts, and occasional farmer tarnished this illusion, but nonetheless, it was there.
The restaurant appeared to be rather developed and just as nice as any other we have been to on this trip. I did not expect for the thick jungle to be home to such nice establishments. It caught me off guard to see nicer buildings sprinkled in as we have been taught how poor the region is. This just goes to show that the efforts of the people to restore the economy of the region are working. There are traditional cultural aspects of the journey, yet the facilities are decent and up to par for tourists. So despite the struggle for sediments, the area continues to be successful through every possible avenue. The area is able to develop itself, if even just at a slow pace, which will only continue to improve the economic and cultural state of the Mekong Delta.
I can’t believe my time in this beautiful country has almost come to an end.