Today began with yet another trip outside the city to the Mekong Delta. We took our bus directly to the river side where we then boarded a boat to visit multiple islands among the delta. We began our tour at a small farm where people grew rice and different kinds of fruit to sell. With Vietnam still being a mainly agricultural country, the Mekong’s fertile soil still plays an important role in its economic prosperity. To be perfectly honest, upon first glance, it would not be apparent of the Mekong’s importance as much of the area was undeveloped and essentially rural, with most houses being a bit nicer than shacks and the streets, of which there were few, were filled with stray animals.
Our tour of a typical home garden led us through rows of raised land, places where crops could grow instead of the usual, low and watery land of the delta. We sample different fruits growing there such as jackfruit, pineapple, tiny bananas, dragon fruit, and a strange unnamable melon native to the area. They were set out in front of us along with a teapot and some salt and chili salt to give the fruits flavour, later a singer came over to sing some traditional songs before ending with If You’re Happy and You Know It. We moved along on our tour, passing more gardens, fruit trees, and chickens until we reached a small, open sitting area where we sampled different products of bee farmers. We had dried bananas covered in honey, different nuts, and a special tea of mixed ingredients. The entire setting was personally terrifying and bees swarmed around us, intently checking our food and drinks, with some occasionally falling into said drinks. The owners of the farm passed out different items they were selling, seeing who would be willing to buy whatever they put out. We moved along to a small chocolate farm, where we were introduced to the cacao plant and the process used to convert it into the chocolate everyone knows and loves. Very little of the actual fruit is initially edible, as the flesh covering the seeds containing the cacao have very little flesh, and the seeds remain very bitter even after most of the development process, but the milling and addition of other ingredients allows for the sweetness and additional flavors. It slowly became apparent the difference in these people’s lives to ours, as to us these activities and foods are just novelties, a way for us to become more cultured or world conscious. For them, this is their livelihood, nothing here is a wasted opportunity. Even the python that they used for tourists to take photos is converted in to snake skin and python fat. Coconuts are used to their fullest extent in their production of coconut milk, coconut water, coconut flesh, oil, etc. The amount of creativity and ingenuity required by these people to enterprise every part of their life is beyond impressive.
Boats carrying tourists back and forth from the mainland onto islands were surrounded by barges filled with shipment containers of the different products the Mekong produced. Of course, the main product of the Mekong is rice and many rice paddies covered many of the islands, but the surrounding mainland is slowly urbanizing, buildings get taller, more people move towards manufacturing or production jobs, and bigger companies move in. It seems as though now tourism is a bigger part of the area’s economy as we spotted tour groups from around the world travelling amongst the islands. Every small farm seemed to have some preparation for the incoming tourists, from sample foods prepared as mentioned before, to displays of products or full on water-side restaurants. Even children worked selling merchandise or helping paddle small boats down the river. In fact, at first glance, the amount of work and flourishing among the people makes it seem like no problems existed for the delta despite evidence contrary. Our exit of the delta was marked, yet again with a giant storm of rain and thunder.