Morning on the Mekong Delta

Life on the river

Life on the river

March 27th, 2021

Today we’re exploring the Mekong Delta near Can Tho, with a post I’ve refreshed from 2012.

Tomorrow we’ll cruise down a smaller river to see more of life and business on the Mekong Delta.

Until then,
Kelly

Post of the Day: Adding a bit of light to the darkness as we get through the pandemic together. This series features travel photos from my archives, shared with you while staying close to home.

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Mekong Cruiser

Mekong Cruiser

Sunday morning we arose at the excruciating hour of 6:00 a.m. to cruise the river to the floating market. We had not slept well — an army of mosquitoes had entered our room through a deck door that had been ajar (yet was hidden by the curtains). We were both bitten, and in the wee hours J turned on the lights and started waging war against them, jumping on furniture with furious swats and thuds against the walls and ceilings. It must have sounded like a bar fight in our room. But it had to be done — we’ve already encountered Dengue Fever once in Vietnam (J got it on the last day of a trip here trip in 2010), and neither one of us wants to go through that again.

Mekong Delta, Vietnam

Mekong Delta, Vietnam

Out at the river’s edge, we boarded the boat — with breakfast provided while floating down the river. What a fantastic way to see the town come to life on the water. With the sun rising and the breeze blowing, we sipped coffee and watched the world drift by as we drifted, too.

Can Tho, Vietnam

Can Tho, Vietnam

Can Tho is located on a distributary, or smaller river, that flows away from the Mekong River, through the Delta to the East Vietnam Sea. The Delta holds a complex network of waterways with life and commerce dependent on this artery of Southeast Asia. Here, water is life.

Can Tho's floating market

Can Tho’s floating market

The Mekong River flows 3,000 miles (nearly 5,000 km) through six countries before meeting the sea, and Vietnam is the last of them. What happens upstream directly affects the Mekong Delta. Dams built and proposed by other countries affect natural water flow, productivity, biodiversity and a way of life that has been sustained by the river for more than 2,000 years. At the same time, rising sea levels threaten the flood plains from the other direction. The region is both extremely valuable and extremely vulnerable, with the Delta being the most productive region of Vietnam and the Mekong River being second in the world in biodiversity (the Amazon being first).

Can Tho's floating market

Can Tho’s floating market

Can Tho's floating market

Can Tho’s floating market

Can Tho's floating market

Can Tho’s floating market

It was a holiday during the weekend that we were in Can Tho. We heard the market wouldn’t be busy, but there was still quite a bit of activity. Boats of all shapes and sizes were shifting around and cruising the river with piles of fruits and vegetables. When we had floated past the whole market, we transferred to a smaller boat so we could maneuver back through the morning bustle and get a closer look.

Life on the river

Life on the river

Life on the river

Life on the river

Life on the river

Life on the river

Can Tho's floating market

Can Tho’s floating market

Each boat was piled with a particular type of fresh fruit or vegetable, advertised at the top of a tall pole attached to the side of the boat for everyone to see. Buyers seeking that product would simply dock alongside and work out a deal with the seller.

Can Tho's floating market

Can Tho’s floating market

Can Tho's floating market

Can Tho’s floating market

Can Tho's floating market

Can Tho’s floating market

Can Tho's floating market

Can Tho’s floating market

Can Tho's floating market

Can Tho’s floating market

Pineapples and bananas

Pineapples and bananas

We came across a boatload of pineapple, literally. In the midst of shooting photos, a speedy boat helmed by a mother and son pulled up next to us offering pineapples and bananas in perfect ripeness.

Can Tho Boat

Can Tho Boat

Can Tho Boat

Can Tho Boat

The Mekong Delta covers more than 15,000 square miles (40,000 square kilometers). On the van ride from Ho Chi Minh City to Can Tho, we crossed the Mekong — by far the most massive river I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately the tranquil scene at the surface belies much deeper issues affecting its future and the lives of people living here.

Mekong River Delta

Mekong River Delta

22 comments

  • Great post Kelly. I visited Can Tho too in 2018 on my Delta Tour. This brought back fantastic memories. I’m a long way still doing a post on this Delta tour as my last one was Hanoi, Sapa & Fansipan.

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  • Every single photograph on thus post makes us go wow. So much of Vietnam was on our plan when COVID struck and forced to head home. We so wanted to see those floating markets, and you make them look and sound as wonderful as we thought. We still dream of picking up where we left off one day.

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    • Thank you! Yes, hopefully you can pick up where you left off! Vietnam is packed full of cool places to see, the Mekong definitely being one of them. I was just writing another comment that slow travel through the Delta would be fascinating. We were only here for an overnight — such a tiny amount of time for such a vast river of life.

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  • I didn’t realize the overall scale of the Mekong – its physical footprint, its importance in a larger region than I thought, and certainly its biodiversity. The background was fascinating to read, and the photos are so full of life!

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    • It’s such a vibrant area! It’s hard to believe about the biodiversity because the river is the color of mud. It’s a wonder anything can survive in it but apparently there are a lot of fish species, among other things. The Delta would be a great place for slow travel to learn about everything that is sustained by this major water source. Thanks Lex!

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  • It is an interesting collection of photos that show how life adapts to the context.

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  • The floating market would be a sight to see, Kelly. Very interesting. I’m curious about what appears to be boat propellers. Do you know the story on that? Dengue fever. Wow. I don’t think I ever known anyone to have it. We’d be up killing mosquitos as well. We are anyway. Peggy’s tolerance of mosquitos is close to zero. One buzz and we are up and at them! It’s particularly fun in a backpacking tent. ๐Ÿ™‚ โ€“Curt

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    • Peggy and Jay will get along fabulously, LOL! ๐Ÿ™‚ Mosquitoes drive him crazy and it’s the thing he fears most about someday going to Alaska. Yes, Dengue was awful. A bizarre ailment that we thought was meningitis based on the symptoms. But then we remembered we had been in Sapa and met a young couple who had just spent a week in a hospital in Da Nang. The whole country was having a Dengue outbreak from the wet weather, and that’s what it turned out to be. Took him about three weeks to feel normal. The boat propellers… I think they’re just basic propulsion. Lower the propeller into the water and turn on the motor to spin the blades. I can see the motors when I zoom into some of my photos. Thanks Curt. Hope you had a nice weekend!

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      • Yep. When Peggy and I are backpacking and reach camp, the first mosquito sends her dashing for the tent.
        Dengue fever sounds nasty. I saw the other day that there is now a vaccine for at least one of the versions of Dengue just approved by the FDA this past year.
        Visit Alaska in August. By that time, it has normally cooled down enough that mosquitos aren’t the same problem they are earlier in the summer. At least that’s how it was when I lived there. I normally planned my wilderness treks for then. Or go up in the winter. Catch the Iditarod start in Anchorage and the International Ice Carving contest in Fairbanks. Take the train form Anchorage to Fairbanks. Depending on the weather, It’s a fabulous trip.
        Thanks on the propeller info. It had me scratching my head. ๐Ÿ™‚ โ€“Curt

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      • Great tips for Alaska, Curt! Thank you! And I didn’t know about the Dengue vaccine. So great to hear!

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      • You are welcome, Kelly. Consider it a small payment for what I learn from your blogs. ๐Ÿ™‚

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      • Oh, I love that you learn! Thanks Curt! You’ve lived a hundred lives in one so that’s a huge compliment. ๐Ÿ™‚

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      • I like “lived a hundred years in one.” ๐Ÿ™‚ Life’s short. Best to fill it up with fun adventures, or at least meaningful things.

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  • I love visiting a floating market for it’s incessantly fascinating to see how some people have adapted very well to living on and around rivers. The photos you took remind me of some of the things I saw at Inle Lake in Myanmar and the rivers of Banjarmasin in South Kalimantan on the Indonesian side of Borneo.

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    • Yes, isn’t it fascinating? Everything is slightly different on the water. Some things easier (like traffic) and some things more difficult (like building a house). Could make for an interesting trip focused solely on water-based locations and cultures. Even just the boats and fishing techniques are ingenious — the round basket boats of Vietnam and the technique used for fishing on Inle Lake. Also, Dave Ply (Plying Through Life) did a great post on reed islands and homes in Lake Titicaca. All incredible adaptations to the materials at hand and the environments. Hope you had a nice weekend. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  • Pingback: Rice Paper, Fruit and Life on the Delta |

  • I don’t know about you, but, for me, this place was one of the best photography spots I’ve ever come across. Something caught my eye at every turn — houses on stilts, boats, people, muddy water, life itself in ruins but happiness at every turn. So much to see, and you’ve captured it well.

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    • Yes, I agree wholeheartedly! I only wish we had been here at a time that wasn’t a holiday so we could have seen the market at its fullest. Still, it was a great morning for all the reasons you’ve stated, especially the happiness about daily life. I would love to go back someday. Thanks, Rusha!

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  • I loved this. Your photos are great and it brought back so many memories. We were lucky enough to be at the market on a regular day and it was hopping! Amazing place. I miss Asia ๐Ÿ˜ฆ
    Alison

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