The Mekong Delta

Floating through my final stop in Vietnam

The chaotic streets and endless hooting of the cities had given way to the serene and peaceful waterways of Can Tho, located in the southern Mekong Delta region of Vietnam. It was only a 3hr coach ride to get there from HCMC.

Its geography is unlike anywhere else in Vietnam, or much of Asia in fact. The Mekong River empties into the South China Sea through various tributaries, and the region is low lying, flat and swampy. Almost all of the land that isn’t submerged is used as rice paddies due to the favourable growing conditions. The best form of transport is by boat; there are literally thousands of waterways crisscrossing the region, and as I found, these form the arteries for society to exist here.

Once again I was at the Nguyen Shack, having had a fantastic experience at sister home-stays in Ninh Binh and HCMC. And it was no different here: living in a rustic bamboo shack, surrounded by water and wildlife made me feel part of the landscape (quite literally, in fact – my feet were being torn apart by aggressive mosquitos). Particularly memorable was crossing the swaying bridge over a river to get to the dorm at the dead of night.

Sunrise at the Nguyen Shack

Sunrise at the Nguyen Shack

An early 5AM start was required to visit the nearby floating markets at Can Tho town. Accessible only by boat (obviously!), we cruised through the glistening waterways to join a huge gathering of larger boats, each of which feature long poles pointing upwards. These poles contain various fruit and vegetables pierced through them, which identify the corresponding produce for sale on that boat. These merchants come from far away villages and load up their boat and sell their produce at the floating market until it’s all gone. I was told this could take more than a week, during which time the merchants live on the cramped rear of their boats during that time. There’s a whole community built up around the market, with other boats selling pho (noodle soup) to the merchants or basic sanitary supplies, amongst other things. It was quite incredible to see everyone’s needs taken care of like clockwork.

Floating markets at Can Tho

Floating markets at Can Tho

Later that morning we visited the traditional land market which itself was an experience. The streets in town are buzzing, packed full with hundreds of little stalls slicing and dicing all things imaginable (live frogs and ducks included). Even stray fish make it onto the streets, squirming around for a piece of the action.

Biking around nearby villages allowed me to see how life has adapted around the waterways. Many homes face directly out over the water, with houses on stilts, and the family rice paddy behind. People depend on the waterways for their morning swim, taking a bath, washing their clothes, fishing, and of course as their primary mode of transportation. As I biked through the villages, I’d be greeted by young children with a big smile waving hello, and they’d run along beside the shore whenever our group was on the boat. The whole atmosphere felt much more laid back, in stark contrast to my first stop in Hanoi. I’ll especially remember passing a community centre where the villagers gathered for lunch while enjoying a blaring round of karaoke.

A fond farewell

I’m happy to say that my first impressions of Vietnam didn’t reflect those of the country as a whole. The further south I ventured, the friendlier I found the people. The hassle and rip offs became less bothersome as I journeyed on, although partly it was my changed mindset to eliminate frustration that helped me enjoy everything more.

Thành Phố Cần Thơ / Vietnam - 9/29/16

This phase of my trip was less of an endurance challenge that China was; instead it was a chance to step outside of my comfort zone and experience something new. Activities like kayaking and canyoning, along with staying at some wild, rural places helped me achieve exactly that.

My time here proved to be equally enriching from an educational perspective. Vietnam has been torn up by war more than most others, and today the country is still healing these wounds. There were a number of harrowing experiences in the country that I’ll remember forever, like visiting Khe Sanh military base, trekking through the tunnel complexes, and visiting the Hanoi prison museum. These relics of the past symbolise the deep struggle and perseverance the Vietnamese had to liberate their country to freedom, in spite of untold misery. As a maturing backpacker, my personal freedom is something that I’ve been lucky to exploit to satisfy my own curiosity and enjoyment. The most important lesson Vietnam taught me was, above exploiting freedom, is to cherish it.


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