Travelling through Asia our and the Mekong River’s paths have crossed on a couple of occasions, but as we enter Southern Vietnam it’s journey comes to an end.
The Mekong Delta was a gift from Cambodia to Vietnam as a mark of thanks for assisting them in fighting off an invasion from Thailand a long time ago.
Home to some 9000km of water ways it is home to a number of large water based animals, which were quite terrifying to the Vietnamese who started a tradition of painting large eyes on the front of their boats. The practice was to make the boats look like even bigger monsters and frighten the others off, and it’s nice to see that the tradition continues today.
A population equal to the entire of Australia resides in the delta and the boat trip that we have booked for the day took us into the heart of these communities for a chance to see how daily life goes on.
We leave at low tide froma pier in the city and set off down the Saigon River. It soon becomes very clear that the culture of the ramshackle houses built on precarious looking stilts on the banks in the city still to use water courses as a system of waste disposal.
Having worked in the UK to help protect the water environment it is particularly depressing to see that the water is black, gassing (resembling a badly managed primary tank at a sewage works), malodorous and with non-biodegradable rubbish that floats on the surface,
Thankfully as we head away from the city and the tide comes in the quality of the water does improve and we start to see people making the the waterways part of their lives.
This means that our captain for the day has to keep his wits about him. Our boat is a speedboat which at full pelt can create a fair bit of wake, and with local ferries crossing the watercourses, people in the water searching for worms to sell to fishermen and small boats tide closely together, we regularly need to slow down to prevent the ripples we creat causing drama.
Our guide for the day speaks great English (though sounds like Woody from Toy Story because he learnt by watching cowboy films as a boy) and is very good at answering questions and giving his take on life in Vietnam in general as we make a number of stops during the day. One of note was at a Caodisim Pagonda, a recent Vietnamese religion that attempts to unite other religions, so that inside there are carvings of Jesus, Buddha and Hindu gods on the same altar. A curious religion that was formed in 1927 and apparently one that is not taking the world by storm as there is only one temple outside of Vietnam (Melbourne).
On the journey back you notice how like the Amazon in South America, the waterways are the major transportation system in the area with massively overloaded boats chugging their way slowly up and down the rivers. Some of them look partially submerged due to the weight they are carrying and appear to have pumps permanently running to keep them afloat.
As well as slowing down for sensitive water traffic we also slow down as we pass the police station, a bit like drivers slowing down for a speed camera, and we are told about the level of corruption in Vietnam.
Apparently one of the best jobs to have is a policeman. They can earn $500 a day due to the level of bribes and payoffs they can get. It is such an important job that the government won’t let anyone with less that “three good generations” be employed in the role, meaning that there needs to be 3 generations since a family had a member that fought on the “wrong” side during the war.