24.11.2012 - 30.11.2012
The Mekong river has three tributaries, named by the French colonial regime in a moment when their usual poetic instincts had clearly deserted them as Top, Middle and Bottom. These vast rivers divide into innumerable canals and then ever smaller and smaller waterways across the whole Mekong Delta region of South Vietnam. We reluctantly left our tropical island idyll (slightly less reluctantly after an epic storm and torrential rain battered our fragile bamboo cabin all night), and headed back to the mainland to spend a week here.
The verdant abundance produced by this watery network is wonderful - coconut palms, banana palms, rice rice and more rice, and orchards of mango, guava, pomelo and papaya, with fish pens in the channels that feed the crops (the Vietnamese are skilled at maximising space and resources - favourite example so far, a bomb crater made into a fish pond). Thousands of people also live by and on the water, in rickety one-room shacks teetering on the banks, delicate stilt houses reached by a boat and a ladder, and tiny covered-rowing-boat houses.
The floating markets, with masses of sellers of fruit and vegetables plying the river in little boats were a compelling sight.
We hired bikes for a couple of days to explore the delta countryside - as it's all completely flat it's easy to ride for miles without really noticing, happily for the exercise-averse like Lesley. The peace of the quiet lanes is punctuated only by small children piping Hello! as you wobble pinkly by. We rode past a village school and the whole playground shouted hello at us. Aww....
Three Buddhist monasteries were on our route. The first had cheesy Vietnamese pop music playing over the outdoor loudspeakers. The second had young monks sitting round smoking and texting, and a snack wagon - not quite the life of comtemplative austerity we'd expected. The third we never found as we got lost in the lovely backwaters instead.