What better way to see the life along the river banks than using the mighty Mekong for our transport needs? All we need is a boat to venture further into the Delta.
Travelling by boat from Ben Tre to Can Tho
We thoroughly enjoyed yesterday’s boat trip around the Ben Tre area when we saw many different styles of boats going about their business on the Mekong and its smaller canals and tributaries. The waterways seem to be the preferred transport choice in the delta region although it is apparent that many more roads are being built. It seemed obvious To us to travel onwards by boat.
Our Aussie friends liked the idea too and we already knew a German couple, Stephan and Katia were thinking the same way. Luckily we were all going to Can Tho. We agreed to share the boat and the cost. It takes around seven hours compared with two or three on the bus but is a much nicer way to travel and, shared between eight, is pretty good value. After looking tentatively at a few boat sizes, shapes and styles, we were extremely pleased that eight people means a larger boat, a decent engine and reasonable seating.
We set off around eight and for the first couple of hours we move along the massively wide stretches of the mighty Mekong river – it must have been at least a couple of Kilometers across and only now did we begin to appreciate what an incredible force of nature this river really is. It starts high in the Tibetan plateau and stretches though Yunnan province in China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam before reaching the Souh China Sea, an estimated 4,800 km later. At it widest point it reaches 14km. Not for nothing is it called the “Mighty Mekong”.
With eight of us sitting in the deck chairs or lounging in the hammocks, it is not long before the burning question that is on everyone’s mind is answered – who will be the first to use the onboard toilet! Standing proudly on the stern of the boat, whilst it offers the best views of any toilet I have ever seen, it’s modesty screens are only just three feet high. Stephan Is the first to succumb and immediately, everyone reaches for their cameras! It’s a long trip so eventually, all of us will have to follow where Stephan has bravely led.
After a while we leave the main Mekong and head off into the very picturesque smaller rivers and canals of the delta, our route is crisscrossing the delta. As we near the centre of the delta, it seems to be the most densely populated region and it is here on the smaller tributories that we get up close and personal with the lives of the people whi work and live riverside. To say that these people lead hard lives is a major understatement. Most farm or fish and, being the “rice bowl” of Vietnam, it supplies food to much of the rest of the country and for export. It is an incredibly fertile Eco system and, from speaking to a number of people, it seems to be a delicate balance between feeding themselves and producing enough to sell at market. The living standards of people in the countryside are improving but at nowhere near the rate of those in the cities.
These smaller waterways are a hive of activity and industry. Boats, small and large are everywhere, all transporting something to somewhere with everyone making a few dong along the way.
Around lunchtime we arrive at Vinh Long, a small town on an elongated island, with a pretty harbour area where we moor the boat to go and find some food for lunch. Simon and I stay behind to guard the boat and bags whilst everyone else goes off in search of food. We hang around and observe life on the river. A woman does her washing in the river from the jetty of her tin shack, another woman brings her fresh spring onions to wash in the opaque brown river water. Upstream from these two, an old man stands on his jetty and pees into the river! Nice!
Back on the boat, and once again the river widens – here, I think, it is known as the Bassac – and we continue our journey until eventually we arrive in Can Tho in the late afternoon. Home to a population of over 2 million people, this is the administrative and business centre of the delta. We pull up at the jetty overlooked by a tall bronze statue of Uncle Ho, disembark, pay the ferryman and go our separate ways. The Aussie family to a Homestay in the countryside, Stephan, Katia, Carolyn and I to the Kim Lan hotel not far away. We agree with the Aussies to meet up for a Peking duck dinner when we reach Sydney in October. We also arrange to share another boat the next day with Stephan and Katia in order to visit Cai Rang the following morning at 05.30 am. Such an early start seemed like a good idea at the time!