“It’s opener, out there, in the wide,open air” – Dr Seuss, Oh the Places You’ll Go!
Life on the Mekong River
The quote above really sums up our time in the Vietnamese Mekong Delta. With nothing but the river behind and in front, and the breeze in your face, the openness of the river invites you, if only for a while, to absorb the beauty and originality of life on the river.
A place, literally and metaphorically, that is worlds away from my own. Where simplicity is as complex as it gets, and the people exhibit true friendliness, as though they have never been impacted by the business and anonymity that we have grown used to in the larger cities.
Where motorbikes, bicycles and sampans are the main source of transportation for locals, and small change will get you across to the other side of the river.
Gradually, the people of the Mekong are building different lives. Many now have televisions and of course smartphones are everywhere. Still, the traditions remain in much of the Mekong.
Change is in the air. Younger generations are now looking towards a different future. and for some, it will mean leaving their place on the river. Fascinated by growing technology, and with a yearning to learn different skills to those of their parents, and those before them, they are seeking opportunities outside the Delta. Some ancient businesses and ways of life are under pressure, whilst others are thriving. Change won’t come quickly here, but like the ebbing and flowing of the river, the change will make its mark here, gently over time.
It was an incredible experience to be part of all of this, if only for a short time.
No image gallery of the Mekong would be complete without showcasing the river houses. Simple, sometimes barely holding themselves together, they are exposed to the elements here. Whatever Mother Nature throws at them they have to overcome. Sometimes they can’t.
According to our Vietnamese guide on the Dragon Eyes boat, the increasing use of the road network has lessened the importance of the river as a transportation route. Whilst still very important, and highly utilised, this change to the river has had a downstream (pardon the pun) impact on the value of river housing. Once highly valued, many are now deteriorating and there is a lack of money and sometimes desire to repair them.
Built directly on the river, these houses are at the mercy of the Mekong River tides.
Just about everything that happens in the Mekong happens on the river. It’s one of the reasons why it is such a great idea to take tours through the Mekong Delta on a boat. Spending time on the river offers a different perspective and to gain a greater understanding of how it works.
This man was doing his washing aboard one of the heavy barges that transport materials such as gravel and sand up the river. With limited resources on board, the washing is done in a small bucket.
For those who work on the boats, they are both a place of work and rest. Whilst many of the boats will have bunks in the lower levels, many of the people sleep out in the open.
I even noticed this on our own boat. With five crew on board, they all share a sleeping cabin. Early one morning when I went up onto the upper deck to take sunrise photos, one of the deckhands had actually been sleeping on the sun lounges. The poor thing got a fright as I don’t think he was expecting to see anyone quite so early.
Many of the boats have very small cabins for the captain to operate from. The Vietnamese people are used to squatting, but I will admit to being a little surprised when I saw them driving the boat in this position, sometimes even steering with their feet.
Similar to the weird and wonderful things you see on the back of motorbikes in Vietnam, almost anything goes with boat transportation.
These ferries, carrying passengers and their motorbikes scoot back and forth across the river all day.
All boats in Vietnam (except the sampans) have eyes! There are many myths surrounding these eyes but the most common relate to the good spirits bringing the boats back to shore safely, and also to ward off bad spirits in general. The fronts of boats will be painted red, black or blue, depending on their purpose.
The floating markets were one of the highlights along the river and we were lucky enough to see two. The best part is that they are still the authentic trading markets they have always been without a tourist souvenir in sight.
The faces of the river
Wherever we went, we were usually followed by a group of children. The kids on the bikes rode around after us in one of the small villages.
Similarly, when we were on the water, sometimes passing other boats quite closely, we were always ready with a wave.
I was always on the lookout around the houses as usually a child would appear from somewhere to call out and wave.
As we were touring through a local school, we stopped at the shop to meet the owner. Before long, she had thrust her baby onto my husband !
These kids were hilarious. I was actually doing a cooking class at the time when they grabbed my attention. These guys wanted to dance and they all thought it was funny when I made up my own moves to mirror theirs !
Work on the river
Not only does the work happen on the river, but it’s also busy behind the scenes, often in small and very hot buildings.
The Mekong Delta is full of great contrast and a beauty that can only truly be understood and appreciated by visiting here. If you’ve not been, then I hope my stories and these images provide you with inspiration. Who knows, perhaps one day you might just get to see it for yourself. There are some excellent tours through the Mekong Delta to tempt you.
Looking to stay in Can Tho ahead of your Mekong Delta trip? Hotelscombined.com has plenty of options for this area.
46 thoughts on “The many faces of the river – a photographic journey through the Mekong Delta”
You did a great job of capturing and organizing the different sections of river life.
Vietnam is one of those special places where people go with certain expectations and seem to always leave with even better memories & experiences.
Thanks Ryanb, once again I also learn from your stories also. I think Vietnam will have many more of these great stories for decades to come.
You will have known exactly what I was talking about !
You probably did as they were very loud calling out to us.
It’s a much tougher life than I would like but I’ve never had to make do in these conditions. They are tough, resilient people.
I would hate to see them all disappear but no one really has the money or resources at the moment to fix them up.
Wow, I had never seen such interesting photos of the river houses before. It is such a shame they are deteriorating like that. It’s such a beautiful part of the world! Wonderful post, thanks for sharing 🙂
You can check out my article on the Dragon Eyes which gives all the details, but we effectively started in Saigon, got a transfer down to Can Tho and then back again.
three days – was awesome to be able to spend this long here.
Yes I’ve not quite seen anything like this.