Chugging Down the Mekong Delta

Today is our last day in Vietnam. We spend the day on the muddy waters of the Mekong Delta.

We arrive at My Tho, a market town on the north bank of the Mekong River’s northernmost strand, the Tien Giang, or Upper River. According to history, after the collapse of the Ming dynasty, Chinese immigrants fled Formosa (Taiwan) and established this town along with the Vietnamese who were keen to make inroads into this Khmer dominated region. Two centuries later the French, taken up by the district’s abundant rice and fruit crops, rated it highly enough to post a garrison here and to lay a (now-defunct) rail line to Saigon. During the American War, the US also had a consistent military presence in town. Today My Tho’s commercial importance is a busy market town.

The small pier is chockfull with cargo boats, sampans and wooden barges, all painted in vivid colours and all sporting feline eyes painted on their prows. We board an open-sided barge that chugs across this wide, choppy river to Ben Tre, or as the Vietnamese call it the ‘coconut island’.

Ben Tre is a laid back province with hardly any outward activity although once upon a time it was a breeding ground for revolutionaries, first plotting against the French, and later against the Americans, and was one of the areas seized by the Viet Cong during the Tet Offensive of 1968.

The Ben Tre area is famous for its keo dua (coconut candy). Our tour of the island takes us through small factories where these sweets are being boiled in large cauldrons, rolled, shaped and sliced before being packed for sale. I love coconut and soon my fingers are sticky from this delicious gooey sweet. An ice cream made with coconut tops our tour for the day.

From here, we board a sampan and glide effortlessly through an undergrowth of mangroves, fanned on either side by coconut palms, very much like what we would find in our wetlands. The silence and gentleness of this ride gives me a chance to reflect on the past five days and the hospitality and warmth I have felt in this amazing country. I have loved every minute of this journey and Vietnam has been good to me.

We get off and eat a delicious lunch at the Song Nuoc restaurant. An Elephant’s Ear Fish (Osphronemus Exodon), a specialty in the Mekong Delta is served. This whole fish is crisp-fried, with its scales and teeth still attached and delicately presented with a flower in its mouth. Our host shows us how to pick off the sweet, succulent and soft flesh, which we place on wafer thin rice pancakes, along with mint, cilantro and basil and noodles and cucumber. We roll it tightly into a spring roll, dip it in delicious nuoc cham fish sauce and eat to our heart’s content.

Back in Saigon, we end up at the Hard Rock Café. Needless to say, this place rocks as a local band belts out some great music to an enthusiastic crowd. A great night out as we prepare to say goodbye to Vietnam.

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