Posted by: Richard Marshall | September 15, 2009

The Mekong Delta

Life among the fish farms

So far I’m only teaching at the weekends so I decided last week to head off to the Mekong delta for a few days. I didn’t feel like making too many arrangements myself, so I went on a bus with one of the many tour companies which operate in the backpacker district. It was nice not having to worry about transport and accommodation and it was really cheap too. I have to say I mostly wasn’t hugely impressed with the delta. An incredible twenty million people live there, so absolutely every road and every river is lined with mostly rather horrible buildings. I did see some paddy fields, though these were mostly back from the road. There was also the odd water-buffalo hanging about – I don’t think they really use them any more. I took binoculars in the hope of doing a bit of bird-watching, and though I saw the odd interesting thing I was basically astonished by how few birds there were – none of the egrets, cormorants, kingfishers etc which in my experience are so common on African rivers, even the densely populated Nile. I’m convinced they either use some kind of savagely poisonous pesticides or simply eat them all. I was also a bit sick and rather tired, and for the first time since I got here felt simply fatigued by all the chaos and dirt and noise in this country. I realised how lucky I am to be in Saigon, since all the drab pronvincial towns we passed through seemed singularly lacking in character. Nevertheless, I’m glad I went. We were taken to floating markets, which is how they describe a few dozen boats moored together where odd foodstuffs are for sale; saw various “traditional” handicrafts kept just above extinction by the occasion sale of souvenirs to tourists; visited a soggy orchard where I got to try jack-fruit (it’s disgusting) and a sort of banana alcohol which tasted pretty much like every other cheap, strong liquor I’ve ever drunk; also visited a fish farm where they live in a floating house above the pens and throw food into holes in the floor (having seen what goes into the rivers here I’m becoming a bit reluctant to eat fish or seafood except in reasonably upmarket establishments!; went to a croc farm and ate a few grey, rubbery bits of crocodile meat in stew. We were taken to a huge pagoda in some or other town whose name don’t recall, but like all the pagodas I’ve seen here it was a bit disappointing. Sure, it was full of incense, great garish buddhas bedecked with Christmas lights and flowers, apoplectic looking dragons and dogs and tigers, huge, foul-smelling roasted pigs from which one can carve off a sliver for supplication to the gods. But the romantic idea I had of moss-covered stone and terracotta in misty mountains doesn’t seem to exist around here – all the pagodas I’ve seen in this country are practically brand new. Indeed, there’s hardly a building in the delta which seems more than twenty years old, let alone centuries – a lot like Uganda in that respect.

I was pretty glad to get back to HCMC, where I’m gradaully settling down, but more on that next time (it has been observed that this blog is a bit lacking on personal information, so I’ll try to rectify that…:))

Houses

Houses

More houses

More houses

Pagoda

Pagoda

New Bridge, Old Ferry

New Bridge, Old Ferry


Responses

  1. i can’t believe you find jack-fruit disgusting! 😥
    but i agree with you about pagodas.


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