Life Along the Mekong DeltaApril 9, 2018 in Vietnam ⋅ ⛅ 32 °C
After a week in Cambodia, we have returned to Vietnam, crossing into the country on the water.
The Mekong is the breadbasket of Cambodia. Twenty-two percent of the population of Vietnam lives in the Delta. And, of those who live in the area, 80% rely upon the river for their livelihood, primarily as fisherman, fish farming, or growing rice in the land that runs along the side of the Delta. Moreover, Vietnam is the third largest producer of rice in the world, and more than half of that rice is grown in the area around the Delta. So, to say that the Delta is of crucial importance to the economic health of the country would be putting it mildly.
Geographically, the Mekong Delta includes both the area along the Mekong River, the tributaries that run off the river, and more than 1000 canals that were dug over the last two hundred years to supply water to the surrounding countryside. The canal system is immense, and extremely complex. Some of the canals are small, and are used for local transportation. Other canals are wide and deep enough for navigation by commercial vessels. But all of these canals, regardless of size, are man made, and are maintained by the people who live in the area.
Coming from Cambodia to Vietnam, I was struck by the stark differences between life in the two countries. In Cambodia, people live upon the river, and fish on the river, but use the resources of the river in a somewhat passive manner. In Vietnam, the people actively grow and harvest the resources of the river by building fish farms, and diverting the water into rice paddies. The level of activity is incredibly impressive.
One of the most interesting things that we saw on the Delta were the fish farms, although I would never have understood what I was seeing without someone explaining it. As you cruise through the Delta, you see these large square buildings that look like modern houses. Upon first glance, one would assume that people are living in these buildings, although they do have a commercial feel. But, it is what you cannot see is the important part of the structure— below the houses sits these enormous cages, which extend down approximately 30 feet below the water, in which fish are being raised. The fish are actually purchased elsewhere, and transported to the Delta when they are about 2 inches long. Over the next 3-5 months, the fish are raised in these cages, where they are fed twice a day. Tending to the fish takes 2 or 3 people, depending upon the size of the fish farm. At the end of a few months, the fish are big enough to be sold. Each cage can hold tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of fish, depending upon the size of the cage. You can actually see some of the cages that have not yet been submerged, and are being built. Typically, the fish are then transferred into huge nets that attach to the bottom of boats that can sail the 300 kilometers to Saigon, where the fresh fish are then sold. It is ingenious. We were told that building one of these fish farms costs $50k to $100k, which includes the cost of the farm that sits below the water, and the build above the water that is also used for living quarters.
Side by side with these fish farms sit traditional nets that are used to pull fish up each evening, small houses in which people live, and houseboats that float along with the tides. The contrast in the lives being lived along the Delta are completely reflective of the contrasts in Vietnamese society — people striving and succeeding, next to people who are barely getting by.Read more