A Slow Journey Through the Waterways and Islands of Southern Vietnam

By Ivan PetrenkoMay 5, 2024 14:30 PMNews
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Man driving white motor scooter on road. Source: unsplash

In the southern reaches of Vietnam, life has revolved around the water for centuries. In the Mekong Delta and the Con Dao islands of the South China Sea, communities continue to embrace old traditions while looking to the future in this rapidly developing pocket of Asia.

The Mekong Delta's Waterways

Along the riverbanks of the Mekong Delta, boats painted with fiery eyes transport everything from coconuts to jackfruits. The tradition of decorating boats like this is rooted in the local belief that the eyes give the boats a soul and help protect their owners, especially at night. The Mekong, also known as the Nine Dragon River, has numerous limbs that stretch across Vietnam, and its delta is a key agricultural region, producing a third of the country's output.

Ben Tre province, known for its coconut plantations, epitomizes the Delta's cottage industries. With over 220,000 acres of plantations producing 600 million coconuts annually, communities rely on the river for transport and sustenance. The Mekong river culture has existed for hundreds of years, and despite recent developments, many traditional practices, like eating turtle, persist.

The Con Dao Islands

The Con Dao archipelago, located at the southeastern edge of Vietnam's borders, is a region on the brink of change. Once known as "hell on Earth" due to its infamous prisons, the islands are now a developing tourism destination. The main island, Con Son, has a small fleet of colorful trawlers and squid boats, and is lined with mountains and empty beaches. The Tiger Cages prison, where dissidents were held during French colonial times and the Vietnam War, is now a national monument.

Con Dao's future lies in nature tourism. The islands are a haven for wildlife, and the Six Senses eco-lodge on Con Son island has a turtle conservation program. The lodge relocates turtle egg clutches to a sheltered incubation zone, and as luck would have it, the final eggs of the season hatched during the writer's visit. The turtles' first steps will biologically imprint them with the beach's location, drawing them back when it comes to laying their own eggs.

The Intertwined Lives of the Southern Waterways

In both the Mekong Delta and the Con Dao islands, life is intertwined with the water. In the Delta, communities live in pontoon shacks and subsist on fishing, while on Con Dao, the pristine environment attracts conservation efforts. The slow journeys through these regions highlight the importance of responsible tourism and sustainable living in preserving these unique ecosystems.

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