Wednesday, January 2, 2013

BOATING THE MEKONG RIVER DELTA

The Mekong River Delta is a labyrinth of islands, channels and canals
I’m seated on the floor of a small wooden boat, slowly being paddled through a remote narrow canal. I’m surrounded by jungle. Tall trees and palm branches lean towards me like outstretched arms, reaching high over the waterway. In parts foliage is so thick above me, that it blocks out the sun.

Around the boat, there is no sign of civilization. In some places the canal narrows to as little as six feet wide. To the sides, there’s no riverbank to speak of, only a continuous tangle of tree roots. I watch as mudskippers jump from the roots into the shallow waters. There is little sound; only the continuous rhythm of a simple wooden paddle, as it dips forward and back through the dark waters beneath.

This is the Mekong River Delta. As one of the largest deltas in the world, this region of Vietnam is full of islands, islands, and more islands. Even today, much of the transportation around this vast delta is still done by boat.
Handling a boat isn't just for men in the delta, women are also experts.
In these smaller canals here in Ben Tre Province, back during wartime Vietnamese rebels boated through here with relative ease. Like the narrow tunnels in Cu Chi, the Viet Cong used the small size of these canals to their advantage. The US Navy river patrol boats (PBRs) that were used all over the delta, were too large to fit into the narrow, shallow waterways such as these. They were more suitable for cruising the wider rivers and inlets, where they were occasionally attacked by VC guerillas firing rifles and B-40 rockets.

Throughout this maze of waterways and islands, locals first fought the French, then the South Vietnamese military, then the Americans. Now, since the foreign armies are gone, they’re happy to bring through invading tourists like me. The only dangers the remote delta dwellers face these days are from the rare crocodile, and occasional typhoon.

Our little boat is being paddled by a slender, barefoot female rower, wearing a traditional conical hat. A bandana mask covers most of her face. Like most Vietnamese women here, she’s probably wearing the bandana to give her protection from the sun, but it still gives her the look of an Asian bandit. Her deep brown eyes are the one facial feature that I can still see. She catches me looking at her, and stares right back at me with a very penetrating gaze. 

I wonder, what is she thinking?
No, she's not a river bandit, the mask is for sun protection.

**NOTE** Looking for more on boating in the Mekong Delta? Click here for photos and story: FLOATING MARKET ON THE MEKONG.

2 comments:

  1. nice pictures, i like this mask idea its really an innovative thing. Great. I love boating and i will definitely try it, it will be great fun.
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  2. Glad you liked the pictures Isabella. I really enjoyed the Mekong Delta, hope you will too.

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