Vignette: Mekong Delta

Summer 2005:

Now I love this – hurtling down to the mouth of the Mekong aboard a Mercruiser with seats for 16, just Mirja and me and our staff of two. M is napping in front of me, our crew heads back on their seats, mouths open, sleeping in the wet air and just the driver and me watching the river go by. Sleeping is the preferred activity because it’s 1-1/2 hours into a 5 or 6 hour trip and the rains have come, forcing the windows closed and our attention more inside. We mean to make 240 K today from Chau Doc up near Cambodia.

Just now we’re flying, fairly gliding above a 100 K straight-as-the-captain-of-the-debate-club man-made canal. Commerce drops away between villages but there are stilt houses almost everywhere, fish traps and giant bamboo I guess even 18 – 20 meters out of the water and, they say, catfish under it. Before the rains, when we were running with the windows open, grey nimbus rolling over us pregnant with wet, the air felt exhilarating. The northeast monsoon has returned and river water has flooded fields for hundreds of meters outside the canals.


It should heal the brownish tinge on some of the trees, and in particular the banana leaves.

When one of the big transports passes, the ones with the big red eyes painted on the bow, their wake slaps the bottom of our boat hard. The crew sleeps through it – they only wake if we slow, fearing there may be something wrong. There never is. We might slow to avoid capsizing a small longtail with fishermen and their nets, or to pass through a village turned to face the water.

Twice, then three times, we stop to reverse the engine to get rid of debris collected around the blades, but there’s less water hyacinth in the canal than the main branches of the river, and the water is much more still.

I’ve cracked the window open so I can see how the rain affects river life (and anyway the forward movement of the boat largely pushes the rain away). Life goes on.

Those iconic conical hats (‘non la,’ or ‘leaf hat’) appear to provide good shelter from the rain for the pilots of the smaller boats, standing in the downpour and steering with their foot on the rudder. Timber waits to be loaded for a trip up river.

The man at the brick warehouse eats a bowl of lunch, and there a man stands alone by the water’s edge – not near any houses or anything else, in what we’d call work dress – white shirt and black slacks – just standing alone in the rain. Mama washes dishes under thatch at the back of the house, facing the river. Kids gather in a doorway. I look at them while they all sit and look back at our speedboat, as we speed past on our way to Saigon.

One thought on “Vignette: Mekong Delta

  1. Took my dog for a walk this morning. His coat is the same color of dead oak leaves and pine straw. He’d be lost in the woods if it wasn’t for his collar. Named him Herschel after Herschel Walker. He’s mostly a muscled pit bull with some pointer thrown in. He’s as sweet as he is big, and as stubborn as he is sweet. 62 degrees today. Walked my dog in the nearby woods.


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