|We sailed by sampan to Gieng Island, a triangular shaped island that is 50 square miles. About 4,200 people live there, many of whom are Catholics, and the rest are Buddhists or practice HoaHao, a Buddhist sect. We visited a cottage village where about 600 craftsmen live with their families, and build sampans and boats of different sizes and types. We stopped at one family’s home, and met the father, who is 60 and has been building boats for 37 years. His son now helps him. It costs him $100 for the materials to make a boat and he sells it for $130. A lot of work for such a meager living that barely feeds the family. There has not been as much demand nearby him for boats (which he can build in a day), so he works through a middleman and sells his boats to Cambodia.
We continued cruising seeing clusters of water hyacinths floating in the water. We were entranced by the variety of boats we see - boats filled with rice, sand, fish, and even a hearse. We learned how two eyes are drilled into the front of the boat to ward off demons. Dredging of sand from the Mekong River and selling it to be used in construction is a big business. There are boats so big that they have cranes on deck for digging.
We stopped and walked along the mango orchards, vegetable gardens, and roosters roaming on the property. They have many Taiwan mango trees, that are shorter, so the farmers can easily reach the growing fruit. They cover each mango with a white bag as it grows, so insects and birds won’t eat them.
We went for a modified Tuk Tuk ride (motorcycle pulling a cushioned wagon that seats 6) and bumped along til we came to the historical Cu Lao Gieng Church. The Brother who leads the church came out to talk to us. He was quite emotional because we had come to visit him from so far away. He also is a medical doctor who provides care for leprosy patients.
Again we could feel the poverty in the area, though running water and electricity is present. The people are very friendly and cheerful, but making a living on the Mekong Delta is very hard work.
In the afternoon we sailed to Sa Dec and toured the Huynh Thuy Le House (made famous by a connection to French novelist Marguerite Duras). We were also treated to a lion dance that welcomed us and gave us a hint of what the lunar new year festival would be like. In both Cambodia and Vietnam, people are extremely busy prepping for the new year festivities.
We walked through the bustling market, called the Wet Market, because of its proximity to the Mekong. This was the highlight of our day. We already needed to be careful when crossing the roads in Sa Dec - traffic doesn’t stop. In the market, the lane between the two sides of the market is packed with motorbikes, bicyclists, and walkers. Oh My Buddha! We needed to be extremely careful while enjoying all the sights we saw - abundant fresh vegetables, fruits, seafood, and meat. We watched a man ride up to a stall on his motorbike, reach down for a couple of eggplants, hand them to the owner to be weighed, pay for them, and off he went.
A concern though, that you can’t help but think about. The Mekong River is used for washing clothes, dishes, bathing and even washing cows. If you lived in the area, certainly you’d develop a tolerance for your foods, etc., being rinsed by water from the river. We were told by our guide how alum is rubbed in pots of river water, to cleanse the water. Life in the Mekong Delta - utilizing what is available.
Dinner was enjoyable with friends, and we listened to a band, Sweet Page, for awhile. All in all, a full day.