The Mekong river, which rises in Tibet, ends its 4350km course in the South China Sea via a large delta covering over 39000 km², close to Vietnam’s largest city Ho Chi Minh. This means a boat trip to the delta is a very popular day trip for tourists, and we obviously got tempted. The view we got from the boat after a two hour drive wasn’t exactly the most exciting, with dark skies, brownish waters, and industrial estates as surroundings…
After disembarking, we are led into a farmyard where a variety of crops are grown: from the big yellow flowers of luffa gourd (Luffa sp., eaten in Vietnam in soups and stir fried dishes), to the weird spikes of the Creeping spinach (Basella alba); tentacles-like stems of Hylocereus cacti (pithaya), and funny winged pods of the asparagus pea (Psophocarpus tetragonolobus).
Flowering shrubs are also grown in the plantation, such as the spectacular Pagoda Flower (Clerodendrum paniculatum) and the Vietnamese mickey-mouse plant (Ochna integerrima):
Closer to houses, orchids are abundant, mainly colourful Vanda and Dendrobium hybrids.
A nice surprise landed on a neighbouring leaf as I was trying to take flower pictures: the white tiger Danaus melanippus, a large butterfly, cousin of the most iconic North American butterfly, the monarch.
We embark on little trucks for a tour of the coconut palms and banana plantations. A bumpy tour I should say – the area is so wet that roads have disappeared in places.
The roads are lined with street merchants selling fruits, herbs or fibres:
After an hour or so, we are loaded onto small boats for a tour of the mangrove. The palms are all Nypa fruticans, the only species truly adapted to the brackish environment. The leaves which can reach 9m long are used for weaving and roofing; the fruits are eaten raw, and sap can be fermented to produce alcoholic beverages.
On the banks, it is very easy to spot the showy flowers of the tropical bindweed Argyreia nervosa. I was more puzzled by the plant on the right, which looked a lot like a holly. It is in fact called the sea holly, but has nothing to do botanically with the real holly (Ilex sp.) as this is Acanthus ebracteatus.
We ended our tour with a funny fried fish meal, and headed back towards Ho Chi Minh for our last day in Vietnam…
For those who want a little round-up of our Vietnamese trip, here’s a link to all the blog posts: :)
Part 1: Hanoi
Part 2: Off to Sapa
Part 3: Mount Fansipan, 1940m to 2250m
Part 4: Mount Fansipan, 2250m to 2800m
Part 5: Mount Fansipan, 2800m to 1940m
Part 6: from Hanoi to Lan Ha Bay
Part 7: Cat Ba National Park
Part 8: Last day in Halong Bay