MEKONG DELTA AREA OF VIETNAM

MEKONG RIVER

MEKONG RIVER is 4,220 kilometers long and is one of the 12 great rivers of the world. From its source in the Tibetan plateau, it flows through the Tibet and Yunnan regions of China, forms the boundary between Laos and Burma as well as between Laos and Thailand, divides into two branches--the Song Han Giang and Song Tien Giang--below Phnom Penh, and continues through Cambodia and the Mekong basin before draining into the South China Sea through nine mouths or cuu long (nine dragons). The river is heavily silted and is navigable by seagoing craft of shallow draft as far as Kompong Cham in Cambodia. A tributary entering the river at Phnom Penh drains the Tonle Sap, a shallow fresh- water lake that acts as a natural reservoir to stabilize the flow of water through the lower Mekong. When the river is in flood stage, its silted delta outlets are unable to carry off the high volume of water. Floodwaters back up into the Tonle Sap, causing the lake to inundate as much as 10,000 square kilometers. As the flood subsides, the flow of water reverses and proceeds from the lake to the sea. The effect is to reduce significantly the danger of devastating floods in the Mekong Delta, where the river floods the surrounding fields each year to a level of one to two meters. *

The Mekong River goes by many names. It is known as Lancang Jiang (Turbulent River) in China,the Mae Nam Khing in Thailand, Myanmar and Laos, Tonle Than (Great Waters) in Cambodia and Cuu Long (Nine Dragons) in Vietnam. It is also known as River of Stone, Dragon Running River, Mother River Khong, and Big Water.

The Mekong is the longest river in Southeast Asia, the 12th longest in the world and the 10th largest in terms of volume. With about half of its length in China, it flows for 4,880 kilometers (2,600 miles) and provides food and water for 60 million people and disgorges 475 billion cubic meters of water each year into the South China Sea.

The Mekong basin cover an area the size of France and Germany. More than 80 percent of the people that live in the Mekong River basis in rely on the river for agriculture or fishing. More than 41 percent of the land in the heavily populated Lower Mekong basin is used for agriculture, which accounts for 90 percent of all water use.

The Mekong River is one of the wildest rivers in he world and is surprisingly undeveloped for such a large river. There are no large cities or industrial zones along its banks. It is not dammed. Until 1994 there were note even bridges across it. For the most part the it is brown and muddy and still wild and free. The Upper Mekong features turbulent rapids, steep gorges and long section with no people. Often the only way to cross it is on cables strung between cliffs. The Lower Mekong River is calmer and more placid and incredibly wide in some places.

During spring melt and the monsoon season from May too October, the Mekong became a raging torrent, sometimes producing a flood wave that is 46 feet high. Annual floods often kill dozens of people. Floods in Cambodia and Vietnam in 2000, killed 500 people and wiped out herds, crops and orchards. At the end of the dry season in March, April and May the river level can drop as much as 40 feet in some places, exposing large rocks and sand bars, and making navigation even in small boats difficult.

The Mekong flows through some poorest countries and regions in the world. For many the countries that border it development of the river is vital to the development of the country. China wants to develop the river to help the impoverished Yunnan Province.

The Mekong River Commission (MBC) is an organization with representatives from Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam committed to water utilization, basin development and environmental protection. Myanmar and China are not members just observers.

A good book on the river is Mekong by Edward AA. Gargan (Knopf, 2002). Written by a former correspondent for The Times,

Route of the Mekong River in Southeast Asia: The Mekong River flows through a narrow, 200-kilometer-long gorge in southern China and along the Myanmar-Laos. From the tripoint of China, Burma (Myanmar) and Laos the river flows southwest and forms the border of Burma and Laos for about 100 kilometres (62 miles) until it arrives at the tripoint of Burma, Laos, and Thailand. This is also the point of confluence between the Ruak River (which follows the Thai-Burma border) and the Mekong. The area of this tripoint is sometimes termed the Golden Triangle, although the term also refers to the much larger area of those three countries that is notorious as a drug producing region.

As one travels south on the Mekong its become easier to navigate and higher numbers of greater varieties of boats appear. From the Golden Triangle tripoint, the Mekong turns southeast to briefly form the border of Laos with Thailand. It then turns east into the interior of Laos, flowing first east and then south for some 400 kilometres (250 mi) before meeting the border with Thailand again. Once more, it defines the Laos-Thailand border for some 850 kilometres (530 mi) as it flows first east, passing in front of the capital of Laos, Vientiane, then turns south. A second time, the river leaves the border and flows east into Laos soon passing the city of Pakse. Thereafter, it turns and runs more or less directly south, crossing into Cambodia. At Khone Falls the river cascardes over rocks and separates into several branches, divided by forested islands, before it enters Cambodia.

History of the Mekong: It is believed that Marco Polo may have set eyes on the Mekong River in the 13th century. The Portuguese Dominican missionaries Father Gaspar da Cruz was the first European to describe traveling on the Mekong River. He spent 1555 to 1557 in Cambodia. The Dutch explorer Gerrot van Wuystoof wrote about it in 1641

The French had ideas of using the Mekong to navigate through Southeast Asia into China but these dreams were dashed when an expedition led by Francis Garnier in the 1860s discovered a major obstacle, Khone Falls, in southern Laos. He suggested blasting a canal next to the canal but a short railroad was built instead (see Khone Falls, Laos) but the effort led to only minimal increases of commerce on the river.

A treaty signed in 1893 by France and Siam designated it as the border between Thailand and Laos. In World War II, a number of battles were fought in the proximity of the Mekong in China. During the Vietnam War, the river Mekong Delta in particular was the site of some bloody guerilla warfare.

Wildlife and Fishing on the Mekong River: The Mekong River is home of rare Irrawaddy river dolphins and rare pla buk, the world's largest freshwater fish, the Mekong Giant Catfish. By one count only around 100 river dolphins are eft and they are mostly in northern Cambodia. Dolphins.

Fish caught in the river are an important source of protein for an estimated 65 million people. Many of these fish rely on the natural annual flood cycle of the river to reproduce. In Laos, Thailand , Cambodia and Vietnam, fishermen catch about 1.3 million tons of fish a year, four times the yearly catch in the North Sea. One of the riche fish ground is the Siphandone, or Four Thousand Islands, area between Laos and Cambodia.

Fish stocks have been reduced by overfishing, habitat destruction and development. Large fishing operations—some fo them legal, some of them not—employ large nets and traps that can catch hundreds of thousands of fish ay a time. Some people catch fish with bed-sheet-size butterfly nets that they dip into rice paddies flooded by the river.

TRANSPORTATION AND DEVELOPMENT ON THE MEKONG RIVER

Transportation on the Mekong River: The Mekong River and its tributaries provide crucial transportation links in Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. The runs for 786 kilometers between Simao in the Yunnan province of China and Luang Prabang in Laos.

Passage between Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand is blocked by Khone Falls in Laos, one of the world’s most powerful cataracts. The series of rapids and falls drops 70 feet. The river is eight miles wide at this spot.

The idea of using the Mekong River as the hub of a major transportation hub became a possibility in the 1990s when the peace was finally achieved in Cambodia and the insurgency in Laos became more manageable.

In the early 1990s there were no bridges over the Mekong River. Now there are several, in Vietnam and between Laos and Thailand.

Myanmar, Thailand, China and Laos has signed an agreement to open a navigation route along the upper reaches of the Mekong River. Under the agreement the four countries allowed commercial navigation across each other’s borders. There are plans to make an access route from southern China to the Indian Ocean via the Mekong River.

China is currently involved in dredging upper parts of the river to make them navigable. In the dry season, 150-tons can not navigate these sections. Dredging will remedy this. Dredging between Vientiane and Simao in Yunnan Province in China will make section of the river capable of handing 2,000 ton ships throughout the year except for a couple weeks in the dry season when water levels are exceptionally low. Both the Chinese and Laotian governments support the project as a means of promoting economic growth through increased trade.

Many locals oppose the dredging operations, They complain large ship creates wakes and waves that can sink smaller boast and worry that large Chinese boats will take away cargo business from smaller local boats and flood the market with cheap Chinese goods and produce. Environmentalist say the dredging damagesriver banks, destroys fish stocks and threatens endangered animals. The dredging operations involves using explosive to blast apart shallow rocks, reefs and shoals and widen channels.

Development of the Mekong River is still minimal but large amounts of water that flow into it are being siphoned off by large dams, small dams, canals and irrigation projects along it tributaries. The Mekong and its tributaries have the hydroelectric potential of all the oil in Indonesia. A large amounts of development has already by done. More than 50 dams built by the Asian Development Bank have built on the Mekong in recent decades. There are plans for many more.

China is currently involved in building large dams on the Mekong to provide electricity, control floods and provide water for irrigation. Some are being built. More than a dozen are in the planning stages. The $4 billion Xiaowan Dam is currently being built. When it is finished it will be the world’s tallest dam, over 300 meters (100 stories) high and create a reservoir 169 kilometers long. Only the Three Gorges dam will be larger.

Dams hat have already been built include the $600 million, 30-story-high Dachaishan Dam in Dachaishan Gorge, which created a 88-kilometer-long reservoir that filled up in just five days; the 35-story-high Manwan Dam, 100 kilometers south of Dali in Yunnan, with 40 foot tunnels through the mountains and a 1500 megawatt electricity generating capacity; and the Jinghong Dam.

The dams have displaced thousands of people, many of them ethnic minorities, and disrupted normal water patterns and fishing migration routes and reduced the flow of soil-enriching sediment..The Cambodian government has expressed its concern that development projects on the Mekong River could caused the Tonle Sap lake to dry up. The Tonle Sap is Southeast Asia’s largest lake and an important source of fish for Cambodians.

Its not just China that is building dams. A World Bank report was very critical of the Pak Moon dam Thailand, which was build near the Noon River; confluence with the Mekong and blocked important fish migration routes. Of the 265 species found on the Noon River before the dam was built only 96 remain. And fish catches dropped 80 percent. The $260 million Theun-Hinboun dam in the mountains of the central highlands of Laos supplies two thirds of that country’s electricity but has turned a once vibrant river into a stagnant lake and dramatically cut fish catches.

Supporters of the dam say the dams will help not hurt the people and wild life that use the river. They say the dams will increase the flow of water in dry season and reduce it I the wet season, reducing the chance of flooding and make ore water available for irrigation. Experts have also pointed out that Lower Mekong gets more water from the highlands of Laos and Vietnam than it does from China, where the dams are located.

One study found that local dams used to divert water for irrigation pose a much greater threat than the large dams. There are 20,000 local dams on the river, most them in Thailand, and they have been linked to fluctuating river levels. Others who studied the river have also said that massive numbers of people who live on the river har, the river through land degradations and water pollution, logging, erosion. . There also worried about sedimentation and salinization in the reservoir. The slay cold contaminate rice fields. sedimentation could make the dams unusable after a few decades.

The Mekong fell to record low in the dry season of 2004. River boats were stranded. In Cambodia the fish catch fell 50 percent after it declined 15 percent the previous year. Some blamed the problem on dam construction and the release of water to allow Chinese ships to navigate the river. Drought and overfishing also played a role.

MEKONG DELTA

MEKONG DELTA (about 3 hours south of Saigon) is huge delta created by massive amounts of silt, some of it originating in the Himalayas, carried downstream by the Mekong River and deposited in southernmost part of Vietnam, where the great river empties into the South China Sea. About 10,000 square kilometers of the delta are under rice cultivation, making the area one of the major rice-growing regions of the world. The southern tip, known as the Ca Mau Peninsula (Mui Bai Bung), is covered by dense jungle and mangrove swamps.

The Mekong Delta is a low-level plain not more than three meters above sea level at any point and crisscrossed by a maze of canals and rivers. So much sediment is carried by the Mekong's various branches and tributaries that the delta advances sixty to eighty meters into the sea every year despite waves, typhoons and tides that gobble it up. An official Vietnamese source estimates the amount of sediment deposited annually to be about 1 billion cubic meters, or nearly 13 times the amount deposited by the Red River.

Flat, hot and green, the Mekong Delta is Vietnam's most important agricultural region. Much of the area is covered by rice paddies that are irrigated by delta water and fertilized by delta silt. Many paddies and farms produce three crops of rice a year, enough to feed the entire country, with some left over to export, Almost half of Vietnam’s exported rices comes from the Mekong Delta. Other products from the region include sugar cane, coconuts, pumpkins, various kinds of fruit, fish and snakes. There also large numbers of catfish and shrimp farms.

The delta covers an area of about 40,150 square kilometers (15,500 square miles), half of it under cultivation, and home to a fifth of Vietnam’s 80 million people. Many people get around by boat and Mekong taxis (wagons pulled by motorcycles) and live in villages and towns, some of which have floating markets, along the and small rivers that lace the delta. Many boats are manned by women in conical hats who stand up when they row. Women also dominate the markets and trade.

The Mekong Delta wasn’t really inhabited until the 19th century. During the Vietnam War it was where most many of U.S. army’s infamous Search and Destroy missions took place.

The level of the water varies according to daily tides, dredging operations and seasonal variations (ranging from 38,000 cubic meters a second in September to 1900 feet a second in April). Birdlife, including ibises, storks and spoonbills, is plentiful and saltwater crocodiles are found in the southern part of delta. During the rainy season there can be big floods. Sometimes the roadbeds are the only high ground in huge lakes.

Before the Mekong River enters Vietnam it follows a pretty direct course but after it enters Vietnam it begins meandering and spreading out. It enters the country as two channels which the Vietnamese call Tien Giang (Upper River) and Hau Giang (Lower River). As it moves along it branches out further. By the time it reaches the South China Sea it has seven main branches. Two others have silted over. The Vietnamese, mindful than nine is an auspicious number, call these branches the Nine Dragons.

Connecting and running off of these branches are streams and canals, which together have an estimated length of 3,600 kilometers—almost the length of the Mekong River itself—and are crossed by fragile-looking bridges made of bamboo and mangrove branches lashed together with vines. In southern part of the delta is the U Minh Forest, an extensive area of mangroves and swamp forest, where an extremely rare Javan rhinoceros was discovered in the late 1990s. Large parts of forest have been deforested and transformed into shrimp farms.

Traveling in the Mekong Delta is usually done these days through organized tours. Travel agencies and cafes offer one-day to week-long tours of the delta which includes bus travel from Saigon, boat trips through canals, hikes to villages, shopping in a snake market and overnight accommodation in a Mekong Delta town. Tours also usually include demonstrations of "Vietnamese activities"—such as mushroom cultivating, incense-making, soy-paper-manufacturing, silk manufacturing, sugar refining, silkworm breeding, mat making and rice-wine producing—in which visitors walk through people's homes and watch do their daily chores and crafts as cottage industries.

My suggestion is to sign up for a two-day, one-night tour and ask if you can stay over for one or two days, explore around on your own, and then catch the bus for another tour. This is easier than taking a regular bus to the delta and allows you to explore on your own and have the benefit of guide.Much of the delta is the same. If you want to get a feel for what it is like, simply take a taxi out of town, walk around, and take a taxi back.

My Thuan Bridge is new bridge over the Mekong River between Ny Tho and Vinh Long in southern Vietnam. Inaugurated in 2002, it was built with Australia donor funds and is over a mile long. This bridge has made it possible to travel from Ho Chi Minh City to the heart of the Mekong Delta without taking a ferry.

AGRICULTURAL IMPORTANCE OF THE MEKONG DELTA

Katie Padilla wrote in an ICE Case Studies: The Mekong Delta is critical to the livelihoods and food security of millions of people in Vietnam. 22 percent of the population of Vietnam lives in the Mekong Delta, which is a high population density area of about 17 million people (Yun). Agriculture is a primary source of livelihood in the Mekong Delta, where roughly half of the total amount of food in Vietnam is produced (ICEM, 7). A large volume of the agricultural output of the Mekong Delta is exported throughout Southeast Asia, making it a crucial agricultural source for other countries in the region as well (ICEM, 59).[Source: Katie Padilla, American University, ICE Case Studies, Number 265, December, 2011 <*>]

The Mekong Delta is critically important to Vietnam’s national agricultural production. According to Can Tho University estimates, the Mekong Delta produces 50 percent of the nation’s rice, 80 percent of the nation’s fruit, and 60 percent of the nation’s fish, making it the largest agriculture and aquaculture production region in Vietnam (ICEM, 37). Overall, 46 percent of the total amount of food produced in Vietnam comes from the Mekong Delta (ICEM, 7). Agriculture is a crucial source of livelihood for the residents of the Mekong Delta, particularly rice cultivation, which is the primary livelihood for 60 percent of the inhabitants of the Mekong Delta (Käkönen, 206). <*>

The agricultural output of the Mekong Delta supports the population of numerous other countries in the region in addition to Vietnam’s population. According to a National Intelligence Council (NIC) Conference Report from January 2010, Vietnam is the world’s second largest rice exporter, and the Mekong Delta produces the overwhelming majority of Vietnam’s rice exports (CENTRA Technology, Inc. and Scitor Corporation, 14). “As well as being the “food basket” of Vietnam, the Mekong Delta region also provides more than 80 per cent of total rice exports – an important contribution to the food security across the region” (ICEM, 59). <*>

The agricultural output of the Mekong Delta supports the population of numerous other countries in the region in addition to Vietnam’s population. According to a National Intelligence Council (NIC) Conference Report from January 2010, Vietnam is the world’s second largest rice exporter, and the Mekong Delta produces the overwhelming majority of Vietnam’s rice exports (CENTRA Technology, Inc. and Scitor Corporation, 14). “As well as being the “food basket” of Vietnam, the Mekong Delta region also provides more than 80 per cent of total rice exports – an important contribution to the food security across the region” (ICEM, 59). <*>

The Mekong Delta represents the largest scale of irrigation areas in the region, and the high agricultural output of the Mekong Delta translates into a substantial source of economic output for Vietnam as well. The Mekong Delta contributes 27 percent of Vietnam’s GDP according to the 2009 Mekong Delta Climate Change Forum Report (ICEM, 59). As such, the agricultural output of the Mekong Delta is not only crucial to the food security of numerous countries in Southeast Asia, but also an important component of Vietnam’s GDP. <*>

VIETNAM'S 'FOOD BOWL'—THE MEKONG DELTA—UNDER STRESS

The Mekong Delta is regarded at the breadbasket of Vietnam. In recent years the region has come under stress from problems such as over-exploitation and salt-water intrusion. In 2005, Tran Dinh Thanh Lam wrote in the Inter Press Service, “Vietnam's ecologically sensitive wetlands, which produce much of the country's food staples, including rice, fish and fowl, are now beginning to suffer the effects of over-exploitation. "Environmental protection and economic development sometimes contradict each other," Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Environment (NRE) Pham Khoi Nguyen said recently, spelling out the government's dilemma. [Source: Tran Dinh Thanh Lam, Inter Press Service, September 22, 2005 >>>]

“But Nguyen indicated that the time had come for drastic measures to be taken to protect a vast region of shimmering paddies and mudflats, stretching from the Red River valley in the north to the Mekong Delta in the south, which not only "play a crucial role in ensuring the national food supply but (are) also home to delicate ecosystems''. "The trend of making quick money by tapping wetland resources in Vietnam is threatening the country's environment," Nguyen stressed. One-fifth of Vietnam's 78 million population makes a living by exploiting 10 million ha (hectares) of wetland areas for growing rice and aquaculture. >>>

Much of Vietnam's largest wetland area lies in the Mekong Delta in the south, with its elaborate network of river channels and vast areas of rice paddies, mangrove and melaleuca forests, tidal mudflats and shrimp and fish ponds. But rapid demographic development has resulted in greater demand for food, which in turn forced farmers to reclaim vast areas of wetlands by cutting down mangrove and melaleuca trees for charcoal, firewood and timber. At Can Gio wetland, 50 kilometers southeast of Ho Chi Minh City for instance, 400,000 ha of mangroves are now under threat from illegal salt farming and shrimp breeding. "Last year, there were 123 violations of reserve regulations - most were for illegal aquaculture activities," Nguyen Van Thanh, deputy head of the forests' management board, told IPS. "These illegal farms caused the destruction of 2.6 ha, and thousands of mangrove trees in the reserve have been cut down." Can Gio has been named a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) biosphere reserve, and any attempt to farm, to take fish or wood from the reserve is illegal. Like in other national parks and reserves in the country, some Can Gio people are allowed to live and farm in buffer zones that separate the reserve from the surrounding region. They are not permitted to carry out any production activities in the reserve. >>>

Salt Water Intrusion in the Mekong Delta According to World Bank: In 1999, agriculture in the Mekong Delta accounted for 30 percent of Vietnam’s GDP and more than 80 percent of its rice exports. However, without appropriate infrastructure, the delta’s many canals and irrigation networks were vulnerable to salt water intrusion from the South China Sea during the dry season, threatening land arability, and to flooding during the rainy season, putting harvests in danger. Poor drinking water supplies and inadequate rural transport also held down production levels and rural incomes.

Water with 4 percent salinity has encroached by 40-50 kilometers far into the Mekong Delta. In February 2013, Vietnam.net reported: “In Soc Trang province, drought and salinity both have seriously affected the agricultural production, damaging tens of thousands of hectares of the winter-spring rice fields in the areas bordering Bac Lieu province. More than 20,000 hectares of rice fields in some communes along the Long Phu – Tiep Nhat canal have been in the danger of getting suffered from the drought and saltwater intrusion. [Source: Vietnam.net, February 28, 2013 /:\]

“Local authorities have affirmed that the saltwater intrusion this year may be the most severe in the history, following the last small flood season and the strong northeast wind. Since mid February 2013, it has been unable to find fresh water at the river mouths, just 30 kilometers from the sea. Meanwhile, scientists have warned that in March, April and May, the coastal areas may lack freshwater for daily lives. According to the Ben Tre provincial Center for Hydrometeorology Forecast, on Cua Dai River, the salinity has reached 27 ‰ -30 ‰ in Binh Dai district, 13 ‰ -16 ‰ in Loc Thuan, 2 ‰ -3,5 ‰ in Long Hoa. On the Ham Luong River, the salinity is as high as 27 ‰ -30 ‰ in An Thuan, 0.1 ‰ -1 ‰ in Vam Mon. Local authorities have been hurrying taking actions to protect over 64,500 hectares of the winter-spring crop rice fields and 25,000 hectares of aquatic ponds. /:\

“Under the climate change and sea water rise scenario, if the sea water rises by 30 cm, 50,000 hectares of agricultural land in Mekong Delta would suffer from the saltwater intrusion, which means that the delta would lose up to 120,000 tons of rice. In the worst case, the mangrove area may be larger of up to 500,000 hectares, farmers would lose one million tons of rice. In fact, local farmers have been familiar with the salinity intrusion over the last many years. Coping with the salinity intrusion has always been very important for the survival of the agricultural production in the area.” /:\

Efforts to Combat Salt Water Intrusion in the Mekong Delta Vietnam.net reported: “Experts have suggested changing the crop seasons, cultivation techniques and plant varieties, and utilizing the plant varieties with high salinity resistance, emphasizing that these are the measures to optimize the use of agriculture land. Pham Thanh Vu, MA, from the Can Tho University, believes that the rotational rice cultivation & shrimp hatchery model should be applied to the areas with the long salinity intrusion time and high salinity. The areas with the salinity intrusion duration of more than seven months a year should turn into shrimp farming areas. [Source: Vietnam.net, February 28, 2013 /:\]

“Meanwhile, the 3-crop would still be applied in the areas which have embankments to prevent the salt intrusion, or have irrigation works to provide fresh water. Diversifying plantations to make it suitable to the different conditions of the land areas has been considered the long term solution to get adapted to the climate change. In Soc Trang province, for example, farmers have been using the high salinity resistance rice varieties in the rotational crop model. However, experts say the model would be helpful in the areas with the low land salinity. It may happen that when farmers try to rescue rice fields by blocking water inlet sluice, this would lead to the lack of salt water for shrimp. “ /:\

The International Development Association (IDA) supported Mekong Delta Water Resources Project sought to develop water control infrastructure to prevent salinity intrusion and promote irrigation, drainage, flood protection and improved rural drinking water supplies. Five subproject areas covering more than 500,000 hectares were targeted to boost agricultural productivity and rural incomes. Results: Freshwater supplies for irrigation were substantially improved along with the ability to control salinity and floods in the delta. An IDA credit of US$102 million financed a bit more than two-thirds of the total project cost of US$148 million.[Source: World Bank]

Highlights: 1) About 1 million people were expected to benefit from project expansion of clean water supplies and improvements in sanitation facilities, with the connection rate to potable water sources increasing from 30–40 percent of the population living in the delta in 1999 to 75 percent at the end of 2007. 2) Farmers’ incomes doubled on average between 1999 and 2007, from VND 300,000 (less than US$500) to VND 625,000 (about US$1,000). 3) Crop productivity has risen, with the average yield for double rice cropping increasing from 4.7 tons/hectare in 1999 to 5.3 tons/hectare in 2007. 4) Sluice gates have helped contain seasonal floods to allow farmers to complete their harvest. Forty-one main sluice gates and 125 secondary sluice gates have been built. Over 1,000 kilometers of primary and secondary canals were also dredged and enlarged. 5) To protect towns from floods, 234 kilometers of dikes were constructed. 6) The delta is now better prepared to withstand rising sea levels and catastrophic weather. 7) The doubling of water fee collections envisaged by the project did not occur: a government decree has exempted all farmers and individuals from paying water fees since January 2008.

The project’s impact will be sustained, provided proper attention is paid to operation and maintenance of infrastructure. Because of the decision to exempt farmers from water service fees, heavy subsidies will be needed to maintain the newly created infrastructure. On the other hand, farmers whose livelihoods depend on irrigation and drainage are likely to continue to use the new facilities effectively. Further investments in sea dikes and sluices could help the delta cope with the effects of climate change (droughts, floods and rising sea levels). Investment in agricultural processing, marketing and information technology could help maximize the impact of irrigation infrastructure.

MYTHO AND TIEN GIANG PROVINCE

TIEN GIANG PROVINCE (70 kilometers south of Ho Chi Minh City) covers 2,484.2 square kilometers and is home to 1,677,000 people (2010). The largest ethnic groups in the province are the Viet (Kinh), Hoa, Khmer and Tay. The capital is Mytho City. Administrative divisions: Town: Go Cong. Districts: Cai Be, Cai Lay, Chau Thanh, Cho Gao, Go Cong Tay, Go Cong Dong, Tan Phuoc, Tan Phu Dong.

Located to the North of the Mekong Delta, along the North of Tien River, Long An Province shares border with Long An Province on the north, Dong Thap Province on the west, The South China Sea on the east, and Ben Tre Province on the south. The Tien and Vam Co Tay rivers with Soi Rap, Tieu, Dai river mouths are good for aquaculture. The terrain is divided into distinct three regions: fruit-growing areas along the bank of the Tien River, plains and seaside. The dry season lasts from December to April next year. The rainy season is between May and November. Annual average temperature is 27 degrees C.

Tien Giang aquaculture and fish life includes freshwater fish, brackish fish, and saltwater fish. Some of special fruits are the Trung Luong plum, Vinh Kim star-apple, Cai Be guava, sweet mango, rambutan, and thick-skinned orange. Many fruits, vegetable, and other products are sold at the lively Cai Be Floating Market and on Tan Phong Island, along the Tien Giang River. Visitors also enjoy picking fruit and experiencing the life of Mekong River Delta community in orchards of Thoi Son Island. Located 120 kilometers from Mytho City, Dong Tam Snake Farm is an interesting place to see snake, bird and mutant turtles. Vinh Trang Pagoda owns many precious wood statues and beautiful tree in large garden.

Getting to Tien Giang: Mytho City is 70 kilometers from Vinh Long,70 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City, 103 kilometers from Can Tho City, 179 kilometers from Chau Doc, 182 kilometers from Rach Gia. There are bus connections with Vinh Long, Chau Doc, Ca Mau, and other destinations in the Mekong Delta from Ho Chi Minh City and other places. A high-speed boat leaves from Ho Chi Minh City daily to Mytho and Can Tho. There are also boat tours around Mytho.

Mytho (1½ hours and 70 kilometers south of Ho Chi Minh City) is the first major Mekong River town you come town as you head south from Ho Chi Minh City. Among it attractions are the Island of the Coconut Monk, the Mytho Church and Bishopric, the Mytho Central market, fruit markets, and the Dong Tam Snake farm.

Dong Tam Snake-Breeding Farm (12 kilometers from Mytho) is a center for breeding snakes and producing venom for exportation. Dong Tam is also involved in medicinal plant cultivation and the study and treatment of snake-bites. There is a snake-breeding zone with dozens of species to feed or even to play with. There are also crocodiles and other species of birds and animals on hand.

Thoi Son Island (a 45-minute boat ride on the Mekong River from Mytho City) is filled with fruit trees bearing plums, mangoes, and longans. Since 1990, Thoi Son has become a tourist resort welcoming hundreds of visitors. The tiled-roof houses surrounded by many generations of fruit-bearing trees, the cozy little restaurants in bonsai tree gardens make of Thoi Son Island the ideal location for a short rest. The path through the island is bordered with fruit trees bearing plums, mangoes, and longans. Visitors will also enjoy Con Phung Island, and coconut sweets and jams.

VINH LONG PROVINCE

VINH LONG PROVINCE (136 kilometers south of Ho Chi Minh City) covers 1,479.1 square kilometers and is home to 1,026,500 people (2010). The largest ethnic groups in the province are the Viet (Kinh), Khmer, Hoa and Gia Rai. The capital is Vinh Long Town. Districts: Long Ho, Mang Thit, Binh Minh, Tam Binh, Tra On, Vung Liem, Binh Tan.

Situated between the Tien and the Hau rivers, Vinh Long Province is bounded by Tien Giang Province on the north, Dong Thap Province on the northwest, Tra Vinh Province on the southeast, Hau Giang and Soc Trang provinces on the south, and Can Tho City on the southwest. The terrain is quite flat. The complex network of rivers and canals make convenient transportation. The soil is rich in alluvium, favorable for rice and various fruit cultivation. The dry season lasts from December to April, the rainy season last from May to November. The annual average temperature is 27 degrees C. Average rainfall is from 1,300 millimeters to 1,500 millimeters.

Silt from Tien and Hau rivers has raised the level of the fields. The majority of inhabitants live on farming, fruit planting and cattle rising. Coming to there, visitors have chance to walk among the trees, relax in hammocks, try all kinds of delicious tropical fruits in the gardens of An Binh and Binh Hoa Phuoc islands. Several popular places are Mr. Sau Giao's Flower Garden, Mr. Muoi Day's Stilt-House, and Mr. Hai Hoang's Old House.Vinh Long has many pagodas, communal houses such as Van Thanh Temple, Long Thanh Communal House, Tinh Xa Ngoc Vien, Phuoc Hau, Tien Chau, Saghamangala pagodas.

Getting to Vinh Long: Vinh Long is 70 kilometers from Mytho, 34 kilometers from Can Tho and 136 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City. The inter-province bus station is five kilometers from the center of Vinh Long. There are buses between Vinh Long and Ho Chi Minh City, Can Tho, Mytho, Long Xuyen, Sa Dec, Rach Gia, and other Mekong Delta destinations. National Highway No.1A and No.53 also runs through the province.

Vinh Long (about halfway between Mytho and Cantho) is a medium size town on the first dragon of the Mekong Delta with an old town on the river, a miliary museum and a beautiful Confucian Temple (Van Thanh Mieu Temple). Trips can be organized on charter boats to lovely islands in the Mekong River. The ferry where Marguerite Duras’ heroine in The Lover met her Chinese lover was in this area but no longer exist. It was replaced in the early 2000s by a new bridge. Duras grew up in Sa Dec, a sleepy town with some colonial vestiges about 20 miles away.

Cai Be Floating Market (one hour from Vinh Long) is held where the Tien Giang River forms the border between the provinces of Tien Giang, Vinh Long, and Ben Tre. Approximately 400 to 500 boats filled with fruits, vegetables, and other products are anchored along the banks of the river, from 5:00am to 5:00pm everyday. The merchandise sold in each boat is hung on a pole in front of the boat to attract customers.

VINH SANG TOURIST AREA

VINH SANG TOURIST AREA (about 160 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City) is located on the An Binh Isle, Long Ho District, Vinh Long Province. Here adults and children can see rare birds and animals in the wild, on a 140 kilograms African ostrich, feed a crocodile, lure and fish crocodiles, catch a fish or stroll on grassy trails through endless multicolored orchards.

Vinh Sang Tourist Area is situated at the junction of the Tien River, where is an oasis criss-crossed by many rivulets, with orchards resplendent with man An Phuoc (An Phuoc plums), nhan xuong com vang (yellow longan), and dua dau Ben Tre (Ben Tre coconuts). This tourism area is also home to about 20 species of rare wild animals including crocodiles, ostriches, bears, spotted deer, monkeys, pythons, pelicans and rabbits.

If tourists want to sample the taste of an ostrich egg, they need to wait about five to six hours to cook. Other activities include rowing fishing boats, spreading nets or building a dike to catch fish the traditional way: with bare hands. Tourists can ask the chef to cook the freshly caught fish. Tourists will have good chance to taste traditional Southern specialties such as ca loc nuong rom (snakehead fish grilled in straw), ca loc hap bau (snakehead fish steamed with gourd), ca kho to (stewed fish in caramel sauce) and ga noi vuon (free-range chicken), and other dishes made with ostrich and crocodile. Ingredients are very fresh and often picked straight from the garden.

Water slides and river swimming are popular with the younger set such as catching ducks or playing with water balls near the Co Chien River. Tourists also can sightsee along the Co Chien River on a three-storey yacht and listen to don ca tai tu (amateur traditional music in the Southern region) or sing karaoke. During the day, tourists can take a bicycle to visit neighbouring orchards or traditional handicraft villages including the lang keo dua (coconut sweet village) or the lang gom do (red pottery village).

Tourists have the option of camping or staying in a bungalow for overnight there. A separate area is set out for campers who sleep in tents and build campfires and, in another spot, 18 bungalows equipped with all the amenities including air conditioning built on rafts, overlook the water. Vinh Sang Tourist Area is becoming an attractive place in the south of Vietnam. The area is where tourists can learn about the Mekong Delta, receive good services, participate in open-air games and be close to nature. It attracts a lot of people both foreign tourists and domestic tourists. Tourists are recommended to bring binoculars for bird watching.

Admission: With the entrance fee of VND15,000 for adult and VND7,000 for children, tourists will able to visit almost of all places in the area such as: the places for feeding ostriches and crocodiles; the places for producing wine and coconut sweeta; and wildlife place. For other services and activities, tourists have to pay more fees for each one, such as: VND12,000 for riding ostrich, VND3,000 for fishing crocodile.

How to get there: From the center of Ho Chi Minh City, drive about 70 kilometers in the direction of My Tho City (Tien Giang Province), at the large intersection, turn right and continue drive about 60 kilometers tourists will reach the famous bridge - the My Thuan Bridge, a large and most stunning cable-stayed bridge in Vietnam - which crosses Tien Giang River, connects provinces of Vinh Long and Tien Giang. Crossing My Thuan Bridge, turn left in the direction of Vinh Long about six kilometers tourists will arrive Vinh Sang Boat Dock. From here, tourists will be transported to the site by boat.

CANTHO AND TRA VINH PROVINCE

TRA VINH PROVINCE (205 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City) covers 2,295.1 square kilometers and is home to 1,005,900 people (2010). The largest ethnic groups in the province are the Viet (Kinh), Khmer and Tay, Hoa. The capital is Tra Vinh City. Districts: Cang Long, Cau Ke, Tieu Can, Chau Thanh, Tra Cu, Cau Ngang, Duyen Hai. Located on Mekong River Delta, Tra Vinh Province borders Ben Tre, Vinh Long provinces on the north, Soc Trang Province on the west, and The South China Sea on the east. with 65 kilometers of seaside.

The topography includes coastal plain, alluvial deposits, hundreds of mounds and sand caves, a complex network of rivers and canals. Tra Vinh is on tropical monsoon region. The weather is hot around the year. The dry season lasts from December to April. The rainy season is between May and November. Annual average temperature is 26 degrees C.

Surrounded by the Tien and Hau rivers and a long coast, Tra Vinh's economy is based on agriculture, aquaculture, fish and shrimp breeding. The province is covered by verdant plants in garden village along bank of river. Ba Om Pond is an attraction of Tra Vinh. It is surrounded by hillocks and many old sao and dau trees with odd shape of roots. In the afternoon, flocks of birds perch on the trees and make this area exciting and noisy. There are 140 pagodas of Khmer, 50 pagodas of Viet (Kinh) and 5 pagodas of Hoa. The famous ones include Ang, Sam-rong-ek, Co, Hang. Co Pagoda is home of thousands of birds including storks, cong coc and pigeons.

Tra Vinh City is 66 kilometers from Vinh Long,205 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City, 110 kilometers from Ben Tre, Mytho. There are National Highways No.53, 54, 60 linking the districts of Tra Vinh and neighbor provinces.

Tra Vinh (66 kilometers east of Vinh Long) is home of several hundred thousand ethnic Khmers, a Buddhist people related to Cambodians who refuse to allow monks to grow food.. Visitors can visit Khmer pagodas and temples and a an Uncle Ho temple and take boat trips.

Cantho (169 kilometers or about two hours by bus south of Ho Chi Minh City) is on the second arm of the Mekong River. It makes a good base for exploring the Mekong Delta. It is fairly large town and many organized tours overnight here. There isn't much to see in the way of sights other than a couple of pagodas and a central market. The best things to do are take a boat ride with a woman rower or take a taxi to the countryside and wander about. There is lively market where peddlers sell snakes, blue jeans and bunches of flowers. There is also a colorful floating market.

Can Tho City covers 1,401.6 square kilometers and is home to 1,197,100 people (2010). The largest ethnic groups are the Viet (Kinh), Khmer, Hoa and Cham. Administrative divisions: Districts: Ninh Kieu, Binh Thuy, Cai Rang, Thot Not, and O Mon; Rural Districts: Phong Dien, Co Do, Vinh Thanh and Thoi Lai.

Cantho City is located in the center of the Mekong Delta. It is contiguous to 5 provinces: An Giang on the north, Dong Thap on the north-east, Hau Giang on the south, Kien Giang on the west, and Vinh Long on the east. Cantho has a complex of rivers and canals such as the Hau and Can Tho rivers and Thot Not and O Mon canals. Among them, the Hau River is considered a benefactor of this region, since yearly floods deposit large quantities of silt to the rice fields. The climate is hot and humid all year. Rainy season lasts from May to November, and dry season lasts from December to April. The annual average temperature is 27 degrees C.

Cantho is about 200 years old. It was once known as Tay Do. The economic life, culture activities of the city are closely related to the river. Canals serve as 'streets'. It is wonderful to take a boat trip. On the east bank of Hau River is Ninh Kieu Wharf, which is well known for its beautiful location. Other interesting places are Bang Lang Stock Sanctuary, Cantho and My Khanh Tourist gardens and Cantho Market.

In recent years, a series of modern tourism gardens have appeared on every land and water route in Cantho City. The gardens of My Khanh, San Duong, Ba Lang and Tan Binh extend along the arched highway, as well as on the waterways of Hong Dien and Phung Hiep Rivers. Other gardens in Long My, Vi Thanh, O Mon and Thot Not are being developed.

My Khanh Gardens occupy 2.2 hectares and feature more than 20 species of fruit trees and flowers, as well as diverse species of birds, fishes, tortoises, snakes, crabs and shrimps. Under the shade of lush green trees, there are small ‘rong’ houses to provide visitors with a place to rest for the night. Ba Lang is located nine kilometers from Cantho (on Highway No. 1A towards Soc Trang), and has an area of 4.2 hectares. There is the animal sanctuary of Ao Sen Lake, two lakes for swimming, an outdoor stage and mini-hotels. Gardens here combine agricultural potential with tourism.

Getting to Cantho: Cantho is 34 kilometers from Vinh Long, 62 kilometers from Long Xuyen, 63 kilometers from Soc Trang, 104 kilometers from Mytho, 116 kilometers from Rach Gia, 117 kilometers from Chau Doc,169 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City and 179 kilometers from Camau. Cantho is on National Highways No.1A, 91, 80 linking it An Giang, Kien Giang provinces. Cantho has Cai Cui international seaport. The city is the center of waterway network of Mekong Delta. There are daily hydrofoils between Ho Chi Minh City and Cantho City. Bus Station: 114D Cach Mang Thang Tam Road

Cantho Domestic Airport: Tra Noc Airport. Vietnam Airlines; Sales agent: 18, 20 Hai Ba Trung Street, Tel: 3821 853 / 3821 804; Chu Lai84 - 510; Flights From Hanoi: Daily, Vietnam Airlines, 759, 1,221, 02h10'; Flights From Ho Chi Minh City: 5 flights/ week, Vietnam Airlines, 81, 130, 00h45'; Flights From Phu Quoc: 5 flights/ week, Vietnam Airlines, 123, 198, 00h45'.

BAC LIEU PROVINCE AND BIRD SANCTUARY

BAC LIEU PROVINCE covers 2,501.5 square kilometers and is home to 867,800 people (2010). The largest ethnic groups in the province are the Viet (Kinh), Khmer, Hoa and Cham. The capital is Bac Lieu Town. Districts: Hong Dan, Vinh Loi, Gia Rai, Dong Hai, Phuoc Long, Hoa Binh. Bac Lieu Province situated in the Mekong River Delta. It shares its border with Can Tho City and Soc Trang Province to the north, the South China Sea to the south, Ca Mau and Kien Giang provinces to the west. Bac Lieu has many large rice paddies and much fertile land, which make a good place for fruit tree planting. The weather is divided into two seasons: rainy and dry seasons. The annual average temperature is 24 degrees C.

Bac Lieu Town is on side of Bac Lieu Canal, 10 kilometers from the sea. Bac Lieu residents grow rice, fruit trees, catch seafood and make salt. Bac Lieu used to play an important rile in French colonial economy so the province has several western-style villas and mansions. Tourists comee here to learn about Bac Lieu Mandarins and visit the Bac Lieu Bird Reserve, longan gardens, Viet Hung old Tower, Xiem Can Pagoda or discover mangrove cajeput forest.

Bac Lieu Bird Sanctuary Natural Reserve (six kilometers south of Bac Lieu Town) is located in Hiep Thanh Commune, Bac Lieu Town and was recognized as natural reserve in 1984. The sanctuary is the important home of several water birds, mainly teal, stork, heron, night heron and cormorant. Each flock of birds flies for food in the early morning and returns to their nests in the sanctuary in the evening while the night birds start their journeys, which agitate the atmosphere of the sanctuary.

Bac Lieu Bird Sanctuary Nature Reserve embraces a natural salt-marsh forest ecosystem that is approximately 385 hectares in area, of which 19 hectares is primitive forest. It is home to around 46 kinds of birds, some of which are in the Red Book such as Giang Sen, small King Cormorant; 109 kinds of plants; 150 kinds of animals, of which there are 58 kinds of fish, 7 kinds of amphibians, 10 mammals, and 8 reptiles. Originally the sanctuary area was part of a coastal salt-marsh ecosystem. Now it is far from the sea as the result of Mekong River silt alluvial deposits over the centuries.

The Sanctuary is the place where generations of birds have been born, usually in the rainy season. There are currently some 40,000 birds and 5,000 nests, according to preliminary statistics. Birds mostly gather here during the rainy season between May and October. Bac Lieu is 280 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City, 67 kilometers from Ca Mau, 50 kilometers from Soc Trang, and 113 kilometers from Can Tho. The National Highway No. 1A crosses the province and links to Soc Trang and Ca Mau provinces.

DONG THAP PROVINCE

DONG THAP PROVINCE (162 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City) covers 3,375.4 square kilometers and is home to 1,670,500 people (2010). The largest ethnic groups in the province are the Viet (Kinh), Khmer, Ngai and Hoa. The capital is Cao Lanh City. Administrative divisions: Town: Sa Dec, Hong Ngu; Districts: Tan Hong, Tam Nong, Thanh Binh, Thap Muoi, Cao Lanh, Lap Vo, Chau Thanh, Lai Vung. There are direct buses btween Cao Lanh City and Ho Chi Minh City, Mytho, Can Tho, Vinh Long, and Long Xuyen. Sa Dec Town is 143 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City, midway between Vinh Long and Long Xuyen.

Dong Thap is on the Mekong Delta. One of three Dong Thap Muoi's provinces, it shares its border with Cambodia on the north, Vinh Long Province and Can Tho City on the south, An Giang Province on the west and Long An, Tien Giang provinces on the east. Dong Thap has a developed system of canals for water transportation and irrigation. The province has about 10,000 hectares of forestland. Cajuput is specific tree of Dong Thap Muoi region. Local fauna and flora includes tortoises, turtles, snakes, fishes, shrimps, pythons, storks, birds, rice, lotus, water lily, grass, and especially red headed cranes. The province has tropical climate and plentiful fresh water. There are two seasons: the rainy season from May to November; the dry season from December to April. Average annual temperature is about 27 degrees C. The average annual rainfall is 1,174 -1,518 millimeters.

Every year, the Tien and Hau rivers provide alluvial soil for Dong Thap that is good for growing rice, vegetables and fruit plant. Regarded as the granary of Vietnam, the province produces rice, sugar cane, cotton, tobacco, soy bean, Cao Lanh mango, Chau Thanh longan, Lai Vung mandarin and Phong Hoa grape fruit. From January to May, tourists come to visit Tram Chim National Park to observe the cranes. The crane return this time of the year after months of emigrating to evade flood. Tourists also can admire the vast lotus and bonsai in Sa Dec Flower Garden. Dong Thap also has relics of the Oc Eo Culture in Go Thap, the Tomb of Junior Doctor Nguyen Sinh Sac, Go Thap Site, and Xeo Quit sites.

Tram Chim National Park (1 kilometers from Tram Chim Town in Dong Thap Province) is in the lowest area of the Mekong River in a water logged-plain, submerged much of the year, and in the center of Dong Thap Muoi. Situated in the Communes of Phu Duc, Phu Hiep, Phu Tho, Tan Cong Sinh in Tam Nong District, the Park has a forest of Cajuput and hearth and is home to many kind of birds. Flora and fauna found in the park includes cajeput, reeds, lotus, water lily, ghost rice, rush, python, turtles, eels, snakes, fresh-water fishes, and water bird such as storks, herons, spot-billed ducks, water chickens and especially red-headed, bare-necked cranes which appear in dry season from January to May.

SOC TRANG PROVINCE

SOC TRANG PROVINCE (231 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City) covers 3,311.8 square kilometers and is home to 1,300,800 people (2010). The largest ethnic groups in the province are the Viet (Kinh), Khmer, Cham, Hoa. The capital is Soc Trang City. Town: Vinh Chau; Districts: Ke Sach, My Tu, My Xuyen, Thanh Tri, Long Phu, Cu Lao Dung, Chau Thanh, Nga Nam.

Situated in Mekong Delta, Soc Trang is surrounded by Tra Vinh, Vinh Long, Hau Giang, Bac Lieu and The South China Sea. There are 72 kilometers seaside, two river mouths and 30,000 hectares alluvia ground. Influenced by oceanic weather, the province has two seasons: the rainy season lasts from May to November and dry season lasts from December to April next year. Annual average temperature is 27 degrees C. Annual rainfall is 1,840 millimeters

Soc Trang is covered by vast rice paddies, shrimp lagoons, luxuriant fruit gardens like longan, rambutan, durian, and orange. Viet (Kinh), Khmer, Hoa ethnic groups live together here. The province has 89 pagodas of Khmer group, 47 pagodas of Hoa people. Ma Toc (Bat), Khleang, Chruitim Chas, Chen Kieu, and Buu Son Tu (Set) are famous pagodas. Coming to there, tourists like to taste tropical fruit in My Phuoc River Islet, or join many recreation and entertainment activities in Binh An Tourist Resort. Chol Chnam Thmay, Oc Om Boc festivals, Ngo Boat Race also attract many visitors.

Soc Trang (40 miles southeast of Cantho) is filled with Khmer pagodas. The Mac Toc pagoda is home to thousands of large fruit bats, which are eaten by local for good fortune and offered to tourists. Some of the bats have a wingspan of nearly five feet. Soc Trang is 231 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City, 60 kilometers from Can Tho. National Highways No.1A links the province and Can Tho, Bac Lieu.

Khmer Towns (near Cambodia) include Chau Doc, known for its floating houses; the Tan Chau District, a silk producing region; Rach Gia, with Khmer-style and Chinese-style pagodas and the nearby ancient Funan city of Oc-Eo); and Ha Tien, known for its limestone rock formations, caves, beaches and pagodas; Rach Gia Flights from Ho Chi Minh City: Daily, Vietnam Airlines, 120, 193, 00h45'; Flights From Phu Quoc: Daily, Vietnam Airlines, 82, 132, 00h40';

Sam Mountain (2 miles mouth of Chau Doc, near Cambodia) is a famous pilgrimage site. It features many pagodas, some of them in caves. The main pilgrimage destinations are Tay An Pagoda, Temple of Lady Chua Xu, the Tomb of Thoai Ngoc Hau and the Cavern Pagoda. There are lovely views of the surrounding countryside from the top of the mountain.

Phu Quoc Island is part of the largest island district of Viet Nam. Located in the Gulf of Thailand, it is belongs to Kien Giang Province. Duong Dong Town, the capital of Phu Quoc Island is about 120 kilometers from Rach Gia City and 45 kilometers from Ha Tien. Phu Quoc Domestic. Vietnam Airlines Sales Office: 291 Nguyen Trung Truc Street, Tel: 398 0778 / 384 6086; Fax: 398 0779, Flights From Ho Chi Minh City: 72 flights/ week, Vietnam Airlines, 188, 303, 01h00'30 flights/ week, Air Mekong, 00h50'; Flights From Can Tho, 24 flights/ week, Vasco, 01h00'.

AN GIANG PROVINCE

AN GIANG PROVINCE (190 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City) covers 3,536.8 square kilometers and is home to 2,149,500 people (2010). The largest ethnic groups in the province are the Viet (Kinh), Khmer, Cham, Hoa. The capital is Long Xuyen City. Administrative divisions: Towns: Chau Doc, Tan Chau; Districts: An Phu, Phu Tan, Chau Phu, Tinh Bien, Tri Ton, Cho Moi, Chau Thanh, Thoai Son.

An Giang Province is located to the west of the Mekong Delta between the Tien and Hau rivers and shares a 100 kilometers border with Cambodia in the north- west. It also shares border with Dong Thap Province in the east, Cantho City in the south-east, and Kien Giang Province in the south-west. An Giang has two main types of topography: midland areas and low mountains. The low mountains is Bay Nui (Seven Mountains) in Tinh Bien and Tri Ton districts. Vinh Te Tunnel runs along with the province's border in the west, which connects from Chau Doc to Ha Tien. The rainy season is from May to November and the dry season is from December to April. The annual average temperature varies 27 degrees C. The highest temperature is 35 degrees C to 37 degrees C from April to May and the lowest ones is 20 degrees C- 21 degrees C from December to January next year. The annual rainfall is 1,400-1,500 millimeters.

An Giang is a leading rice producer. The province also has corn and aquatic products such as basa fish and shrimp. An Giang is also renowned for Tan Chau silk, Chau Doc fish sauce and other consumer products. The fabric industry has traditionally been associated with the Cham ethnic group. Famous An Giang festivals include Ba Chua Xu, Chol Chnam Thomay, Dolta festival and ox racing. Among the famous sites and attractions are Sam Mountain in Chau Doc, Cam Mountain in Tien Binh, Tuc Dup Hill, grotto networks of Thuy Dai Son, Anh Vu Son, Co To, and some historical sites.

Getting to An Giang Province: An Giang has a relatively convenient land and water transport system. National Road 91 connects it to Cam-pu-chia. Buses run from Chau Doc to Long Xuyen, Cantho, and other destinations in the Mekong Delta. Long Xuyen City is 62 kilometers from Cantho, 125 kilometers from My Tho, and 190 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City. Chau Doc Town is 96 kilometers from Ha Tien, 117 kilometers from Cantho, 179 kilometers from My Tho, and 245 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City.

CAM MOUNTAIN AND TRA SU CAJUPUT FOREST

Cam Mountain (An Hao Commune, Tinh Bien District, An Giang Province) is also known as Thien Cam Son (Heavens Forbidden Mountain) is the highest mountain in the That Son Mountains in An Giang. The mountain rises imposingly from the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta to an altitude of 710 meters. The are views from Vo Bo Hong Peak of the Great Buddha Pagoda (in An Binh, An Hao Commune) and a valley surrounded by rolling mountains in the Thien Cam Son chain such as Vo Dau, Vo Bo Hong, Vo Thien Tue. The mountain have a year-round cool climate.

Why is it called Forbidden Mountain? According to a folk tale, Cam Mountain was once very rugged with many frightening beasts and ghosts living there. As a result, the inhabitants in the area forbade themselves from coming there. However, another legend goes that Nguyen Anh sought refuge in the mountain to get away from Tay Son insurgents and forbade anyonesaccess to the mountain, hence its name “Forbidden Mountain.”

Downhill in the east is 100-hectare Lam Vien Tourist Park which offers a wide range of recreational services including Kaolin Restaurant featuring specialties of the Seven Mountains Region. Dont miss the poetic Thanh Long (blue dragon) stream while following the trail from the park up the mountain. At a fork take the right-hand track for about one kilometer and you will see Vo Thien Tue peak. Then go back and take left hand trial uphill to the Great Buddha Pagoda. On the way there, you can stop by Thuy Liem cavern, or admire Vo Bach Tuong (a grand white elephant-shaped rock on the side of the mountain) in O Cat.

Tra Su Cajuput Forest (20 kilometers from Chau Doc Town and 10 kilometers from the Cambodia border) embraces a 845-hectare special-purpose forest surrounded by a 645 hectares buffer zone. It is the habitat for many colonies of water birds, bats and various others such as rare and endangered animals and reptile species. Scientists estimate that it is home to over 70 species of birds, including 2 very rare species of Giang sen (Mycteria leucocephala) and the Dieng Dieng (Anhinga Melanogaster); 11 species of animals belonging to 6 families and 4 orders; 20 species of reptiles; 5 species of amphibians; 23 species of fish, including Ca com (Chitala ornata) and Tre trang (Clarias batrachus) having the scientific value and being in danger of extinction. The flora is equally abundant and splendid with over 140 specified floral varieties which represent the second largest number of plant species in the Mekong Delta region, only after the Xeo Quit Cajuput Forest in Dong Thap Province. They include 22 varieties of trees, 25 varieties of shrubs, 10 varieties of vines, 70 varieties of grasses, 13 species of aquatic plants, 22 varieties of ornamental plants, 9 varieties of fruit trees and particularly many varieties of medicinal herbs of high value.

Prior to 1975, Tra Su was badly damages by American bombs and became uncultivated area. After the war, authorities in An Giang Province invested money to reforest it with cajuput trees and built a 12 kilometer-long, four-meter-wide and four-meter-high dyke system that helps prevent the area from being swamped during flood season. The forest has been designated as a special restoration zone since 1983, with the target of becoming a renowned scientific forest and nature reserve.

The forest is sub-divided into several sites to make getting around easier, that include a 3,000-square-meter fishing area, a 3,200-square-meter bird sanctuary and a 2,500 square meter bat sanctuary, all of which cater to the specific individual demands of different types of tourists. If visiting the key sites by foot, the tourists must spend pretty much the whole day in the forest. However, if they jump in a motor-boat, it will save a lot of time, and permit a leisurely five hour round trip of all the significant sites throughout the ecological forest. They can view the lovely landscape as the scenery drifts along both river banks, Apart from the birds and animals, the tourists will see the wonderful countryside and farmers busily attending to their paddies, orchards and so on, but still happy to stop for a chat with guests.

In the midst of the forest there is a special ornithologist's watch tower, standing some 10 meters high. During the high water season, the forest's canals and streams are dense with clusters of water ferns, a particularly vivid sight when the setting sun imparts a golden glow on the emerald-green duckweed that blankets the water's surface. Lotus flowers and water lilies, cultivated by local farmers to supplement their incomes during the rainy season, cover much of the water. The few small farm-houses that are irregularly placed here and there are perched on stilts above the flood plain with their rudimentary bamboo ceilings made out of cajuput trees.

To get to Tra Su Cajuput Forest, first go to Chau Doc Town and then turn left about 17 kilometers to Nha Bang Town in Tinh Bien District. From there it is only four kilometers to Cam Mountain, which is right next to the Tra Su Cajuput Forest. The best time to visit Tra Su is at the high water season, from September to November. At this time of the year, the entire forest floats on a vast area, so a motor-boat is the only way to travel around. Tourists are able to stop and pick wild berries or fruits or go fishing. The area is home of the Kh'mer and Kinh people who practice several traditional handicrafts, such as brocade weaving, silk weaving, cooking Thot not (Borassus flabellifer) sugar, distilling cajuput essential oil, and raising bees for honey.

CA MAU PROVINCE

CA MAU PROVINCE (380 kilometers south of Ho Chi Minh City) covers 5,331.6 square kilometers and is home to 1,212,100 people (2010). The largest ethnic groups in the province are the Viet (Kinh), Khmer, Hoa and Tay. The capital is Ca Mau City. Districts: Dam Doi, Ngoc Hien, Tran Van Thoi, Cai Nuoc, U Minh, Thoi Binh, Nam Can, Phu Tan.

Ca Mau Province is situated in the southern tip of Vietnam with a coastal area of 307 kilometers. It is surrounded by the South China Sea on three sides and Kien Giang, Bac Lieu provinces on the north and north-east. The province is interlaced with rivers and canals. Seven large rivers run through it: the Ong Doc, Bay Hap, Cai Lon, Ganh Hao, Dam Doi, Trem Trem, and Bach Nguu. Some offshore islands are: Hon Da Bac, Hon Khoai and Hon Chuoi.

There are two types of forest in Ca Mau province: salt marsh and cajuput. The cajuput forest has the highest biological value among other types of natural forest, with high economic value and environmental protection. Ca Mau, with its sub-equatorial monsoon climate has two main seasons: the rainy season from May to October, and the dry season, extending from November to April of the next year. The province is average annual temperature is 26.5 degrees C. It is coolest in January with 25 degrees C. The annual rainfall averages 2,500 millimeters, 90 percent of which is distributed over 6 months of the rainy season. Average humidity is about 80 percent in dry season and 85 percent in rainy season. Ca Mau rarely suffers storms and floods.

Ca Mau has great potentiality in ecological tourism thanking to salt-marsh ecological systems and diversified plants and animals. It has long seaside so there are many shrimp farms here. Then it is considered one of the key fishing grounds of the country, with great reserves of seafood of different types.Besides that, there are wild animals, such as deer, wild pig, and monkey.

Hon Khoai Island is a historical site related with the insurrection led by hero Phan Ngoc Hien. Ca Mau is famous for U Minh cajuput forest and Nam Can mangrove forest. In addition to those, Ca Mau is also well known for its bird sanctuaries: Cai Nuoc, Dam Doi, Ngoc Hien. Camau Bird Sanctuary (45 kilometers southeast of the Ca Mau City) is a gathering place for storks. The birds make their nests in tall trees and spend their mornings searching for food. Camau Tourist Company has a one-day bird-watching program by boat.

U Minh Forest in Kien Giang Province is U Minh Thuong (upper U Minh) and the other section in Camau Province is U Minh Ha (lower U Minh). U Minh Forest is a special swamp in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta with hundreds of precious fauna and flora species. A large percentage of Camau Province’s area is covered by forest; 150,000 hectares being alluvial soils, typical of the tropical monsoon climate. Being flooded everyday by tidal waters, the salt-bearing trees grow in this environment with animals and microorganisms. U Minh Forest comprises several types of plants, the most common being mam, mangrove, and indigo. The biological productivity of this land is the highest among Vietnam’s ecosystems.

Getting to Ca Mau: Camau is 114 kilometers from Bac Lieu, 130 kilometers from Rach Gia, 180 kilometers from Cantho, and 380 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City. National Highways No. 1A, 63 connect Ca Mau to Bac Lieu and Kien Giang provinces. Boats run from Ca Mau to Ho Chi Minh City, Rach Gia. Tourist can visit U Minh and Ngoc Hien by ferry. Ca Mau Flights From Ho Chi Minh City:, Daily, Vietnam Airlines, 154, 248, 01h50'12 flights/ week, Vasco, 01h00'; Chu Lai, Daily, Air Mekong, 01h40';

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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