Sailing in the Ha Long Bay & on the Mekong River
In Ha Long bay, we travel by boat to see the amazing limestone karst formations in the Bay of the Descending Dragon. The role of water informs the dragon mythology across this region.
Legend has it that one such creature and her children descended from heaven to defend the Viet people from invaders, spraying fire and emeralds or jade. She and her children then stayed on Earth. The jewels eventually formed towering limestone formations, and over millennia, their protective crags and jagged edges evolved into the backdrop of green islands, towers, and water relished by visitors.
The Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and features thousands of limestone karsts that have been weathered over 20 million years by the tropical wet climate. The geo-diversity of the environment in the area has resulted in the creation of a tropical evergreen system, and an oceanic and sea shore bio-system. Ha Long Bay is home to 14 endemic floral species and 60 endemic faunal species.
During our cruise on Ha Long Bay, we will visit caves that have been converted by locals into Buddhist shrines, a local fishing village, and we will kayak to some of the beautiful grottos to study the incredible stalactite and stalagmite formations. We also study how the pollution of Ha Long bay, mostly because of unregulated tourism, is being addressed by local organizations.
Later on, in our journey, as we travel on the Mekong river from Ho Chi Minh city (formerly called Saigon) to Phnom Penh, we get to see endless green fields scored by the river's nine tributaries, which the Vietnamese call “Nine Dragons”, and which explains why this area is one of the world's major food baskets. It houses the richest inland fishery and accounts for more than a fifth of the world’s rice exports.
However, encroaching sea water from the south, a proliferation of hydro dams in the north and large-scale sand mining are endangering the delta, officials warn. As a result, according to reports, an alarming 5 square kilometers of land is being lost to soil erosion every year.
As inland river water gets saltier, rice farmers across the lower Mekong delta are responding by switching to shrimp farming or growing reeds. Scientists at the Mekong River Commission (MRC), an intergovernmental body, also warn that if the sea level continues to rise at its
projected rate of around one meter by the end of the century, nearly 40% of the delta will be wiped out. The MRC covers four countries in the lower Mekong region: Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.
We will also visit the Cai Rang floating market in Cai Rang District. It is one of only a dozen surviving floating markets in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta that have long shaped the delta’s well-
known “water civilization.” arteries. No one knows exactly how old the delta’s floating markets are, but some historians believe they have flourished since the Nguyen Dynasty in the early 19th century. Since then, they have long been major markets, sustaining thousands of
For centuries, the floating markets have witnessed the twin process of state-formation and state-building in the delta. They have remained unchanged for generations, surviving Siamese, French, and American conquerors come and gone, followed by the Communists, who fought a number of water wars here and left the slice of capitalism found in the markets alone during the pre-Doi Moi period.
We can see firsthand the hybridity from the mixture of invader and local cultures that inform
these floating markets. From their sampan-building techniques, indigenous religion (for example, Đạo Hòa Hảo or Hoahaoism), clothing, and food habits, local inhabitants have deftly synthesized and localized imported concepts to create their own cultural products.
Cases in point: Áo bà ba, a traditional costume most commonly worn by ordinary Mekong Delta people in the past and still commonly worn today by saleswomen, combines the designs of tunics introduced by Chinese exiles and Malay seafarers. And, bún nước lèo – rice noodle soup with fermented fish, roast pork and seafood – the delta people’s most-preferred dish for breakfast, was developed by mixing three recipes from Khmer, Vietnamese, and Chinese cuisine.