The Mekong River is more than an exploration in culture and tradition; to some, it is a way of life.
One of the greatest pleasures of exploring a region so rich in culture and history as the Mekong Delta is the opportunity for our guests to discover life along the river, meet friendly Cambodians and Vietnamese while learning about traditions and daily rituals that have withstood hundreds of years.
The Mekong River is the longest in South East Asia and runs through six countries from its source in the Tibetan plateau. It flows through the Qinghai province of China, to the South West of Vietnam, and finally into the South China Sea. The Mekong basin is one of the most diverse regions in the world, rich in natural resources due to its diverse ecosystems. Around 85 percent of the 60 million inhabitants of the lower Mekong basin live in rural areas, making them heavily dependent on natural resources for their livelihood with agriculture and fisheries among the main economic activities.
The world in a grain
Agriculture is the most important water-related sector in the Mekong basin with 70 percent of its population relying on this activity, especially rice farming. Vietnam and Cambodia are both among the world’s main producers of rice, with Vietnam occupying the fifth position and Cambodia coming in 12th.
Rice is a staple in the Cambodian diet and has been throughout its history. Back in the 9th century, the Khmer Empire already relied on rice as their main food source, leading them to develop complex irrigation systems for their rice paddies. These days, over 80 percent of farmers cultivate rice through traditional farming practices, mainly using the method of two oxen pulling a plough and harrow.
In Vietnam, about 82 percent of its arable land is dedicated to the cultivation of rice, concentrating mainly in the Mekong Delta, its most fertile area also known as the country’s ‘rice bowl’.
When you cruise Vietnam as part of our Aqua Mekong itineraries, our expert guides will showcase the importance of rice in Vietnamese and Cambodian cultures, as well as its cultivation process. In Vietnam, guests will ascend Sam Mountain, a 230-meter hill where breathtaking views of the everlasting lush green rice fields can be enjoyed—it is an unforgettable landscape that goes all the way to neighboring Cambodia. In Vietnam’s district of Cai Be, one of our excursions is an insightful stop at a workshop to learn about the manufacturing of products derived from rice such as rice paste, rice paper, and popped rice snacks. Meanwhile, in Cambodia, biking excursions include pedaling through vast paddy fields, a peaceful experience that will connect you to these lands and its people.
The nutrient-rich soil and environmental conditions of the Mekong Delta also make this region optimal for fruit agriculture, with coconut, banana, jackfruit, and mango among the main products. While out on our signature small-group shore excursions, we will visit My An Hung, a typical Mekong Delta village where guests will get to taste a delicious array of the tropical fruits and vegetables produced here.
A big catch
The Mekong River is home to one of the largest diversity of freshwater fish in the world, second only to the Amazon, with around 850 recorded species. It also supports the largest inland fishery in the world. This is reflected in the important consumption of freshwater fish within the communities of the lower Mekong basin, accounting for around 80 percent of their protein intake.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of Cambodia, the fishing industry represents around 12 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product and in 2017, employed over 600 000 people directly, with more than two million benefiting from their involvement. For centuries, Cambodians have traditionally processed freshwater fish into products such as fermented fish or fish paste known as prahok, an essential ingredient in Cambodian cuisine, which is something you can try on board thanks to our delightful culinary offerings.
In Vietnam, the fishing industry can be divided into three: marine, inland, and aquaculture. Aquaculture has been the main contributor to its fisheries production since 2007, and in 2016 Vietnam was the world’s fourth major producer of fishery and aquaculture. Approximately 10 percent of the total population of Vietnam benefit directly or indirectly from this sector, most of them being small-scale producers. During our explorations in Vietnam, we will make a stop at Binh Thanh island to learn how the communities make their living by growing water hyacinth and fish farms, as well as fruit and vegetable gardens.
One of the best ways to immerse yourself into the culture of a region and feel like a local is by visiting local markets. Whether an inland or floating market, each one is different and will provide a new perspective of life along the river.
One of our favorites is Vietnam’s bustling Chau Doc floating market located near the border of Cambodia and Vietnam, where we make a quick pass. Guests will discover here a peculiar form of advertisement in which each boat hang their wares, usually fruits or vegetables, on long bamboo poles – a simple way to spot what you’re looking for from afar!
At the nearby photogenic and colorful Chao Doc market, guests will find numerous regional specialties such as dried fish, tamarind paste, coconut- and mango-flavored sweets, palm sugar, lotus seeds, and sugar palm fruit, some of which are used in Aqua Mekong’s flavorful menu.
The Aqua Mekong offers three, four and seven-night cruises in the stunning Mekong region. With our expert English-speaking guides and local community connections, we are able to reveal a more authentic side of Cambodia and Vietnam, offering fresh perspectives and deeper insight for a truly rewarding journey. Book your adventure here.