The Mekong River – the Source of Life for Millions
Those who have cruised the Mekong River know that it provides a gateway into the heart of some of nature’s most remote and incredible treasures. Amongst the open waters bordered by lotuses, waterlilies, inundated forests, reeds and grasses, over 60 million people rely directly on the river for their livelihoods. The produce grown within the Mekong River basin feeds an even larger population of an estimated 300 million people.
Floods, Fertile Soil and Fish
Every year between the months of June and December, the people of the Mekong Delta welcome the annual floods, which make the river expand to a whopping 84,000 km2 – about thirty times its low season size.
The local population does not fear these floods, as their distinct houses are either floating on pontoons and empty oil drums or built on bamboo stilts, making for a unique sight for travellers and river cruisers.
As the Mekong River expands its borders and replenishes the water table, the inundated forests and riverine wetlands become a habitat full of nutrients for the migrating fish that have chosen these waters as their breeding and feeding grounds. The new little fry feed and grow, and as the floodwaters start to recede, the local population of the Mekong Delta finds clever ways to capitalise upon this wealth of nutrition that has gathered all around them.
Artisanal Fishing in the Mekong
When breeding season is over and the river banks of the Mekong start to recede to their low-season levels, the fishermen of the region join in their efforts to trap the abundance of fish that has gathered in the floodwaters. Around the great lake in Cambodia, Tonlé Sap, the locals work together to construct over 1,500 kilometres of bamboo fences, which help them trap and catch vast quantities of fish. With this artisanal, collaborative method, fishermen catch around 30 tonnes of fish an hour – a dazzling amount!
Meanwhile in the floating villages, which river cruisers can see sailing adrift on pontoons or empty oil drums all around the Mekong Delta, residents have their own unique ways of catching fish from the river below. Underneath covered holes in the houses’ floors, large nets made of woven strips of bamboo or steel mesh form floating fish traps that deliver the fish right to the inhabitants’ homes. Witnessing the ways of these floating villages, whose inhabitants rarely set foot on land at all, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Other Produce that Feeds the Population
Although fishing is the main source of life for most of the population, the Mekong River and its wetlands are also home to frogs, snails, crabs and other aquatic species that are caught to feed the families living in the delta. In most villages you pass on a Mekong river cruise, you will see children chasing chickens and adults working the land on little rice fields.
This artisanal way of life, so different from life in modern cities, provides a unique perspective that travellers are privileged to take away from a Mekong river cruise.
Looking Forward to the Future
Whilst the Mekong river sustains the lives of millions of small, floating villages and stilt-house families, larger-scale investments are made to boost the economy in a sustainable manner. Projects led by the Mekong River Commission in collaboration with local stakeholders and regional governments include intensified irrigation for agriculture, proposed hydropower development and cross-border waterway trade.
The challenge remains to use this development as a way to profit not just one nation or group, but the delta and its people as a whole. The livelihoods of those who rely on the Mekong directly will need to be protected.
A Unique Journey into the Mekong Delta
River Cruising organises cruises throughout the year that allow you to experience the authentic gems of the Mekong Delta, such as Mỹ Tho, Hồng Ngự and Sa Đéc, as well as the delta’s dizzying, urban side with Ho Chi Minh City. If you are looking for a real taste of life in these regions, you need to experience the Mekong from the water – a source of life for millions.