Towards the end of our Vietnam trip in 1995 Nick and I took a three-day bus tour of the Mekong Delta at the southern end of Vietnam.
This excellent tour was organized by the original (and at that time only) Sinh Café, which is now called TheSinhTourist to differentiate it from all the imitation Sinh Cafés that have sprung up in the meantime.
As the oldest person on the tour I got to sit up at the front of the bus next to the driver. When he discovered that I spoke a bit of Vietnamese he amused himself by teaching me more and more words, so that my vocabulary increased exponentially during those three days. I actually succeeded in using some of these words in conversation, but my vocabulary expansion was short-lived because I left Vietnam a few days later and haven’t been back since.
On the first day we drove from Saigon to Long Dinh and Sa Đéc and then stayed overnight at a hotel in Chau Doc.
Sa Đéc is the town where the French author Marguerite Duras lived between 1928 and 1932. Parts of her autobiographical novels L’Amant (The Lover) and L’amant de la Chine du Nord take place in Sa Đéc. The town also figures in one of her earlier novels, Un barrage contre le Pacifique.
In 1992 Sa Đéc became known to a wider public, especially in France but also in other European countries (and in Vietnam, for that matter), because of the film of L’Amant, directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, which was partly made on location in Sa Đéc.
I forget what we saw on our tour, if anything, when we went through Sa Đéc in 1995, but I have now learned from various websites that the house of Huynh Thuy Le, whose love affair with Marguerite Duras formed the basis of her novels, is now open to the public, with guides offering tours of the house in French, English and Vietnamese.
This ornate white house at 255A Nguyen Hue Street, combining Eastern and Western architecture, was originally built by a wealthy Chinese businessman in 1895. It was used for many years as an office of a government agency (which did not allow Jean-Jacques Annaud to use the house for his film), but in 2006 the house was declared a “national historic site” and was restored and opened to visitors.
Photos from the film and also photos of Marguerite Duras are now on display inside, though in real life she never set foot in the house because Huynh Thuy Le’s wealthy Chinese father disapproved of the liaison between his upper class son and the underage daughter of an impoverished French widow.
Sa Đéc is at 10° 18′ 0″ North, 105° 46′ 0.12″ East.
On the second day of our Mekong Delta tour we took a boat trip from Chau Doc, went to Sam Mountain and then stayed overnight at a hotel in Can Tho.
Sam mountain is the highest mountain in the Mekong Delta (230 meters) and has numerous pagodas and temples which are said to be the destination of religious pilgrims from all over Vietnam.
From the mountain you can see across the border into Cambodia. This is the closest I have ever been to Cambodia, though I also looked across the border from a helicopter one day in 1964 on a flight to the Special Forces camps at Bù Đốp and Bù Gia Mập (as mentioned in my post Phuoc Vinh 1964).
On the third day of our Mekong Delta tour we went to Can Tho, then had a boat trip at Phung Hiep and another boat trip at Cai Rang.
Climate change was not yet a big issue in 1995, and there was little or no mention of it on our tour, but since then the changing climate has brought rising sea levels and more frequent storms. For this reason, development agencies like the German GIZ (formerly GTZ) have been supporting projects to replant the mangrove forests and promote biodiversity to protect low-lying areas.
On the old GTZ website they quoted one of their climate experts (who happens to be my daughter) as saying that “Viet Nam and in particular its south coast are especially hard hit by climate change,” because much of the protective mangrove forest in the Mekong Delta has been cleared to make way for shrimp farms, while the remaining forest has been so severely decimated by overuse that it offers the hinterland very little protection.
Thanks to my son Nick for the photos from 1995. I revised the text in 2017.
Next: Tay Ninh and Cu Chi 1995