Ben Tre River Cruise: discovering villages and local activities

March 2013

The Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam forms a thick network of fresh and salty water canals that cover a wide geographic area. Here, among the dense tropical vegetation, there are many small villages where local people live by exploiting the resources made available by water and land, using rivers, canals and affluents, like a large natural highway for the transport and exchange of goods.

Ben Tre River Mekong Delta
Cruise on river Mekong

The delta of the Mekong River, in southern Vietnam, is formed by an extensive network of natural channels and several affluents, on which there are many villages where the local population strives every day in various activities aimed at the exploitation of the natural resources of this great area. The Mekong River, its canals and its affluents, become the centre of aggregation for the people who live among the various villages and offer a natural highway for many boats carrying all types of raw and worked material.

Blast furnace
The Ben Tre River, an affluent of the Mekong River, has a bottom formed by clay of excellent quality, which is collected and worked for the bricks production. The river banks are filled with several brick factories, each with large furnaces where the cooking is done in a traditional way with low environmental impact.
Production of bricks Holed bricks
Full bricks The bricks are produced with very craft means and the processing is almost completely manual, ea part from the extrusion that takes place through a mold consisting of a kind of large "pasta machine" with rusty gears  (left photo), always manually operated. In the photo below, "cooked" bricks (the orange one) and bricks still to be cooked (the yellow ones). The bricks can be either holed or completely full.
Rice chaff Chaff
As the transport and the usage of fossil fuels would be too expensive, the furnaces where the bricks are cooked are powered from the chaff (also called husk) of rice. Basically, these are the plant structures that contain a grain of rice, which are easily available in the country; Vietnam is one of the first producers of this cereal.
Oven to cook bricks unbaked bricks
The furnace is filled manually with thousands of unbaked bricks, from the base of the furnace itself, up to the fireplace summit.
Oven to cook bricks
Furnace for bricks

Through a rudimentary slide, the husk is introduced into the furnace and burned, bringing it to the right temperature. The ashes of the husk then come out from the base of the furnace. The cooking of the bricks lasts a week, during which the furnace must be always powered and maintained in temperature.
Burnt chaff
The ashes of the husks are gradually recovered and piled up waiting to be brought elsewhere. Of course nothing is thrown away and these ashes are re-used as fertilizer, thus eliminating any remaining potentially polluting and closing a cycle of production done with extremely natural methods where everything is recycled and there are no real waste to stored or disposed of.
Cooking of bricks
Baked bricks

After a week of cooking, the bricks are ready to be loaded on boats and carried through the Mekong Delta to the distribution centers.
Transport of sugar cane
On the Mekong River and on between the affluents you can usually see boats with the traditional pattern (with "eyes"), carrying everything. In this photo, the transport of sugar canes.
Transport of coconuts working of coconuts
Coconut fiber
Coconuts
One of the main activities in the Mekong Delta is the exploitation of coconut, of which nothing is thrown away. During a cruise on the river you will often come across boats full of coconuts and its by-products, sometimes piled in huge heaps along the banks of the river, waiting to be carried elsewhere.
Coconut fibers
The coconut fibre is sometimes turned into carpets and exported worldwide. Typically, in Western countries, it is used in terrariums, for bedding of some animals or for various uses in gardening.
A coconut being opened Coconut flour
Some families use the coconut for the production of candies, which are worked in very and natural methods, but so efficiency to that many with hyper-technological companies will envy. The coconut is first opened with a great tool like a dagger (pictured on the left), then the pulp is reduced into flour by a sort of giant grater (pictured on the right).
Coconut being cooked
The flour obtained is cooked, boiling it together with the liquid which is inside the coconut itself, until you obtain a paste of the desired consistency.
sweets in Vietnam Sweets are packaged
Coconut sweets Coconut sweet

Candies production. With a robot precision, the dough is cut manually into small squares, all of the same size, they are then wrapped one by one, and finally packaged. Within a few days, these candies will reach stores throughout Vietnam and maybe also those of many other countries.

The green color of the candy is not given by the dyes, but by natural additives that are added to the dough in order to provide the desired flavour to the candy (in this case, a particular type of tea). In fact, the coconut dough is simply "the base" of the candy, to which the required flavour is added.

The factory doesn't meet the specific ISO or CE standards but the sweets are delicious and provide a livelihood for several families.

Fish breeding Shrimps breeding
The breeding of fish and shellfish of the river is another main activity of many families living in the villages of the Mekong Delta, in southern Vietnam.

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English translation by Lorena Anzani.