Story: Truc Lam
Photos: Nguyen Hoang Nam

The Cai Tau River is the main artery in Vietnam’s southernmost province of Ca Mau

Rivers and canals are iconic to Vietnam’s Southwest, bringing life to this fecund delta. Rivers feed the fertile alluvial soil, nourish the fields, gardens and orchards and bless people with aquatic foods. In Vietnam’s southernmost province of Ca Mau, the Cai Tau River is the key route from which countless lesser branches snake out towards the far corners of the country. Boats are the most popular forms of transport.

The largest boats are ferries that carry rice and construction materials, followed by ferries that transport passengers and merchandise. These large vessels can travel on rivers and venture near the sea. Smaller craft include private boats, sampans and coracles of all sizes, which come and go across the river. The Cai Tau River crosses Ca Mau City and flows to the sea. The river intersects with hundreds of other waterways to form a network of waterways that reach even the most remote communes.

From the city to the communes of Ngoc Hien, Tran Van Thoi and Nam Can, etc., locals like to travel in high-speed boats that rival cars on a highway. Sitting in a speedboat watching the scenery flash by and the water being stirred up by countless boats feels very different from traveling by road. The river’s banks are lined with lush green coconut trees, mangroves with solid strong roots and white malaleuca forests. Many fish traps dot the river. The locals cook various tasty dishes using locally caught shrimp, fish, crabs and spider crabs. Visitors are astonished by amount of activity on the river. Most interesting are Nga Bay and Nga Ba, which are crowded with houses open on both direction to face both the main street in the front and the river in the back. Boats come and go and pull up at wooden docks to unload merchandise and allow passengers to shop and eat.

The river is at its most delightful in the early morning. Before the sun is up, some couples are already cruising down the Cai Tau River in small boats to haul up square nets, a hugely popular fishing method in the Southwest. Released the previous night, the nets contain abundant catches. The local expression for this type of fishing translates as “money for jam”. Boats laden with rice and household appliances gather in the marketplace at the waterways’ fork. The explosive sounds of boat engines form the soundtrack of the delta. For first-time visitors to Ca Mau, a boat trip is a must. The province is not known for huge tropical orchards like Tien Giang and Hau Giang, but boasts a wide range of shrimp and fish farms. Choose any vendor and you’ll be spoiled with fresh local delicacies served under the southern sun. Flowing into the sea, the rivers of Ca Mau are like the veins in our body, bringing nourishment to this fertile land.