The Mekong River stretches over 4,000 km, from the Tibetan Plateau to Vietnam’s South. On its way to the sea, the great river has generously gifted the Mekong Delta with an abundance of resources, including a rich amount of alluvium that helps nurture the fields on the riverbanks. We boarded a motorboat and embarked on a short journey along the Tien River to marvel at the beautiful and colorful spring scenery.
When spring comes, flower villages flourish
As Tet approaches, Southern Vietnam has already entered the dry season, and the cool air was pleasant and soothing. At this time, trading activities are at their busiest. With everyone hard at work preparing for Tet, there is no better time to witness the local culture.
Aside from vast rice fields and orchards where famous specialty fruits are grown, beautiful flower villages dot both riverbanks and busy floating flower markets take place right on the river.
We chose a simple route and traveled on the main branch of the Tien River. We started our journey from My Tho city (Tien Giang), then went westward to Cho Lach (Ben Tre). Our final destination was Sa Dec city (Dong Thap). While traveling on that nearly-80-km-long waterway, we passed through three colorful flower villages: My Phong flower village (My Tho), Cho Lach flower village (Ben Tre) and Sa Dec flower village (Dong Thap). These are among the largest flower villages in Southern Vietnam, both in terms of their area devoted to flower cultivation and their output.
With its long, seemingly endless beds of marigolds and patches of vibrant red cockscombs flourishing under the morning sun, I was most impressed by Cho Lach flower village. Cho Lach is also famous for its brilliant bougainvillea. In the early morning mist, the first rays of morning sun shone on the potted bougainvillea, making them even more dazzling. The thick stems of some plants were shaped in kiểng cổ style – a Vietnamese version of bonsai and a unique feature of Southern Vietnamese culture in the past. Cultivators further show off their artistic creativity by hybridizing some plants to produce multi-colored flowers on the same canopy. Visitors cannot help but be amazed by the skill required to grow and shape these plants.
Sa Dec and My Phong are also among the largest flower cultivating areas in the region. Every year, both of these flower villages sell millions of potted ornamental flowers of all kinds, contributing to creating the busiest Tet flower markets on both sides of the Mekong River.
Tet flowers on the river
Bustling floating markets and people transporting flowers on various types of boats formed the most beautiful scenes we saw on our river cruise. Motorboats laden with pots of fresh flowers parted the waves as they rode on the river, carrying the vitality of spring. In the Tet flower villages, farmers joyously harvested flowers and brought them to the docks, from where they were ferried to the floating markets by canoes and small boats.
Ornamental flowers, like countless other products in Southern Vietnam, have long been displayed and traded in floating markets. Flowers are also hung on cây bẹo – a bamboo pole erected at the boat’s prow, as a way to inform customers of the vendor’s products and invite them to come and buy. It’s a convenient way to buy and sell products, since two boats need only come close together to quickly complete a transaction.
Starting from around December 23rd of the lunar calendar – the day the legendary Kitchen God is said to return to heaven each year, flower markets are open almost all night long. Flowers of various kinds, including marigolds, cockscombs, gerbera, bougainvillea, and dahlias are ferried by all kinds of boats in the Mekong Delta.
Ornamental flowers are always a symbol of joy and a meaningful gift at the end of the year, heralding the arrival of a lucky and successful spring. Just as the Southern Vietnamese people are rustic and enthusiastic, the flowers in this warm, sunny land are full of vibrant tropical colors. Visiting this colorful flower-growing region and learning about the lives of the local people left me with unforgettable impressions.