Story: Phuong Nguyen
Photos: Quang Ngoc, Phuong Nguyen

From the chilly streams of the Tibetan Plateau to the Mekong Delta, this great river embarks on an incredible journey, running for thousands of kilometers through various nations and cultures to finally arrive in the region’s warmest and richest delta. This is the story of the end of the magnificent and romantic Mekong River and the vast banks of the Hau River…

Local boats moored in Can Tho Province

The Hau River, dubbed the Bassac River by French colonists, begins to separate at the Vietnam-Cambodia border. As it makes its tranquil journey through Tran De Estuary to the great sea, the two sides of the river’s basin form the three largest and busiest urban areas in Vietnam’s Southwest region: Chau Doc, Long Xuyen, and Can Tho.

A delta rich in potential

We began our journey in Can Tho, the Southwest region’s capital. Following the Hau River to the northwest, the left bank includes Vinh Long, Sa Dec, Cao Lanh, Hong Ngu, and Tan Chau. On the right bank are Can Tho, Long Xuyen, Chau Doc, and An Phu (An Giang Province). The large delta through which the Hau River flows is the best-known rice farming area in Vietnam and possibly the largest in Southeast Asia. Agriculture and waterway commerce provide significant economic benefits to the land of the Nine Dragons and shaped the region’s unique culture.

A boat on the way to a floating market in Vinh Long Province

The rich delta gave rise to a distinct culture in tune with the natural environment. Along the riverbanks, we discovered that most of the largest floating markets in the South are concentrated on these tributaries. A few examples include Nga Nam Floating Market (Soc Trang Province), Nga Bay Floating Market (Phung Hiep District), Cai Rang Floating Market (Can Tho City), and Long Xuyen Floating Market (An Giang Province). Most of these markets are still operating today.

Along the Hau River, in addition to the vast rice fields with soaring storks of Dong Thap Muoi Province and the Long Xuyen Quadrangle, we chanced upon many floating fish-farming villages, some stretching for kilometers.These fish-farming rafts support people’s livelihoods and shape the leisurely and liberal lifestyle of the local people.

Rural bliss by the river

From the place where it separates at the Vietnam-Cambodia border, the Hau River has long carried cultural elements of the Khmer people. A cultural melting pot of Vietnamese, Khmer, and Cham ethnicities resulted from the process of reclamation and expansion unique to the history of the Southwest region. We visited some famous Khmer temples in Soc Trang and An Giang, a traditional Cham weaving craft village in Tan Chau, and a village in Tinh Bien where we sipped sweet palmyra juice and watched the locals make this delicious juice into sugar cubes full of the countryside’s rustic flavor.

The fields of Ta Pa in the Tri Ton District, An Giang Province

During the harvest season, in the vast rice fields of the Long Xuyen Quadrangle, people are busy harvesting. Machines rumble from dawn to dusk. Farmers are hard at work preparing for a good harvest. Children run through the fields, either flying kites or attempting to catch field mice skittering through the newly harvested fields.

The good-natured land and people living along the Hau River’s banks touch visitors’ hearts. The gentle and free-spirited nature of the river seeps into every fiber of the locals, creating generations of famously gentle and generous people. Travelers’ hearts are touched by a mother’s lullaby, the sound of soothing voices floating over an azure river, sugarcane-sweet vọng cổ tunes, and the melodramatic cải lương folk music. Along the banks of the river, in the fields, or while drifting in floating houses, weary travelers might catch the sounds of humming, rhythmic drum beats, and crisp vocals as sweet as jackfruit. The region’s vọng cổ arias touch listeners’ souls, especially as the rural singers reach the final “xuống xề” cadence.

A tangerine garden in Dong Thap Province

Walking along the Hau River feels like straddling two banks of nostalgia. It is a journey full of love and generosity. Before flowing into the great sea, the final stretch of the river runs quickly, foreshadowing the great ambitions of a land full of zeal and vitality. As its name suggests, this region will rise. It is the Land of the Nine Dragons.