Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Mekong Eden

The boat puttered out to Unicorn Island in the Tien River. Cast adrift from mainland My Tho, these four small Mekong Delta islands are named after animals — Unicorn, Phoenix, Tortoise and Dragon — and lie squashed between the city and the neighbouring province. They are veritable gardens of Eden carpeted in flourishing fruit trees — longan, durian, pomelo and dragon fruit — the mainstay of the local economy.
Local paths wind through the foliage, dense with dangling fruit. We passed a line of cumquat trees — pretty with their orange bobble fruit and prized during lunar new year — and searched for the Queen Bee in vats busy with working bees that produce litres of golden honey for national sale. In the shade of a compound we sipped honey tea mixed in with bee pollen served with candied ginger, winter melon and lotus seed; it was idyllic afternoon tea in a bucolic landscape. After tea, we visited locals folding creamy squares into rice paper at a coconut candy factory before climbing into a canoe for a paddle along a tiny canal lined with the giant overhanging fronds of the water coconut, its lumpy fruit clinging like monstrous barnacles at the bases. The boat slipped under a monkey bridge — a single bamboo pole and rail arching across the river for locals to to and fro. This is the true heart of the delta; visit in the afternoon to avoid the morning tour group onslaught.

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