an binh island

 

Before departing for Vietnam I was lured by romantic images of the Mekong Delta’s muddy waters cluttered by boats brimming with fruits, vegetables, and rice hat wearing vendors.

 

an binh island

 

In search of the true Vietnam, down in the agricultural heart of the country, tourists pile into air conditioned minivans from Saigon en route to the delta daily.

 

an binh island

 

They taste coconut candy in a factory, visit honey farms, and cruise through floating markets.

 

an binh island

 

But as I discovered recently, Vietnam’s Mekong cannot be experienced in an image, a video, or on a tour.

 

an binh island

 

This is not a place created for photographers or tourists.

 

an binh island

 

This is not a place where cathartic moments occur rowing down channels or spending the night in a homestay.

 

an binh island

 

The Mekong is a place where an outsider can simply do her best to understand. Where life moves slowly while tours speed through.

 

an binh island

 

So instead of the usual overnight excursion, I decided to spend my time on An Binh island.

 

an binh island

 

Where winding pavement paths underneath archways

created by lychee trees

snaked in circles

surrounding jungle-shrouded homes.

 

an binh island

 

Schoolgirls passed me on bicycles

giggling and shouting “hello”.

 

an binh island

 

Boats transported perishable cargo

to distant villages

or floated sleepily around the island.

 

an binh island

 

Men played rounds of volleyball in the sand, inviting me to watch them play.

 

an binh island

 

Front yards flooded into muddy swimming pools

local kids took to swimming in them after school.

 

an binh island

 

Roosters woke me in the morning

crickets sang out my window lulling me to sleep at night.

 

an binh island

 

I wondered if I had found the Caribbean

 

an binh island

 

with shrines and offerings

instead of rastas and reggae

 

an binh island

 

with brown rivers instead of turquoise sea.

 

an binh island

 

Yet despite its quaintness

the island was covered in trash

 

an binh island

 

floating in its waters

and choking its jungle

 

an binh island

 

gulping fish clustered in farms

eating garbage and other farmed fish.

 

an binh island

 

I remembered that I was still in Vietnam.

 

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