A small town on the bank of the Co Chien River, Vinh Long is mostly used by tourists as a base for exploring the islets dotting the waters around it. How ever, the town itself is also worth visiting. Vinh Long’s large, French-Colonial Catholic church draws atten tion to the fact that the area was once an important target for Christian missionaries. On the outskirts of town, Van Thanh Mieu Temple is a simple yet ele gant structure, which was dedi cated to Confucius in 1866. In 1930, a new build ing was add ed to it in honor of Phan Thanh Gian, who led a rebel lion against the French. Boat tours are a popular way to take in the dramatic sweep of the river and the charm of the offshore islands, most of which boast lovely flower gardens. An Binh and Binh Hoa Phuoc are popular amongst visitors as idyllic picnic spots. Just north of the ferry landing at An Binh, is the out wardly unassuming Tien Chau Pag oda. Inside, however, are startlingly lurid murals depict ing the horrors of Bud- dhist Hell. In this scary vision, perdition for the lapsed includes being tram pled by horses, devoured by serpents, and decomposing eternally. Surround ed by orchards, sam pans, and monkey bridges, the boat wrights, candymakers, bee keepers, and arti sans ply their trades. The rhythm of life on the delta is fasci nating, and Vinh Long is an ideal place to expe rience it. Homestays, where visitors can eat, sleep, and work with a local family, are highly recommended.
Floating markets are common through out the delta. Cai Be Floating Market, about an hour from Vinh Long by boat, is the easiest to reach. Open in the early morning, it is both a whole sale and a retail market, with large boats sel ling to mer- chants and small boats serving householders. Traders maneu ver their boats agilely, loading fruit, coffee, and even hot noo dles from one boat to another.
Boatwrights of the Mekong Delta
The boatwright’s craft is perhaps the oldest in the delta. Without it, there could be no transport, trade, and indeed, no homes for many. This skill is mastered by learning from family members who pass on age-old instructions, a few rules of thumb, and a few specialized tools. Often, when prized boats become decrepit, boatwrights dis mantle them piece by piece to create exact replicas. Thus, any boat seen on the delta could be the descen dant of one that looked identical nearly 500 years ago.