Distributaries lace the Delta providing corridors of transportation as well as drainage. Anyone not familiar with a river delta might be confused by this concept. Those who have trod mountains, hills, valleys, and plateaus, are more familiar with water courses such as rills, brooks, streams, and rivers, meeting and joining to form ever growing waterways until they empty into the sea. But a delta such as the Mekong is a place where the great River divides itself into smaller waterways that wander, seemingly aimlessly, sometimes intersecting, sometimes crossing, always searching for the sea.
It is no wonder that so many have coveted the Mekong Delta. Rice grows in an abundance sufficient to sate any nation's hunger, and sweet, potable water lurks beneath its surface, easily reached by shallow wells. Many civilizations have claimed ownership over the millennia, and many others have attempted to possess it.
Unlike the great Mississippi Delta, the Mekong Delta is heavily populated. Its waterways are lined with homes where the family boat is tethered at the front door and the family farm is accessed out the back. Narrow roads paved with laterite, a clay-like soil, rusty red in color from deposits of iron oxide, join the waterways with villages that appear here and there on the Delta like ships at sea. Bicycles and three-wheeled motor scooters carrying laughable loads of every type of goods as well as people dominate the sparse traffic, accented by the rare appearance of a motor vehicle; usually an older model French-built Citroen looking like an escapee from a futurist's illustration with their turtle shape, wrap-around windows, and wide track front wheels trailed by two closely set rear wheels.
Charcoal is the only fuel available for cooking; heating is not necessary since the year round temperature varies between hot and volcanic exacerbated by intense humidity. Few villages have even one earthen charcoal oven there being few sources of dry wood to feed them. Most buy their charcoal from merchants plying the waterways in floating stores.
Occasionally, a white clapboard colonial mansion encircled with a wide veranda can be seen, usually surrounded by a plantation of well regimented rubber trees. Although the French army had been defeated at Dien Bien Phu several years before my arrival, the plantation owners had remained, guarded by the growing American presence.
Other than the humidity, the Mekong Delta is an almost ideal place to live for an agrarian society that is not tempted to acquire the toys of modern invention. Rice, the staple of life, is abundant, and the rice paddies as well as the waterways teem with protein in great variety; fish, oysters, crustaceans, and eels. A person may live there enjoying the benefits of family and community without care so long as they are left in peace. Unfortunately, through the millennia, they rarely have.