Cái Bè & Bình Thạnh Island, Vietnam

Feb 24, 2019 - The Jahan

Rise and shine! Those of us up before dawn experience a sunrise over the Mekong River that is nothing short of glorious. The wind is gentle and billowing this morning as we take in our first Tai Chi lesson and watch the countryside drift by. After breakfast we board local boats and head into Cái Bè, a small city amidst a thriving industrial area with many rice mills along the river channels. We first visit a small factory where a number of rice- and coconut-based goods are produced. Pop rice is one of these, which is cooked in a pan using sand to evenly distribute the heat. The pop rice is then mixed in with sweet coconut milk and tapioca to make rice cakes.

The afternoon takes us to Bình Thạnh Island, home to around 20,000 people. We visit a small community found at the north extremity of the island, where we meet the village elders at the community hall and shrine. They are happy to share their stories and welcome us to their village. The local industry here is mat weaving, a system involving pairs of two in which one person feeds the strands and the other operates the loom. Strings that run horizontal are made of woven jute, and those running vertical are made from reed grass, grass which grows along the local river banks.

While the market price of these mats remains quite low, their production is almost entirely sustainable being made from renewable resources. Another, newer cottage industry adopted at Bình Thạnh is frog farming, which has leapt in popularity from restaurant to restaurant throughout Vietnam. This has been one of the most interesting as well as culturally informative days on our voyage thus far!

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About the Author

David Brotherson

Cultural Specialist

David’s career in archaeology began in 2005. While his interests initially focused on the ancient languages and cultures of the Mediterranean, he eventually shifted to Southeast Asia. David has been conducting research in Cambodia since 2009 and moved there permanently in 2011. He is a member of the Greater Angkor Project, an archaeology research program and international collaboration between the University of Sydney, Cambodia, and France, and has conducted fieldwork and excavations at numerous sites across Angkor. His research interests include ceramics studies, archaeological survey, and the history of Cambodian art and architecture.

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