In contrast to the bustling city lifestyle of the southern capital, the rustic environment of one hamlet along an outlying canal in Ho Chi Minh City gives visitors the impression of life in the Mekong Delta.
A small settlement dubbed the ‘Mekong Delta Hamlet’ was established several decades ago along the Ba Buom Canal in the city’s District 7.
The area is referred to as the ‘hamlet of three no’s’ where residents live in homely cottages built mainly from wood and palm leaves, and prefer to live without official addresses, nor electricity or a natural supply of clean water.
Leading simple lives, settlers here have created an atmosphere similar to that of the Mekong Delta countryside, with their primary sources of food derived from fishing along the river and farming poultry.
People use portable chargers to power their light bulbs, while their only source of entertainment comes from radios used for listening to the news or ‘cai luong,’ a modern folk opera originating in southern Vietnam.
“It’s all we need. We usually go to bed very early, at around 7:00 pm or 8:00 pm, unless we want to become bait for mosquitoes and other insects,” Nguyen Van Thoi, a 50-year-old resident, said with a laugh.
They also avoid going out at night because of the risk of accidentally falling into a trench, Thoi added.
Despite living next to the canal, the locals source fresh water from elsewhere at VND2,000 (US$0.09) per 30 liters, as the water becomes too salty here between October and April.
Entering and exiting the community is also a challenge to locals. Because it is a significant distance from the main road, they have had to build hundreds of meters of makeshift bridges from wooden planks, which have been chopped from trees or found floating in the river.
It is not uncommon for someone to fall into this river due to the decayed state of the wood they have used.
Lighting up his oil lamp and burning a coil of mosquito incense, Phan Van Phuong, 55, gave some insight into how he ended up in the hamlet.
Phuong first traveled to Ho Chi Minh City from his hometown in the Mekong Delta province of Vinh Long to work for a cargo ship at a local port.
After discovering the settlement, which was filled with nipa palm trees, he decided to bring his wife and their five children here to build a roof and settle down.
“Life was very inconvenient in the beginning as we only managed to build a tent where we could sleep,” Phuong recalled.
“But on the bright side, you never had to be afraid of losing anything,” he continued.
It is difficult enough for people to walk along the makeshift bridges to enter the community, let alone steal anything, the long-time resident joked.
A local resident reinforces a makeshift bridge made of wooden planks. Photo: Tuoi Tre
At the cottage of Dang Van Bi, 70, the home owner said that his family had lived here for three generations.
Bi and his wife, Nguyen Thi Con, earn a living by catching fish and shrimp along the canal, before selling them at the Tan Thuan market, five kilometers away from their home.
The couple has six children who have all moved out and started their own families.
Thoi, the 50-year-old resident, said that he worked as a farmer of wild boars, and that he sometimes caught fish in the canal.
With his life savings, Thoi managed to buy a proper house for his wife and their son.
He now lives alone at the cottage in order to take care of his herd of wild boars, Thoi said, adding that he rarely left the place as he had grown too fond of it.
The last settlers
According to Bi, the ‘Mekong Delta Hamlet’ covering an area of 117.7 hectares is expected to be transformed into a multifunctional park and urban residential area, as per the plan set out by the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee.
Many local residents with a lifetime of history and attachment to the place have already left, Bi said, adding that he would only leave when there was an official notice from authorities.
Phuong and his wife had decided that they would return to Vinh Long when they are asked to move.
“We have become too familiar with our lives here. It would be sad for us to leave this place and live far away from our children,” Phuong sighed.