Just one hour away from the hustle and bustle of Saigon is the lush water world of Mekong Delta.
After a red-eye flight to Saigon, we headed straight down south to Ben Tre to get a glimpse of the daily life in this vast flat maze of rivers, streams, and canals.
Covering more than 3.7 million hectares [according to guidebook], this part of Vietnam is more water than land, with the towns acting as "stations" along the major rivers. Its so flat that points above 5 meters are quite rare.
The first scene that greeted us was the thick brown river. "There's more than 26,000 kilometers of that here", said our guide while pointing to the river. Obviously the way to go around here is on a boat. So on an overcast morning we boarded a small ferry called "do ngang" and was on our way to see some of the sights in Ben Tre.
Our first stop that day was a brick factory. Along the way I already saw piles of bricks by the embankment, probably waiting to be picked up, and passed by flat bottomed ferry boats called "chet" with their belly fully loaded with bricks.
Did not fully realize that brick making is a major industry here until spending two days in the delta, passing through the urban areas of Ben Tre, Can Tho, and Vinh Long. I saw that 90% of the structures are made of bricks, probably even a 100%, just couldn't tell whats under some of the finished facade. All buildings currently under construction use bricks.
From afar I saw a series of large brick cones, the tips of huge kilns used to bake the bricks. The bright red/orange piles of neatly stacked bricks are unmistakable from a distance.
The process of brick making has not changed since and they still adhere to traditional methods. Its a very manual process and takes around 25 days to complete, from molding the bricks to drying and finally to baking the bricks to orange perfection. The bricks are then sold at an outrageously cheap price of 1000 dong (.045 USD) per piece.
Rice husk are used to fire up the gigantic kilns [There were studies already on how brick making has contributed to air pollution in Mekong Delta and how this can be reduced using modernized kilns]
We caught the brick makers on their break time so there was not much activity to see apart from people in hammocks enjoying their ca phe or cha. In Vietnam, people are always within a few feet of a cup of iced or hot coffee and tea.
I went around the factory, taking a few snap shots, before I decided that I have enough soot and ash on my self and my camera.
After the trip I tried to research why bricks are the main construction materials here. Then it dawned on me, they really don't have much of a choice. In this vast water world, construction-grade sand and rocks are hard, if not impossible, to source. What they have in seemingly endless supply are mud and clay brought by the river after passing through several countries [China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia] and depositing the materials in this rich delta.