The Mango Cruise with our guide Thanh was one of the highlights of our trip to date. He was a very personable, knowledgeable guide, with a wicked sense of humour, and our day in his company was both entertaining and informative. Our first stop was a coconut processing cooperative, where locals come and go in their own time to perform various specialised tasks – some remove the fibrous husks, some crack them coconuts and remove the meat, some clean the brown skin off to leave pristine white coconuts, others wash them etc. As each worker fills a basket, he or she chalks it up on the board. They are paid for the number of baskets they fill, so in an 8-hour day a good worker can earn up to US$15, but another worker with a very young child may only be able to work for an hour or so. It seems everyone works the amount that suits them and everyone is happy. No part of the coconut is wasted. If it isn’t used for food products, it might be used for oils, coir matting, buttons or charcoal.
We crossed the river to a small brick factory. Converters have recently been added to chimneys to reduce the carbon pollution, but otherwise the bricks are produced just the same way they have been for centuries. It seems like a long, physical, hot, dirty job keeping the rice husks burning in the firepit, moulding clay into bricks, stacking kilns and unstacking them again.
Next stop was a small noodle making cooperative. Rice powder and water was soaked in vats overnight. The rice slurry was spread on large mats to dry in the sun, then peeled off and put though a noodle making machine by hand. The result was finely made thin rice noodles, bound up in plastic bags and quite affordable for those people whose diet relies heavily on rice and rice products.
A slow rowboat journey down a narrow stream through the jungle was like a trip back through time. We eventually arrived back at our cruise boat, which brought us to Mango Home. From there we walked through a small agricultural community to a house where a lady made rice paper for us in her kitchen.
A delicious lunch back at Mango Home completed a great day on the Mekong Delta. The cruise boat returned us to Ben Tre, where our driver was waiting to take us back to Ho Chi Minh City.