By the time it reaches Vietnam, the Mekong River has already covered more than four thousand kilometres from its source high on the Tibetan Plateau; en route it traverses southern China, skirts Burma (Myanmar), then hugs the Laos–Thailand border before cutting down through Cambodia and into Vietnam – a journey that ranks it as Asia’s third-longest river, after the Yangtse and Yellow rivers. Flooding has always blighted the delta; ever since Indian traders imported their advanced methods of irrigation more than eighteen centuries ago, networks of canals have been used to channel the excess water, but the rainy season still claims lives from time to time.

It’s difficult to overstate the influence of the river: the lifeblood of the rice and fruit crops grown in the delta, it also teems with craft that range in size from delicate rowing boats to hulking sampans, all painted with distinctive eyes on the prow. These continue an ancient tradition and were originally intended to scare off “river monsters”, probably crocodiles.

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