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The Gradual Decline of Mekong Delta's Floating Markets

The traditional floating markets of the Mekong Delta are being threatened by the rapid rise of the region’s economy and infrastructure.

Some of these once thriving marketplaces have now dwindled to shadows of their former selves, according to Tuoi Tre

The Cai Rang Market, for example, was once two kilometers long and had as many as 550 boats in the water in 2005, according to the local tourism office. That same market, a mere dozen years later, has a little more than 300 boats in its waters.

Industrial and construction sectors have grown in the delta region as a response to economic development in the past decade and have created over 570,000 new jobs, pulling many residents up from poverty.

Many vendors, drawn from trading on the waterways to trading with supermarkets, have also traded their life on the boats for houses on land.

People like Nguyen Van Ut, a delta resident who has been in the business of repairing weighing scales for vendors for the past 30 years, have been left behind, unable to afford a life on terra firma. The 71-year-old told AFP: "I don't have many customers now. In the past, it was alright, but now many boats have left the floating market...people on vessels have switched to vehicles."

Ut got in to the business of repairing scales on the Can Tho River as a means of supporting his remaining children after his wife and two of his sons drowned in a boating accident.

Unable to earn enough to live on a meager income of just a few dollars a month, he now relies on support from his children, three of whom work in nearby Can Tho City.

Even successful floating market vendors who are able to eke out a decent living from tourists visiting the market, are finding themselves drawn to life on land, in search of better housing, employment opportunities, and modern amenities.

Kim Hui’s family has been working on the river for generations as fruit and vegetable vendors. She admits that she doesn’t expect her granddaughter to continue the family tradition.

"Young people like my grandchildren won’t do this job. People like me can endure the hardship of working on the river, but they can’t," she told the newspaper.

There is a shred of hope for vendors on Cai Rang’s floating market, in that last year the Vietnamese government designated it a cultural heritage. The millions of tourists visiting the area annually may be enough to keep the markets afloat.

[Photo via Travel Hackers]

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