Living with the Mekong



Living with the Mekong.

In this book, architect Joep Janssen gives a personal account of how Vietnam and the Vietnamese people cope with the consequences of climate change and urbanization.



Born from personal fascination. Fascination with Vietnam, its recent history and the relationship with the Netherlands.

Photo essays

A richly illustrated book with photos from Wytske of Keulen. Her portraits of inhabitants show how people in their own environment take initiatives to survive and benefit from the rising waters.


A lot of interviews with farmers and urban dwellers, but also with Dutch engineers involved in plans for a better coastal protection in Vietnam.


In the media.

Tuoi Tre Newspaper
MO* Mondiaal Nieuws
Travel Valley
De Aziatische Tijger

Happy Readers!

  • The atmospheric images alone makes this travel report worth reading.

    De Aziatische Tijger
  • A beautiful book, both in the way it’s written and illustrated, with lovely photos.

    John Kleinen - University of Amsterdam
  • It is a wonderful book that gives you a unique insight into Vietnam.

    Travel Valley
  • The author borrowed the eyes and ears of the people of Vietnam, so to speak.

    Steven Slabbers - Bosch Slabbers Landscape architects
  • It is an interesting book because it brings the impact of climate change into the picture in an understandable language.

    Hanh Do - Vietnam Consult & Trading


A bird's-eye view of Ho Chi Minh City

The clash between the expanding city and rising water.

Memories of Holland

A short history lesson and Dutch water solutions for non-Dutch problems.

A tour through Ho Chi Minh City

How water brought wealth and then disappeared from the city.

Back in time to the seventeenth century

The canal house from amsterdam as flexible alternative for demolition and new build.

To the sea!

The urbanisation is putting pressure on the Saigon River, the Dutch are trying to find solutions to the flooding broblem.

The farmlands

Smart climate change adaptation.



The book launch took place on November 27, 2015 at the Fenix Food Factory in Rotterdam. Experts discussed how the Netherlands take advantage of water opportunities in Vietnam. The first copy of the book was handed over to Mr Van Ommeren of the Interdepartmental Water Cluster of the Dutch government.



I have been fascinated by Vietnam ever since I was a child. With my friends I would re-enact the war we knew from TV, from the programme Tour of Duty. It will have been 1987, I was 10.

Later, in secondary school, my political awareness developed. Vietnam, as I understood from the media, was a strange mix of emerging capitalism controlled by a strict, communist regime. Dutch idealists supported the regime with medical help. And I dreamed of visiting the country before all traces of communism – a relic of the war with America–would have disappeared.

After I graduated as an architect in 2004 I grew even more fascinated by Vietnam. In the years I worked for Soeters van Eldonk Architects I mainly focused on the role of water in the city and urban development of waterfronts. I studied the improvement of Dutch water cities with their canals, squares, dams and dykes. I learned that water creates appealing living environments and allows for more rainwater to be collected. It was a wellknown mantra among town planners: the water needs more space because the climate is changing.

In the numerous publications I’ve read on this topic, Vietnam was often mentioned as it is one of the countries that is most threatened by climate change. This is not surprising considering the country consists of two deltas – the Red River Delta in the North and the Mekong Delta in the South – and a long, narrow coastal strip that connects them.

Both Vietnam and the Netherlands are threatened by climate change – but the South East Asian country will never be able to protect itself against that threat like the Dutch have done ever since the Middle Ages. With the thousands of miles of long riverbanks and seacoast, the construction of dykes is unthinkable, if only because of the costs. Yet how do the Vietnamese cope with the rising waters? Can the country learn from the efforts of the Dutch? And perhaps the other way round? I wanted to find out all about it and decided to write a book.

My story had to be about the urbanisation and the rising waters in the Mekong Delta. I noticed that discussions about the organisation of the deltas were dominated by scientists, engineers and policymakers, who presented their new ideas at conferences and in delta plans. Ordinary inhabitants of the Delta were never present at such conferences, the farmers and villagers who have been developing skills and know-how as to how to cope with the water for generations.

As French anthropologist Claudes Levi-Strauss said, the worlds of the engineer and the bricoleur (the opposite of engineer, the ‘do-it-yourselfer’) clashed. Whereas, in his opinion, the engineer concentrates on the abstract and the new, the bricoleur has a ‘wild’ way of thinking, focused on the practical aspects of their daily life.

For this book, I travelled through the worlds of the engineers and the bricoleur. I met engineers, policy makers and designers and reported their analyses – from Vietnamese people, but also from Dutch engineers who were looking for fitting solutions for Vietnam based on Dutch thinking. And I travelled through the Mekong Delta, where I received warm welcomes from farmers and people who live and work in the Mekong Delta and who see the water rise bit by bit every year.

Science and anecdote are united. This book paints a picture of Vietnam from the outside, but also from the inside – and the way that the changes, under pressure from the increasing population, urbanisation and climate, manifest themselves in science and in the daily lives of normal people. And more importantly, how do they adapt to this?

In Spring 2009, I quit my job, packed my suitcase and left for Vietnam. I travelled through the Mekong Delta and met people who live and work there. In the frontline of climate change.

Joep Janssen

Now available in bookstores!