King Rice -- Space isn't wasted in the densely populated Mekong Delta -- any empty plot is used for farming, mostly of lowland "wet rice," which is grown in flooded paddies separated by dikes. Technology, from industrial pumps to spring-loaded hand scoops, is used to irrigate the fields. Rice is king in Vietnam. More than the country's staple food and economic backbone, it's part of the Vietnamese character.

First, seeds are planted in flooded paddies and then replanted to avoid rot. Everything is done by hand, and even harrowing and plowing is still done at the back of a buffalo. The Communist model of cooperation, particularly by way of sharing water resources, has served the Vietnamese well, and since the inception of the Doi Moi economic reforms, which made Mekong growers personally accountable for their output (in other words, it hit them in the pocketbook), the country has made great leaps in catching up with rice-growing giants like nearby Thailand, Japan, and the western United States. Now, due to high productivity and improved technology, the only concerns are keeping salinity levels down and avoiding contamination from fertilization. Rice exports from Vietnam reached nearly 1 million metric tons in 2006. Shipments to the Asian destinations totaled 550,000 tons, with 415,000 tons alone going to the Philippines.

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