VIETNAM TRAVEL

 

Mekong Delta

My Tho - Around My Tho - Ben tre - Around Ben Tre - Vinh Long - Tra Vinh - Around Tra Vinh - Sa Dec - Cao Lanh - Around Cao Lanh - Can Tho - Soc Trang Around Can Tho - Around Soc Trang - Bac Lieu - Around Bac lieu - Ca Mau - Around Ca Mau - Nam Can - Long Xuyen - Around Long Xuyen - Chau Doc - Around Chau Doc - Ba Chuc - Tuc Dup Hill - Ha Tien - Around Ha Tien
Hon Chong - Rach Gia - Phu Quoc Island

BEN TRE

IDD code: (+ 84) 75 / pop 120,000
The picturesque little province of Ben Tre, just south of My Tho, sees little of the tourist traffic of its northern neighbour. Its sleepy waterfront, lined with ageing villas, and active market nearby makes for a pleasant stroll, and there's good exploring into Ben Tre's rustic settlement across the bridge south of the centre. The town has a tiny lake (Truc Giang), ringed with a few cafes. Ben Tre is also a good place to arrange boat trips around the area - particularly those wanting to escape the tour buses.
Ben Tre is famous for keo dua (coconut candy). Many local women work in small fac-tories making these sweets, spending their days boiling cauldrons of sticky mixture, before rolling it out and cutting sections off into squares and wrapping them into paper for sale

Information
The Ben Tre Tourist Office ( cnr Ð Hai Ba Trung & Dong Khoi; 711am & 1-5pm) rents out bikes, boats, canoes and arranges Mekong excursions lasting from four hours (245,000d) to two days (320,000d). You can also hire a 12-passenger specdboat (US$60 per hour). They have a branch office ( 3rd fl, 16 Ð Hai Ba Trung; 7-11 am & 1-5pm) inside the Dong Khoi hotel.
Ben Tre has a few
internet cafes (per hr4000d), including one on Ð Hung Vuong and another on & Tran Quoc Tuan. There's also internet access at the main post office (3/10 Dong Khoi; per hr4000d).
Get cash at
Incombank (Tell: 822 507; 42 Ð Nguyen Dinh Chieu; closed weekends).
Sights
In the centre of Ben Tre is the Vien Minh Pagoda, which is also the head office of the Buddhist Association of Ben Tre province. Though the history of the pagoda is vague, the local monks say it is over 100 years old. The original structure was made of wood, but it was torn down to make way for the present building. Reconstruction took place from 1951 to 1958 using bricks and concrete.
An interesting feature of Vien Minh Pagoda is a large white statue of Quan The Am Bo Tat (Goddess of Mercy) set in the front courtyard. The Chinese calligraphy that adorns the pagoda was performed by an old monk.

The Ben Tre Museum (Bao Tang Ben Tre; Ð Hung Vuong; 8am-11am & 1-5pm) is set in an ageing but atmospheric old yellow villa. It has the usual assortment of rusty weapons and American War paraphernalia, along with rousing images of Ho Chi Minh ploughing the fields, talking on the phone and looking in turns kind and tough.
Sleeping
BUDGET
Nha Khach Ben Tre (Tell: 822 339; fax 826 205;5 Ð Cach Mang Thang 8; r with breakfast 80,000-230,000d; Brought to you by the communist party, this curious place has clean, somewhat stark rooms with tall ceilings, Chinese-inlaid furniture and decent natural lighting. There's an airy cafe next door.
Thao Nhi Guesthouse Hamlet 1, Tan Thach Village; r 80,000-250,000d; A friendly, rustic place amid abundant greenery,
Thao Nhi is 11km north of town. and offers a range of comfortable rooms. The in-house restaurant serves excellent elephant-car fish, and there's free bike rental; you can also ar- range boat trips here. As it's difficult to find, hire a moto-taxi to take you there from the boat dock (arriving from My Tho).

Phuong Hoang Hotel (Tell: 821385; 28 Hai Ba Trung; r 120,000-180,000d; Should be your last choice in town, with small battered rooms, though 203 and 204 overlook the lake.
Cong Doan Ben Tre (Trade Union Hotel; Tell: 825 082; fax 813 017; 36 Ð Hai 8a Trung; r ind breakfast 130,000-170,000d; This government-owned place has a range of rooms from airy and decent to utterly depressing. Friendly staff and centrally located.
A NIGHT UPON THE MEKONG
One of the highlights of any Vietnam trip is doing a homestay with some of the friendly Mekong families. Here, you'll get a taste of local customs by sharing a home-cooked meal and possibly a few glasses of rice wine before retiring to your bed or hammock near the river. Although many tourists book through group tours in Saigon, there's no reason you can't do it yourself. The following options all charge around US$10 per night, which includes a night's sleep, dinner and breakfast the next morning. Note that most hosts are unlikely to speak much English, but welcome foreign guests just the same. All of the places listed below are perched along a river or canal. Vinh Long is the best place to arrange for homestays.
Le Thanh Hong (Tell: 070 858 612; An Than hamlet, An Binh village. Long Ho district) Located across the Co Chien River from Vinh Long, this place has four small rustic bungalows amid flowers and pretty landscaping. The monkey on a chain is unfortunate. You can also book here through Cuu Long Tourist in Vinh Long.
Mai Quoc Nam (Tell: 070 859 912; fax 859 244; Phuan 1 hamlet, Binh Hoa Phuoc village, long Ho District) A short boat ride from Vinh Long, Mai Ouoc Nam has a modern concrete building in front, but lovely wooden bungalows tucked away In a garden setting in back. You can also arrange boating excursions here.
Nha Co Tran Tuan Kiet (Tell: 073 824 498; fax 073 925 051; 22 Phu Hoa hamlet, Dong Hoa Hip village, Cai Be district) This traditional wooden house has beautiful ornate details and a history dating back 150 years - during which it's remained in the same family. The cooking here is excellent (watch and learn while dinner is prepared, then enjoy the feast), and private rooms are available. It's In Cai Be, 25km west of My Tho.
Sau Giao (Tell: 070 859 910; Binh Thuan 2 hamlet, Hoa Ninh village, long Ho district) Located a few kilo-metres outside of Vinh Long along the river, Sau Giao is a beautiful traditional wooden house (in the same family for four generations) that's set with a bonsai garden in front. They serve excellent cuisine - even if you don't stay here, it's a worthwhile lunch stop (set lunch 60,000d) if you're hiring a boat from Vinh Long. Bicycle hire available (per day US$1).
Song Tien (Tell: 070 858 487; An Thanh hamlet. An Binh village. Long Ho district) Across the Co Chien River from Vinh Long, this friendly place offers accommodation in small bungalows with squat toilets. The landscaping here is particularly lush with orange and lemon trees, and the owner and his wife, both former VC soldiers, are known to bust out the mandolin from time to time for a bit of traditional singing for their guests.
Tam Ho ( Binh Thuan 1 hamlet, Hoa Ninh village. Long Ho district) About 1,5km from Vinh Long, Tam Ho is a working orchard run by a friendly, welcoming family - one of the hosts bears a striking resemblance to Ho Chi Minh. Private rooms available.
MIDRANGE
Dong Khoi Hotel ( 16 Ð Hai Ba Trung; r 196,000-255,000; Popular with wedding parties, this hotel with a lift is the best of the three on the lakefront. It has clean, carpeted rooms done in pink and green. There's a decent restaurant (mains 20,000d to 40,000d) with an English menu on the ground floor.
Hung Vuong Hotel (Tell: 822 408; 166 Ð Hung Vuong; r US$25-35; One of Ben Tre's nicest hotels, this riverfront spot has tile floors, polished wood furniture, modern bathrooms with tubs and great river views (from the front rooms). There's a good restaurant as well.
Eating
Nam Son (Tell: 822 873; 40 Ð Phan Ngoc Tong; mains 15,000-30,000d; lunch & dinner) This place is usually packed with locals feasting on roast chicken and drinking draught beer.
Truong Ky (Tell: 813 616; 517 ÐL Dong Khoi; mains 20,000-30,000d; lunch & dinner) A trim, multistorey restaurant just output of town, Truong Ky serves delectable fish and seafood, though there's no English menu.
Thuy San (Tell: 833 777; 210B ÐL Dong Khoi; mains 30,000-70,000d) A decent option on the way into town, Thuy San cooks up traditional mains amid faux greenery.
Hao Ai Resort (Tell: 610 785; 2nd hamlet, Tan Thach village; lunch) A handsome, lushly landscaped restaurant that serves tasty fish plates. Get there by hiring a private boat where the ferry docks from My Tho (around 30,000d).
Por ultra-cheap eats, head to the market, which has plenty of food stalls (rice plates around 7000d).

Getting There & Away
The My Tho- Ben Tre ferry (motorbike/person 5000/1000d, 15 minutes one way) is the only option between the two towns - though a bridge due for completion in 2009 will provide a road link. Ferries run 24 hours a day, every 20 minutes or so (less frequently between 7pm and 6am). Ferry crossings are much quicker if you're travelling by motorbike (as opposed to car) since there are numerous small boats that can take you across the river.
Public buses stop at the bus station west of the town centre on Ð Doan Hoang Minh. Private minibuses also make the Ben Tre-HCMC run daily. They operate on no fixed schedule, so you'll need to inquire locally. Ask around the market, or by the petrol station on Ð Dong Khoi (where some vans arrive/depart).

Getting Around
Slow boats can be rented at the public pier near the market. Here you can figure on about 30,000d to 50,000d per hour. with a minimum of two hours cruising the local canals. Check with the boat drivers who hang around near the end of the footbridge.