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

MY THO

IDD code: (+ 84) 73 / pop 180,000
My Tho, the quiet capital city of Tien Giang province, is the traditional gateway to the delta, owing to its proximity to HCMC. Visitors on a whirlwind Vietnam tour often take a day trip here to catch a glimpse of the famous river. In order to visit floating markets, however, you'll need to continue on to Can Tho. The town itself is an important market town, and its quaint but busy waterfront is easily explored on foot.
My Tho was founded in the 1680s by Chinese refugees freeing Taiwan for political reasons. The Chinese have virtually all gone now, having been driven out in the late 1970s when their property was seized by the government. The economy is based on tourism, fishing and the cultivation of rice, coconuts, bananas, mangoes, longans and citrus fruit.
Typhoon Durian
In 2006 several eastern provinces in the delta sustained serious damage by Typhoon Durian. It left nearly 100 dead, damaged or destroyed more than 200,000 homes and sank more than 800 fishing vessels. Ben Tre province suffered the worst damage, with hundreds left homeless.

Orientation
Sprawling along the bank of the northernmost branch of the Mekong River, My Tho is laid out in a regular grid pattern.
The bus station is 3km west of town. Coming from the bus station, you enter My Tho on Ð Ap Bac, which turns into Ð Nguyen Trai (oriented west-east).
Parallel to the Mekong River is Ð 30 Thang 4 (also written as Ð 30/4), named for Saigon Liberation Day.
Information
The official tourism authority for Ten Giang province, Tien Giang Tourist (Cong Ty Du Lich Tien Giang; 8 Ð 30 Thang 4; “7am-5pm”) is not terribly helpful. You're better off inquiring at the tourism desks found at hotels. Mekoto Tell; 61 Ð 30 Thang 4), attached to the Trade Union Hotel, offers a range of excursions including bicycle tours (with an overnight homestay) and boating tours to the floating markets. Most trips are priced at group rates (US$5/10 per person for boating/bicycle excursion), so you'll have to negotiate if you're on your own.
There's an Incombank ATM (cnr Ð 30 Thang 4 & Ð Le Loi) near the boat landing. The post office is located at 59 Đ 30 Thang 4; there's an internet café next door.
Sights
CAO DAI TEMPLE
If you missed the one in Tay Ninh, My Tho has its own colourful but smaller Cao Dai Temple (Ð ly Thuong Kiet) that's worth a look. It's west of the town centre between Ð Dong Da and Ð Tran Hung Dao.
MY THO CENTRAL MARKET
This market (Ð Trung Trac & Ð Nguyen Hue) is in an area of town that is closed to traffic. The streets are filled with stalls selling everything from fresh food and bulk tobacco to boat propellers. In an attempt to clear these streets, the local government has built a three-storey concrete monstrosity on the riverside, intending to relocate vendors inside. With the high rent and taxes, however, there have been very few takers and the top two floors remain empty.
VINH TRANG PAGODA
The monks at Vinh Trang Pagoda (60A Ð Nguyen Trung Truc; admission free; “9-11.30am&1.30-5pm”), a beautiful and well-maintained sanctuary, provide a home fur orphans, disabled and other needy children. Donations are always welcome.
The pagoda is about 1 km from the city centre. To get there, take the bridge east across the river on Ð Nguyen Trai and after 400m turn left. The entrance to the sanctuary is about 200m from the turn-off, on the right-hand side of the building as you approach it from the ornate gate.
Tours
Boat trips are the highlight of a visit to My Tho. The small wooden vessels can navigate the mighty Mekong (barely), but the target for most trips is cruising past pleasant rural villages through the maze of small canals. Depending on what you book, destinations usually include a coconut-candy workshop, a honeybee farm (try the banana wine!) and an orchid garden.
THE RIVER OF NINE DRAGONS
The Mekong River is one of the world's great rivers and its delta is one of the world's largest. The Mekong originates high in the Tibetan plateau, flowing 4500km through China, between Myanmar and Laos, through Laos, along the Laos-Thailand border, and through Cambodia and Vietnam on its Way to the South China Sea. At Phnom Penh (Cambodia), the Mekong River splits into two main branches: the Hau Giang (Lower River, also called the Bassac River), which flows via Chau Doc, Long Xuyen and Can Tho to the sea; and the Tien Giang (Upper River), which splits into several branches at Vinh Long and empties into the sea at five points The numerous branches of the river explain the Vietnamese name for the Mekong: Song Cuu Long (River of Nine Dragons).
The Mekong's flow begins to rise around the end of May and reaches its highest point in September; it ranges from 1900 to 38,000 cubic metres per second depending on the season. A tributary of the river that empties inio the Mekong at Phnom Penh drains Cambodia's Tonlé Sap Lake. When the Mekong is at flood stage, this tributary reverses its flow and drains into Tonlé Sap, thereby somewhat reducing the danger of serious flooding in the Mekong Delta. Unfortunately. deforestation in Cambodia is disturbing this delicate balancing act, resulting in more flooding in Vietnam's portion of the Mekong River basin.
In recent years seasonal flooding has claimed The lives of hundreds and forced tens of thousands of the region's residents to evacuate from their homes. In some areas inhabitants are not able to return to their homes until the waters fully recede several months later. Floods cause millions of dollars worth of damage and have a catastrophic effect on regional rice and coffee crops.
Living on o flood plain presents some technical challenges. Lacking any high ground to escape flooding, many delta residents build their houses on bamboo stilts to avoid the rising waters Many roads are submerged or turn to muck during floods; all-weather roads have to be built on raised embankments, but this is expensive. The traditional solution has been to build canals and travel by boat. There are thousands of canals in the Mekong Delta - keeping them properly dredged and navigable is a constant but essential chore.
A further challenge is keeping the canals clean. The normal practice of dumping all garbage and sewage directly into the waterways behind the houses that line them is taking its toll. Many of the more populated areas in the Mekong Delta are showing signs of unpleasant waste build-up. The World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) is one organisation that's working with local and provincial governments to improve conservation techniques and sponsoring environmental education and awareness programs.
The My Tho People's Committee almost has a monopoly on boat travel, charging around US$25 for a two- to three-hour tour (book at the tourist office). However, private touts operate customised tours cheaper than the 'official' rates (per hour around 50,000d), but they are illegal and there's a small chance your boatman may be fined by the river cops. The best place to look for these freelancers is along the riverfront, but they'll probably find you first.
Inexpensive boat tours can also be booked at the out-of-the-way but friendly Viet Phong Travel 94 Ð Le Thi Hong Gam; “8am-5pm”); it's best to contact its staff at Trung Luong Restaurant, as its pier office is difficult to find.
Sleeping
BUDGET
Rang Dong Hotel (Tell: 874 400; 25 Ð 30 Thang 4; r130,000-150,000d) Privately run, this decent, friendly spot remains popular with budget travellers. Third-floor rooms open onto a terrace with river views.
My Tho Minihotel (Tell: 872 543; 67 Ð 30 Thang 4; r 100,000-200,000d) This basic waterfront hotel has simply furnished rooms. Pricier rooms are bigger and have better ventilation. Room No 1 has a river view.
Hung Vuong Hotel (Tell: 876 777; 19 Ð Hung Vuong; r 120,000-220.000d) This popular place has very clean rooms with tall ceilings and simple wood furniture. Some rooms lack natural light.
Song Tien Hotel (Tell: 872 009; fax 884 745; 101 Ð Trung Trac; r/ste 160,000/260,000d) The Song Tien has comfortable rooms with red and white tile floors, TV and fridge. Suites are spacious with polished lacquer furniture. There's also a lift.
Trade Union Hotel (Khach San Cong Doan; 61 Ð 30 Thang 4; r 90.000-210.000d) This ageing government-run hotel has a mix of rooms from dingy and stifling to clean and roomy - the best are on the upper floor with a shared balcony facing the river.

Chuong Duong annex (Tell: 882 264; 1 Ð Truong Cong Dinh; r US$15-30) This new annexe is up the street from the Chuong Duong Hotel, with a polished feel, but no views.
Chuong Duong Hotel ( 10 Ð 30 Thang 4; r US$25-35) My Tho's most luxurious accommodation, this place boasts a prime riverside location and respect-able in-house restaurant. All rooms overlook the Mekong River.
Other options: overnighting in a bunga-low on Unicorn Island (Thoi Son) or in the rarely visited hotel on Phoenix Island; inquire at Tien Giang Tourist. There are also home stay options around Vinh Long .

RICE PRODUCTION
The ancient Indian word for rice, dhanya ('sustainer of the human race'), is apt when describing the importance of rice to the Vietnamese.
A Vietnamese fable tells of a time when rice did not need to be harvested. Instead, it would be summoned through prayer and arrive in each home from the heavens in the form of a large ball. One day a man ordered his wife to sweep the floor in preparation for the coming of the rice. but she was still sweeping when the huge ball arrived and struck it by accident, causing it to shatter into many pieces. Since then, the Vietnamese have had to toil to produce rice by hand.
Rural Vietnam today is in many ways similar to what it would have been centuries ago: women in conical hats (non bai tho) irrigating fields by hand, farmers stooping to plant the flooded paddies and water buffalo ploughing seedbeds with harrows.
Despite the labour-intensive production process, rice is the single most important crop in Vietnam and involves more than 50% of the working population. While always playing an important role in the Vietnamese economy, its production intensified considerably as a result of economic reforms, known as doi moi ('renovation'), in 1986. The reforms helped transform Vietnam from a rice importer to exporter in 1989. Today rice is a substantial part of the country's earnings. In 2006 Vietnam exported around 4.5 million tonnes of rice, earning around US$1.4 billion.
The importance of rice in the diet of the Vietnamese is evident in the many rice dishes available, including rice omelette (banh xeo), rice porridge (chao) and extremely potent rice wine (ruou gao), to name a few. Vietnam's ubiquitous com pho (rice-noodle soup) restaurants serve white rice (com) with a variety of cooked meat and vegetables, as well as rice-noodle soup (pho).
Despite advances in rice production, much of the work is carried out without modern machinery. Fields are ploughed and harrowed with the assistance of water buffaloes, seeds are planted by hand, and when the seedlings reach a certain age they have to be individually uprooted and transplanted to another field to avoid root rot. This painstaking process is mostly undertaken by women. Irrigation is typically carried out by two workers using woven baskets on rope to transfer water from canals to the fields. When the water level is high enough fish can be raised in the paddies.
Rice plants take three to six months to grow, depending on the type and environment. In Vietnam the three major cropping seasons are winter-spring, summer-autumn and the wet season. When ready to harvest, the plants are thigh-high and in about 30cm of water. The grains grow in drooping fronds and are cut by hand, then transported by wheelbarrows to thrashing machines that separate the husk from the plant. Other machines are used to 'dehusk' the rice (for brown rice) or 'polish' it (for white rice). A familiar sight at this stage is brown carpets of rice spread along roads to dry before milling.
In recent rice news (2006), Vietnam, along with Thailand, announced a ban on growing genetically engineered varieties of rice. Citing health concerns. The announcement came in the wake of scandals caused by the US and China contaminating the global rice supply with unapproved and illegal genetically engineered rice varieties.

Eating
RESTAURANTS
Chi Thanh (Tell: 873 756; 279 Ð Tet Mau Than, mains 20,000-40,000d; breakfast, lunch & dinner) A tidy spot for delicious Chinese and Vietnamese fare, Chi Thanh has two locations, both with menus in English.
Ngoc Gia Trang (Tell: 872 741:196 Ð Ap Bac; mains 25,000-45,000d;lunch & dinner) This charming, restaurant sits among greenery on the road into My Tho from HCMC. Its pleasant court yard is a good spot to enjoy traditional dishes. There's an equally attractive cafe attached.
Mekong Rest Stop (Tell: 858 676; Hwy 60; mains around 30,000 40,000d; breakfast, lunch & dinner) About 5km west of town, this airy, thatched-roof restaurant serves an excellent assortment of fresh seafood and traditional dishes amid pleasant water-garden environs.
Trung Luong (Tell: 855 441; Hwy 60; set menu 50,000-60,000d;brea'cfast, lunch & dinner) A few kilometers west of town, Trung Luong is near the gate marking the entry point to My Tho. Here too is a nice garden and nicely prepared dishes (elephant fish is a favorites).
Other good spots:

Cay Me (60 Ð Nam Ky Khoi Nghia; mains 10,000-15,000d; breakfast, lunch & dinner)
Thuan Kieu (Tell: 876 636; 47 Ð Nam Ky Khoi Nghia; mains 10,000-20,000d; breakfast, lunch & dinner)
HU TIEU RESTAURANTS
My Tho is known for a special vermicelli soup, hu tieu my tho, which is richly garnished with fresh and dried seafood, pork, chicken and fresh herbs. It is served either with broth or dry (with broth on the side) and can also be made vegetarian.
Although hu lieu can be found at almost any eatery in town, there's a handful of speciality restaurants. Carnivores will enjoy
Hu Tieu 44 (44 Ð Nam Ky Khoi Nghia; soups 7000d; breakfast, lunch & dinner), while vegetarians should look for Hu Tieu Chay 24 (24 Ð Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, soups 4000d; breakfast, lunch & dinner).
Getting There & Around BOAT
The car ferry to Ben Tre province leaves from Ben Pha Rach Mieu station about 1km west of My Tho city centre, near 2/10A Ð Le Thi Hong Gam (the continuation west of Ð 30 Thang–Thang 4). The ferry operates between 4am and 10pm and runs at least once an hour (per person/motorbike 1000/5000d). Ten-person trucks shuttle passengers between the fern terminal and the bus station. A new bridge under construction (due for completion in early 2009) will link My Tho with Ben Tre by road, greatly diminishing travel time between the two towns.
BUS
My Tho is served by buses leaving HCMC from Mien Tay bus station and from the bus station in Cho on. Buses from Cholon have the added advantage of dropping passengers right in My Tho, as opposed to the bus station outside of town. The trip takes 11/2 hours.
The My Tho bus station (Ben Xe Khach Tien Giang; 4am-5pm) is several kilometers west of town. To get there from the city centre, take Ð Ap Bac westward and continue on to Hwy 1 (Quoc Lo1).
Buses to HCMC (18,000d, two hours) leave when full from the early morning until about 5pm. There's also daily bus service to most points in the Mekong Delta.

CAR & MOTORBIKE
The drive from HCMC to My Tho along Hwy 1, by car or motorbike, takes about two hours.
Road distances from My Tho are 16km to Ben Tre, 104km to Can Tho, 70km to HCMC and 66km to Vinh Long.