Yes, Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) enchanted both Ceci and me. Its lush gardens, lack of pollution, and never-ending lines of street food were enticing enough to keep us around for 5 nights. But alas, it was time to move on. After all, our visa only allows us to stay in Vietnam for 30 days, and we certainly don’t want to rush through the rest of the country.
Our next stop would be Ben Tre, down in the Mekong Delta region of Southern Vietnam. This is the region where the mighty Mekong River coming down from sources as far as China and Laos reaches its final destination and meets the sea.
Regardless of what we once believed by looking at a map, this region is quite large. We’d have to be picky about what places had enough to see in the time we had allotted to the region. Among our options were My Tho, Vinh Long, Ben Tre, and Can Tho. It seems that most folks coming to this region end up in My Tho as day tours organized in Saigon make this their preferred destination. Therefore, it is the most likely to be filled with tourists polluting the natural order of things. Obviously and ironically, no tourist wants that. Instead, we chose Ben Tre and Can Tho from the remaining three options.
Ben Tre: Coconut Candyland
While in the Phillipines, we had some delicious coconut candy in the Bicol region. Ceci loved it and asked about it at every single shop while we were in Bicol. I think we found it a total of two times. I had read that one of Ben Tre’s signature souvenirs is coconut candy, so I figured Ceci might like the idea.
We made our way from the Pham Ngu Lao area of Ho Chi Minh City to the Mien Tay bus station where we would take a bus to Ben Tre.
Quick tip: Public bus 39 and 102 both start and end at Ben Thanh and Mien Tay, respectively. However, Bus 39 takes 1 hr while Bus 102 takes 1:45. There’s a 20 minute delay in between, but try to catch 39 if you’re heading to Mien Tay.
We bought our tickets (45,000 VND leaving at 12pm on a mini bus), had a couple of Banh Mi’s (Vietnamese sandwiches), and were off on the second leg of our journey. The ride was fairly smooth and comfortable.
About 2.5 hours later, we reached Ben Tre. We hopped off the bus and grabbed a cab (use Maihlinh, about 80,000 VND) to the Hùng Vương hotel.
They had a sign at the entrance saying that they had motorcycles for rent, so we asked about it. They told us they didn’t have any, but check next door. We did, but they didn’t have any either. Everyone in this town seems to offer them, but no one seems to have them. The only place that it seemed other travelers had had success was at Oasis Hotel. It was about 2 kilometers away, so we decided to go for a walk.
Little did we know, Google’s location of the hotel was wrong!
So we walked a bit more. we left our hotel room in Saigon at 9am. Now, it was about 5pm. Most of our day was spent on traveling! 🙁
No matter. We rented their semi-automatic bike (200,000 VND) for one day and promised to return it the next afternoon. We were only staying in Ben Tre for one night, so no need to keep it any longer.
We rode around town for a while checking out the sights, and driving for the first time in Vietnam. We had yet ANOTHER Banh Mi sandwich. But it wasn’t nearly as good as the one we had in Saigon (check this place out for the best sandwiches!).
The next morning, we went for another ride. We rode without a final destination in mind, except we knew we had to be back around 12pm in order to catch the 1:30pm mini bus to Can Tho (61,000 VND at the bus station; there’s also an 8:30am).
We ended up at a rice paper making factory. We pulled over to talk to the folks inside, but had a really hard time communicating. We did figure out that they were asking if Ceci and I were married. Other than that, we didn’t learn much more than what was visible. Later, we found out that that was actually rice paper CANDY! Oh well.
Besides that, enjoying some sugar cane juice, and visiting some of the local markets, we didn’t do much more in Ben Tre. But it was a nice change of pace from Ho Chi Minh City.
We headed back, dropped off the bike, and caught a ride back to our hotel from the Oasis Hotel owner’s super friendly son. He even took me to the coconut candy store! Ceci and I had a hard time finding the store, so it was a nice little surprise when I got back to the hotel with a bag of coconut candy.
And, in case you’re wondering, the candy sure was good. But it was nothing from another world. It hardly tasted like coconut!
Now, it was time to go to Can Tho. That sure was a bumpy ride! And the driver was a bit of a maniac. Alas, we survived.
Can Tho: Floating Markets Galore, Capital of the Mekong Delta
We spent some 3 days in Can Tho. We wanted to spend a few days in Phu Quoc. And reaching it from Can Tho would have been fairly easy. But our following destination was Da Lat, and reaching Da Lat from Phu Quoc was going to take a lot of time and money, so we decided to skip it and spend more time in Can Tho to see more of the Mekong Delta.
One of the highlights of our time in Can Tho, the Mekong Delta, and the trip in general was a tour that we decided to take. During 8 hours, we rode in a boat through the rivers of the region and made our way to the various floating markets.
Aside from the boat, we hired a tour guide that would help us make sense of everything we were seeing. We were lucky as both our boat driver and tour guide were fantastic people!
Although our driver didn’t speak English, she was very kind, generous, and overall just a nice person.
Our guide was friendly, fun, knowledgeable, funny, interesting, and very cool! If you find yourself in Can Tho wishing to take a tour of the floating markets, I highly suggest you contact her. If you are unlucky and she is unavailable, still make the effort to find a tour guide. The tour is about 8 hours and I would imagine that it might be quite boring without someone to talk to about what is going on.
Anyway, our time during the tour was fantastic. Well, except that, after 6 weeks of successfully traveling through Hawaii, the Philippines, and Vietnam without getting sick, I was starting to show signs of the abominable runs. Yuck.
Things weren’t so bad as I only had a stomachache for most of the day, as well as a headache, and exhaustion. But I didn’t have to make any emergency runs to the bathroom! It simply made my experience a little less perfect that Ceci’s.
Besides my little stomach issue, it was very enjoyable. We had a great time chatting with our tour guide, Ngan, learning about each others’ cultures, language, and customs. We even got comfortable enough to touch on some more taboo topics and learn a little more about things that you can’t really find in books or normally talk about with someone you’ve just met.
The conversation, plus the floating markets and the mighty river really made our time in Can Tho an experience to remember.
In fact, we got along so well, that we went out for a coffee later that night! She brought us over to meet some of her friends at a local coffee shop called Canh Thien Cafe. Everyone there was incredibly nice, and very talented! They were singing and playing guitar, making fun yet innocent jokes. It was a delightful environment and both Ceci and I had a blast!
After yet another wonderful experience in Vietnam, our next stop would be Da Lat. But first, another two nights back in Saigon (flights were cheaper one day later, and we didn’t want to take the bus as we’d read too many horror stories about the Saigon-Da Lat route)…
If you are going to Can Tho and would like to book a tour, I highly recommend contacting Ngân. She is very friendly and her English is great! I promise it’ll make for a memorable visit to the Mekong Delta area. You can email her here.
Tell us about one of your wonderful travel experiences! We’re still learning how to meet people and enjoy some of the most authentic experiences, so please share when/where/how you’ve made great new friends during your trips!