Boating and cycling in the Mekong delta

Ben Tre Travel Blog

 › entry 5 of 15 › view all entries
Caroline and Michel were in the boat behind us, rowing into the narrowing canals.

It’s 6.30 am and the crickets are still shouting their heads off, now and then interrupted by a rooster here and there.

At eight our boats are ready. We would like to share a boat with our friend Caroline, but since these boats only seat three people and there’s a guide in every boat, that’s not going to happen. We’ll be going into the smaller canals that lead deeper into the island. Since our boats are propelled by man- or actually womanpower, the sound of roaring and chuffing engines dies slowly as we move away from the main waterways. The women have a special rowing technique, they stand on the stern of the boat, pushing the paddles forward, so they can see where they are going.

At the floating market in Cai Be all kinds of food can be bought.
The canals get shallower and narrower, the rowers have to replace their two large paddles with a single small one. We see some men unloading a boat, filled with stones. Apart from the sound of the working men and the quiet splashes of paddles entering the water, silence rules here. On the banks grow wild fruits, like water apples, but we cannot reach them, so I still haven’t got a clue what they taste like. We’re on the boats for about an hour and then we transfer to a larger motorized boat again, with which we will be going to the floating market in Cai Be. To get there we have to cross the Mekong on a spot where two branches come together, and here the river is three kilometres wide. The many boats sailing the river create lots of stern waves, one of them splashing into our boat quite unexpectedly, giving me a free shower. I’m lucky enough to be able to keep my camera dry.

On the floating market the shops are boats, and to show what they are selling they simply tie some of their goods in the highest mast of the ship.

A banana salesman on his way to the floating market.
The market is nice, but it doesn’t meet my expectations, I’ve probably seen too many fantastic images on National Geographic of the floating market in Bangkok. In my opinion we were late as well, an average Vietnamese day starts early and I think most people have gone home already.

We disembark on the same spot we went on board yesterday, but now there are more people present, and some of them are playing some Chinese chess game that I don’t understand.

When we walk to the bus, there’s a wedding in progress and the bride and groom will gladly pose for us, after we have wished them all the best of course.

It takes an hour to drive to the ferry that will bring us to the other side of another branch of the Mekong river.

The newlyweds are kind enough to make some time for us.
A bridge is being constructed, but by the looks of it, it won’t be open to traffic anytime soon. We have to wait a while for the ferry to empty and when we eventually can go aboard, all the gathered scooters, trucks, cars and buses start their engines at once, creating a cloud of exhaust fumes that make ten chain smokers in a tiny room smell like a walk in the park on a spring day. Once on board, not holding my ticket, because Michel arranged everything for us all, I stand at the railing enjoying the view. All of a sudden a man approaches me looking like the captain of the ship, wearing a white uniform with a matching hat. He grabs me by the sleeve and looks me in the eye very seriously, I fear for being kicked off the boat for not having a ticket, than the man smiles, compares his height to mine (quite a difference), smiles again and goes on his way.

From the ferry we walk to the restaurant were we are going to have lunch, Michel doesn’t know the restaurant, but the local guide that is accompanying us today says they have good food.

While we were walking to our lunchspot, we spotted this happy cyclist.
It is a considerable hike, and Trudy takes her chances to give some ballpoint pens to the local children who are always in need of stationery.

In the restaurant, located beautifully near the bank of the river, we order a dish with beef. Yet there’s so much fat on the meat that it almost has to be pork. Trudy can’t get it down and orders some crab soup. I take over Trudy’s meat dish and for desert we order some spring rolls. It wasn’t the best meal we’ve had here in Vietnam, but then again, a man with a full stomach can’t complain, can he? We walk up to the riverbank, where we savour the view from under a pavilion, protected from the sun.

Just before two pm we start the final stage of our trip today, an 18 kilometre bicycle tour.

We came across this beautiful location on our cycling tour.
The quality of the bicycles isn’t outstanding, but they’ll have to do. My front brake is broken, so I’ll have to keep my distance to avoid any head-to-tail collisions. We cruise through an amazing area with lots of palm trees alternated with some rice-fields here and there. Since this is the hottest part of the day, we stop every now and then, to let the slower cyclists catch up. Halfway the cycling tour we pause a little longer, where lukewarm fizzy drinks and fresh fruits and coconuts are sold. My two ladies discover some hammocks, that they claim immediately.

It’s almost four when we reach Benh Tre, where we will spend the night. No homestay, but the Dong Khoi Hotel. This is an old communist government hotel, which is clear as daylight, looking at the large square Russian-concrete-block building style. Here too, a wedding is taking place, there’s lots of people, with even more unfathomable loud music.

Want to make a lady happy? Find some hammocks and coconuts and you can't go wrong...

We have room number 105 and when we walk in to put our bags there, the air conditioning is roaring to bring the room’s temperature down to 18 degrees Celsius. Which is slightly overdone, that would bring the difference to the outside temperature to more than 20 degrees!! When we wash our hands in the bathroom, the water goes down the drain, which is not connected to the sewer, instead the water runs down the bathroom wall, then over the floor to the other side of the bathroom, where it enters the sewage system. The same goes for the bathtub, a hole has been chopped in the side of the tub, to allow the water to run over the floor to the drain.

We decide to go for a walk in the village, but there is not much to see, really.

This flower was the most interesting thing I found in Ben Tre.
The evening market, that is supposed to be here, hasn’t been built up yet and except for a temple there’s nothing here but houses. The temple too, isn’t much to look at and after a short chat with a student that speaks some English (he’s one of the very few here) we return to the hotel.

We eat in the restaurant of our hotel and we order soup, a beef dish and some orange juice. It takes ages before the food arrives and when it does, we get everything at once. During dinner a singer entertains the wedding guests, that is, he does his best. Unfortunately the man constantly  picks the wrong key and stands with his microphone in front of the speakers, creating a cacophony of bad singing and feedback noises.

After dinner we go for another short walk, in the other direction this time, and here too is not much to see.

In my opinion Ben Tre is a town you do not necessarily need to see on your trip to Vietnam.

Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
Caroline and Michel were in the bo…
Caroline and Michel were in the b…
At the floating market in Cai Be a…
At the floating market in Cai Be …
A banana salesman on his way to th…
A banana salesman on his way to t…
The newlyweds are kind enough to m…
The newlyweds are kind enough to …
While we were walking to our lunch…
While we were walking to our lunc…
We came across this beautiful loca…
We came across this beautiful loc…
Want to make a lady happy? Find so…
Want to make a lady happy? Find s…
This flower was the most interesti…
This flower was the most interest…
Ben Tre
photo by: Paulovic