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A New Mekong Delta Boat Trip

By: Tim Russell Posted: August-10-2009 in
Sampan pilot - pic by Tim Russell
Tim Russell

We’re always looking for new trips to excite even the most jaded Vietnam travel veterans, and with that in mind I headed down to Ben Tre at the weekend to check out a new boat trip itinerary.

As previously discussed, Ben Tre offers a quieter, less developed alternative to the busier waterways of My Tho & Vinh Long, and indeed during the 4+ hours I spent on this trip I didn’t come across another tourist.

After a quick morning coffee at Huong Long cafe on Ben Tre’s riverside, our boat departed around 08:30 and chugged off down the river, hugging Ben Tre’s bustling riverside, with its shops & market, for the first half hour or so of the trip. Our first stop was at a brickworks, which admittedly doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, but turned out to be a lot more interesting than I expected. The bricks are made by hand by a largely female workforce, before being put into hot kilns which strangely resemble Vietnam’s famous Cham Towers. It’s hot, dusty work - I was sweating after just 10 minutes - and a really good insight into how unchanged much of Vietnam’s rural agriculture & manufacturing is.

Then it was back to the boat to continue our journey into the most scenic stretch of the tour, away from Ben Tre and into the depths of the province. Our boat passed riverside houses and small coconut processing businesses, dodging local delivery boats and fishermen, before turning off the main river and onto a smaller tributary. Here it was totally still and quiet, with only the cicadas making a sound - perfect waters for simply sitting back and enjoying the sun and the views. After 20 minutes or so our boat pulled into shore and we disembarked to transfer to a xe loi, a kind of motorised rickshaw with the rear carriage attached to a vintage Honda motorbike. Our xe loi took us a further 15 minutes into the countryside, and then we walked a further 10 minutes through orchards and vegetable gardens to our rest stop and a well-earned lunch & cold beers.

The lunch - soup, fresh shrimp, elephant-ear fish, deep-fried banana flowers, beef stir-fry, fried rice and fresh fruit - was more varied and more generously-served than any lunch I’ve previously had during a Mekong tour. After lunch we had a quick look around the homestay property next door, a lovely traditional old wooden house, before another 10-minute walk through the forest back to the river for our sampan trip.

After nearly capsizing the boat with my rather clumsy boarding, we set off along the narrow waterway. Travelling by sampan has to be the most relaxing form of travel in the world, with just the rustle of trees, the chirping of the cicadas and the gentle swoosh of the oars rippling the water to be heard. I could have spent all day just drifting like this, but after 15 minutes or so it was time to transfer back to our original boat for the rest of the trip, chugging along the tributary before emerging back into the Mekong right opposite Ben Tre market.

We docked back in Ben Tre after around 4 hours, and then I wandered down the river to Ben Tre’s magnificent French colonial museum building. Sadly it was closed for lunch so I can’t comment on the exhibits within, but it is nevertheless a splendid building of the kind now all too rare in Vietnam.


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