Experience life on the water in Ben Tre
In Southwestern Vietnam lies Ben Tre, a community famous for its legendary coconuts. One weekend, we visited Ben Tre to experience life on the water and discover the homeland of famed scholar Do Chieu.
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Text by: Duong Thuy
From Ho Chi Minh City, we drive about one hour by car, passing by Long An, Tien Giang, until reaching Rach Mieu Bridge, that links Tien Giang with Ben Tre. Along the street, a variety of stores display the many specialties of this region such as coconut cake, coconut candy, dried banana, fried banana with coconut, Son Doc glutinous rice chupatty, shrimp and other unique products from coconuts.
Why are there so many coconut trees in the land named Tre (bamboo)? Quang, a guide who has more than 20 years of experience in this region, told us a legend: A long time ago, this land was formed by three big isles: Minh Isle, Bao Isle and An Hoa Isle with the raising of silt from the Mekong river. Winds blew the silt into blocks with waves of soil. Since it is located between the river and the sea, the land here is enriched by the salt of minerals and silt, which make the soil rich and fertile for fruit trees. Legend has it, that on the way from Guangdong, hiding from the Manqing Dynasty to the South, a general of the Ming Dynasty named Duong Ngan Dich passed by Binh Dinh in the Centre of Vietnam and saw the many coconut trees. Knowing that coconuts were rich in nutrition, he stored coconuts on boats for drinks and food. Being allowed to settle in the land of Thuy Chan Lap aboriginal in Kompong Ruusei, which means Soc Tre in Khmer and was called Ben Tre by Vietnamese people. He grew coconut trees on this landscape and these trees have been spreading and have become a signature plant of Soc Tre.
In Phu Chanh, we visited a brick-kiln which has been located on the riverside for more than a century. According to the local people, more than 70% of the community’s females are working at this kiln. They have to work hard whether it is sunny or rainy for a low salary. The sweet flavor of coconut milk on my hand turns into an acrid stench when I hear the emotional stories of women in this land of coconuts.
We continue on, aboard a small wooden boat. The boat takes us down green channels under lush coconut trees, which are like waving hands to greet guests. The wind coolly blows on the river. The peaceful and picturesque scenery appears in front of us with the green of coconut trees and some cypresses that are elegant in the winds. The serene ambiance creates a clean and cool space.
The boat takes us down green channels under lush coconut trees, which are like waving hands to greet guests. The wind coolly blows on the river. The peaceful and picturesque scenery appears in front of us with the green of coconut trees and some cypresses that are elegant in the winds.
Showing some equipment that local people use for fishing, Quang reveals that each of them has different shapes and their own name. When the tides are low, local people fish along these canals for gudgeon fish hidden in coconut trees. This fish is cooked with coconut and pepper and is a very delicious dish.
We drop by a coconut establishment. Here, we have a chance to witness local people break coconuts for milk and then harvest the rest of it for the meat. Each of them can break about 1,800 coconuts a day. We also try to pry open a coconut to get to the meat but no matter what we do, we cannot match the ease in which the experts part the fruit.
We continue our journey aboard the boat to Nhon Thanh market. Saying goodbye to the boat owner, we walk around an outstanding traditional mat village in Ben Tre. We make our way around the village by motorbike, cruising down green roads, along paddy fields, gardens and vegetable gardens. After a half hour, we continue our journey on the river but on board a more luxurious ship, the Le Jarai.
On the four-star ship, our leader told us that 16 years ago, when he was researching the lower reaches of the Mekong River Delta, developers of tourism realized that this watery region with civilizations built around the orchards will be a remarkable attraction for visitors in the Southwest. Therefore, in Ben Tre, a pair of wooden barges was converted into ships with well-appointed amenities and high safety standards. This pair of ships can take visitors on tours around the imposing Hau river, to Can Tho or Chau Doc. After 16 years traveling around the region, Le Jarai comes back to its old wharf.
Le Jarai takes visitors on tours around the imposing Hau river.
The ship is slowly drifting down the river; the wind is blowing and cypresses are passing by in front of us. A delicious meal is served with the local specialties of the orchard region such as grapefruit salad, roll salad, sour broth, simmering fish and a glass of orange juice.
After two hours, when the ship anchors, it is time we finish our journey around the Mekong River Delta. We say Goodbye to the elegant staff on Le Jarai. I feel a little melancholy when leaving the lush green coconut trees along the river.
+ At present, a tour around Ben Tre with “Le Jarai tour” is exclusively offered by Buffalo company for about 2,600,000VND/person.
+ Traveling in Ben Tre, you can buy specialties such as coconut candy, coconut jam and coconut cake.
+ If you are a backpacker, you can travel there by motorbike or car and stay at guesthouses for about 300,000VND/room/two people.
See more Vietnam travel guide at here.