Ben Tre, Vietnam: Tour-less in the Mekong Delta.
The Story -- Ben Tre, Vietnam
We almost decided not to go to the Mekong Delta. It’s one of the places we found the most difficult to research transportation for. Even Lonely Planet’s Southeast Asia on a Shoestring suggests that the easiest (and cheapest) way to do it is to buy a tour from a travel agent in Ho Chi Minh City. This may be an easier option but the idea of spending three days on a tour bus, cramming in as many towns as possible, and eating in the prescribed restaurants is not really our scene. We decided to go at it alone.Our first stop in the Mekong Delta was Ben Tre.
From Ho Chi Minh City we took bus 39, a public transit bus from in front of Ben Thanh market to Mien Tay Bus Terminal for 4,000d/$0.20 (pay on the bus and make sure you have small, if not exact change). As you walk into Mien Tay station, avoid the people asking you where you are going and head straight for the ticket window. The prices are posted right there on the window so you won’t be ripped off. There are quite a few companies offering vans to Ben Tre, so shop around for the closest departure time. we took the minibus for 77,000d/$3.80. The minibus ride was quick and painless. It was air-conditioned and relatively empty so we had plenty of room to put our bags and knees. We arrived outside of the bus station where we were swarmed by the obligatory motorcycle driver and hostel owner/tour seller. I don’t know where they came from. Maybe they can smell a foreigner from a mile away. We needed to take a taxi to get to Oasis Hotel, and after telling the xe-om driver we’d prefer a taxi, one magically appeared two minutes later (100,000d/$5).
The Oasis Hotel (567,000d/$27 room per night for AC, TV, fridge, private bathroom, breakfast) was great and it was only a 15 minute walk to the town across the river. It is one of the most expensive places we’ve stayed, but the friendliness and helpfulness of the staff was worth it (plus there was a swimming pool!). There was only one restaurant close to the hotel, it was a little overpriced, but the serving sizes were generous. One of the noodle dishes we ordered could easily have served two people (65,000d/$3.20).We spent the first day by the pool relaxing and eating cornflakes. The next day we went to the market in the morning which was by far the cleanest one in Vietnam we had been to. Everything was so fresh and many of the animals were still alive: fish, snakes, turtles, shellfish, and snails. There weren’t too many prepared food options for lunch though, so we bought some sketchy street pancakes and headed back to the hotel for a swim.
Ben Tre, Vietnam Market Gallery
After our swim, the family invited us to join them for lunch. Relieved that we didn’t have to eat our sketchy street pancakes, we jumped at the chance to indulge in a traditional home-cooked Vietnamese lunch. We had delicious freshwater fish, pork fried with garlic and an unknown flower vegetable. In the afternoon we took the route the hotel suggested to a nearby island by motorcycle. We rented our motorbike from Oasis Hotel for 80,000d/$4 for a half day.
We took a left out of the hotel and rode along the river passing by a brick factory (which is open to tourists if you wish to see how they make the red clay bricks) and coconut plantations (Ben Tre is famous for it’s delicious coconut candy). At the fork in the road we turned right and continued along until we reached a T-junction next to a market building where we turned right to the ferry. The ferry goes across to the island every 15 minutes and costs 5,000d/$0.25 for two passengers and a motorcycle(!).
Once across to the island you have two options: ditch the motorcycle; or if your scooter riding skills are up to snuff, take on the narrow and rickety paths. We chose the latter, not knowing what was ahead of us. First, we went right until we hit a bridge that was a tree trunk, at which point we turned back and went the other way until the path essentially dissolved into forest. It was a very unique and authentic Mekong Delta experience.
Ben Tre was a good stop for us, and it would make an easy day trip from Ho Chi Minh City. The market alone was worth the trip. Our next stop is Vinh Long as we head deeper into the Mekong Delta.
Sample Budget (for 2)
Bus from Saigon: 150,000 VND ($6.70)
Accommodations: 2 nights for 900,000 VND ($40)
Meals: 2 lunches, 2 dinners – 410,000 VND ($18.30)
Coffee/Booze/Snacks: 75,000 VND ($3.35)
Motorbike rental: 80,000 VND ($3.50)
Bus to My Tho: Local bus – 30,000 VND + 100,000 VND for a taxi to the bus station = 130,000 ($5.80)
Total: 1,745,000 ($77.86) – $19.46 each per day
The Facts -- Ben Tre, Vietnam
Getting In and Out
In the Mekong Delta, local buses rule. And that’s not necessarily a good thing. They are small and worn down. They don’t always drop you off at the most convenient locations, but they are cheap. An example: a bus from Ben Tre to Vinh Long costs $1, but it drops you off at the ferry terminal where you’ll have to take the ferry across the river for about 5 cents, then catch a motorcycle taxi to the downtown or walk the 3 kilometers (there probably won’t be any regular taxis around). Like I said, not the most convenient, but inexpensive (and a hell of an adventure). The bus station in Ben Tre is a bit out of town and we had a difficult time finding a taxi that wasn’t of the motorcycle variety. That being said, there is one company that will actually drop you off at your hotel: Thinh Phat, which leaves from Mien Tay station — ticket booth 20 (or if you prefer district 5 head to 25A Su Van Hanh). It costs 75,000 VND. The buses leave every hour starting at 7AM.
This company is your best bet if you’re coming from Saigon. If you do end up at the bus station, it’s probably possible to get a local bus from the station into the center of the city. Please let us know in the comments if you know for sure.
The Best Budget Hotel in Ben Tre, Vietnam
Hung Vuong Hotel is right on the river, close to the action. The rooms have everything you need and cost about $20 for a double room with a view of the river. It’s only a 3 minute walk to the market, the highlight of Ben Tre, Vietnam. They have a restaurant on site, and your stay includes breakfast.
If you don’t mind spending $5 more, you can get a room at the Oasis Hotel. It has a nice pool, very friendly staff that speak English, and you can rent a motorbike from them for a half day to explore the countryside. They suggested a nice route for us to take that had us seeing the highlights of Ben Tre. The hotel is about a 20 minute walk to the market.
The Best Budget Restaurant in Ben Tre, Vietnam
It’s actually difficult to find a good place to eat in Ben Tre, Vietnam. The market has a few stalls that will satisfy you for an early lunch. The restaurants along the river are mostly expensive for Vietnamese standards. There’s a pho place that’s pretty good at 68 Phan Ngoc Tong. Just south of that you can head to Cô Mười to get Bún Mộc, Hủ Tiếu, or Phở Gà. You can get some tasty duck rice porridge soup (like a congee) at Tuyền (9/2 Nguyễn Trung Trực). For chicken you can try Ngọc Hảo (30A Tan Ke), which cooks their birds in a clay pot over an open flame. For something classier, try Trúc Giang Restaurant at 26 Lê Đại Hành.
The Map -- Ben Tre, Vietnam
Next Stop Recommendation: Can Tho, Vietnam
Even though Vinh Long is closer, it makes more sense to go to Can Tho first. From Ben Tre, there will be more bus options and it will probably save you from having to get a moto-taxi from the highway outside of Vinh Long.
Buses leave from the station every hour starting at 8:30AM and ending around 1:30PM. The costs is around 70,000 VND.