Nine Dragons of the Mekong
Trip Start Jun 05, 2011
195Trip End Feb 28, 2013
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Where I stayed
By Xe Om (cuddle taxi) 5 hrs
Nhakhach Hung Vuong Hotel - 300000 ($15) Dong, including breakfast
Cuddle Taxi to Ben Tre (Population: 120,000)
After listening to an adventurous story from a vacationing German lawyer, who had just arrived in Can Tho from the Cambodian border, with a very sore behind caused by 6 hours of hanging on to the back of a motorcycle taxi, our curiosity was peaked.
At 11AM, we found a pair of xe om drivers and saddled up. My driver was short enough, and my pack tall enough, that he could barely see the road ahead. We exited Can Tho to the south and crossed the wide river over a new and extremely long suspension bridge and turned northwest in the direction of Vinh Long along the equally modern highway 1A. We were flying and making great time. This wasn't the kind of 'great time' we were after.
People on the tourist buses waved at us with big grins on their faces as they whizzed by us. We looked ridiculous.
The route took us over a big road to the Dinh Khai Ferry. Surely there must be little ferries or other small bridges? But we didn’t know of any and, probably, the drivers didn’t know the back-ways to Ben Tre either. We gave them the benefit of the doubt and let them continue on the big road.
Finally, after we crossed the river on the ferry, the roadside became more interesting. It was still a blur… Our drivers were hot to finish the job. The wind blew through our helmeted hair. Bugs bounced off our faces. It was so much fun to be on the bikes. Just before town, we stopped for an ice coffee break. Oddly enough, tea was served alongside the coffee we ordered.
Our guides brought us into Ben Tre and helped us find a hotel, the Hung Voung. Their faces lit up when we added a two dollar tip to their fee.
Cu Long; The Nine Dragons
Mekong River flows down from China as it splits out into many fingers before spilling out into the South China Sea. The Nine Dragons they call it. Between the dragons, plantations of rice, coconut groves, and gardens grow. There are so many waterways, it is fair to call them islands.
Nam Bo Tours: Half day tour around Ben Tre including lunch; 440000 Dong for two ($10 each)
We planned to rent bikes and ride though the tiny waterway and delta islands near Ben Tre. I asked for some directions at the Nam Bo Tour office co-located at our hotel. That gave them the opening to sell us on a morning tour of the same places we had in mind. We could always ride around in the afternoon if we wanted. We signed up and waited on a dozen others who would be arriving from Ho Chi Minh City for the tour.
Blue skies, balmy hot weather, and a cooling breeze made for a fantastic day in the jungle.
Brick Factory Kiln
Fourteen of us boarded for the 10 minute ride to the factory. One of our fears of tours such as this is the mindless banter the guides feel obligated to make to fill the silence. And Thom, our guide for the morning, fit the mold. It is great that he can tell his stories in English and Vietnamese, but once in a while, Michelle would turn to me and ask, "Is he speaking Vietnamese or English?" I wasn’t sure. The other bad aspect is they say stuff that is just not true. Thom said the Mekong water is “clean". He explained the action of the tides raises and lowers the water level which removes the impurities so the people of the delta can wash and drink the murky mud. Perhaps they do drink it. But we see bottled water used and for sale everywhere. And that is not just for sale to the passing tourist.
We learned several interesting facts from Thom. The Ben Tre area is known for its coconut plantations. They have two types. The land type is visually similar to the kind we see at the grocery stores at home. The other type he called ‘water coconut’. It is small, dark brown, and without the hollow core of juice.
We walked around the brick factory. Rice husks are used to heat the kilns to 900c and fire bricks for 20 days. The kiln is cooled for a week before it can be unloaded. Burnt husks are used in the fields for fertilizer. 50 bricks are sold for a dollar!
Honey Bee Factory
The boat went into some small channels where we saw coconut piles and small boats with fishermen. It was peaceful.
Coconut Candy Factory
Our final ‘factory’ stop in the big boat was at the coconut candy place. Here they grind the coconut meat and put through a press to get the juice, add malt and sugar, and slowly heat the juice while stirring until it becomes thick. Then they pour the sticky mess onto a slab form, let cool, then cut it into pieces and wrap for sale.
Transfer to small boat to Restaurant
Next we boarded, four to a boat, in smaller launches paddled by a boatman.
Short tuk-tuk ride and transfer to another boat for return to village.
From the restaurant, we went on a very short nature walk. We spotted unusual small fish living in the mud at the water’s edge. Their eyes stick up so they can see about the water.
We passed a motorcycle with a cage of dogs. We were sure he was bringing the sad eyed collection of ‘man’s best friend’ to butcher in the market.
We enjoyed the tour and would recommend it to others.
American Graffiti on Mo-Peds
Evening in Ben Tre reminded me of small town America of the 50’s. Imagine the street cruising scenes from American Graffiti and substitute 110cc Honda motorbikes for the cars. The day’s work is done and hundreds of the two wheelers go cruising in the evening; couples on dates, singles, families.