Tra Vinh is a small provincial town in the Mekong Delta, perfect for a relaxing weekend away from the noise and chaos in Ho Chi Minh City. Even though it is only takes 4 hours to get there by bus from HCMC, most foreigners tend to visit the larger cities in the Delta, like Vinh Long or Ben Tre, making Tra Vinh almost foreigner free. Early one morning, my friends and I decided to take a boat ride to Ben Tre, which according to the hotel owner was only an hour and a half trip. We woke up at 6 am because we were told the boats head out by 7 so we wanted to make sure we had plenty of time to find a ride.
We headed down to the market and started asking boat captains if they were headed to Ben Tre. It didn’t take long before we found someone willing to let us on board. Since these are just cargo boats transporting goods back and forth along the Mekong, the cost was very low for us to hitch a ride. The captain’s starting price was 100,000 dong per person ($5), which we knew was too high. After some negotiating in our broken Vietnamese, we got the price down to 70,000 dong ($3.50), however the boat wasn’t leaving until 9 am, so we had some time to kill in the market.
* An early provincial morning
*Banh Tet – a traditional food from this region, glutinous rice rolled in a banana leaf and stuffed with savory meat
The boat finally departed around 10 am and we were on our way to enjoying a relaxing river cruise of sorts. What was supposed to be an hour and a half turned into a 4 hour journey. No one seemed too bothered though, we had plenty of snacks, hammocks, and a bathroom, which was actually just a hole cut into the floor that went directly into the river. Soon after we set out, we noticed dark clouds ahead and prepared for the rain to come. The wind picked up and we had to retreat inside as the rain pelted the deck.
Once the rain stopped we moved back outside and as we got closer to Ben Tre, the site of towering piles of coconut shells became ever more prevalent. Ben Tre is known for its production of coconut goods, like candy and oils, so there are farms all along the delta. Most of the farms we passed had mounds of coconut shells stacked as high as a two story building and people hard at work collecting even more. All the people we passed would wave and smile as they loaded coconuts onto boats to be transported. Our own boat made a few stops along the way, dropping of goods to homes and local businesses.
Once we finally reached Ben Tre there was only enough time to have a few beers and some street snacks before heading back to Tra Vinh. This involved racing across town on the backs of some very speedy provincial xe oms, just barely catching the city bus to the ferry, then finding a bus that would take us the last 20 odd kilometers back to city at night.