Mekong Adventure I – Making it to Ben Tre

20.11.2018

I was looking forward to November 2018 for a very simple reason – my big sister (age wise, not height wise) arrived in Vietnam to visit her favourite brother (that is me in case anyone is wondering). As she is a big motorbike girl and travelled through countries in Asia and Europe by bike doing a motorbike trip was an obvious choice.

As my sister was trusting in my planning activities it was up to me get it organised.  Due to the time of year for me the Mekong Delta was a perfect choice. The rainy season was supposed to be over, and we could easily leave from HCMC. And of course there is the simple fact that the Mekong Delta is a beautiful area and I only have covered a few places back in 2015. After some research (especially vietnamcoracle.com offered some great inspiration) the plan was to do a Mekong Delta Loop from HCMC to the Mekong Delta mountains near the Cambodian border and then back to HCMC. A total of over 700km in 6 days.

The first section was in theory a straight forward one: HCMC – Ben Tre. However, nothing is going to be that easy when I plan a trip. I wanted to avoid the main highway and especially not travelling via My Tho. Instead I wanted to stay on smaller roads and use some ferries to really get this Mekong experience. So I decided to travel via Go Cong and then cross one of the many arms of the Mekong via an island. Only issue – nobody could confirm if the ferries to and from the island are actually still active. But I am sure we would be fine – well, hope was the better description.

Route: HCMC – Ben Tre

Distance: 140km (plus ferries)

Bags pack and our two bikes (my own little Airblade and the hired Airblade for my sister) ready we headed out a bit later than I hoped – it was already nearly 7am. To ensure we didn’t get lost too many I had my phone equipped with Google Map visible on the bike (secured obviously), and it was certainly needed to get out of Saigon. While I knew the first small section I never really followed the road southbound to leave HCMC. Thankfully the rush hour was not as bad as I thought, so not having any breakfast and passing  quite a lot of food places and being able to smell the food was not a good combination. But focusing on getting us out-of-town I ignored the amazing smell and the nice look of the food, and finally via D8 we were on the main road, Nguyen Van Linh, coming from D7. This was actually a nice stretch to ride, as there were separate lanes for cars and motorbikes. So far so good.

Though then it got a bit confusing. My navi (aka Google Map) told me to turn left off QL1, leading to a rather small road – not what I was expecting to be honest. Passing some little fields and houses I followed the direction, until I got to a nice stretch of road. I had no idea which road I was on, but it was certainly leading to Go Cong. And to be fair – I didn’t mind. While I passed some factories and the construction side of what seems to be a brand new town/village for people with money I also saw rice fields, churches and lots of trees. On occasions we crossed some small bridges that offered a nice view. And the whole time, while stopping or riding locals waved and shouted the usual “Hello” and “Xin Chao” I had no idea what road was at the time, but I think it was better than the QL50, which we joined after a while. However, even the QL50 was ok.

While the road was enjoyable to ride, the first highlight was certainly the impressive My Loi Bridge, leading us over the first big arm of the Mekong. From here you have an amazing view over the surrounding area. Not sure if it was legal or not, but we stopped at the middle of the bridge to take some photos. Yeah, like typical tourists – though I know a lot of locals do the same seeing photos of friends…). But it would have been shame missing this spot.

From there it was a short ride to reach the first milestone – Go Cong. We arrived here 2 1/2 hours after leaving home. Not bad I think. And here we took this opportunity to blindly ride through town to find a place for breakfast – my stomach didn’t wanted to listen to any further excuses. We stopped at a little place serving Bun Man Vit (duck soup). Sitting outside next to the street it was a welcomed break for my bum and my stomach. Oh, and the soup was very nice.

I also took the chance to check the next stretch. I wanted avoid My Tho, and I still haven’t given up on the island of Thanh Phu Dong. So checking if there is a café near one of the ferry terminal. Locked on Google and off we were back on the road.

The DT862 and then HL4 were in good condition and now offered the view I expected from the Mekong Delta – green and golden rice paddies, little streams, plantations It was lovely. We also crossed a little bridge that is used as a floodgate to control the water level of the stream. I must admit, I have not seen it during my last trip (or just didn’t pay enough attention).

As I set the course to the café first we turned off the HL4 to a road following another arm of the Mekong. Apparently this road would have led us to the ferry terminal I wanted to go. Unfortunately this idea had one big downside – it was an unpaved road. So it meant a lot of dust….and some torture for our bums. But as real explorer (I really found no information about the ferry) you have to suffer for the gain of others. Or something like that!!!

So we followed that less nice road now, though the scenery made up to it. On the right you could see the Mekong from time to time between trees and behind fish and shrimp farms, on the other side rice fields, plantations, streams and houses. It looked all very lovely. Well, except the road ( a fact my beloved sister continue to remind me!!!). Thankfully the advantage of being a bike means I cannot hear everything!!!!

To make thing worse the café indicated on Google Map was more a beer places with pool table – and I try to avoid them in the morning. So we continued on the road and then it seems we get close. Obviously I missed the part where we had to turn, so heading back and then turning into the road I assumed leads to the ferry. Well, you know you should never assume – as it really make an ass out of u and me. In this case it was a dead-end – as the road stopped here. At least for tourist. An elder local just waved and pointed towards some grass and trees – indicating to continue there. Well –  a normal thinking person would just turn the bike and head back. But we are talking about me – so I just accelerated and hoped for the best!!! Heading over grass and the tiniest little path through some bushes and I was back on another road. Rather impressed I got the camera ready take a photo of my sister arriving out of the bushes – the problem was she never arrived there. Instead I saw a helmet about a nearby tree and she arrived next to me, deciding riding up a little hill to pass the bushes. Who knew she could do this???

Unfortunately the road led to nowhere, so we just followed the little wall dividing the land and the Mekong and pass some cows, riding over some grass and stopped next to the entrance of the house – with the main road in sight. Great – right? Wrong!!! To get there we had to ride down the road and up a wall back to the street. Making a decision between heading back or doing that stretch I obviously accelerated and drove down and up the wall – and made it. My sister made the first part and let me ride up the wall. Arriving back a the road I could see what the ferry terminal should be. The only issue was – there were only fishing boats. Asking someone nearby for a ferry – he just pointed towards the direction we came  – all the way back to the main road. Apparently there is no more ferry here. To give my sister credits – she didn’t kill me immediately after telling here we had to ride back the whole dirt road again.

So we headed back the whole road until we arrived back at HL4, and turning left. After 1 minute from the place we turned into the dirt road was the ferry terminal, We just leave it here. I kept the positive thinking and announced we made it to the ferry. And to be fair – we would had less stories if I wouldn’t have taken the wee detour of 1 1/2 hours….

Staying positive the ferry arrived shortly and we had our first Mekong crossing during this trip – quite a few more would happen. Some of the fellow passengers were a bit surprised to see two foreigners on the ferry and tried to have a very basic conversation. This si what I love about Vietnam – the locals are very friendly, welcoming and curious. It ensures that most trips never get boring.

After a 10 minute crossing we were finally on Thanh Phu Dong. It is seemingly a bigger island, and seeing the reaction of the locals not a popular destination for tourists. Following the road from the ferry terminal to the main road cutting though the island we saw lots of rice fields, plantations, streams and quite a few houses using the leaves from trees to cover the roof. It all has a very peaceful atmosphere here. The plan was heading straight to the southern part of the island to catch the ferry back to the mainland. The road to DT16 and DT16 itself was all good – and when turning right towards Bến đò Lý Quàn – Bình Đại it was still all good – until the end. Welcome back dirt road. I didn’t miss you at all. And I didn’t dare to look back, as I was too afraid of a potential angry women riding behind me. But it was only a short ride on that road – or so I thought. The problem was – I could not see any ferry terminal here – at all. I saw fishing boats, but no sign or road leading to anything. Stupid Google Map.

So heading back to DT16 and heading to the far east of the island, where apparently another ferry terminal is. Getting close to turn off the main road some friendly locals indicated where to turn – I think seeing two foreigners on a motorbike they could guess what we were looking for. This was the good news – now to the bad one. It was another dirt road. Now I got very nervous for two reason. Was this road really leading to the terminal? And while my bum could take more motorbike riding, I was not sure about a heavy kick. So I made sure I sounded very confident that we were on the right track – while praying to all available gods on this planet and planning the great escape at the same time…

But no need to worry, I could see the terminal in the distance. I was safe – for now. Though I am still surprised why there is no paved road to such terminal, especially as cars are coming this way as well. But I guess you never understand planning in Vietnam. We arrived just before 13:00 – so the ferry and its crew had a lunch break. Which was not a bad thing as we were able to stretch our legs, hitting the toilet and getting something to drink. My body thanked me a lot.

Soon enough we were on the ferry, and I must admit, I love them for different reason. The breeze is very welcoming in the heat. I like the view of the Mekong and the riverfront on both sides. And you always see something interesting on the ferry – for example a number of goats securely stored on a motorbike. As a German I was rather impressed with the efficiency. Vietnam really never stops to amaze me.

Back on the mainland it was time to get to Ben Tre – as it was already 13:30. But I also wanted to avoid the highways, so instead going the easiest and fastest route I decided to do it differently (I know – one day I will learn). So instead turning right to the main road in this area I turned left, suffering the very bad conditions while heading through the little town, and then turn Nguyen Dinh Chieu, which per map seemed to be a main stretch of road. So while we were still in town it was correct. But when we had to turn left at the end of the road I could hear the moan behind me (I guess everyone in 5km radius could hear it!!) – the road looked not in the best state. OK – this I could not see coming. I saw my death by the hand of sister getting closer, but after crossing HL40, we were back on a nicely paved small road, passing villages, rice paddies and other normal sights for the Delta. And our island hopping continued – though this time the little island was connected by 2 bridges.

After turning onto the HL10 we just followed the road towards Ben Tre. The advantage was staying away from the main roads even here was less lorries and some beautiful areas. At one point there was a longer stretch of road with trees on both sides, providing welcomed shade. So the last part of the journey was nice. And soon enough we arrived in Ben Tree, straight at the riverfront.

We didn’t book anything ahead so I quickly checked for some places online. One guesthouse looked very nice, but after crossing the bridge it seemed it was too far from town, so we turned back and checked out the riverside area for hotels. In the end we decided to stay at one of the larger hotels next to the river – Hung Vuong Hotel. The main reason was the proximity to the night market and restaurants.

It is a standard Vietnamese tourist hotel with rather basic rooms. But for 350.000 VND it was good value for money. We decided to take the room with river view and balcony, though I did not consider the potential noise when choosing the two rooms. But thankfully it was ok for the night. Here is a review of the hotel.

After checking in and bringing the bags to the room we started a tradition my sister was very adamant about – having a beer straight after arrival. It is kind of reward – and I really didn’t complain. Though, most of the time she arrived first at a beer place and sometime finished one before I arrived. In this instance, outside in the Hotel restaurants. And I must admit – the very cold beer after travelling for nearly 10 hours (consider all the detours) was just like heaven. It went down very well – it certainly helped to relax and it was good to talk about what we have seen so far. I was not the only person who has enjoyed the first day.

After that treat it was time to head out to find dinner. My understanding was that ben Tre is rather a popular tourist place and it would be easy to find a lot of food places. But as I didn’t see as many hotels in the area as I thought, the same applied for food. The night market was actually very nice – fresh fruit, fish, cloth but nit touristy items. It is certainly worthwhile to explore it. The night market turned actually from the river front to a road away from the river – and here we found a nice looking Com Tam place. it was actually your normal Vietnamese food place with metal tables and plastic chairs. But the Com Tam was really nice. Simple but delicious meal.

After that I didn’t mind a beer or a coffee – so we walked a bit around in Ben Tre – as usual without proper aim. I took advantage of an electronic store to buy some USB sticks. Though I have no idea how it could take 15 minutes to get the bill with 3 members of staff. That really was incredible

In the end our aimless walking brought us to Ho Truc Giang pond, which looks rather nice at night. And we could hear the locals watching the last few minutes of the Vietnam – Myanmar game that was on. They really do get very excited when Vietnam is playing.

While the wee walk was very refreshing I was happy to be back in my room – and getting my well deserved peaceful sleep. And I was hoping that the next day would become as interesting as the first one of the very first motorbike trip with my sister. And that we both made it alive!!!!

Disclaimer – no actually violence towards me occurred during the first day – my sister was actually a lovely travel companion!!! (in case she reads this blog!)

2 thoughts on “Mekong Adventure I – Making it to Ben Tre

  1. Here I am – the old sister
    It was a nice tour with the little brother. There are many pictures and nice memories.
    I never wanted to kill him – at least not quite, just said, whoever drives wrong has to pay for my beer

    Liked by 2 people

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