Mekong Adventure II – Return to Can Tho

21.11.2018

After a surprisingly good night sleep (was not waken up by the traffic noise outside) it was time to get ready and meet my sister at the agreed time at 8:30 to continue trip to our next destination – Can Tho. Surprisingly I didn’t make it.

The simple reason was a new game I started that morning “Where is…?”. It seemed I was constantly looking for something when we wanted to leave. The item that day was the parking ticket. I could not find it. Checked my bags, pockets, headed back to the room. In the end the security guide remembered me and I got the bike. Of course then I found the ticket – in the pocket of the thin jacket I usually had on during the ride. So we lost 15 minutes. I am not sure what was worse – this to happen or my sister not to be surprised about the delay!!!

The second part of our motorbike trip was heading to Can Tho, the main city of the Mekong Delta. From Ben Tre it can be a quick 127km via the busy QL1a. But I wanted to avoid that section and focus more on the side roads. So instead we followed a longer, but nice route.

Route: Ben Tre – Can THo

Distance: 120km (plus ferries)

Before we left Ben Tre it was time for breakfast. We spotted a very busy Banh Mi place, so decided to try it. Unfortunately it was closed in the morning, so I was looking for another place. And somehow in that process there was a slight miscommunication. I found a Banh Mi place, but not sight of my sister. I was waiting for 5 minutes, nothing. Phone call, nothing. So I turned back to the corner where I saw her last time – and there she was, sitting in a café opposite the Banh Mi place, waiting for food. I might have missed that piece of information. So I headed back to the food places, buying 2 Banh Mi and joining my sister, who already enjoyed a traditional non-Vietnamese coffee. I had to wait for my usual ca phe su da while we started to have our breakfast. And yes, the Banh Mi was awesome. Very tasty. And this café, located on a corner, was a great spot to enjoy the morning traffic in Ben Tre. Perfect start into the day.

It was time to leave. So off we went, following the main road west out of Ben Tre. However, I thought I saw my sister riding behind me, though at a traffic light I realised I was wrong. The person on the bike was certainly smaller. This, however, led to another question – where was my sister??? I waited for a few minutes and then followed our emergency protocol. If she lost me, she will wait at the spot she saw me last. In this case it was 5 metres away from the café. Wow – what a great start we had so far. It could certainly only get better from here – or so I hoped!!!

Now with two bikes we headed off Ben Tre via a rather busy road. These roads can be annoying as they are always busy, but at the same time get a different view of a town. So you will probably like and hate it at the same time. And Ben Tre was no different. But our first milestone was visible rather soon – the big Cau Ham Luong Bridge, which crosses a rather big arm of the Mekong Delta. Even though it was probably not legal – we quickly stopped to take one or more photos. Yes – we were touristy.

After the bridge I was rather glad that we had not to stay on the busy QL60 – we had to turn into a smaller road. And I must admit – I really loved the next small stretch on DT882. One of the reason was it was not as busy as the QL60, the road was in good condition, but I loved the scenery. With trees, palm trees, plantation and rice fields it offered quite a bit of variety. This area was one of the reason I was so eager to return to the Mekong and do that journey with a motorbike. It might sound like a cliché – but I felt a bit free riding on such roads.

Unfortunately after that lovely ride we had to turn back on a highway – QL57. Fortunately only for a short distance. I decided to continue some island hopping, so one ferry terminal was our destination. For that we had to turn into a small but rather nicely paved road (after the previous day I was a bit nervous if I manage to lead us to more dirt roads – thankfully not yet). From the start I realised that this will be a lovely section. Both sides of the road were full of palm trees. The amount of green was overwhelming in a positive way. We actually spotted a small graveyard at the start of the road. It was interesting to see quite a few graveyards, as usually Vietnamese are Buddhist, and the dead are getting burned. But we got to see quite a few more during the trip.

This was actually a lovely section – especially as the road was in a rather good condition. And it was nice to get some shades provided by trees. Also, the scenery never got boring. Palm trees, plantations or small villages – there was quite a bit of variation. At some point we crossed a little canal – and offering some views that were typical for the Mekong Delta. The greenish water, covered on both sides with trees and other plants, while some boats travelled through the area or stopping on the canal front. It was just peaceful. And if you are lucky, you might even see kids in their traditional Ao Dai dresses cycling or riding pass you while smiling at you and shouting Hello. This is the real, rural Vietnam. These are the moments you will not forget when travelling through Vietnam, and not just following the touristy path.

Unfortunately during the last stretch before reaching the pier some oil suddenly appeared on my sister’s hand – coming from the brakes. OK – as leading vehicle it was my task to spot any garages on the road and stop. Obviously, I failed miserable. Distracted by the views like churches or houses or strange constructions to bring water from a canal to a house through pipes over the road – and missed a garage. Thankfully my sister paid more attention and stopped. And here I watched the work at a Vietnamese garage when showing the liquid coming from the brake. You take a towel, clean it, check the brakes and nod to show it has been fixed. Well – the brakes seemed to work, it was clean and no more liquid came out. So maybe this approach worked. And it was for free. It was not my bike so I was happy with this “fix”, though as kind as I am I advised my very experienced sister (which comes with old age) to check te brakes while riding. If looks could kill…..

Fortunately everything went well, and soon enough we reached the pier to get to the next island. Of course initially we ended up at a dead-end again, but 1 minute later we saw the usual ferry that would bring us safely to the other side of the river. I actually loved all these little piers, as it is a perfect place for people watching on and off the boats. It is a lot of fun. Thankfully only a short wait was required and soon the rather short ride to the other side was underway.

Thanh Binh island is actually not a small island, though not as big as the one we covered the previous day. And like the other day the road leading away from the pier was actually in a good condition while you passed more fields and trees. The plan was to undertake the short ride across the island to the other ferry terminal. But unfortunately the bridge across a small canal was removed and in the process to be rebuilt.

So a detour was required, following a less paved road ( not using the d-word). The advantage was that the road was covered by shades provided by the trees on either side. And I actually liked this stretch – it was a nice little trip passing small houses. After a short ride we arrived back on a paved road  – and a little pagoda. Knowing my sister I waited at the bikes while she walked into the temple to take some photos. Unfortunately neither of us thought about parking the bikes in the shade and not in the sun. Well, here is a little secret – motorbike seats can get very hot. I was reminded of this fact unfortunately.

Next to the temple we finally found a bridge to cross the little canal, which offered enough space for one bike only – so you had to hope that no one from the other side decided to cross the little bridge at the same time. While I was able to quickly stop in the middle of the bridge to take a photo, my sister was less lucky and had to cross it rather quickly as two bikes were chasing her. I found it rather entertaining. Being finally on the right side of this canal (ok – it might sound like that it was a massive river – but it was only a small canal!!!) we just had to follow another small path until we reached the main road of the island, that crosses from one side to the other side of the island.

At this point I decided it would be easier to head to the northern side for another ferry terminal and enjoying the rather less busy area. The road was in a nice condition and it was a pleasant ride, seeing a lot of flowers. They really like it colourful on these islands.  Unfortunately turning right towards the west of the island one section of the road was more like a construction site. Thankfully it was dry – it would not pleasant to ride that road while it would rain. The reward of surviving that section was passing a little church and reaching our next destination – another ferry terminal. It felt like we turned into some ferry tourists…

We had now a routine for all crossings. Drive onto the ferry, I walked off the ferry to stretch my legs, take some photos and get some water, Khong Do or 7Up, while my sister stayed with the bike. It worked like a clockwork

One crossing later we were on the right side of another arm of the Delta, but here I got a surprise. The plan was to follow the road north, but Google Map announced that it is 500m to the ferry. A ferry? Really?? Yes, there is not a bridge, but another ferry to follow the road north. I couldn’t be bothered so we took the road west instead. What could go wrong I was thinking….and I shouldn’t have done that.

The road was initially in the normal nice condition – and as the scenery started to be nice the plan was to find a nice café for a little break. Unfortunately we did not see a nice café. And then the road work started. A long stretch of the DT901 was being re-done. Great, riding on little stones with a lot of dust. And guess what – in that stretch we passed a lovely café. But nae chance we would stop there. No way. After the road work was done we obviously didn’t spot any other nice places – typical.

Though after a while we finally did – though it was closer to the intersection with Ql53 than planned. But the place had hammocks, lots of shades and I was hoping to get some coffee. So getting off the bike, occupying hammocks and getting ready to order. And no – they actually didn’t serve coffee. Yes, it seemingly does exist – places in Vietnam not serving coffee. Slightly deflated I just got some water and ice tea. On a plus side, it was very comfortable on the hammock. It was rather ice sitting here, having a chat and giving several body parts time to rest a bit. It was actually a nice place to stop.

After a longer than expected 45 minute break it was time to continue. Continuing with the plan to avoid highways we continued following the DT907 south towards another big stream of the mighty Mekong. The advantage was less traffic and a better chance to enjoy the scenery. And we were not disappointed as we started to see more rice fields again. At one point the road actually crossed rice fields on either side. It was just stunning – especially as we could see how hard the locals work on the field. However, we started to ride a bit faster as the sky got a bit darker, it looked like rain was coming. So rather stopping a bit more it was ride. This got a bit more difficult when we had no other choice but joining the QL54. It reminded me very quickly why I wanted to avoid such roads. They were certainly busier, especially with lorries (and do not iamagine several lanes for each side – one lane for each direction!!!). And lorries and bus drivers are not famous for their careful driving skills (I would not call it skills at all). They pass other vehicles without mercy. I thought I would get hit twice by a minibus passing me. It can be quite scary. So my eyes were fixed on the road, so no change to enjoy the view – it was all about survival. Though we stopped once a while for some photos, for example for temples and some rather unusual way to transport other people. But overall it was not pleasant….

Thankfully after that rather un-enjoyable stretch we got a real treat – an absolute highlight – Can Tho Bridge. It is the gate to the largest city of the Mekong Delta, surprise surprise, Can Tho. This is one site I did not experience during my first visit to Can Tho 4 years earlier, but I am glad I did not make the same mistake twice. This cable-stayed bridge is a great sight. With two towers connecting the cable it looks impressive when riding the freeway towards it. It is even more impressive when you are able to hit the timing perfectly – in our case we crossed the bridge during sunset. I am pretty sure it was not legal, but we briefly stopped on the highest point of the bridge to enjoy the view. It is certainly impressive. I am not sure if this was normal or some locals thought if two foreigners can do it they can do it as well – but I saw a few people behind us doing the exact same thing. Talking of providing the wrong ideas.

From here it was rather easy to reach the tourist area in Can Tho. Down the bridge, following the highway. Though it was a bit weird to be on such street, and then seeing an older man with his 2 cows on a smaller road next to the highway. Old way of living meet the new one. And then we were in Can Tho. One rather interesting sight was near the tourist areas. Police in the middle of the road stopped all cars and bikes. I was just wondering what happened when I saw a police car racing down a small bridge on the other lane, with police officers leaning slightly out of the car, their batons ready to hit anyone in the path – followed by two rather luxurious looking Mercedes-Benz. You really should stay out of the way of these officers. After this brief excitement we continued riding and soon enough I recognised the main street and from here it was quite easy to find the road along the river – Hai Ba Trung.

During our break I searched a bit for a hotel and found a nice looking hotel along the river – Tay Ho Hotel. But stopping in front of it I really did not expected to see it. It was located in an old colonial style building directly opposite of the Ho Chi Minh statue. It looked rather impressive. Wondering again if it might be too expensive I checked the process – and it was 500.000 for each room with river view and access to the balcony. Well – if you can stay in such place you do. And we didn’t really regret the decision. Here is the full review of the hotel.

However, after check-in it was decided not to go to the room – instead we headed straight to the restaurant “Mekong” next door, sitting outside, still dusty and sweaty, and enjoying an ice cold beer. Let me tell you – it was one of these beers you think it is the best beer ever. Sitting back, relaxing, enjoying the view while drinking a tasty Beer Saigon. At this moment life could not be any better. During our second beer we actually considered to stay for dinner, but I think it was a better idea to freshen up.

So far I got the key for my room, helped bringing our bikes into the back of the hotel, having 2 beers next door and then walking  up to the room. Somehow I still managed not finding the key for my room. Heading back to the restaurant. Nothing. Checking my bag. Nothing. Checking the reception. Nothing. The owner kindly opened the door for me and gave me the spare key. This was humiliating. Though I managed to top it. Standing in the room I did the same as earlier in the morning. I checked the pocket in my blue jacket – and yes, the key was there. Unbelievable….

Refreshed from the long journey and the scare we headed out for dinner. I thought to remember that there were quite a few restaurants along the riverfront towards the market, though instead we saw mainly some of the usual shops selling tourist cr.p. Bit of a shame. Arriving at the market we walked inside and saw a nice looking restaurant, but it looked rather busy so we headed out finding something else. And we did – a place called GONY. The menu looked ok, but sitting inside you could not help to realised the smell. It was not pleasant, and I must admit I didn’t like the place. So before we ordered we left and as I was quite hungry I made the executive decision to head to the restaurant inside the market.

The place, Sao Hom, looked very busy, but they said they had a free table. Walking through the main room we were led to the terrace area over the water, then onto a little pier. Wow, sitting outside next to the river with a great view. Perfect. The menu look good as well, and we ordered Summer rolls for starter and for mains a local Mekong fish, chicken and vegetables. The summer rolls were, using a Vietnamese expression, just so-so. I had better. My fish was absolute delicious. It really was good. The little side dish of vegetables was a bit bigger than expected, but nice to have something healthy. My sister enjoyed her meal as well. Overall, I really like this place. If you have a chance getting a seat outside at night, it is a perfect spot. And very good food. Food is more expensive than other local places, but just over 500.000 VND for starter, two mains, vegetables and some beer is more than reasonable I think.

After dinner we decided not to buy any other food from the night market next to the restaurant. Instead we headed back to the hotel (with a short stop to buy some beer) and then enjoyed the luxury having a balcony in front of our room to have some beer and having a chat while having a great view. This was a perfect end to a long, but pleasant day. Unfortunately we had a very early start the next day as we booked a private boat to the floating markets. This was certainly no trip with sleep-in opportunities….

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3 thoughts on “Mekong Adventure II – Return to Can Tho

  1. Here’s the old sister again
    I can only confirm the report.
    They were nice little streets and nobody can do anything for construction sites. Only a pity that the most beautiful (and in hindsight the only) restaurant was right in the construction site.
    And the bridge to Can Tho was an experience! It is with 16km the longest bridge in the Mekong Delts and after all also the longest suspension bridge of Southeast Asia.
    I love superlatives
    And there’s something worse to drink than a beer overlooking the Mekong River.
    I have already experienced the river in Laos, Thailand and Kambotscha and therefore the Delta (the biggest of the world ) was also an experience.
    Thank you little brother

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  2. Thanks for the read, Stefan.
    Did you stop by the place where they commemorate the victims of the Can Tho bridge incident (when a section of the approach ramp collapsed during construction.)
    John

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  3. Really enjoyed it, Stefan. Hopefully you remember me; seems your memory is in decline. 🙂
    Oh, and I know exactly where your hotel was in Can Tho. It’s certainly an impressive statue of Uncle Ho.
    Scott

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