Part 1: HCMC – Ben Tre via Go Cong (140 km)
Highlights: Rice fields, My Loi Bridge, Phu Duong Island
For the first part of the trip you could actually choose a direct route from HCMC to Ben Tre via My Tho. Personally I didn’t want to do this because a) you will follow some busy roads and b) I always prefer smaller rural roads. So if you are in no rush take the longer, but more scenic route via Go Cong south of HCMC.
Whatever route you will follow, the start of the trip might be the least pleasant and maybe most stressful part of the journey – getting out of HCMC. I would highly recommend leaving as early as possible to avoid rush hour, which on occasion can be a challenge. I left just after 7am and it was OK, but the earlier you leave the better.
There are different ways to head to the Mekong Delta. I would recommend is heading towards District 7 via D1 or D3, then D10, D8 and then get onto the main dual carriageway in D7 – Nguyen Van Linh – and travel west. This road is not too bad as motorbikes have their own lane, and it is actually a pleasant ride until you can turn left onto QL1A.
If you travel via Go Cong you only have to stay on the QL1A for short while, as you should turn right onto Dinh Duc Thien. For me this road is the start of the Mekong Delta trip. It is nice road in good condition. While you will pass some factories and the construction side of what seems to be a brand new town/village for people with money, you will also spot the first rice fields, churches and lots of trees. On occasions there are some small bridges to be crossed, that offered nice views. Don;t be surprised if locals will wave at you or shouting “Hello” and “Xin Chao” while passing you.
After a while the road merges with the QL50, still nice and without a lot of traffic. And on that road is a real first highlight – the impressive My Loi Bridge, leading over the first big arm of the Mekong. From here you have an amazing view over the surrounding area. If the traffic is not busy you might be able to stop to take a photo or enjoy the view. As usual though – safety first.
Shortly after My Loi bridge you will reach Go Cong. I did not explored the city, but it will be a good place to stop for a wee break or even breakfast. There are plenty of food places around.
From Go Cong you can either head to Ben Tre by staying on the QL50, or you do a detour via one of the many islands in that region. I could not get confirmation about ferries going to Phu Duong island. I can now confirm there are.
From Go Cong take the the DT862 southbound and then turn onto HL4. Both roads are in good condition and offer the view you expected from the Mekong Delta – green and golden rice paddies, little streams, plantations. And hardly any traffic.Here you will also see some little bridges that are used as a floodgate to control the water level of the stream. At the end of HL4 you will arrive at the ferry point to get to Phu Duong island. On Google Map there is another ferry point shown east of HL4. The road to get there is bumpy, but the scenery is very nice. Unfortunately, there is no longer a ferry from there (I found out by taking a detour).
It is only a short crossing. But I must admit, I love taking ferries here. One reason is you get a wee break, and secondly you might meet interesting people who want to talk to you.
After a 10 minutes you will arrive on Thanh Phu Dong. It is seemingly a bigger island, and seeing the reaction of the locals not a popular destination for foreigners. It is a beautiful and peaceful place with lots of rice fields, plantations, streams and quite a few houses using the leaves from trees to cover the roof. It is actually worthwhile to explore the island before heading to the ferry south of the island. And it is certainly worth the detour.
To get to the ferry just follow the road until you reach the main road of the island DT16. Turn left and follow it until you are near the eastern end of the island. In a small village there is a cafe at a the corner of a crossing – turn right onto the dirt road and it will elad you to the ferry.
The ferry leaving the pier will bring you across another arm of the Mekong. When you reach the mainland again, you can either follow the main road along the river until you can turn onto the QL60 and arrive in Ben Tre.
If you rather want to continue exploring the side roads turn left to the main road and ride through the town and then turn right after a short while turn right onto Nguyen Dinh Chieu and follow the road. The condition is not very good until you have crossed HL40. It is then back to a nice road that continues to pass villages, rice paddies and other normal sights for the Delta. You will also continue the island hopping, though this time the little island was connected by 2 bridges.
After turning onto the HL10 you just follow the road until you reach Ben Tre. The advantage of this road is you stay away from the main roads (with lack of lorries) while you pass some beautiful areas. At one point there is a longer stretch of road with trees on both sides, providing welcomed shade. it is a very relaxing ride until you arrive at the riverfront of Ben Tre.
Ben Tre is one of the larger towns in the area, and apparently quite popular for tourists (not as much as Can Tho). I did not find it overly touristy, and it is a slightly relaxed feel. It is certainly a nice place for a first stop. Here are some details about Ben Tre.