After a few days in Ho Chi Minh City, it was time to escape the hustle and bustle and head to our next stop: Ben Tre.
Ben Tre (both a province and a city) is about 2 hours south-west of HCMC in the Mekong Delta. There was no way we were coming to Vietnam without seeing the Mekong River.
We were keeping the bungalow streak alive and staying at Quoc Phuong Riverside Homestay which was chosen for much of the same reasons as Battambang – it just looked so pretty! And when we arrived, we were not disappointed.
How did we get there? Funny you should ask.
I was having a hard time finding information online about how to get to our homestay. There were some public buses to Ben Tre city, but the homestay itself was on the river about 15km (~9mi) away from the city center. Finally, a few days before we were due to arrive I messaged the property (thank you Booking.com!) and received some instructions on how to get there.
- Go to your hotel reception and ask them to call this phone number and ask for 4 people on the bus.
- Go to this address.
- Get on the bus, show the driver the name of my homestay. He will know where to drop you off.
Luckily, our Airbnb was in a serviced apartment building so there was actually a reception area and a person who could help us. He called, reserved our spot over the phone, and the next day (with nothing but a verbal confirmation) we were in a cab to the bus stop.
‘Bus stop’ is a very loose term. It was a restaurant.
We hesitantly walked up, looking thoroughly confused I’m sure, showed one of the people working the message and the address, and were immediately given small stools and told to sit & wait. So, we were in the right place!
We waited 15-20 minutes and low and behold a bus shows up, there’s a lot of exchanging of goods (rice, vegetables, drinks, etc.) and then we’re motioned to get on with all our luggage and we head for the last remaining open seats on an already packed bus. Somehow, Sis ended up with the good end of this deal. The rest of us were a little squishy.
We knew we had about 2 hours on the bus and we weren’t really sure where we were going so we kept double checking Google maps to make sure we were at least heading in the right direction. To our surprise, we stopped about 30 min before our final destination at a roadside shop for what we determined was a snack break; evidenced by the random woman who came on the bus selling snacks…
There was also another lady who kept coming on the bus and talking to people. Then, she would make a phone call and like magic, a minute would go by and food would appear! We weren’t really sure what was happening so we didn’t try an get any snacks.
After the break, we were on our way again and quickly approaching where it seemed we needed to be. Shane went to the front of the bus to remind the driver – “Hey, we need to get off here.” with our homestay’s name.
“No, no, not there yet!”
So, we anxiously watch Google maps, watch the driver, the bus stops, we try to get off… “No! Stay!” So we stay.
We stop again and this time “You (points to us). Here!” Off we go at an intersection in what feels like the middle of nowhere. As we get off the bus, we noticed 4 men on scooters but didn’t really think much of it until one of them (nicely) grabs Sis’ bag, puts it on his scooter and then pats the seat for her to get on. So, we all followed suit and off we went, each of us on the back of a strangers scooter for the last 2km to the homestay!
IT WAS THE MOST FUN THING EVER!
And, when editing the video I found this screenshot worthy gem…
The directions may have seemed a little sketchy, but in reality, they were accurate and we had a smooth trip. Once we arrived, we spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing by the river.
We arranged a tour with the property owner on our night of arrival, so the next day we were up early to leave for our essentially private boat tour of the area. Surprisingly, we were on the tour with another American family! We hadn’t run into many other Americans on the trip so far, so it was a nice surprise and we had a great day on the boat as the 8 of us.
First stop, the fish farms. The aquaculture industry in this part of the country is huge, which makes sense given the proximity to the rivers and sea. We saw two types of fish farms: floating farms and pond-style farms. The floating farms are for tilapia, which require/prefer flowing water; the pond-style farms are for catfish. We also learned that a lot of thought goes into how the fish are raised and what they eat to ensure they meet the requirements for export to the US and EU, as well as acknowledging what the consumers in those markets want.
Next up, a honeybee farm!
Here, we tasted the honey (so delicious), had some tea (with honey) and some homemade honey snacks. To taste the honey, you had to stick your finger in the middle of the bees to poke through the honeycomb. Only slightly nerve-racking and, outside of jumping in the black water in Koh Rong, probably Shane’s worst nightmare.
Our trip to the honeybee farm also included a pet snake. Apparently, this is a common pet in (at least this part of) Vietnam. I passed on holding it…
After the honeybee farm, we headed down and across the river to see how coconut candies are made. We were able to have a taste test here too, along with some cobra whiskey. Ah yes, just like Battambang, whiskey made with snake. I mean, our whole group tried it (minus the kids) but I can safely say none of us liked it.
And finally, probably my favorite part of the tour that day. We transferred to a small wooden boat and were taken through the small tributaries connected to the main Mekong River.
After that, we had about an hour on the boat back to the homestay!
Lucky for us, we were back just in time because a massive rain storm came shortly after we were back. Unlucky for Shane and I, we needed to go find an ATM in the village since the place was cash only. This wasn’t really a big deal since the homestay provided free bikes and a map. We’re used to biking, and there was a break in the rain so off we went.
In the beginning, we honestly had such a nice ride. It wasn’t raining, it’s so fun to see the local village, and we passed so many friendly smiling waving kids along the way. But, as one might expect, the above map is not to scale. And our in-person directions from the owner of “two lefts then a right” wasn’t as straight forward as one might think. And then it started raining. And then the chain came off of Shane’s bike – three times. Nothing better than fixing a chain on a red dirt road in the rain.
We did eventually find the ATM, but we were soaked through by the time we got home. Sis and Terry made the smart decision to stay home and take a nap. We probably should have followed suit.
Unfortunately, we only had 2 nights in this amazing place. If I were to do this trip over, I would definitely have stayed here at least 2 or 3 full days. You could just relax, do the boat tour (like we did) or, with more time, an all-day scooter tour through the countryside. We were very disappointed to be leaving so quickly.
Plus side of leaving? We had to take the bus back and the bus stopped for snacks again! This time we knew what to expect…
The real-deal-not-7-11 version of the most delicious bánh bao! This time I remembered to take a picture before I ate it.
With full tummies, we made it back to HCMC, said goodbye to our American friends who were also on the bus, and prepared to go to the airport and our next destination…
Hoi An, Vietnam!