Making Trails

the travel blog of Lauren Nishizaki

The Mekong Delta: Bến Tre and Cần Thơ


After leaving Da Lat, Jake and I drove south towards the Mekong Delta. We decided to visit Bến Tre and Cần Thơ (both south of Ho Chi Minh City), before concluding our Vietnam vacation in the country’s largest city. On our drive south, we overnighted first in Bảo Lộc and then in Biên Hòa before arriving in Bến Tre.

In Bảo Lộc, we found a bánh xèo restaurant that was recommended by EggBanana travels. As is to be expected, the food was delicious. Bánh xèo is a rice flour pancake filled with shrimp, pork, and bean sprouts. While it was still hot from the grill, we rolled slices of the pancake and fresh greens into spring rolls.

On our way out of Bảo Lộc the next morning, we stopped for coffee at Photo & Bike Cafe (a recommendation from Vietnam Coracle). Our drinks were tasty and refreshing, and the view from the back terrace was stunning.

After hopping back on the bike, we continued our southward journey. We gawked at the huge roadside boulders in Định Quán. Later, we stopped to take pictures from a bridge overlooking the Dong Nai River. After failing to find a guesthouse in Trảng Bom (options were too close to the noisy highway and too far from food), we continued on to the larger city of Biên Hòa. We arrived during rush hour and slowly made our way through the packed streets. The offline maps on my phone finally led us to Royal Hotel Bien Hoa, where the room was ridiculously nice and the rate was ridiculously cheap.

As we left Biên Hòa the next day, the QL1A routed all motorcycle traffic onto side streets for several blocks. We’d been looking for a quick lunch place, and a sign advertising vịt (duck) prompted us to stop. Jake and I both ordered bowls of soup, and then also (somewhat accidentally) ended up with half of a barbecued duck. Here’s an approximate series of events:

  1. I looked at the menu prices and saw that some items were reasonably priced. Others were about three or four times what I would normally expect. I ordered one of the reasonably-priced items, which ended up being goose soup.
  2. Jake ordered cháo vịt. However, the proprietor then started asking questions in Vietnamese, and started saying many numbers. Jake changed his order to match mine.
  3. We both ordered a Coke.
  4. The proprietor walked to his street-side barbecue. He lifted out a roasted duck, brought it over to our table, and gestured. Rough translation: how much of the duck do you want? At this point, I didn’t know that the soup we’d ordered was goose, so I figured he was asking how much duck we wanted in our soups. We asked for half the duck.
  5. Two bowls of noodles with goose arrived at our table. We noted that this was boiled, not barbecued, meat.
  6. A huge plate of cut-up barbecued duck arrived at our table.
  7. We somehow managed to eat all the food, and it was delicious.

Moral of the story: all food is tasty, and don’t stress over communication blunders.

After arriving in Bến Tre, we found a guesthouse next to the city’s small lake. On a later night, we saw bats skimming the surface of the lake and gobbling up bugs. Unsurprisingly, Jake and I spent some time trying to photograph them. We both succeeded.

We returned to the same corner restaurant multiple times during our stay in Bến Tre. During our first visit, we ordered bánh mì from the cart out front. On our second visit, we discovered that the restaurant served delicious spicy bowls of bún bò Huế. After devouring our bowls, we picked up several bánh mì for later.

Bến Tre exports coconut candies all over Vietnam, and we’ve found Bến Tre-branded candies in the far north of Ha Giang Province. Since we’d been snacking on these coconut sweets throughout the trip, we thought it appropriate to visit a local candy factory to see them being made. However, our first attempt failed. We were unable to find the factory that Google Maps suggested, and instead spent an afternoon driving up and down roads and narrow alleys. After numerous U-turns, we gave up and instead found a coffee shop.

The next day as we headed out of Bến Tre towards Cần Thơ, we tried a second time. This time, our destination was recommended by WikiVoyage, and we found it! The candy factory consisted of a large storefront with piles and piles of different flavors of candy: coconut with banana, coconut with durian, coconut with pandan leaf. We were overwhelmed by the choices and ultimately purchased four boxes of different things. Most were tasty and one was not so good (coconut with banana was a curiously weird combination), but they were all novel. We also poked our head into the back room, where many uniformed people were hand wrapping individual candies. The individual candies were then placed into plastic wrappings, and those small packages placed in large cardboard boxes. Presumably, those cardboard boxes were then shipped all over Vietnam.

In Cần Thơ, we stayed at Green Garden Homestay. Like all our previous homestay experiences, this one did not disappoint. Our hosts were incredibly welcoming and hospitable. They run a fantastic homestay, with several thatched buildings situated in the middle of a green oasis. They cooked us a delicious meal on our first night there, and served us tasty breakfasts in the mornings. We spent several afternoons relaxing in the porch hammock and eating fresh-picked mango from one of the trees on the property. The family’s dog and cat also kept us company.

Through our homestay, we arranged a tour of Cần Thơ’s floating markets and the nearby canals. The floating markets only run in the mornings, so we pushed ourselves and woke up before 6am. Our guide, Lily, was an incredibly outgoing and driven woman (just a couple months younger than us!). In addition to sharing information about the sights, she gave us lots of information about what it’s like to live in Cần Thơ. Our discussions ranged from personal life stories to public perception of homosexuality.

After our tour, Lily invited us to that evening’s English Club meeting. She founded this English conversation group several years ago and it has grown from seven to over forty members. Many of the members are students, but tourists and expats make frequent appearances. We played word games and discussed the world’s oceans, and then people were picked to perform randomly selected silly actions. I found myself frequently stumped when trying to descramble letters, and I also learned that Jake can make a very cute face. Afterwards, we got duck hotpot with Lily and some of the club members.

Cần Thơ was one of our favorite cities in Vietnam. The people we met were especially friendly and welcoming, and we appreciated the city’s laid-back atmosphere. Cần Thơ is the fourth largest city in Vietnam (after Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, and Hải Phòng). However, it didn’t feel particularly large. In fact, the city felt quite small when, as we were leaving town, we stopped at a red light next to two people we’d met at dinner the night before. We both grinned at the odds of crossing paths and then bid them farewell.

Still grinning from the chance encounter, we paused several times on both sides of the Cần Thơ Bridge. Jake wanted to capture the best picture of this stunning bridge, so I took the opportunity to document our many stops.