Life in the far south of Vietnam rolls at a much slower pace than in the cities. No bigger dichotomy can be seen between Ben Tre and Ho Chi Minh City, located just about 100km from each other but taking on life in two completely opposite ways.
Ben Tre remains relatively inert, and the languid pace of life here continues despite its growing reputation in the tourism trade. Coconut trees rise highest here, rice paddies stretch on and the colour of the province is a brilliant verdant green, countering the grey of Ho Chi Minh City’s buildings and streets and providing locals and tourists alike with a much-needed escape to nature on a day-trip. This is our comprehensive guide of what you can see in Ben Tre.
Coconuts and Trees – Ben Tre’s Backwaters
The romantic images of Ben Tre’s magnificent palm tree-lined canals are scattered on the front of postcards throughout Vietnam, such is the pride that Vietnamese people have for this southern region. In a way, the slow drifting of sampan boats encapsulates the relaxed attitude of the Vietnamese that can still be found around the emerging country, in cities and in towns, but especially in the Mekong Delta, where the environment has bred a leisurely approach to life into the regional psyche.
Canal trips under the overhanging coconut trees and ferns can be taken via the most basic service of a sampan boat, all the way to high-end luxury boats with thatched roofs. The intricate canals that run between Ben Tre’s fertile riverbanks are a wonderful symbol for the region and a ride on its calm waters will transport you back in time, clearing the mind and getting you in touch with the nature around you. The river is often flanked with cycle paths, making up another of Ben Tre’s top things to do, cycling along with the languid pace of the flowing water.
Birds – Vam Ho Bird Sanctuary
Ben Tre’s picture of paradise is always strengthened by the presence of birds, which soar around the region in search of food in the water and trees. An absolutely unmissable event to see in Ben Tre is the flocking of the storks, an event whereby up to half a million storks fly high above the setting sun and land in an area called Vam Ho Bird Sanctuary. Such a sight is highly prized for bird watchers, who come to capture this most perfect accordance of an Asian scene; big birds, slow water, powerful sunset.
Besides the white storks that fall like snow on the treetops, herons and about 83 other species of bird can be spotted around Vam Ho, making use of its fantastic location on the riverbed and its fertile land to catch fish and mammals who live in the vicinity. You can skirt around Vam Ho on a boat and walk along its pedestrianised inside for a closer look at some of Vietnam’s most majestic feathered creatures.
Vam Ho Bird Sanctuary
Fruit – Cai Mon Fruit Orchard
Cai Mon Fruit Orchard is the best place to see the diversity of Ben Tre’s fruity offerings. Tropical fruits like mangosteens, durians, limes, lemons, and longans thrive in the hot, humid and occasionally very wet climate, giving Cai Mon and Ben Tre in general a splash of additional colour. Walking around the orchard, you will be greeted by exotic fruits that you may not have even heard of before. Java apples and rambutans flash a brilliant red, while the bulbous yellow-green of durians hang heavily from the branches and the dark purple mangosteens open up to the perfect white segments of flesh inside.
Orange Garden in Cai Mon Fruit Orchard
Religion – Tuyen Linh Temple
Despite the fact that it is only 150 years old, the Tuyen Linh Temple has been through some pretty tough times. It was heavily damaged after coming under direct bombing by the Americans but has since been rebuilt in a colour unfortunately in modern Vietnamese pale yellow as opposed to the original bold pink. Nevertheless, Tuyen Linh is an impressive Buddhist temple with unique colonial-style architecture, however, the upward-curved roofing and dragon motifs are decidedly Asian.
Tuyen Linh Temple
The beloved coconut for which Ben Tre is famous knows no bounds when it comes to versatility. Aside from being food and drink, its shell can be made into any number of objects, and entire shops operating at the riverside can stock hundreds of coconut-made products on their tables. Lacquered coconut bowls are always a tourist favourite, as are tea sets and miniature figurines of detailed humans and bicycles. The most popular is the coconut candy, famous throughout the country for its uniquely sweet, creamy taste.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by coconut at any point, there are other things to see in Ben Tre that have nothing to do with the fruit. Popcorn is another famed export of the workers of Ben Tre, as is shrimp paste and fish sauce sourced from the abundant waters, as well as rice from the plethora of rice paddies stretching throughout the region.
Make coconut candy in Ben Tre
Biking in Ben Tre
Best Time to go to Ben Tre
Being situated even closer to the equator than Ho Chi Minh City doesn’t do much for the variety of temperature in Ben Tre. Any month you go will be hot, and it is likely you’ll try and find shade under the many coconut trees year-round when average temperatures span just 3 degrees between 30°C and 33°C (86°F – 91°F). Rainfall is practically non-existent from December to April, but skyrockets during the wet season from May till about mid-November, so try to avoid these months if possible.