Ben Tre, the capital of the same-named province, is made up of three main islands wedged between the Tien Giang River to the north and to Co Chien River to the south with the Ham Luong River running straight down the centre. All are effectively offshoots of the Mekong River as it splits out into many fingers before spilling out into the South China Sea.
Famous for its coconut desserts, the province is suitably covered in coconut trees. During the war these coconut trees were used to make coconut oil which was then used as a valuable substitute for kerosene. Verdant and flat, the province is mostly given over to rice and fruit cultivation, though being an island province, fishing is another mainstay of the local economy. Traditional Mekong life is the norm here and it's a very unadulterated scene -- wandering the market, sipping the coffee, doing a boat trip and skipping through the local museum are the main pastimes.
As far as exploring the Delta is concerned, Ben Tre is a dead-end province. Once you've experienced all the province has to offer, unless you have your own transport, you'll need to turn around and head back through My Tho to get any further into the Delta.
This isn't to suggest Ben Tre isn't worth visiting -- it is. For starters you can do boat trips from here for less than at My Tho and, with its large network of minor canals, there's a lot of scope for riverine exploration. There's also a small museum and a pleasing riverfront worth investigating.
First things first -- Ben Tre town is clean -- it's as if somewhere between the bridge to My Tho and downtown you pass through a cleanliness vortex -- the roads are spotless, the pavements are tiled and smooth and there's little refuse -- even in the market. If you're on a budget, Ben Tre is a far better base than My Tho -- it's a pleasant enough place, with a small town charm, that makes it an allround reasonable spot for those with enough time on their hands to dawdle slowly through the Delta.
If you do have your own transport, Ben Tre is a good one for just hoping on the bike and going for a ride. Grand and flat with plenty of rice fields to go around, this is a very beautiful pocket of the Delta. Even by Mekong Delta standards, Ben Tre stands out for its verdant beauty, with rice cultivation going on all over the place. From Ben Tre town, cross the river and head east and - just - keep - going. The further you go the prettier it gets and the roads are pretty good and little trafficked. While you'll need a motorbike to get far, even the immediate surrounds are worth exploring by bicycle. The Oasis hires bicycles by the day and the Hung Vuong rents motorbikes should you need your own transport.
By Vinh Dao.