Vietnam shared a common past with the Philippines as a survivor of the World War II. But more than the remnants of the war, our neighboring country Vietnam managed to rise up from the ashes and continued to grow its tourism and agriculture sectors.
From the busy streets of Ho Chi Minh City, the scenery shifted to tranquility as our mini-bus passed by the Freeway, sandwiched in between the vast rice fields in Ti?n Giang province. Herons flew over the lush greens while the farmers toiled the soil.
The Unique Tombs of Vietnam
But what made their rice fields distinct were the tombs built in the middle of the rice fields. Those were the tombs of the farmers who worked hard to grow crops in the land.
Anh, our Vietnamese tour guide, related that in Vietnam, the government allows the farmers to bury their dead in the rice fields. The countryside was a refreshing view from the thousands of motorcycles in the city.
It was almost perfect until the rain poured. The weather forecast was right. Typhoon Pedring (International name: Nesat) which flooded some parts of the Philippines followed us in Vietnam. While others were sleeping, I was praying hard that the rain stopped. We would be cruising along river canals and the weather would ruin good photo opportunities.
My prayers were answered. After passing the Rach Mieu bridge connecting My Tho to Ben Tre, the sun stretched its rays. Nice-looking landscapes with the letters forming Ben Tre welcomed us. It was about an hour and 45 minutes when the mini-bus stopped at the boat station.
The Israeli couples, the French couple, the Korean buddies, and us, the Filipino family, boarded the boat.
On the way to Ben Tre
Our first destination was the brick factory, one of the industries in Ben Tre. The boat brought us to an unassuming place with coconut trees and dome-liked brick structures.
It was just like a backyard factory and yet, the three people who work there can produce 7,000 bricks per day. Each brick is priced at 700VND or Php 1.45.
Anh shared to us how the brick was made. After forming the clay harvested from the Mekong Delta, it is then baked at the huge brick dome, which serves as the oven. Instead of using chopped woods, the workers use rice husks to make fire and bake the bricks in 1,000 degrees centigrade of heat.
Vietnam is the 2nd world’s largest exporter of rice, which explains the tons of rice husks in the factory. After seeing the industry of brick-making, we returned to the boat, which brought us to a place where we ate dragon fruits, papaya, lanzones and pineapples for snacks.
While sipping a cup of tea with honey, a group of Vietnamese sang a folk song. The guide said that the song was about the Mekong Delta. Though we couldn’t understand the meaning of the song, the two Vietnamese women showed that it was a sad song through the expression of their eyes and the tune of their song.
Visiting the coconut candy workshop was next on our list. Coconut candy-making is another growing industry in Ben Tre because of its numerous coconut plantations.
From the workshop, we walked in the middle of coconut trees, which ended at the inland road in the village.
This time, we rode a xe loi, a motorcart which used to carry their goods. The xe loi ride allowed us to see the laidback lifestyle in that village in Ben Tre. It stopped in another station, where we rode a row boat.
An old woman wearing a non la, Vietnam’s traditional hat, smiled at us as she assisted each one to sit on her row boat. She was so strong to row the boat carrying the six of us: the French couple Mariel and Simone, and my family.
It was a scenic ride along the narrow canals. The water coconut or nipa as we called it in the Philippines gave us a cool shade from the heat of the sun. The old woman then stopped at a small docking station, where the Green Coconut Riverside Restaurant was.
The staff at the restaurant served lunch starting with the mouthwatering giant gurami fish (which resembled a tilapia or St. Peter’s fish).
She showed us that the fish would be used as stuffing for Vietnamese spring roll mixed with the herbs. The spring roll dipped into the fish sauce was gastronomic.
Lemon grass chicken, sour soup, and steamed kangkong also filled our stomachs. It was then time to bid Ben Tre goodbye as we returned to our mini-bus for a three-hour ride to Can Tho City, where we would be spending the night.