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- IDD code: (+ 84) 75 / pop 120,000
Ben Tre 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, you'll need to turn around and head back through My Tho to get any further into the Delta. That's not to suggest it isn't worth visiting -- it is. For starters you can do boat trips from here for a fraction of the price of a trip from My Tho (either organised through Ben Tre Tourist, or via the boatmen at the pier) 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 My Tho ferry crossing 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.
Secondly, there's not really all that much to do in Ben Tre. There's boat trips, a pagoda, a small museum, a good market and lots of friendly people, but overall there's not enough here to justify a stay of more than a night or so.
The main advantage of coming here is that the boat trips are far cheaper than in My Tho and you can pretty much visit the same spots. 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.
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