Best National Parks in Vietnam

By: Emily Pham

• Get out of Vietnam’s big cities and head to one of Vietnam’s national parks instead

• Phu Quoc National Park is great for marine life

• Cat Tien is the place to go if you want to stay close to Ho Chi Minh City

• Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park is best for exploring caves

• Ba Be National Park is a waterfall wonderland

• Vietnam’s Con Đao National Park is a protected wildlife sanctuary

• Cuc Phuong National Park is close to Hanoi and was Vietnam’s first national park!

national parks in VietnamImage source: blogspot.com

When people speak about destinations in Vietnam, many people will recommend big cities such as Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Da Nang, or beautiful islands such as Co To, Phu Quoc, Cat Ba etc. However, Vietnam is also famous for its many national parks. We introduce to you some well-known ones.

1. Phu Quoc National Park (Vườn Quốc Gia Phú Quốc)

Phu Quoc is now one of the most overdeveloped islands in Vietnam, but more than half of Phu Quoc island is a national park, which is home to a diverse ecosystem with more than 200 kinds of animal and 1000 pieces of plant. Here, you can see some rare old-growth forests and Dipterocarp trees more than 100 feet high. From Ganh Dau village (làng chài Gành Dầu), you can reach Phu Quoc national park very easily for hiking, camping, scuba diving and so on. Dive deep into the clear water to see the abundant marine life, or explore this national park by riding a motorbike along its paths.

From Phu Quoc international airport, you can hire a motorbike to get to Phu Quoc national park.

national parks in VietnamImage source: uminhnationalpark.com

2. Cat Tien National Park (Vườn Quốc Gia Cát Tiên)

Cat Tien national park is in Dong Nai province (tỉnh Đồng Nai), not too far from Ho Chi Minh City. It is said to be one of the most worthwhile parks in the south of Vietnam. This area is home to many primates and a great trekking destination. Going into this park in the early morning, you will hear the birdsong and cries of gibbons amongst the trees. Do not pack too much because this park nowadays offers tourism facilities for camping or paddling along the waterways. And, do not forget to get to Cat Tien Bear Rescue Centre, where you will see many amazing animals such as Asian black bears and sun bears.

You can travel from Ho Chi Minh City to Cat Tien national park by motorbike or coach, but the most suitable way for tourists is by coach. Buy a ticket at Mien Dong coach station (Bến Xe Miền Đông) and get to Cat Tien national park for only 150,000 VND.

national parks in VietnamImage source: i-to-i.com

3. Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park (Vườn Quốc Gia Phong Nha - Kẻ Bàng)

Phong Nha - Ke Bang national park in Quang Binh province (tỉnh Quảng Bình) is famous for the largest cave in the world with whole ecosystems and forests within, called Son Doong cave (Hang Sơn Đoòng). With more than 300 caves, many waterways, mountains and forests, Phong Nha - Ke Bang national park is now a famous destination for tourists from all over the world. It is one of the must-see places in Vietnam and will provide long-lasting memories.

From Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, take a flight to Dong Hoi airport and then catch a motor taxi to Phong Nha - Ke Bang national park.

Video source: National Geographic

4. Ba Be National Park (Vườn Quốc Gia Ba Bể)

Ba Be national park is home to mountains, waterfalls, caves and rivers. It is a tourist attraction thanks to the diversity of ecosystems with protruding peaks, plateaus and vast lakes. Making a boat trip to explore the waterways is an excellent thing to do, and you can hike through the plethora of forests with stunning views down to the lakes. You can also visit local villages to gain an insight into daily life.

Ba Be national park is 240 km north of Hanoi in Bac Kan province (Tỉnh Bắc Kạn). In Hanoi, Mr. Linh's Adventures at No. 83 Ma May Street organises a range of tours and homestays in the region—see MrLinhAdventure.com.

Video source: Mr Linh's Adventures

5. Con Dao National Park (Vườn Quốc Gia Côn Đảo)

Con Dao national park combines marine environments with tropical forests, pristine beaches, lush mangroves and coral reefs. The area is strictly protected and retains a wild and majestic beauty.

From Tan Son Nhat international airport in Ho Chi Minh City you can fly to Co Ong airport (Sân Bay Cỏ Ống) on Con Dao island.

national parks in VietnamImage source: vietnamcoracle.com

6. Cuc Phuong National Park (Vườn Quốc Gia Cúc Phương)

This national park in Ninh Binh province (Tỉnh Ninh Bình) south-west of Hanoi is a famous destination with pristine trails and beautiful landscapes. It was Vietnam’s first national park and is the country's largest nature reserve, with a wide range of flora and fauna. It an attractive area for adventurous visitors.

From Hanoi, hire a motorbike or catch a coach at Giap Bat station (Bến xe Giáp Bát) to get to the park.

national parks in VietnamImage source: tripspoint.com

Have you been to any of these places? If so, share your experiences at xxxx.

Emily Pham shares her love of the country, including essential information on where to go and what to do, through her blog site vina.com.

Banner Image source: travelandinspiration.com


The Endless Summer in Ninh Thuan Province

By: Mark Gwyther

Ninh Thuan is better known in international kitesurfing circles than among foreigners who live in Vietnam

My Hoa lagoon, 20 km from Phan Rang, is a huge coral reef that keeps the shallow water smooth but with clean-breaking offshore waves.

Growth in the area’s sports tourism continues doubling every year, so go while Ninh Thuan is still one of Vietnam’s undiscovered destinations!

Like Acapulco, Bali and many other famous beach destinations, it was adrenaline junkies looking for the next big wave who ‘discovered’ Ninh Thuan’s coastline. With dramatic cliffs dropping into the sparkling blue ocean and a dry climate matching Greece’s Aegean region, the Vietnamese province is increasingly becoming a favourite spot for kitesurfers from around the world.

Kitesurfing is becoming a mainstream sport. With nearly two million enthusiasts worldwide it will be included in the 2024 Summer Olympics for the first time. Jumping on a surfboard and being pulled by a giant kite has captivated some of the world’s most influential people such as Richard Branson, Larry Page and President Barack Obama. In 2016, Forbes Magazine claimed kitesurfing was the new golf for business executives.

It was only 10 years ago when a few of these adventurous people drove motorbikes north from Mui Ne up the coast and past the city of Phan Rang. Passing goats on a narrow one-lane road winding through small hamlets and fishing villages, they made their way to the ocean where the wind was roaring. At first it was a group of South Koreans who began coming every year, spending three months in the area. A Vietnamese kitesurfer from Mui Ne also began bringing his friends to his secret spots and soon the word spread. However, back in those days the drive took all day and no beach facilities existed for the kiters, meaning only the very adventurous made the trip.

Progress Towards Becoming a Sports Tourism Destination

kitesurfers ninh thuanImage source: traveltimes.vn

By 2014, things began to change. New roads and bridges were completed. A coastal road was widened and extended making the spots easily accessible from the nearby city of Phan Rang. The early explorers to the area began developing simple shelters and offering local food and drinks at their favourite spots. A beach club catering to kiters opened. Each year their numbers doubled and by 2016, word was spreading well beyond Vietnam. That year in February, The Kiteboard Tour Asia held Vietnam’s largest professional kitesurfing event in Ninh Thuan. In the summer, one of the leading kitesurfing equipment manufacturers launched an important new product line at Ninh Chu Bay. Marketing photos taken of that week’s activities still circulate through the sport’s media. Kitesurfing publications noticed too. That year articles appeared in two issues of Kite World Magazine and Ninh Thuan was featured in TheKiteboarder Magazine’s top international destinations publication—a first for Vietnam. Remarkably, Ninh Thuan and the capital city of Phan Rang may be better known in international kitesurfing circles than among foreigners who live in Vietnam.

kitesurfers ninh thuanImage source: phanrangkitecenter.com

It is the area’s unique geography and climate that attract the kitesurfers. My Hoa lagoon, 20 km from Phan Rang, is a huge coral reef that keeps the shallow water butter smooth but with clean-breaking offshore waves. From beginners to world-class, the spot is perfect for all levels and all types of kitesurfers. Adjacent to Phan Rang is the eight kilometre crescent, Ninh Chu Bay. The beach is lined by three-star resorts where kiters can walk from their room and jump on their board.

The climate is also distinct. Never cold, the province receives the least amount of rain in Vietnam and the most sunny days. Winter storms that typically pass nearby generate strong northerly winds but very little rain. In the summer the southerly trade winds get supercharged by the arid land to the south. Not many coastal locations boast two distinct wind seasons that allow kiting for over 10 months of the year.

A few professional windsurfers train in Ninh Thuan during the winter and equipment rental and lessons are available. Also, the best surfing waves in Vietnam break five kilometres north of beautiful Vinh Hy Bay. A handful of adventurous surfers already ride them during the winter. Ninh Thuan also offers other activities. One of the largest coral reefs in the northern hemisphere lies just off the coast and it is starting to be explored by snorkellers and scuba divers. Back on dry land, the hills around the area are perfect for trekking and mountain biking.

Change is Imminent but Enjoy the Cool Surfer Vibe for Now

Growth in the area’s sport tourism continues doubling every year. The South Korean group just arrived for this season—their 10th year. They will be joined by groups from Finland, Poland, Lithuania, Hong Kong and thousands of individual kiters from countries all over the globe. Quite a few of these kiters now return every winter creating a closeness of community you don’t feel in most places. On a given day, upwards of 200 kites cross back and forth along My Hoa Lagoon.

kitesurfers ninh thuanImage source: phanrangkitecenter.com

The facilities have grown to match the demand. Four large kite schools have opened, each with a restaurant and rooms. Guesthouses and house rentals are popping up near the kite spots and locals who never may have seen a foreigner before are now developing businesses focused on them. Land that was thought nearly worthless five years ago is in demand as Ninh Thuan’s coastline is suddenly a hot commodity.

Just like Bali, Ninh Thuan will change. The Australian surfers in the early 1970s were adventurous, off-the-beaten-path explorers. Those days are already in Ninh Thuan’s rearview mirror. Transportation has improved to the point where travel from the airport or train station takes less than an hour. The wide roads and light traffic make renting a motorbike relatively safe. Hi-speed internet, ATMs, grocery stores, pizza, and soon a movie theatre, are available in town.

The same wind and sun the kitesurfers enjoy now make Ninh Thuan the centre of Vietnam’s renewable energy industry. Hundreds of foreign energy workers stay in the area and more projects are starting. Finally, traditional tourism is also growing. Several highrise resort projects are being constructed along Ninh Chu Bay, and hidden away 10 kilometres past My Hoa rests the most exclusive resort in Vietnam (where many celebrities have tried their hand at kitesurfing). Even at My Hoa lagoon, kiters can take a break and lie next to the swimming pool while eating some of the best lasagna in Vietnam and drinking a cold craft beer.

If you have ever wanted to experience a cool surf culture vibe or you just want to break up your normal routine, Ninh Thuan is at that perfect crossroads of being both adventurous and accessible.

Banner Image source: Shutter Stock


Best Places to See in Ly Son

By: Lien Nguyen

My friends and I had a few days off work, so we decided to get out of the city to relax. We found a quiet island in Central Vietnam, called Lý Sơn.

Lý Sơn is an island belonging to the Quãng Ngãi coastal province, bordering on Quãng Nam and Bình Định provinces in the North and South respectively. This island is commonly known as “The Kingdom of Garlic” because it is the only place in Vietnam where wild garlic and onions are grown in the sand. The garlic has a special flavour unique to this region, and is widely exported to the mainland.

Video source: eightyninePictures

Lý Sơn is also known for being the homeland of the Hoàng Sa Flotilla, a revered group of soldiers who protected the territorial waters around Vietnam during the Nguyen dynasty. On the island you will be able to see a myriad of relics and historical sites dedicated to these brave sailors.

Let me show you the best places to go on the island.

How to get to Lý Sơn?

The only way to get to the island from the mainland is to take a high-speed boat from the Sa Kì fishing port. The first ferry is at 8 a.m, then 10:30 a.m, 1:30 p.m, and 3:30 p.m.

In order to book your boat, make a list including: the number of people in your party, requested date, your phone number, your ID/ passport numbers, and your address, then send the list by email to dangkyve.csk@gmail.com. You should send the email at least 10 days before your trip to be sure there are available seats on the boat.

The price is about VND140,000 each way.

Important tip: Don’t forget to bring your ID or passport; authorities will check it before you head to the island.

SEE MAP

When to go to Lý Sơn?

The best time to go to the central coast of Vietnam is from May to September. During the summer, you will have good sunshine, clean blue water and white sandy beaches.

ly sonImage source: vietnamtourism.me

Where to stay in Lý Sơn and how to get around?

Central Lý Sơn or Mường Thanh Lý Sơn hotels, are both conveniently located near the port.

If you want to explore the island you have the option of taking a Tiên Sa taxi or renting a motorbike at your hotel to drive around the island.

What to see in Lý Sơn?

Don’t forget your camera because there will be plenty of photo ops.

Here we go!!!

The island is divided into two parts: Lý Sơn, the main island, and An Bình, Lý Sơn’s little brother. Lý Sơn island is only about 10 kilometers from end to end; the top destinations are not far from one another, so it is easy to move around.

Hang Câu Cave

To get to Câu cave, you can start from the center of the island and head North-East towards Thới Lới mountain, around 15 minutes. Right at the base of Thới Lới mountain, Câu Cave will appear in front of your eyes like a beautiful painting, blurring the boundaries between ocean and mountain.

ly sonImage source: 3.bp.blogspot.com

Over the centuries the lapping of waves and the coastal winds effaced the rock and burrowed Câu Cave into the body of the mountain.

ly sonImage source: images.ndh.vn

It is a perfect location for wedding photography, picnics, and swimming. The sea water is crystal-clear, making it easy to see the blanket of seaweed and colorful coral within.

Đỉnh Thới Lới (the Top Thới Lới) - An Extinct Volcano

Head to the top of the street from Câu Cave, and you’ll find yourself on the peak of Thới Lới. Here you can pause for a moment and enjoy the view of the lush green plants on the island.

ly sonImage source: wetrek.vn

The concave top of Thới Lới mountain is unique because it was a crater millions of years ago. Now, it has become a large lake. Covering the lake is a carpet of grasses and algae, which make it look like a savanna on the top of the mountain.

From the summit, when you look towards the east of the island, you’ll see fields of garlic and onion. Look towards the sea, and you’ll discover two small islands, Mù Cu and Đông ward, which are the most beautiful places to watch the sunrise.

Chùa Hang (Cave Pagoda) - A Pagoda in a Cave

Bricks were not needed to built the pagoda because the cave was eroded naturally, over the course of millions of years, by the ocean waves. A Guanyin statue was erected outside the entrance, and locals come here to pray for peace for their families and good luck for the fishermen, as they head out for their catch. Thanks to the pagoda’s unique structure, it attracts many tourists. If you come to Lý Sơn, don’t forget to come say a prayer for your family and friends.

ly sonImage source: khamphalyson.vn

Tip: Don’t wear shorts or tank-tops. In Vietnamese culture, wearing conservative clothes when coming to a pagoda is a sign of respect for the Buddha.

Cổng Tò Vò (Tò vò gateway)

Tò Vò Gateway is the second most important tourist destination after Câu Cave. You CAN’T MISS this place when you come here.

Tò Vò Gateway is a stone archway with a height of 2.5 meters. The unusual shape was organically created from the lava of the volcano millions of years ago.

ly sonImage source: travel.edu.vn

Come here in the evening to watch the sunset. The contrast of the sea with the gateway and the dark lava rocks lurking in the waves make this a great location for photos in silhouette.

What to see in An Bình island?

An Bình Island is the perfect quiet location for tourists with its palm-lined beaches, white sand and clear blue water.

It is around US$5/ person for a round trip boat ticket to the island.

ly sonImage source: 1.bp.blogspot.com

An Bình island isn’t as crowded as the other islands. However, it has a breathtaking landscape. Take a dip in the fresh sea water and enjoy the sounds of the ocean and nature.

ly sonImage source: static.panoramio.com.storage.googleapis.com

An Bình, meaning peace, lives up to its name; this island definitely gives a sense of complacency and comfort. All feelings of sadness, stress and frustration ease away.

So what are you waiting for? Go!

What to eat in Lý Sơn?

This island is famous for its healthy garlic and seaweed but you can also enjoy the seafood. There are many kinds of fish, snails, sea urchins (a rich source of nutrition for men) and the delicious Red Frog Crab.

ly sonImage source: img.delicious.com.au

There are numerous restaurants selling seafood near the fishing port, but here are a couple of restaurants that we tried and loved:

Biển Nhớ restaurant: Thôn Tây, An Vĩnh ward, Lý Sơn

Thạnh Lợi restaurant: Thôn Tây, An Vĩnh ward, Lý Sơn

Banner Image source: static.english.vov.vn


Should Vietnam Rethink Tourism? Interview with Patrick Gaveau

By: Keely Burkey

The typical travel route for tourism in Vietnam is from the north to the south, and sometimes the other way around. How is this style of tourism killing Vietnam’s potential as a tourist destination?

I wouldn’t say it’s killing it, but certainly it’s restricting the potential for growth. For many travellers, in particular from Australia and other English-speaking markets, Vietnam is still very much seen as a “bucket list” destination, a once-in-a-lifetime trip not to be repeated. For some it is their first trip to Southeast Asia, though more often than not they’ve already travelled multiple times to what we call “fly and flop” beach destinations like Thailand and Bali.

travel in vietnamImage source: baohaiquan.vn

Though Vietnam has some very attractive beaches, it is seen more as a cultural travel experience and it struggles to compete with its more established, experienced neighbours. When the potential of new sites or areas is recognised, these are too often monopolised and destroyed by local interests.

What does the current tourist industry look like in Vietnam?

If you look at these source markets, you will see they are filled with competing general sales agents all offering what on the surface seem to be similar types of travel itineraries, and they are all fighting for a piece of the same pie. There are plenty of unique and specialist offerings out there, but these are primarily suited to niche interests and usually don’t receive the same sort of marketing attention. There are real costs associated with all forms of distribution, so products need to pay their way, so to speak, in terms of return on investment.

So, you think it’s primarily a marketing issue?

The issue around effectively marketing and promoting non-generic itineraries is there, but it’s further challenged by the limited knowledge of traditional travel agents. Many of them haven’t travelled to this part of the world, so they stick with what they know and trust, through a tried and tested product.

travel in vietnamImage source: baomoi.com

Familiarisation or educational trips invariably focus on the main highlights of the country through a north to south trip (or vice versa), so they just don’t have the confidence or knowledge to go beyond this.

Few tourists return to Vietnam for a second trip. Why do you think this is?

There are a host of reasons: the lack of an effective national tourism body to market the destination; the relatively high cost of travel; the cumbersome and expensive visa process; the over-development and pollution of natural attractions; the constant tourist rip-offs; substandard services and a flawed hotel rating system.

What other travel patterns or tours should be created to change this and to encourage more return trips to Vietnam, as it is in Thailand, for example?

There are probably only two main reason travellers would return: to visit an area not previously seen, or for a traditional beach-style long stay. Of the latter, we are seeing the emergence of Danang/Hoi An as a destination for repeat travellers (more so than Phu Quoc, though this is also increasing), though the percentages are still relatively small. This should continue to grow as infrastructure slowly improves.

travel in vietnamImage source: baotuyenquang.com.vn

As the number of hotels and resorts increases, so will the competitiveness of rates, along with an increase in international carriers adding direct routes to Vietnam.

How can travel agents help tourism in Vietnam grow sustainably?

They can market and develop a range of innovative packages specifically aimed at these returning travellers. These could include (but aren’t limited to): special city stays with unique inclusions, like going to the less-visited central highlands region. This could be easily combined with a Danang or Hoi An beach stay or a stay in the country’s far northwest, like Sapa, Mai Chau which are both easily accessible from Hanoi. Or you could have Mekong Delta overnight cruises as opposed to the commoditised day tours. This could also include the longer Mekong cruises, which have become so popular in recent years. All of this can be combined with the proper promotion of Vietnam’s best beach locations and advice on the best time to visit the various regions. These more often should be included in planned familiarisation or educational trips, ensuring that travel agents broaden their knowledge for use in the sales process.

travel in vietnamImage source: zone8.vn

Banner image source: dulich.dantri.com.vn

 


Discover Vietnam: Hanoi

By: Vinh Dao

Walk the 36 Streets in Old Quarter

From hidden cosy coffee shops in aging buildings and an emerging contemporary art scene to luxury cars slinking through the city’s intricate little streets, Hanoi truly knows how to welcome modernity while keeping true to its roots. Stylish, nostalgic, romantic and tested by the extremes of its seasonal weather, this is a city bursting with character.

Getting lost is compulsory when visiting Hanoi. Walk the 36 Streets in Old Quarter and allow yourself a day of wandering without purpose, a day of walking just for the sake of walking. Every street will lead you to a new discovery and every corner has its charm, if you suspend time for a while.

Nostalgia aside, the Old Quarter struggles with an influx of around 2 million tourists a year and has the challenge of balancing the need to protect its historically important structures with allowing economic development that may demand taller buildings. Pedestrianisation is one solution mooted but while that may improve the lot of the tourist, it will undoubtedly be resisted by residents who still have to conduct their day-to-day commercial activity.

The city is hot and sticky in the summer and wet and chilly in the winter. More greenery than is found in Ho Chi Minh City adds some cool relief in the summer while the mist rising from the city’s enchanting lakes adds a dreamy touch to the winter landscape.

From historical monuments to ancient pagodas and temples, a treasure trove of French architecture and creative new development all around, you are sure to be engaged as you explore Vietnam’s capital. From colourful street markets to trendy boutiques and upmarket modern shopping malls, the city also boasts a plethora of art galleries and shopping outlets.

Hanoi is a melting pot of delicious and affordable street food and fancier local and international fare. After lunch or dinner, it is customary to relax on little plastic stools in one of the cafes surrounding St. Joseph’s Cathedral. Check out the street scene or chat to some of the city’s residents. Warm up with some tra nong (hot tea) served in little glasses during the winter or with the customary tra chanh (lemon iced tea) in the summer months. Nibble some sunflower seeds and taste a true Hanoian local experience.

For a real treat, take an afternoon ride around West Lake (Ho Tay). Travel to Phu Tay Ho on the peninsula overlooking the lake to experience Hanoi’s more spiritual side. Savour banh tom Tay Ho, a delicious cake made from fresh shrimp and flour (and sometimes potato) with an ice-cold beer followed by freshwater fish and crab while waiting for the sun to set.


Coconuts and Cultural Tourism: Exploring Ben Tre with VTV4

By: JK Hobson

I’ve been a resident of Saigon for a little over a year. Like many metropoleis, the hectic and frenzied energy of it has a way of sucking its denizens in. Often, our ways of viewing Vietnam become limited to Saigon’s many districts. (“What’s Vietnam like? Well, I live in Thao Dien, which is kinda like Brooklyn with more motorbikes!”)

Ben TreThai, the one of the cameramen for VTV4 snagging some footage of women bailing coconut fibre hay.

VTV4’s Vietnam Discovery Tours Ben Tre Province in Vietnam

I’m always looking for opportunities to get out of the insanity of the traffic and smog and to experience culture in Vietnam’s rural areas, so when I was invited to guest host VTV4’s travel show Vietnam Discovery I jumped at the chance.

The two filmed episodes would take us through the rural areas of Ben Tre Province, which I was slightly familiar with from the year that I had spent in the Mekong Delta. During the Vietnam Discovery filming, I was able to experience a different level of cultural immersion than I had while living there as I was invited into the rural areas and engaging with people living their everyday lives, rather than living in the city and visiting rural areas as a part of some tour or another. Just outside the city limits, I found a lush countryside brimming with scenic beauty and friendly local folks willing to share and engage in dialogue about their lifestyles in the Mekong Delta province.

Touring Ben TreVietnam’s Coconut Kingdom

Ben Tre is most well-known for the ubiquity of the coconut, which is why it’s widely understood to be Vietnam’s “Coconut Kingdom.” For local people in Ben Tre, the coconut trees have a special place in their culture and their economic development. The presence of coconut in Ben Tre even had an impact on religion in the province for a time. At one time a monk in Ben Tre a monk named Nguyễn Thành Nam was locally renowned for having legendarily founded his own religion centering around the coconut, sustained himself entirely on coconuts for over three years, and even had a presidential run in 1971.

Along both sides of the Ba Lai river, which runs between the districts of Mo Cay Bac and Mo Cay Nam, there are a seemingly endless number of coconut processing plants where coconuts are sorted, processed and exported.

Ben TreA woman in Phu Le VIllage proud of the water lilies she has gathered.

Over the generations, the people of Ben Tre have uncovered the versatility of the coconut and have become masters at turning it into hundreds of products. Coconuts are used to make candy, oil, milk and water among other comestible products. It is also used for skin care, hair care, fuel, and even musical instruments. (More on that later.)

While visiting the processing plants, you can see people hard at work, often with their bare hands, separating the coconut. Each part will be utilised in some form or another. The variety of ways in which Ben Tre’s most valuable resource has been employed reveals the resourcefulness of its people.

Ben TreAnother worker in the coconut processing plant. His daily workout regimen involves spinning coconut husks into fiber, which are later used to make rope and fishing nets.

While on the Thom River, which splits Mo Cay Bac and Mo Cay Nam, I met locals performing their daily duties. Some splitting coconuts from their husks, some extracting water, others separating the husk into a kind of hay used for constructing rope, and even for fire fuel. These processing plants line both sides of the river and run as far as the eye can see.

Ben TreThis husband and wife work hard every morning ripping coconuts out of their husks. They work side by side and in unison, radiating with the intense energy of a young couple in love.

Ben TreA brother and his twin sisters entertaining themselves in the coconut processing plant where their mom works. They were making some concoction of dirt, twigs, and other things they found around the plant. Impressive in this digital age where kids have iPads and still find themselves bored.

Meet the Local Artisans of Ben Tre Province in Vietnam

The local people have also learned how to repurpose the coconuts and the wood from coconut trees to make ingenious artwork. The coconut is an integral part of Ben Tre culture, so it’s not surprising that the local folks incorporate it into their craftsmanship.

Perhaps the most resourceful of all the people I came across on my travels in Ben Tre was a craftsman who went by the name of Ba Ba. In Ba Ba’s home, the living room looked like a music shop for string instruments. Lining the walls were all sorts of guitars, basses, as well as traditional Vietnamese instruments like the đàn tranh, and the one-stringed lute known as the đàn tỳ bà.

Ba Ba modeled his dan ba in the shape of Vietnam, complete with two arms that unfold revealing representations of the contested islands of Truong Sa and Hoang Sa, an epic show of patriotism. Ba Ba goes to bed at night thinking about his next project and still wakes up in the morning excited about completing it. Etched in his face is the serene look of a person who does what he loves.

Ben TreBa Ba about to put on a private concert using this electric guitar with a built-in microphone that he made using coconut wood.

Ben TreBa Ba's masterpiece, a đàn bầu in the shape of his beloved country.

Ben TreA sac bua singer in Ben Tre.

In Phu Le Village of Ba Tri district, I found an enclave of people that shared a deep interest in preserving cultural traditions. Among them, a woman who is a renowned sac bua singer.

Sac bua is a form of music recognized as a National Intangible Cultural Heritage that originates from Quang Ngai in the central province of Binh Dinh. Many people from that province moved South during the 18th century and brought this vocal tradition with them. The songs are a wish for peace and prosperity for listeners and are generally performed around the Tet holiday.

These are just a few of the people that I encountered on this adventure. It’s heartening to know that just a few hours outside of my home in busy Saigon there are places rich with scenic natural beauty and culture. I would advise a trip to the province of Ben Tre for anyone looking to get a sense of Vietnam’s vibrant artistry.

Ben TreThe slow pace of life in the rural areas of Ben Tre is such that it is not uncommon to share a smile with a stranger passing on the road.
I asked this woman if I could take her photo. She acquiesced and smiled brightly without hesitation.

Video source: Huỳnh Phan Tùng Kha

Image source: JK Hobson

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