Local Insight: My Tho
by Thoai Chau, Tony Nguyen & Ngoc Truong
My Tho, once known as “Srock My Xo” in the old Khmer language, meaning “the place of beautiful girls”, is the capital city of the Tien Giang province and the gate to the Mekong, being the closest delta city to HCMC.
Because of the nature of a river delta, it is advisable to avoid the wet season. The best time to visit is from December to May. Located 70km from HCMC, My Tho is only 1.5 hours by bus via highway and 3 hours by motorbike. Bus fares to My Tho range from VND40,000, up to VND150,000 during public holidays. It is better if you book your tickets in advance.
To truly appreciate the area, people and lush scenery, a minimum two nights stay is a must. There aren’t many standout options for accommodation but The Island Lodge at the west end of Unicorn Island offers a nice sanctuary from the tourist districts. Michel Scour, the owner and manager of the hotel, is also a great resource regarding the area.
Founded in the 1680s, My Tho’s 330 year history has seen many changes. The city still owns some French colonial buildings near the riverside park, old Chinese temples (Dieu Hoa temple), and Vinh Trang pagoda which is a combination between French and Khmer architecture. The main gate of the Vinh Trang pagoda was constructed in 1933 with help of craftsmen from Hue.
There are a total of four islands lying between My Tho and the Ben Tre province. They are named after the four holy beasts in Eastern culture: Dragon, Qilin, Turtle and Phoenix. The biggest island is Qilin, which is popularly known as Thoi Son and the smallest island is Phoenix. However, these are mainly tourist traps. Trade these in for some adventure instead. A private boat ride to the Ben Tre province will leave you lost in thought along the dense coconut forest. The province is not only covered by coconuts but also by longan, jackfruit and rambutan trees. As you prepare to head back to the city, make sure to pick up some of the freshest fruits of the season as well as crafts and trinkets handmade from local coco wood.
The east end of Thoi Son is less touristic than the west, and is where you can find The Island Lodge. For Western fare, you can try Le Comptoir de Marthe et Edouard, the restaurant at the Lodge, where you’ll be served a blend of excellent French and Vietnamese cuisine.
My Tho is an excellent foodie destination. The authentic local hu tieu is made from instant and crystal noodles (not the one you see in convenience stores), which are made from rice and produced and used the same day. Another version of hu tieu My Tho is hu tieu sa te, which is more flavourful and spicier. What makes hu tieu sa te special is the use of both lemon juice and starfruit slices for a naturally sour taste. You can find superb hu tieu My Tho behind the Nguyen Dinh Chieu school, then head over to Nam Ky Khoi Nghia for delicious hu tieu sa te.
Chuoi nuong (grilled banana) can be found in some places in Saigon or anywhere in Mekong Delta. What makes a difference is the volume of coconut juice inside. The best in My Tho can be found behind the Quang Dai supermarket on Le Loi, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. only.
For noodle lovers, you can find dry squid noodles on Giong Dua street. It is in a small alley, so if you’re going by motorbike, you must leave it outside the alley. Hu tieu bo vien, or beef ball noodles, is completely different here from other regions. The beef stock and cilantro make the soup quite special. You can find great hu tieu bo vien next to Ca Phe Net Xua on Le Van Duyet.
Vegetarian noodle soup is also tasty in My Tho, and a good restaurant can be found on Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, where you can not only find hu tieu chay but many kinds of vegetarian noodle soups including bun rieu, pho, bun mam and more.
For traditional Vietnamese restaurants, Tiem Com Chi Thanh on Ap Bac street is a great local eatery. For markets, besides the main My Tho Market, you can visit Thanh Tri Market on Ap Bac, which is famous for sweet soup or sweet cakes.
For a rooftop cafe, the newly opened Mekong Hotel is likely the best place for both a city and river view. Other places to consider include Tung Jazz, famous for its live performances; Thuy Vien, which provides a garden view and fresh air on Ly Thuong Kiet street; and Chocolate, famous for its signature bubble teas.
In the future, you can expect even more activities and eateries in My Tho, as the riverside street, Bo Ke, is being extended.