Our first day of cycling was a little shaky. We got up a bit late, loaded up our bikes and arrived at the ferry terminal to find that the ferry didn't go to Ben Tre. Oops. So we re-calculated our journey (which included a huge bridge with very fast moving trucks) and cycled about 6 and a half kilometers before getting caught in torrential rain. It serves us right for travelling in the wet season and actually it was no big deal because we found raincoats (5000vnd) to protect our backpacks and just before it started to really come down, we found a road stop with cold drinks and hammocks to wait it out. When the rain died down, we saddled up again and cycled the rest of the way. 11km for the first day on the road!
We picked Ben Tre because we read somewhere that it is a Vietnamese city that isn't super focussed on tourists. When we arrived, John wasn't feeling so well (first bout of travellers gastro) so I left him in the guest house (160,000 vnd with our own ensuite) and went to the market to buy some food for dinner. The next morning, John was feeling better and we decided to stay another night so that John could see the city too. The markets are so relaxed and it is a lot quieter than Ho Chi Minn City but there is still heaps going on. Overall Ben Tre feels more functional than Ho Chi Minh, even more so than My Tho because (to us at least) it isn't geared towards tourists. We stand out a lot, I guess because there are not many foreigners in these parts? People frequently call out "hello" and wave at us. There is also very little English spoken and people are nervous to speak in English but sometimes can understand when we speak even if they cannot respond in English.
That night we went wandering along the waterfront, past markets and further down past the ritzy hotels. We crossed the river and walked along the other river bank looking for a place we had found on one of the Expat forums under the title "places to drink in Ben Tre" called "The Oasis". It is owned by a man named Ken from the top of the North Island in New Zealand. The Oasis had a swimming pool which I must admit made me wish that we had stayed there as well as bike touring maps! Over a few beers, Ken explained that his hotel is one of the expensive ones (not sure of the exact price but I got the impression it was 3 times our hotel price which is still pretty cheap), he said that he lowered the price for a while but found it attracted the wrong sort of people (I asked if he meant us and with a laugh he agreed that he did). We so greatly enjoyed the hours spent chatting with Ken that we bought his life story (literally... in paperback and autographed "To Jane and John, the 2 js trying to bike to Hanoi 18.7.2014. Paid in cash - Ken"). Just awesome! And the beer was cold, and he recommended a place around the corner for dinner which was incredible so if you find yourself in Ben Tre, I would look this guy up.
Next stop Mo Cay which is half way to Tra Vinh (20Km)