The few travellers who push on beyond My Tho into BEN TRE PROVINCE are rewarded with some of the Mekong Delta’s most breathtaking scenery. Until recently this province was isolated by the Mekong’s wide arms around it, but the new Rach Mieu Bridge from My Tho (opened in 2009) is starting to bring a rush of visitors. Famed for its fruit orchards and coconut groves (Vietnamese call it the “coconut island”), the province has proved just as fertile a breeding ground for revolutionaries, first plotting against the French, and later against the Americans, and was one of the areas seized by the Viet Cong during the Tet Offensive of 1968.
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Of the US bombing campaign on the provincial capital of BEN TRE, a US major was quoted as saying, “It became necessary to destroy the town in order to save it” – a classic wartime analysis. Today, Ben Tre is a pleasant and industrious town displaying none of the wounds of its past (apart from a heavily populated cemetery and proud war memorial), and makes an agreeable contrast to the tourist bustle of nearby My Tho. Though short on specific sights, the surrounding countryside is lush and photogenic. It’s a relaxing and friendly place to hole up for a couple of days, with a buzzing town market and a new riverside promenade, which makes a pleasant place to stroll in the morning or evening. With a bicycle or motorbike, you can explore the maze of trails on both sides of the river. For more of an adventure, head out of town on a boat trip along the Ben Tre coastline, where labyrinthine creeks afford marvellous scope for exploring, and sometimes include stops at apiaries, rice-wine and sugar-processing workshops.