An American friend of mine said that he chose to stop at Ben Tre on his Mekong Delta Tour because he had heard of it in history lessons at school. What interested him about Ben Tre is the fact that it is the cradle of Dong Khoi (simultaneous insurgency) in the famous American - Vietnam war and he wanted to see it for himself.
On our tour to Ben Tre, the guide told us a bit of Ben Tre history and folklore to amuse us on our way to Phoenix Island (by boat of course). People in Ben Tre were migrants from the middle of Vietnam. They were able to keep their traditional customs and habits until now since Ben Tre is wedged between the two arms of Tien River, so it is isolated from the rest of the Mekong Delta.
A long time ago when people first settled there, tigers were a serious problem because the huge roots of mangroves provided perfect hiding places for them. Despite the fact that people are afraid of their fierce attack, tigers have become centers of many local folklores. One of the most famous ones among Ben Tre citizens is the story of a tiger who was raised by a doctor and his family. The tiger became so close to the doctor that it followed him around and brought him medicine in case he got sick on the way to Hue. When the doctor passed away, the tiger took its own life by banging its head against the doctor’s headstone.
Ben Tre is the land of coconut and coconut candies
Ben Tre is more than a historical place as it has several tourist attractions in itself. Ben Tre is the land of coconut and its coconut candies have become a household name or even a well-known brand. On Con Phung (Phoenix Island), there are some small sweet factories opened to tourists. Visitors can admire the performance of peeling coconuts given by skillful tour guides. As coconuts have hard shells, one specific tool is required in the process. The tool has the shape of a spear with one end that sticks to the ground.
Candy workers hold the coconuts firmly and then bang the coconut against the sharp end of the tool to break the shell. It takes about just 30 seconds for a worker to peel a coconut with this tool. Then some women boil cauldrons of coconut goo before rolling and cutting them into candy bars. The whole process is entirely manual. Besides candies, coconut can also be turned into ice cream and popsicles. Makers even add shredded coconut flesh to these ice cold treats to enhance their flavor. They come with an extremely low price, only 5.000 VND (Vietnam currency) for a popsicle. Ben Tre also produces coconut oil, which is added to many local skincare products such as body lotion, mask sheets and bars of soap.
The process of making coconut candies
On Phoenix Island, there are some large bee farms, providing excellent quality honey and royal jelly, which possess some medical benefits such as boosting the immune system and helping Alzheimer patients. The honey is usually mixed with tea, pollen and kumquat juice as they believe this will enhance the effect of all substances. Jars of honey, royal jelly and pollen are common souvenirs among tourists. I bought some mask sheets as they smell sweet and remind me of coconut jelly.
Some large bee farms provide excellent quality honey and royal jelly
As coconut trees are found everywhere in Ben Tre, local citizens usually use their timber as building materials. Coconut palms are also used to make homeware like mugs, spoons, chopsticks, and bowls. Take some of these home with you and they will serve as lovely decorations.
Unicorn island usually hosts some Don ca tai tu (a form of folklore opera) shows. The singers wear well-decorated ao dai and perform outdoors. If you enjoy the show, remember to give your favorite singer (or the prettiest one) a flower available at every desk. Honey tea and fresh fruits are served as well so you might feel like having a tea party while hearing the beautiful melody.
Ben Tre is a famous destination in many Mekong Delta tours. People come to this land of coconut to admire the palm-lined canals and rivers as well as enjoy themselves in the unspoiled local culture.
Learn more about the Mekong Delta here: