Following Ho Chi Minh City, we had thoughts of going to the Mekong delta, but weren’t sure if it would be worth the trip further south. After some research, we decided to do it. Specifically, I had read that travelers can take a cargo boat from one particular city to another instead of a bus. Although it would be much slower than a bus, taking the cargo boat promised to give us great views of river life in the delta. The only question was if the cargo boat still operated and carried passengers.
We arrived in Ben Tre, where the cargo boat is supposed to originate, in the late afternoon and walked around to find a cheap hotel. Once settled in, we asked the man working at the hotel desk for information about the boat. He told us that he wasn’t sure that it still existed, but if it did it was only every other day. We gave up on finding more information for the day and went to find dinner instead. After a failed attempt at getting pizza for dinner (we did find the pizza restaurant only to be told that the pizza chef had gone on a trip to Ho Chi Minh city) we went to sleep in preparation for getting up early the next day.
Our early start was so that we could walk down the riverfront to the place from which the cargo boat was supposed to leave – if it still operated. As we approached I could see a boat that looked like the description I had read and had a sign on it: Ben Tre to Tra Vinh. I looked around the dock for someone in charge and discovered a group of men watching us, one of which turned out to be Captain Vu. He managed to communicate to us that he would leave at 9:30 and we left to find breakfast and to get our bags before boarding.
When we came back there was a slow but steady stream of boxes and bags being carried onto the boat and two fellow passengers, a Scottish couple, sitting on the roof. They were quite nice and had previously visited Marrakech, so we chatted about Morocco as we waited for the boat loading to be completed. 9:30 came and went, as did 10:00, but shortly after Captain Vu let us know that all was ready, the gangplank was pulled back, and we pulled away from the dock and into the river’s current.
We made a few short stops along the way to drop off a few boxes or packages, but it was clear that the majority of the goods on board were headed all the way to the final destination, Tra Vinh. Along the river we passed numerous other boats, most carrying coconuts, a few loaded with hay, and barges riding low in the water, heavy with dirt dredged from the river bottom. The coconuts were all headed to, or from, one of the many riverside processing facilities.
For the last part of the ride, clouds approached and rain fell. A lot of rain. We left the roof of the boat and took shelter inside, with the cargo. A few more hours and we arrived in Tra Vinh with the rain still falling. The four of us travelers stood around, not quite knowing what to do. Finally, after a few failed communication attempts, Captain Vu understood our request and called a taxi to take us to the bus station, and on to our next destination… Except that when we arrived at the bus station we discovered that there were no more buses that day to Vinh Long (where we had intended to spend that night). We got back into the taxi to ride into town once again and find a room for the night. This slight surprise at the end of an amazing day’s journey did not get us down!