Saturday, August 25, 2012

My Day in Ben Tre**

**and how it turned into 3. 

About 4 seconds after arriving in Ho Chi Minh City, I knew I had to get out. Not that it's a bad city or anything, I've just come to realize that I hate cities. They are so crowded, expensive, and really g-d hot. So, I headed down south to Ben Tre, the homeland of the coconut (says anyone you ask in Vietnam). 

Ben Tre is a bit unknown on the tourist trail. If tourists visit any town in the Mekong Delta, it's usually Can Tho. But I met this fabulous lady:

who said Ben Tre is where it's at. A few hours later, I was on my way. Oh, that lady above is Van. She let me crash with her and her family in Ben Tre. I will gush and fawn over these people in just a bit. So anyway, Van and fam live above the shop that they own, selling various pieces of shrine-ery. Buddhas, incense, prayer beads, etc. It's delightfully small and every last corner of her house is filled with the shop's over flow. 

So, on my arrival, I was introduced to Van's mother and father, who wasted no time making me feel at home. Within minutes, I had a glass of water, a pair of slippers, and a request to be home in thirty minutes for a home-made lunch. 

Before lunch, Van and I had a conversation that went something like this:

Van: Do you enjoy all food?
Me: Heck ye. 
Van: Pork?
Me: Not mutton! Yes!
Van: Vegetables?
Me: Not mutton! Yes!
Van: Shrimp?
Me: Not mutton! Yes!
Van: Dog?
Me: Not mu... WHAT??

Yes, friends and family, I am in a place where some people (not all, in fact not many) enjoy the fine delicacy of DOG. 

Our chef and a delicious dog-free meal. 

Words cannot describe this meal. The best I can do is to tell you to come to Vietnam, to Ben Tre, stay with this family. We had soup, pork, vegetables and a shrimp stir-fry in COCONUT. They cook EVERYTHING in coconut! Good GOD it's amazing. After this meal, the family told me they wouldn't make it again to ensure I would return to Ben Tre someday. Well played. 

Later, Van took me out for a tour (and to find me a bicycle) of Ben Tre. She showed me the "downtown-y" area, as well as where I could take my bike into the countryside the next day. 

"Smashed Bananas" - aptly named. Then you grill 'em and dip 'em in coconut  sauce! 

And we got our nails did. This cost me just over 1 dollar. After a half hour of work, I felt like I  robbed the lady. 

Night Market. They sold avocados AS BIG AS MY HEAD. This place is a paradise. 
Me and the fam! A little blurry, but such is life. 
A wee-bit treacherous, eh?
The next morning, I was awaken at a quarter to 6. I was going to exercise with Van's mom. We drove over to the museum in town, where many Vietnamese were already playing badminton, jogging, stretching, etc. 

My work-out crew
We started with some badminton, which was great because I know, at the very least, how to hit a ball with a racket. When we moved into Tai Chi, I suddenly felt very large and cumbersome - you have to move slowly and be completely aware of your body. And considering no one spoke enough English to tell me where my body was supposed to be, I looked like an awkward elephant trying to balance on one foot. The Vietnamese had a hoot laughing at me though.

[Sidenote: I thought I was tall in Mongolia... I'm a MONSTER here]

Anyway, onto the next activity where she pulled out A SWORD!

Then, we did a little dance like thing while holding a sword. 
After this, I hopped on my bike and rode around town and the back countryside. It was beautiful. I took some pictures, but I'm really unhappy with them because it really doesn't do the area justice. Do you know how many shades of green there are? A lot. Anyway, I got to see many a cool thing - like people shelling TRILLIONS of coconut... by hand, folks fishing out of the delta waters (oh, did I mention Ben Tre is technically an island?), and groves and groves of all sorts of fruit. Stunning. Completely stunning.

Then it got insufferably hot and I went home and passed out here:

I ::heart:: hammocks
Later, we spent the day chillin with the fam, eating a ton of delicious food, and havin a good time. At one point we visited Vans' grandmother, who insisted on taking a series of photos with me. I show you this only to prove about HUGE I am:

She is standing! I am sitting!
The next day, I had to leave in order to make it to Dalat by the22nd. But, man, I did not want to. After 2 full days of the most amazing food I've ever eaten, the warmest hospitality I've ever known, and the most gorgeous scenery I've seen on my trip, getting on that bus was real hard.

On a sidenote- Ben Tre was also cheap. Like, real cheap. Over the course of three days, including transportation there and food (and I ate A LOT) and drinks, I spent a grand total of $22. Hoo boy, I want to go back.

Oh crap, the market! I totally went to the market to where they sell fish! and shrimp! and crab! and squid! and eel! and snake! and frog! and bird! and duck! and just about anything you could ever want. Oh, and it's all still alive, too. 

Moral of my story is I love the Luu family for welcoming me in as their own. I had such an amazing time and am completely convinced that our paths with cross again. I'll make sure of it. Thank you for everything Van and Mom and Dad for giving me everything in Ben Tre!

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