With a clearance of approximately 40 metres and spanning three kilometres across the Mekong River, the bridge affords travellers heading south their first look at the enormity of the Mekong Delta stretching out before them.
Perhaps not shining like a National Guitar as Simon’s lyric goes, this delta is no less breathtaking; striking for the sheer volume of water flowing beneath the bridge, the seemingly endless expanse of coconut trees filling the horizon, and the size of the sky above it.
Not far from here is Mango Home Riverside where I’ll spend the next two nights on the banks of the Binh Chanh River, one of the Mekong River’s many tributaries. Mango Home Riverside offers three room types: Superior with the basics (approx. VND1 million); Suite with at least one double bed and large open-air bathroom (approx. VND1.5 million); and Family with two bedrooms (approx. VND2.6 million), including separate bathroom and an additional toilet. In total there are 16 rooms with plans afoot to add 10 more and another swimming pool in the near future.
My room, the Jasmine suite, makes an excellent first impression. At the front, it has a small porch facing the river and is shaded from the western sun by a densely thatched roof made from the fronds of the water coconut palms that line the canals in Ben Tre. The roof not only shades the sitting area on the porch, it insulates the room sufficiently so that the air-conditioner can be used sparingly, especially at night.
Inside, the room is spacious. The sense of space is enhanced by the large open-air bathroom that is partially covered by the overhang of the thatched roof. The space between the roof and the back wall allows plenty of nature in without sacrificing privacy. Although quite sparsely decorated, the bathroom is light and airy and does the job. It’s a nice change to go about your business in a bathroom and not hit your elbows at every turn.
The Jasmine suite has a double-size bed with an additional single bed, both with mosquito netting (surprisingly not always standard in the Delta), which is somewhat reassuring if you’re looking for a good night’s sleep without the anxiety that comes with thoughts of being eaten alive in your slumber.
From the bedside, a large window opens out into the garden, and shows glimpses of the pool and the river beyond. It’s a short dash for a quick cool-off in the pool but is far enough so the shrill of children’s laughter as they splash about is muffled and doesn’t interrupt a nap in the middle of the day.
A simple Vietnamese or Western breakfast is included with your room, with extensive lunch and dinner menus extra. Meals are served in the expansive restaurant by the river. Over dinner, it’s a pleasant change to observe couples and families with eyes fixed on river traffic ferrying mountains of coconuts to the markets in Saigon 90km away, instead of on their mobile devices.
Happy hour drinks are served each day at the Sunset Lounge, just a roll of a coconut away from the restaurant, and it is where guests can get their fix of the fiery red sunsets that are synonymous with this part of the world, with a cocktail or glass of wine in hand.
For guests interested in Ben Tre’s local economy and how a living is made in what some call the Coconut Kingdom, Mango Home Riverside offers trips along the river aboard one of their many boats.
A half-day river cruise (there are 13 different cruise options to choose from, including overnight trips) takes in a working coconut ‘factory’ and demonstrates the myriad uses for coconuts (not to mention the amount of physical labour that goes into processing them), a casual bicycle ride through coconut and banana plantations and their adjoining hamlets, and a brief but interesting canoe ride along a coconut palm-fringed canal back to the main boat.
Ultimately, however, it’s the welcoming, enthusiastic young staff who make a stay at Mango Home Riverside so pleasant. Many of them are just starting out on their journey in hospitality and are learning the ropes, but that doesn’t detract from the experience. The owners are trying to offer an experience that is great value for money but which gives back to the local community through job creation (95% of staff are from the local area), while endeavouring to promote a sustainable form of tourism.
After what feels way too brief, my stay at Mango Home Riverside comes to an end and soon, as the next two lines in Simon’s opening stanza of Graceland go, I’m following the river down the highway. But unlike the song, I’m going to Saigon.
PHOTOS BY MATT COWAN