By Ai Vuong
For the laid back and discerning foreign tourist or the Vietnam local who wants to linger in the luxuriant Mekong lifestyle, Tra Vinh Province offers a novel alternative to other Delta destinations.
Although off the tourist map for many years, the coastal city of Tra Vinh is developing fast. Prior to the completion of Co Chien Bridge in early 2015, getting to Tra Vinh was unnecessarily long and tedious, but the once bumpy journey from Ho Chi Minh City now only takes 2.5 hours.
(Photo credit: Duong Ngoc Van Khanh)
It is now as easy to reach Tra Vinh by car as it is the other Mekong Delta hotspots, and bus companies like Kim Hoang and Thanh Thuy provide a public transport alternative via the expedited route every hour.
Despite vastly improved infrastructure, tourism in Tra Vinh remains almost non-existent, with most Mekong Delta tours still focused on Can Tho, My Tho, Soc Trang, and Ben Tre. As a result, Tra Vinh has been left underdeveloped and undiscovered, and yet the province still has so much to offer.
Aside from the unequivocal Mekong qualities: stretches of gleaming rice fields, bountiful coconut trees, and delicious culinary specialties, Tra Vinh has distinctive offerings as a destination for exploring the vibrant local culture.
(Photo credit: Duong Ngoc Van Khanh)
With its 141 Khmer pagodas and long history of ethnic minorities, including Hoa Chinese and Indian immigrants living in the province, Tra Vinh is ripe in cultural discoveries. Two festivals that highlight Tra Vinh’s cultural diversity are Nghinh Ong and Ok Om Bok, both celebrated according to the Lunar calendar. Many charming pagodas and villages such as Con Cu Salt Village are easily and enjoyably reached by bicycle, yet bicycle rental services still don’t exist in the city.
Just 10km from Tra Vinh City lies Long Tri Island, an intriguing place kept completely afloat by water coconut plants. Getting there requires a short ferry ride, but once there, it is an idyllic oasis of longan trees and other exotic fauna.
“Tourists often stop overnight as it is cool and relaxing here. Even if they come for the day, they always want to stay,” says Vo Thi Cuc, proud local owner of a homestay on Long Tri Island. All bookings are made directly with Cuc, either in person or by phone, as she has virtually no online presence. Similarly, the accommodation situation in Tra Vinh City remains underdeveloped.
With the absence of designated tours, an experience in Tra Vinh truly feels homegrown and local – a desirable factor in light of growing concerns over the authenticity offered by more popular Mekong Delta destinations.
With the absence of designated tours, an experience in Tra Vinh truly feels homegrown and local – a desirable factor in light of growing concerns over the authenticity offered by more popular Mekong Delta destinations. But being off the beaten track is a mixed blessing as organizing logistics in Tra Vinh isn’t easy.
“If someone wants to get to Tra Vinh, they have to book tickets and plan an itinerary all on their own. There is no resource to help them travel here,” discloses Nguyen Huyen, manager of Huong Tra Cafe.
“What we really need to boost tourism for the city is marketing”
Huyen is one of the first to recognize the tourism potential in Tra Vinh, and she is in the process of setting up Huong Tra Cafe as a one-stop shop for tourists. The cafe opened two weeks ago, but has already been garnering local attention for its unconventional outdoor setting. Within the large private complex, the owners are constructing homestays and assembling itineraries for those looking to explore Tra Vinh.
“What we really need to boost tourism for the city is marketing,” Huyen asserts.
While all of the elements already exist in Tra Vinh for a quintessential and authentic Mekong experience, essentially all tourist services are in need of greater attention. The province is well positioned to be the next Delta hotspot; it just needs the investment to fully realize its potential.
Ai divides her time between Ho Chi Minh City and Hue, where she focuses on creative leadership skills and positive youth development as the Director of Friends of Hue Foundation. She also is a freelance writer contributing to Vietnamese-American publications and works on her own creative writing in her blog The Life of Clouds.
This content is also available in: Vietnamese