I have my father to thank (or chastise) for Paul Simon’s opening line to his song Graceland entering my head each time I cross Rach Mieu Bridge to Ben Tre province. With a clearance from the waters below of approximately 40m and spanning 270m 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.
Not far from here is Mango Home Riverside where I’ll spend the next two nights on the banks of the Ham Luong 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 local water coconut palms that line the canals here. 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 has a double-size bed with a 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 catches glimpses of the pool and the river beyond. It’s a short dash for a quick cool off in the pool but it’s far enough away so the shrill of children’s laughter as they splash about is muffled and doesn’t ruin your nap time in the middle of the day.
A simple Vietnamese or Western breakfast comes with your room, with lunch and dinner an add-on if required. Meals are served in the expansive restaurant by the river. It’s a nice change to observe couples and families with eyes fixed on the river traffic ferrying mountains of coconuts to the markets in Saigon 90km away, instead of on their phones.
Happy hour drinks are served each day at the Sunset Lounge, just a roll of a coconut away, and is where guests can get their fix of those fiery red sunsets that are synonymous with this part of the world.
For guests interested in Ben Tre’s local economy and how a living is made in what is known as the Coconut Kingdom, Mango Home Riverside offers trips along the river on 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’ which 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 row 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. You can see what the owners are trying to achieve here, that is, offer a great value for money experience to guests, but contribute back to the local community in the way of jobs and a concerted effort to promote sustainable tourism in the area.
In what seems like the blink of an eye, my stay at Mango Home Riverside has ended, and as the next two lines in Simon’s opening stanza of Graceland go, I am following the river down the highway (and back to anything but Graceland).
—photos: MATTHEW COWAN
For more information, visit Mango Home Riverside Facebook page