Finding the next 'place to go' makes life as an expat in Ho Chi Minh City much more interesting. My past decade of visiting destinations like Vung Tau three or four weekends each year has become boring and monotonous, not to mention expensive.
To cope with the monotony, I began looking for other locations within 100km of Ho Chi Minh City that I could easily get to by bicycle or motorbike and stumbled across a true gem: My Tho City in Tien Giang Province.
My Tho is just 75km west of Ho Chi Minh City and delivers an experience comparable to more famous tourist haunts like Can Tho and Da Lat.
On the surface, My Tho looks like any other southern Vietnam regional centers, but just a little time and research proves that it's worthy of spending three or four weekends a year taking in the city’s unique atmosphere.
My Tho truly has something for everyone, from adventure seekers to families, and it is really a lot cheaper than more popular cities, such as Vung Tau.
Getting to My Tho
Getting to My Tho is part of the fun of visiting this southern city. There are a number of different bicycle and motorbike routes running between My Tho and Ho Chi Minh City.
To the east, several routes take you through the lesser-known towns of Go Cong, Can Duoc, and other locales in Long An and Tien Giang Provinces. I must admit that I slowed down and really enjoyed these backroads.
For those looking for a quicker route, there is a major highway that runs from An Lac Ward in Binh Tan District, Ho Chi Minh City through Ben Luc District and Tan An City in Long An Province to My Tho City. This route takes about two hours by car and is also great for speed cyclists and motorcycle riders. There are also a few options involving public and private buses.
Personally, I have traveled to My Tho on both a bicycle and motorcycle. The bicycle adventure was a true 'wow' experience. There are so many backroad options. You can leave Ho Chi Minh City via Binh Tan District, Binh Chanh District, District 8 or Nha Be District and explore a host of backroads and ferry crossings that are absolutely stunning.
My cycling trip to My Tho took just three hours and 30 minutes, exclusive of a few rest stops.
When I traveled to My Tho by motorcycle, I used the main road and it was simple, fast and comfortable. Rest cafés lined the main highway so it was easy to stop and take a break at any time. It took just over two hours to get from Ho Chi Minh City to My Tho, even during Friday afternoon traffic.
|Buu Lam Pagoda in My Tho City, Tien Giang Province, Vietnam. Photo: Ray Kuschert / Tuoi Tre News|
My Tho features a wide range of fairly priced hotels. The city is not too big, so finding a hotel is quite easy. Closer to the river are a few 3- and 4-star hotels that likely offer good views of the local landscapes from your room. Expect to pay between 50 percent and 75 percent of what you would pay in more popular cities, like Vung Tau.
Also, just outside the city are a range of accommodation options, from high-priced luxury resorts to farm stays and ecotourism experiences. Choosing a place is all about what you hope to experience during your trip.
What to eat
During your first visit to My Tho, make sure to take a walk around Gieng Nuoc Lon (a large square lake in the middle of the city). In the streets near the lake sit several shops and cafés that specialize in local food and drinks.
The culinary specialty of My Tho is hu tieu (white flat noodles). In fact, hu tieu My Tho was recommended by nearly every Vietnamese traveler I spoke to there. I also highly recommend trying this dish. With noodles that are noticeably tougher than what is sold in Ho Chi Minh City and many other local ingredients, hu tieu My Tho is a unique take on the dish.
|A bowl of 'hu tieu kho' (noodles served separately with broth) at a stall in My Tho City, Tien Giang Province, Vietnam. Photo: Son Lam / Tuoi Tre News|
I really enjoyed the sa te version with its sweetness from fresh local peanuts blended into a sauce and just enough chili to balance the flavors. I loved it.
|A bowl of 'hu tieu sa te' is served at a stall in My Tho City, Tien Giang Province, Vietnam. Photo: Dong Nguyen / Tuoi Tre News|
The best way to wash down hu tieu My Tho is with a local version of nuoc mia (sugarcane juice). Yersin Street is full of vendors that sell a local variation that includes sugarcane, durian juice, whole peanuts, and jackfruit. Don’t be scared by the durian – its taste is really mild and brings a unique added flavor to this local drink.
Few experiences are more enjoyable than sitting on a local street overlooking the lake and enjoying a delightful drink of nuoc mia mit (sugarcane juice topped with jackfruit) while watching life go by in the city.
The culinary scene in My Tho is full of surprises. From local options like hotpot and seafood to foreign specialties like sushi, pasta, pizza, and steak, it seems that My Tho has most food options covered. Plus, being in a farm-belt region, the food is exceptionally fresh and features flavors rarely seen in other cities around the country. What also took me aback was the price. Generally, I noticed that food prices were cheaper than their equivalents in major cities and tourist regions.
|A set of 'lau mam' (hotpot cooked from fermented fish paste) is served at a stall in My Tho City, Tien Giang Province, Vietnam. Photo: Dong Nguyen / Tuoi Tre News|
Things to explore
Getting out and about in My Tho is a lot of fun. Island tours, snake farms, chocolate farms, a pagoda or two, and a range of river tours are available to keep you active and entertained for a few days.
Visitors can also take the 30-minute trip to Ben Tre, a nearby city filled with local attractions. A must in Ben Tre is visiting the coconut candy farm and production site where visitors can see how coconut candy is made and sample the freshest candy in Vietnam. Your hotel should be able to tell you more about these tours.
|The Rach Mieu Bridge connects Tien Giang and Ben Tre Provinces in Vietnam's Mekong Delta. Photo: Ray Kuschert / Tuoi Tre News|
Conclusion: A total surprise
My first visit to My Tho was a total surprise. I had planned a short bicycle weekend and resolved to spend most of Saturday in my hotel room. But when I arrived in My Tho, I immediately felt relaxed. I wandered the streets and was greeted by the warmest and friendliest people. I felt welcomed and, whilst there are few English speakers in town, there seemed to be a lack of stress regarding communication and interacting with foreigners. Everyone was just so friendly.
What I can be sure of is that my first two weekends in My Tho won’t be my last. Only two hours from Ho Chi Minh City, I am able to ride my bicycle or motorbike to My Tho on Friday after work and spend the weekend doing things that other expats might not really consider.
Also, apart from the cost of the room, I really didn’t spend much more than I would at home because everything in My Tho is so much cheaper than Ho Chi Minh City. It’s an affordable and enjoyable weekend escape from the city that allows time to rest whilst enjoying a bit of adventure, and the bicycle ride home doesn’t zap my energy.
|A stall sells 'lau mam' (hotpot cooked from fermented fish paste) in My Tho City, Tien Giang Province, Vietnam. Photo: Dong Nguyen / Tuoi Tre News|
With tourism exploding again across the country, famous locations are filling up with domestic and international travelers, all wanting to experience Vietnam. As expats, we understand the simple nature of this amazing country, and finding new and local holiday destinations brings personal enjoyment and supports local communities in many ways as well.
If you have never been to My Tho, go online and book a room next weekend. If you are anything like me you will walk away thinking, “Wow, I really like this place," and I am confident it won’t be your last visit to this wonderful locale so close to Ho Chi Minh City.