Delta delights in Chau Doc

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An Giang Province's bustling border town showcases the diversity of the Mekong Delta: Vietnamese, Chinese, Khmer and Cham cultures all in one.

From the top of Sam Mountain, you can see the whole of Chau Doc Town and Tinh Bien District, and even all the way to the That Son (Seven Mountains) range in the distance.

At the summit, marked by a former French Military base built in 1896, the view of the Bassac River is stunning.

You can see the dark river flowing into agricultural channels in the endless expanse of rice paddy before it reaches Chau Doc, a colorful town peppered with the marks of history: traditional Vietnamese homes, French villas, old pagodas and new government buildings - even a four-star resort on the riverside.

The low-rise, French colonial structure of the Victoria Chau Doc Hotel blends in with its natural and man-made surroundings including a 200-year-old Vietnamese-style house nearby.

The hotel overlooks the intersection of Bassac River and Mekong River, dotted with its famous floating fishing villages, floating markets and ethnic Cham communities.

Once down from the mountain and in the bustling town, a walk down any lane immerses the traveler in the sights and sounds of life in the remote outpost deep in the Mekong Delta near the Cambodian border.

Deep in the Chau Doc Market, the Quan Cong Temple is a rewarding visit. Its flamboyant Taoist murals and effigies are mostly in praise of a ruddy-faced Quan Cong, worshiped by the delta's ethnic Chinese-Vietnamese population. Cong was a Chinese general who was involved in the civil war that led to the collapse of the Han Dynasty.

Ba Chua Xu Pagoda, dedicated to the region's patron Buddhist saint, is also a favorite destination, especially in the spring when the Ba Festival is held, attracting huge numbers of local devotees, Buddhist pilgrims and tourists from all around.

While visiting, contrast Ba Chua Xu Pagoda with the lesser-known Tay An Pagoda on Sam Mountain. Its architecture is sometimes fancifully described as Hindu-Muslim. However, a definite Islamic influence has been brought

to the Chinese architecture by the local Cham population. The interior contains a small army of colorful effigies.

On the streets in town, the xe loi (peddle-pedicap) is still preferred by both tourists and locals. Chau Doc residents are known for being very warm and approachable. Though some xe loi drivers are a bit pestering, most are genuinely friendly. They don't speak much English, but they do their best to entertain foreign tourists.

At the market place, you discover why they call it Chau Doc - Vuong quoc mam (Chau Doc - the kingdom of fermented fish). Although mam (fermented fish products) of all kinds are sold and displayed everywhere, fresh thot not (palmyra palms) fruits, thot not sugar, and other specialties made with thot not are also popular.

Wide-eyed Khmer families and smiling Cham people with colorful brocades invite you to try the sweet white juice of the thot not fruit. The fruit looks like coconut, but is smaller and sweeter.

Tourists can cross the Bassac River by taking a short boat ride to the island village of Chau Giang, but first they should not miss the small floating village en route, complete with its underwater tra and basa catfish cages.

The village is made of modified house-boats - trap-doors in the floor provide access to nets under the boat where fish are raised.

You can feed the schools with dried food and take pictures of the thousands of fish gathering to eat.

The floating village has everything a normal village has: gasoline stations, grocery stores. Children, of course, are good swimmers at the young age of four, while pet cats and dogs are not afraid to jump from house to house.

A visit to Jamiul Azharas, the most beautiful of An Giang Province's ten mosques, is also a must.

The mosque, built in 1958 on the foundations of an old wooden house of worship, is the heart of a 350-year-old village.

Chau Doc, the town engulfed in thousands of thot not trees, is worth a visit for anyone who wants to leave noisy Ho Chi Minh City behind and enjoy all aspects of Mekong Delta life.

GETTING THERE

Deep in the Mekong Delta, Chau Doc Town is 280 km (174 miles) south-west of Ho Chi Minh City near the Cambodian border.

The town can be reached by car (six hours), boat, or airplane to Can Tho City's Tra Noc Airport, and then by driving a car to Chau Doc).

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