The Victoria Chau Doc Hotel stands beside the mighty Hau River
Located near the Cambodian border six hours' drive from Ho Chi Minh City, Chau Doc in An Giang Province is one of the most remote towns of the Mekong Delta, and one of the most interesting.
Its mixed population of Vietnamese, Khmer, Cham and Chinese gives Chau Doc a rich and exotic culture, a plethora of festivals, and numerous old pagodas and temples.
The area is also famous for its endless rice fields dotted with thot not (palmyra) palms, the indigo forest of Tra Su, and an 800-hectare bird sanctuary.
In mid-September, we visited to Chau Doc for a weekend holiday. We'd just missed the Khmer oxen day and so planned to visit Tra Su and the Cham Village on the Hau River, also known as the Bassac River, opposite Chau Doc.
We stayed at the Victoria Chau Doc Hotel on the riverbank with a view of the lush countryside and villages across the water, where we would travel by boat on Sunday.
Our balcony afforded excellent views of the surrounding countryside and the initial two branches of the Mekong River leading to Cambodia upstream and Can Tho City in the other direction.
Life on the river could be seen in all its constant bustle and change. Far away to our left were many house boats with cages in the water for raising ba sa catfish.
Long wooden boats ploughed the waterway, carrying sand, gravel, green bananas, other produce, and much besides. Smiling children waved to us from a boat in the distance, and white birds swooped over the surface in search of fish.
It was relaxing to sit on the balcony and watch the rays of the setting sun reflected off the small white houses on the opposite bank. The tranquility was barely broken by the occasional motor boat, and anyway the spreading waves from the boat's wake added to the peaceful setting.
The Victoria Chau Doc Hotel has 92 rooms, all with timber floors and most with river views. These include four suites. The hand-made brocade decorations, ceramic vases and tiny bonsai in a red clay pot are all produced in or around Chau Doc, and a basket of fresh fruit awaits every new guest.
After darkness fell, we went downstairs to the Bassac Restaurant for dinner. We chose a table on the terrace overlooking the river and checked out the menu of French, Italian and Vietnamese dishes.
VICTORIA CHAU DOC HOTEL
1 Le Loi Street, Chau Doc Town, An Giang Province
Tel: (076) 3 865 010
My friend opted for duck liver parfait with Cumberland sauce and Melba toast, Da Lat lettuce served with condiments, goat cheese & crostini, raspberry vinaigrette, and rack of lamb coated in Mekong herbs.
I chose simple and hearty Vietnamese - lotus rhizome with shrimp and chicken salad, shrimp paste on sugar cane, stuffed crab with vermicelli, mushrooms and tomato sauce, and lotus seed compote. There were five kinds of warm, home-made bread served with butter, at no extra charge.
We also ventured into Victoria Spa on the hotel's rooftop terrace with a panoramic view of the river, not to mention the various massage oils scented with frangipani, lavender, citronella, lemongrass, jasmine and others for rubbing into the skin.
Victoria Green Day
The next morning, together with other hotel guests, staff and hundreds of local school kids, we took part in the annual green day held at all six Victoria properties in Sa Pa, Hoi An, Can Tho, Phan Thiet, Chau Doc and Cambodia's Siem Riep to raise awareness of the need for a greener earth.
To do our bit for a cleaner planet, we climbed nearby Sam Mountain on Saturday to pick up garbage left by littering tourists. We started off at seven o'clock as early morning is the best time to climb the mountain, before the heat of the day arrives.
Everybody was equipped with a basket, gloves and a Green Day T-shirt for the dirty work ahead.
"This is my first green day. It's fun and I understand that we should keep the environment green," said ten-year-old schoolgirl Nguyen Thu, who was there with a group of her friends.
By the time we'd reached the summit, our baskets were full of trash. Everyone took the opportunity for a well-deserved rest in the cool breeze and gazed out across rice fields and rivers to Cam Mountain in the distance.
It was more than a relaxing holiday at Chau Doc. It was a meaningful weekend where we and a host of children joined in to raise awareness of the need to protect this beautiful spot, and indeed the world.