One of the very beautiful
place of the Mekong delta - Chau Doc, as close
as you can get to Cambodia without being in it.
The Bassac River flows through the town and is a
border crossing for river borne traffic, and the
small Sam Mountain has an excellent view of the
flat plain on the other side. Itís an
attractive, busy place with a good hotel and
several interesting attractions.
part of Vietnam in the middle of the 18th
century as a gift, a reward for helping the
Cambodian monarch to put down an insurrection.
Unsurprisingly, it has a high proportion of
ethnic Khímer people among the population here,
easily identifiable by their darker skins and a
chequered scarf instead of Vietnamís ubiquitous
conical hat. Thereís also a fair number of ethic
Cham and Chinese people, and enough Christians
to fill a local cathedral, making up a rare pot-pourri
of cultures and religions.
large market selling local products and
commodities. As might be expected, thereís also
plenty of smuggled goods changing hands in both
directions. Deep in the market, the Quan Cong (a
Chinese character) Temple is a rewarding visit.
Itís a flamboyant Taoist structure with good
murals and effigies dominated by a ruddy-faced
Quan Cong. Further along the riverfront there
are several traditional stilt houses.
A short boat
trip across the Bassac takes you to several
floating fish farms and villages. Theyíre
modified house-boats - a trap-door in the floor
provides access to nets under the boat where the
fish are grown. A little further takes you to
the other bank and a Cham community. Once youíve
tip-toed across the stepping stones to avoid the
mud, you walk through the stilt house village to
sharing the same linguistic and historical
tradition, the Cham are divided into two quite
distinct religious communities, the Hindu Chams
and the Cham Bani, or Muslims. The latter live
mainly in the Chau Doc region and are easily
distinguished by the men's preferred headgear -
a crimson fez with a long golden tassel, or
white Muslim prayer cap.
The mountain is a tourism destination in its own
right. Everest it isnít, although the
pancake-flat plains of the Mekong make it look
higher than it is. Itís a Ďholyí mountain, full
of caves, shrines and temples. The most
significant in religious terms is the Ba Chua Xu,
dedicated to the ĎLady of the Regioní. Her
festival is held in the spring. It attracts huge
numbers of devotees and, of course, swarms of
vendors hoping to make a killing.
important, but more interesting, is the Tay An
Pagoda. Itís architecture is sometimes described
as Hindu/Muslim, which is a bit fanciful.
However, thereís a definite Chinese and Islamic
influence, and the interior contains a small
army of colourful effigies. Further along, the
Cave Pagoda isnít really worth the climb for
ones with no interest in pagoda.
is best saved for the ascent of the mountain.
This is a gentle stroll rather than
mountaineering. The road winds gently past the
new offshoot of the Victoria Hotel (the main
building is down in the town) and culminates in
a Vietnamese Army lookout post. Thoughtfully,
there is a path on the left that allows you to
look across at Cambodia and back to Chau Doc and
the Mekong Delta Ė both as flat as a board.