Thursday, February 6, 2014

Along the Cambodian border

After coming back from Bac Lieu, we stayed at Can Tho for a night before going to Chau Doc. Chau Doc is a small town, very close to Cambodia border and main point for travelers traveling from Vietnam to Cambodia by bus or boat (more often by boat). Due to this reason the tourist traffic to this town has increased and the town has developed somewhat.
Two hours journey from Can Tho, we reached the Chau Doc which was a bit outside the town. Walk in the afternoon to our hotel turned out to be a long and sweaty one. If you want to avoid that, take a moto-taxi for around VND 20,000.
There are not too many attractions in the town, a few pagodas, a mountain from which the view is beautiful, walk along the river, floating houses and the central market.
Taking rest for a couple of hours, we took off to the Sam Mountain, which is around 6 KMs from the city center. A bus takes you there for VND 5,000 and stops exactly at the base of the mountain. At the base, there are set of Pagodas and temples, each housing big Buddha's and other gods. Smell of incense is always in the air and is refreshing. There is crowd gathered to worship the gods, their prayers reflecting in their eyes. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the main Pagoda is its dome which resembles partly Hindu and partly Muslim architecture.

The main dome of the Pagoda



Crane standing vigil
Night view of the central Pagoda
Visiting the Pagodas, we started the climb, which is not too big, an hour's worth at maximum. The climb goes through a village and then set of various tombs on the mountain. As you leave the tombs behind, the path takes you through a number of small cafes and restaurants offering refreshments for the weary and hammocks their owners always inviting the climbers to sit down and take rest. The view from the top is not extra-ordinary, but its worth the small climb. You can see the straight road leading to the Chau Doc town to the east and Cambodia to the west. The sunset from the top is beautiful too.

Starting a climb through a village and tombs

A dragon

One of many cafes (with wifi)

Straight road to Chau Doc

Sunset towards Cambodia

Sprawling town

The next morning, after bidding goodbye to Mijung my feet took me to the central market, which was not much different from the market in Can Tho, both in colors and the smell.

Another market

The evening walk along the river was really good. The side walk was full of people coming in to do exercises and food carts as always selling meals. The river flowed ever so smoothly upstream and floating houses showed some evening activity and boat traffic. I caught a live performance involving a few kids playing a human Chinese chess, lead by their teacher. The game involved actual movement of the kids acting as pawns and occasional enactment of fights with fake blades, sticks or other weapons. After each round, there was a big round of applause from the crowd gathered.

River and floating houses

Enactment of Chinese chess

Having not much to do in town I took a bus to another town along the Cambodian border called Ha Tien. 2 hours south of Chau Doc, the town acts as a gateway to Phu Quoc island. The boats run twice a day and cost around VND 200,000 taking 2 hours to reach the island. The main tourist traffic is travelers going to the island or coming back. The town itself has little to offer and since Phu Quoc being expensive was not on my list, I immediately started regretting my decision. To add to my regret, all buses to Ho Chi Minh for next 3 days were full. In consensus with my mood, the town seemed lifeless, too small and inactive. People seemed less friendly. With 3 days in hand, I started researching about the town and found that there were a few attractions nearby. With a bit of asking around I found a cafe that rents bicycles for around VND 50,000 for entire day. So I rented the bicycle and started exploring the town. The more I explored, more friendly the town became to me. People started giving smiles, children started waving and saying "hello" or raced with me on their bikes, a Vietnamese who works in the US called out to me and asked me to join him for a beer. With all this, my mood lifted significantly!
The town itself is walkable and around 2 kms each way. There is a nice beach around 8 kms northwest of the town called Mui Nai. The entrance was VND 10,000, but it was worth it. The flat ground and good road makes it a good cycle trip. The water is unnaturally quiet and lacks almost any waves due to some mountains blocking the wind. Not a good spot for surfing but the best one for taking a dip on a hot sunny day. It is flocked by town-folks coming there to spend time with families or friends. There are sea food restaurants along the shore which are comparatively pricey.
Visiting the beach, you can continue to cycle keeping sea to the right and small mountain to left to reach Ha Tien once again.
This is the cycle I rented

A small bridge at Mui Nai

Quiet waters of Mui Nai

Ah! the sunset

Kayaking is possible!

Great place to enjoy a beer

Around 4 kms from the town is Thach Dong Cave Pagoda, a Pagoda set inside a giant rock. There are couple of levels inside and blowing wind makes unusual noises through the cave structure. Several ghambers contain funerary tablets and altars. Just before entering, there is a raised fist, symbolic for massacre of innocent natives at the hands of Khmer Rouge. The entrance to the Pagoda is VND 5,000.
Entrance to the main chamber

Inside the main chamber

A creek opening

A chamber housing some tombs

Raised fist

Not far from the town is a small hill dedicated to the originator of this town, Mac Cuu, a Chinese immigrant. In his efforts to protect himself from Thais, Mac Cuu arrived in Vietnam and from then on led this little town. Then on, several dozens of his relatives have been buried here. The topmost tomb is that of Mac Cuu himself. Some of the tombs are decorated more vigorously than others with dragon heads, phoenixes or lion, showing the importance of the person. When I went there a dull weather, so many tombs and lack of any other human presence made the place eerie and I had get out quicker than I expected.
Family tombs

Tomb of Mac Cuu

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