Burning desire for Chau Doc Vietnam
An Giang is famed for its year-round sun, labyrinthine rivers and sacred mountains
The young boatman joked as he guided me around Chau Doc Vietnam, citing a common saying: That Son, bay nui nam ke. Khi di thi trang, khi ve den thui (Your fair skin will be sunburnt after you visit seven mountains).
With hot, sunny days year-round, this scenic town in the southwestern province of An Giang bordering Cambodia is famed for its brisk winds, labyrinth of waterways and sacred mountains.
Lying shoulder to shoulder with the two Cambodian towns of Takeo and Kandal, Chau Doc is at the upper reach of the Cuu Long (Mekong) River as it first enters Viet Nam before splitting into two smaller branches, the Tien River and Hau River.
Departing from Ho Chi Minh City, travellers have several options to reach the area via waterways or roads. While a voyage across Can Tho city will take about four hours, a van trip will last eight hours.
Although my van journey was a long and tiring one because of the hot weather, the cool wind wafting across the Hau River and through the summer leaves of the Victoria Chau Doc Hotel’s garden swept away my fatigue.
During my three-day trip, I was warmly welcomed at the hotel, a charming, tranquil place of classic distinction. Standing on the hotel’s balcony, I enjoyed the sight of the rippling river glittering in the afternoon sun.
When night falls in the border town, visitors can take a xe loi tour around the town. Xe loi is a traditional bicycle attached with a two-wheel seat, and can be found everywhere in town.
"The little busy town of Chau Doc is very special. It’s very much like a modern girl wearing jeans and T-shirt and being surrounded by a group of rural girls in conical hats and Cham girls in colourful sarongs who have their faces hidden under silk veils," says Tran Minh Nguyen, a tourist visiting from Ha Noi.
Being a border town, Chau Doc has an interesting blend of Cham, Khmer and Viet cultures, reflected in the architectural mix of churches, pagodas and mosques.
A quick stop by boat at the Chau Doc floating village offers the curious an opportunity to have a close look at the fascinating life in this watery town.
Locals raise tra and ba sa fish for food on the floating villages, which resemble a big fish farm on the river.
Thousands of tra and basa fish are kept and fed in nets, which are firmly attached to a wooden boat and dipped in the deep water below.
The friendly hosts showed us how to feed the fish through a small hole in front of their makeshift homes by throwing a handful of fish food into it.
Immediately, thousands of fish pushed their way through the school to compete for the food, splashing water at the wide-eyed visitors.
"When the harvest season comes, farmers will pull up their wooden floors and lift the net to catch fish. Each floating home can harvest up to several tonnes of fish," Phala, our 26-year-old Cham boatman, told me.
Leaving the village, Phala took us to his village, which was immersed in the fresh green of dien dien bushes, with edible flowers, growing beside the water.
Although the Cham in An Giang Province and Phan Rang-Thap Cham City of Ninh Thuan Province are Islamic, their lifestyles are very different.
The Cham in Phan Rang-Thap Cham City raise cattle and grow grapefruit to make alcoholic beverages, while those in Chau Doc earn their living by fishing and weaving.
Cloth made by Cham women is specialand differs from the handmade cloth made by ethnic minority women in Viet Nam’s mountainous northwestern region. Cham cloth is silkier, more lustrous and shines with vibrant colours.
Products made of these special silks, such as scarves, clothing or bags, sell quickly at reasonable prices.
Visiting the village, guests can watch how weavers make the cloth and take a side trip to discover the intriguing design of the village’s magnificent mosques.
Lying deep in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta and at the Cambodian border, the region shares a similar climate and vegetation with its neighbouring country.
A 30-minute van trip will take travellers from the border town to the gate of Tinh Bien, where the seven mountain ranges of That Son rise above the region’s lowland fields covered in floodwaters as the rainy season arrives.
Tourists should take notice that although the border-gate site has a breathtaking natural spectacle, they cannot take photographs because of security reasons.
The route stretches from the border gate to Tri Ton Town, where the Sam Mountain attracts thousands of visitors to the Ba Chua Xu (Lady Xu) temple every year.
The temple’s unique sandstone Lady Xu monument and its sacred temple have turned the small riverside town into a pilgrimage site for centuries.
"Three days can hardly be enough for visitors to dig into Chau Doc’s uniqueness. There’re still many hidden beauties, so I will come back one day," said one visiting Hanoian.
(Source:Viet Nam News, URL: http://english.vietnamnet.vn/travel/2008/06/789630/)
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