Mekong Adventure V – A day of beauty and sadness

24.11.2018

For our second last day we headed further north towards Chau Doc and covering some of the highlights in that area – including travelling along the border to Cambodia.

However, before we left it was time to explore Tri Ton a little bit. Actually, both of us wanted to see the market we spotted on our short walk the previous night. And if possible having breakfast there.

Thankfully it was just a 5 minute walk and we were in front of the main hall that was the home of the market. The first part you see at the entrance was the meat section. Here you find various meat (dead or alive) hanging down or running around (ok…sitting down). It is all fresh, though I assume for most tourists seeing the meat not in a fridge might be a bit strange. I don’t mind, as I love these markets as they are. We followed on of the side paths (easier to walk) to see stalls selling everything from tobacco, vegetables, shoes, rice, spices or fruit. it is colorful, interesting and we saw smiles all the way from the locals. It seems not too many Western people might stop here.

At the end of the market hall the stalls continue along the little alley until you reach a little square. Here we saw a stall preparing a kind of dough that was then fried into a kind of bread-like item. Maybe a bit like a non-sweet doughnut. I actually like it. My sister never had it though so I ordered (aka pointing at the bread and showing one finger). We got 2, but they did not accept any money. Nope – they made it very clear it was on the house. I tried twice to hand over some money – but without success. Though it seems they were very happy to see us eating the food with a smile. Oh yes, it was nice. Just one of these encounters you will remember.

After that encounter we found the food section back in the market hall. Various stalls selling soup, Banh Mi, rice or whatever the locals like to eat in the morning. We stopped at a little stall selling Bun Bo Vien, a noodle soup with little meat balls. It was tasty and I love eating at markets anyway, but we both got the feeling that we might be something rare here, as everybody was looking at us. One lady sitting near us, who spoke fluent English, explained that not many tourist stay in Tri Ton, as they usual head to Chau Doc, and locals are happy to see us here (for whatever reason). It was nice to hear, and shows once again why I do not like guided tours. We would have missed that place.

After taking more photos on our way out of the market we stopped at the Cao Dai Temple next to the market. I call it the “All Seeing Eye” religion (if you know Lord of the Ring you get the reference). It is a rather local religion that combines the believes or symbols of different religion. And one of the most important symbol is a large eye. There are quite a few Cao Dai temples, with the largest one not far away from HCMC. The one in Tri Ton is rather small, but worth a quick stop to go inside this very colourful building. It is worthwhile to check out the various symbols found in and outside the temple. If you go inside, please do not forget to take your shoes off.

After the morning tour through Tri Ton it was time to get back on our bike, and left the town after 10am. Our last stop before returning to HCMC was Chau Doc. But instead of going the direct route we once again planned some detour to see some historic site and also being able to follow the Vietnam – Cambodian Border.

Route: Tri Ton – Chau Doc

Distance: 88km

Our first stop was Nui Cam, a mountain north of Tri Ton. This section was actually quite straight forward – we just followed the main road, DT948, north. It was a rather short ride, though obviously I turned off the main road too early – and we were on the road that potentially leads to the top of the mountain (which we were not allowed to follow). The locals know that and a lot of businesses pointed at their parking facilities and indicating they could ride us to the top with their bikes. But we did not need another bike – instead we found what we were looking for – the entrance to the cable car.

The Vietnamese really do like their Cable Cars, there is even on Phu Quoc connecting the main island with a smaller one. The cable car here for Nui Cam was smaller, but still not to miss. The car park is massive – and I mean massive. Seeing that I realised that this area must be very popular for local tourists. Now I got a bit more curious. Walking to the entrance (the little train not ready to leave yet) it is very painless to get the ticket. The return ticket was 180.000 for adults, including the 20.000 entrance fee. In each cable car offers space for up to 4 people, but thankfully we two had our own. The ride is actually pleasant, as you get a fantastic view over the surrounding area (and the very flat Delta) while you “fly” over the trees and even a little lake. The cable car ride alone is worth a stop here.

At the cable car station you arrive on a little square and from here you just follow the path, passing plenty of restaurants and souvenir stalls. For now we didn’t stop as we and it was a good choice as the view that welcomes you after getting out of this rather narrow path was lovely. There was a lake in the middle of the area, a rather large pagoda in front of us and another pagoda on the other side of the lake. With the flowers along the shore of the lake it all looked rather peaceful – even with the amount of tourists.

The main temple consists of a few buildings, a little shrine next to the lake where you can see Vietnamese praying and a tower on the lake, connected via a small bridge. Thankfully there were quite a few trees providing some shade as it was rather hot already before noon. We followed the little path (in the shade) and arrived at a little stretch of the path where you could buy little fish to release them in the water – or feed the fish in the lake. Quite a few people did the latter. The result of that was pure frenzy. The fish was on top of each other trying to get any of the food. I imagine that would be the sight in Glasgow if you would offer free beer on Buchanan Street. Or a live feed from an all you can eat buffet with guests from an unnamed country.

We could have followed the path a bit more towards a little cave and another temple, but as it got a bit late and we planned to visit some other places we decided to head back to the cable car. Though this time we did stop at one fo the little places so I could have a Sugar Cane juice, as it got hotter and hotter. While I enjoyed the shady seat my sister took the chance to buy some souvenirs. The vendor looked quite happy after the transaction was completed (it was not overpriced though). I was also tempted to eat the main food on offer there – Banh Xeo, but resisted the temptation. Instead we continued to the cable car station – and with no queue in sight we were on our way back to the bottom of the mountain. From end to end we spent just over 2 hours here. And I must admit, it was worth the time.

But it was now 1pm and we had to continue towards Chau Doc I wanted to stop at a memorial site that required a slightly detour. And I thought it would also be rather interesting to ride along the border to Cambodia. So we headed out to DT948 and followed the main road for a short while before turning into one of the small side roads I (and I guess my sister) love so much. Not a lot of traffic here, and instead lovely sights of rice fields, trees and villages on both sides. Who would not love it????

And here it was not just the scenery that changed – the road turned from a paved road to a dirt road cutting through rice filed to a road heading through a forest. It was peaceful and beautiful. Though even for me this stretch became a bit unusual, as I was surprised about the amount of soldiers on foot we passed – there seems to be quite a armed force stationed (no surprise as it is close to the border). Quite a few were smiling at us, some even waving. Not having the desire to be arrested we did not take any photos. And seeing how the officers at the end of the line looked at us, this was certainly the best idea. But it was nonetheless a nice difference.

Soon we were back on a “main” road, the extension of DT9558. In theory this road should have led us to our next destination – the town of Ba Chuc. Well, I say theory as we followed the road until we stopped for some water and I realised thanks to Google Map that we should have turned left, which was the continuation of the DT9558. I didn’t even realise where that turn was, as the road we stayed on remained the same to me. Well, I was not disappointed though – as this new road was stunning. We passed golden and green rice fields, with mountains in the back. It was stunning. And at some point we arrived at a place that looked a little bit familiar – it is the photo on Google Map when searching for “Tri Tôn, An Giang Province“. It is a view towards golden rice field, with a road leading through a Khmer Gate to a temple further down the field. It is just beautiful. Besides, seeing a bit of Khmer architecture is rather interesting. So I must admit – I was happy to miss the other road.

And we didn’t have to return, we just followed the road and got back to DT9558 and headed to Ba Chuc from the other side. And soon we arrived in Ba Chuc. The reason I wanted to go there has a very historic reason. Back in 1978 the Khmer Rouge crossed the border from Cambodia and staged a massacre in Ba Chuc. Over a 12 day period over 3.000 people were killed until the Rogue Khmer retreated back to Cambodia. This crime was the main reason for Vietnam to invade Cambodia and finally ended the terror regime of the Rogue Khmer. In memory of those killed there is a Memorial in the town, which I thought should be on any itinerary when visiting the area.

The only problem was – we could not find it initially. Google Map did not show a Ba Chuc memorial. Instead we were in front of a massive tree that stands in the middle of the road. It is a rather unusual sight, and only afterwards I read that it is called the “Grievous Tree” as it was one of the killing places. I wish I would have known before to better understand the history of it.

Here I showed a photo of the memorial and I was advised to turn right at the road. So we did – and we followed the road. But I could see nothing. We asked someone else on the road, and pointed towards a direction – and suddenly we were back at the tree. As a third person advised to turn right again I thankfully spotted a minibus who turned right at the tree and then straight right onto an open space, that looked a bit like a construction site. The bus stopped there and 3 foreign tourists and their guide came out. I checked with the guide and he told me that the memorial is hidden at the end of the square. There is no signs – so without a guide it really is difficult to find this place.

Being able to finally park our bike we crossed the square and then we were in front of the memorial. It was a simple white building, though with the four entrances and the shape it reminded me a bit of a lotus flower, but I could be completely wrong here. Inside is a rather humble exhibition of the bones of all victims. The bones were sorted by the age of the victims, so anyone coming here can see that the Khmer Rouge killed anyone in their path – from young children to elderly men and women. It was very silent, I think people try to understand what happened here. But I am not sure anyone can really understand it.

Next to the square is also a little house with several photos showing the aftermath of the massacre as well as information about the events. The photos might not be for faint hearted.

It reminded me of my very first trip to SEA. On my final day I visited the killing fields near Phnom Penh. I felt the same sadness and emptiness here in that little memorial. But it was also interesting to think about how this little village caused a ripple effect. After this massacre the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia freeing them from the terror regime, as a result the Sino-Vietnamese War started when the Chinese invaded north Vietnam. It is a very sobering place. And it is hard to believe that it happened in this lively town. This should be on every itinerary when visiting this area.

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While my head could still not comprehend what happened here we continued our ride, following the road we covered previously on our search of the memorial. The DT9558 led us out of Ba Chuc and towards the QLN1, the road running parallel to the border with Cambodia.

The border itself was just a little river, and the road was next to it. It was a pleasant ride with plenty of green on either side. But it was interesting to see both local Vietnamese and Khmer just crossing the river with their little boats without any border control. And after 5 days visiting the Mekong we finally saw something my sister was looking forward to – we saw some water buffaloes on a field to the right. She really likes water buffalos – a lot. So seeing them again in live was great. So obviously we had to stop so some photos could be taken. Having now a very happy sister riding behind me we continued the journey – and after an official looking border crossing (not for foreigners I assume) it got even better. After being very happy seeing three animals the next site topped everything. A farmer was bringing home his herd of water buffalos from the field back home – on the main road. So we could stop and just observe the spectacle of having quite a few animals passing us, though I should highlight that they did not look as happy as my sister did!!!. It was a nice surprise, and certainly a different reason for a slight traffic congestion.

From here we followed the remaining section of QLN1 along the border until it turned “inland” again. But we liked the section along the river so we continued and followed a rather side road. The scenery was still beautiful, especially as the sunset slightly started. The view across Cambodia with the river, trees and rice fields was just beautiful. In this section less and fewer houses where along the road, and instead a bit more construction and therefore dusty. At that point I could feel the stare of my sister as she was clearly worried that we might turn onto a dirt road again. The lack of faith actually hurt and voila, there was a nice simple paved road turning “inland”, following a little canal and rice fields and houses on the other side. No dirt road, just a peaceful and lovely section. My feelings were still hurt though!!!

Soon we were back on the main road, this time the QL91. Surprisingly the beautiful scenery did not stop here, as the road cut through rice fields, so we were able to see golden and green rice paddies. With the sun setting down it was a lovely view. It was a nice final part until we arrived in Chau Doc. We have not booked anything so we headed first to the river front and then followed the road the main square area of the town. We stopped at one hotel where I walked out backwards due to strange smell in the room. The second hotel looked lovely, but had only one room left. Despite concerns from my sister who still had no faith we stopped at rather nice looking hotel. It was our final night and we both were a bit tired, so a nice place would not be an issue.

Khach San Han Phat Hotel is located opposite the park area and temple in the middle of Chau Doc. It looked very nice from the outside, so when I walked in I assumed it would be not cheap. To my surprise it was only 650.000 Dong for a room including breakfast. No need to think about twice, so we got two rooms. I must admit, it is a nice hotel in great area. Here is my full review of the hotel.

After freshing up we walked a bit around Chau Doc, and had a cold beer at the park, watching the locals doing exercise and the children running around. It was certainly nice to relax a bit here. We walked then around to find a sport to eat. Surprisingly we did not find a decent looking place, and in the end we ended at the open empty space next to the hotel where you could get soup or rice. My rice with pork and salad was simple but filling, and we had a nice little breeze here. As I was still hungry I left my sister at the square and tried to find a place to buy cakes. I saw one or two places earlier, but they were now closed. At least I found a nice looking food place with fried rice. Too late for that. Coming back empty-handed we headed back to the hotel and took advantage of the facilities there – a roof top bar. Brilliant – nice view from the top and getting nice (but very strong) cocktails. I know – it is a hard life. Unfortunately they closed the bar a bit too early so after one drink it was closing time.

So a day full of beautiful scenery, sobering visits and funny sight was over – and the next day it was time to get back to Saigon….

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One thought on “Mekong Adventure V – A day of beauty and sadness

  1. Here I am – the old sister
    It was a beautiful route away from tourist routes. We were admired everywhere.
    It’s beautiful little paths, over bridges, through villages, past canals.
    The culmination for mch were the herds of these beautiful water buffalos.
    That the bar closed at 22.00 clock was good for us: it was a place to stay – only we had to get up early the next day, as we had a long way ahead of us
    A little over 200 KM on these roads is very much

    Liked by 1 person

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