A mostly flat landscape where rice paddies stretch as far as the eyes can see, An Giang is a perfect overture to all that is distinctive about the Mekong Delta. But this province on Vietnam’s southern border is more than a “rice bowl”. It’s a place known for cultural diversity where multi-ethnics have coexisted for centuries.
Positioning in the upper part of the fertile Mekong Delta, An Giang is blessed to be a thriving agricultural center. The flat landscape is mostly covered by lush rice paddies, with a network of canals and creeks running through. The province is referred to as the “Rice Capital” with neighboring Kien Giang, as significant quantities of rice are produced here. For centuries, Khmer, Islam Cham (to differentiate from their Hindu counterpart in Central Vietnam), ethnic Chinese, and Vietnamese have called this place home.
Yet life on this borderland has not always been easy. Just over 40 years ago, the Khmer Rouge began cross-border attacks and conducted ethnic cleansing in villages across An Giang. The most gruesome crime occurred in Ba Chuc where 3,157 civilians were slain ruthlessly, Vietnamese and ethnic Khmer alike. The event prompted Vietnam’s military campaign against Cambodia in 1979 resulting in the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge and its notorious leader Pol Pot. These days, An Giang and its people exist in peace, with their culture and traditions cherished and celebrated.
1. Chau Doc
Though Chau Doc is not the provincial capital, its location at the crossroad of two waterways, including a tributary of the Mekong, makes it one of the most important towns in An Giang. The town is best known for its “Market of Pickled Fish” which, as the name suggests, specializes in conserved fish. A wide variety of these peculiar products can be found in this nearly 110-year-old market.
The fish are first deboned, then preserved with salt, powdered roasted rice, and palm sugar. Chili, garlic, and sometimes shredded carrot or pickled green papaya are also added to enhance the flavors. The final products are neatly arranged in colorful piles across the market hallways. Prawns, freshwater crabs, and vegetables such as cabbage and shallot, can be pickled as well.
Tips: Chau Doc Market is located right at the heart of the town. It’s difficult to miss it thanks to its “pungent” smell which can be detected hundreds of meters away.
2. Tan Chau Silk Village
Across the river from Chau Doc is the district of Tan Chau, the birthplace of the unique Lanh My A silk. This silk is special because it has a remarkable glossy appearance, similar to leather. Yet it still maintains other attributes of silk such as smoothness and lightweightness. Traditionally, this silk is only available in black color due to dying in the resin of a local fruit called mặc nưa. Another advantage of using this fruit is that the color will never fade away.
Lanh My A silk is considered a rare material because the production is extremely labor-demanding. It has to be made entirely with natural silks, dyed and dried dozens of times, and lastly woven with the elaborate satin technique. This brand of silk nearly disappeared a few decades ago as demand was low and the market was flooded with nylon, polyester, and cheap Chinese silk.
This silk has a unique leather-like texture.
However, the development of high-quality and sustainable fashion in recent years has gradually revived Lanh My A. Moreover, thanks to innovation in dying techniques, locals can make silk in a variety of colors to meet the demand of customers. Yet this precious silk is still at risk of being lost forever due to the decreasing quantity of mặc nưa in An Giang and the lack of skilled workers.
Tips: Tam Lang Silk is one of the few remaining places still producing the original Lanh My A. The artisan Tam Lang has now retired, but his daughter, fortunately, keeps the tradition alive.
3. Sam Mountain
Rising amidst the endless rice fields of An Giang is the Sam Mountain – Mekong Delta’s highest peak (230m) and a prominent pilgrimage site. The mountain is named after Bà Chúa Xứ Núi Sam (or Sam Mountain Goddess) whose statue is highly revered across southern provinces. This religion is called đạo Mẫu, or “worship of the mother goddesses”. It’s a branch of Vietnamese folk religion yet is more shamanic in nature. Possibly originating from the ancient Oc Eo culture, the statue is the most important worship place, among a series of temples and pagodas located on Sam Mountain.
At the summit, there is a stone base that marks the original position of the Sam Mountain Goddess. According to local lore, invaders tried to steal the statue but when they were halfway down, the statue became unmovable. Later, the statue was lifted and brought to its current position by nine virgins. Even if you have no interest in religion or superstitious activities, the view from the top of Sam Mountain is truly breathtaking. Multiple shades of green stretch under your feet, and the tall swaying palms line the canal banks.
Tips: Sam Mountain’s most important festival is held every April of the lunar calendar (late May to June), from the 23rd to the 26th. Please note that this event will attract a massive crowd.
4. Tra Su Cajuput Forest
Approximately 30 kilometers from Chau Doc is the flooded forest of Tra Su. It covers an area of nearly 850 hectares, with cajuput trees as the dominant species. These trees were planted in the 80s to decontaminate this land from aluminum and other heavy metals. They also contributed to watershed prevention during the flood season. Most of the trees are over 10 years old with an average height of 5 to 8 meters. They grow in straight lines and are so dense that look as though they are making arches.
Aside from cajuput trees, over 140 types of plants grow in Tra Su today, including lotuses, water lilies, and medicinal herbs. Yet most photogenic is perhaps the duckweed that blankets the waterways like an emerald green carpet. The wetland also becomes a habitat for a wide range of birds, mammals, reptiles, and fish. As I stood on the observation tower, I found myself immersed in the lush greeneries. The pleasant color spreads to the horizon, and there is virtually no noise except the sounds of the forest.
Tips: Only the boat tours and the observation tower (with seven stories) are interesting. Other facilities are mediocre, if not soulless. The entry ticket is 100,000 VND, while the fee for the motored boat tour and rowing sampan is equally 50,000 VND.
Tips for visiting An Giang
- An Giang is situated 250 km from Ho Chi Minh City. It takes approximately six hours by car or bus.
- Alternatively, you can travel first to Can Tho – the de facto capital of the Mekong Delta, and then to An Giang. The travel time from Can Tho is about three hours.
- The area is at its best before the harvesting time. The fields start to turn yellow with ripe rice.
- Victoria Hotels and Resorts offers two great places to stay in An Giang. The first one is the Victoria Chau Doc which is located by the river and just a short walk to the market and the ferry to Tan Chau. The hotel also offers speed boat service to Phnom Penh. It takes about five hours. The second one is Victoria Nui Sam which leans on the slope of Sam Mountain.