About 240km from Ho Chi Minh City, An Giang Province is a land of beautiful landscapes – mountains, forests, meadows and waterways.
Its proximity to the Cambodian border adds a distinct cultural flavor to the province, including its cuisine. It is home to several ethnic minority communities including the Khmer Krom, Cham and ethnic Chinese.
The best time to visit An Giang is from September to November since that’s the peak of flooding season.
Given the two-day limit, this itinerary focuses only on Tri Ton District and Chau Doc City.
The best way to get to An Giang from Saigon is on motorbike, but buses are also available.
If you start your journey on a Friday afternoon to Tri Ton District, about 220km from Ho Chi Minh City, you should get there in six hours.
Check in to your homestay or hotel room and rest for the night. For the best local experience, a homestay is recommended.
Saturday morning, rent a motorbike for VND100,000 to VND150,000 ($4.3 - 6.4) per day and begin a sightseeing tour of Tri Ton District.
A few suggestions here are the Krang Kroc Pagoda, the Ta Pa Mountain, the heart shaped toddy palm and the O Thum Lake.
Have lunch at the O Thum Lake. The special dish here is the Roasted Chicken (Vietnamese call it “ga dot”), an example of Cambodian culinary influence.
“Ga dot” is a traditional dish of the Khmer people in An Giang. Only free range chickens are used for the dish, which made on order, so the meat is fresh and firm. The chicken is cooked to a perfect golden colour and served with raw vegetables, cucumber and variety of fish sauce dips. Try the kaffir lime leaf dipping sauce, which offers a more salty flavor and citrusy fragrance to the meat.
Afternoon: Check out of your homestay and head for Chau Doc City from Tri Ton (about 45 km and an hour away). Rest there for the night.
Sunday Morning: Visit the Tra Su Mangrove Forest. Since the journey can take about 4 hours, best to start early, spend an hour getting there, at least 2 hours in the forest, and an hour getting back to Chau Doc City.
Lunch: Eat either at the Tra Su Mangrove Forest or travel to Sam Mountain in Chau Doc City area and have lunch there. The restaurant at Tra Su can get quite crowded, so make sure you call and book a table beforehand.
After lunch, visit the Sam Mountain. At 230m above sea level, it’s a hot spot for pilgrims, Buddhists mostly, drawn by dozens of pagodas and temples. Temples in the area show influences of Indian and Khmer culture. The panoramic view from top of the mountain, green fields stretching out into the blue horizon, is magnificent.
1. Krang Kroc Temple (or Hang Cong Temple)
Located in Chau Lang Commune, about 5km from downtown Tri Ton District, this temple is lovingly called the “Gate to Heaven.” It’s not too hard to get here; visitors can follow the direction of Google maps.
The Khmer pagoda features ancient writings and sculptures including two Nagas, divine half human half serpent creatures, on the sides.
In Cambodian’s tradition, the seven-headed nagas, which are associated with representing the seven colors of the rainbow, are often depicted as guardian statues and carved as balustrades on causeways leading to the main temple.
2. Ta Pa Mountain
The Ta Pa Mountain is one of a collection of seven peaks in An Giang called That Son (translated to “Seven famous mountains”). This mountain range and lush green fields are located around 2km from Tri Ton District.
Getting to the top of the Ta Pa Mountain range also offers panoramic views of vast paddy fields swaying in different shades of green and yellow, as rice ripens at different time in each patch.
On the top of a mountain is a deep, clear emerald lake, called Ta Pa. The lake is manmade, left behind by former mining operation. When the sky is clear, the lake becomes a giant emerald mirror that reflects pastoral nature.
A Theravada Buddhist temple also stands on the mountaintop, peaceful and serene.
3. Heart-shaped palms
The doub palm ("thot not" in Vietnamese) that is found aplenty in An Giang is difficult to find elsewhere in Vietnam. They stand amidst rice fields like sentinels, provide shade and a resting space for farmers. Sap from their flowers is used to make palm sugar and liquor, and its fruit is a great thirst-quencher.
But apart from being a general attraction, there is one particular group of trees that are shaped like a heart, in An Tuc Commune, Tri Ton District, about 18 minutes drive from Ta Pa Mountain.
Apart from taking photographs, it can also be a great location to profess one’s love for another.
On hot days, don’t forget to enjoy a glass of cool drink made with the palm’s fruit.
4. Tra Su Mangrove Forest
Located in Van Giao Commune, Tinh Bien District, 30km southwest of Chau Doc is an 850-hectare ecosystem of cajuput trees on land and mangrove forests on the water. The forest is the home to 140 plant species, 70 species of birds, 25 species of reptiles, 23 kinds of fish and 11 mammal species.
An entrance ticket to this forest can vary, depending on how many people are there in the group - VND 130,000 ($5.6)/person for a solo traveller, to VND 45,000 ($2)/person in a group of 10 or more. The fare includes fees for paddle-boat, motor-boat, and ticket to the watch tower
Tra Su is at its most beautiful during the flooding season, September to November.
A boat tour here is like floating on a green, living carpet of water lettuce with their pretty rose-like petals.
Water birds in the reeds and lotus blossoms are also part of the tour.
5. Ba Chua Su Temple
Ba Chua Su, or Chua Xu Thanh Mau (Holy Mother of the Realm) is a goddess of prosperity in Vietnam’s Thanism tradition. People pray to her for success in business, good health and protection.
The temple is located in Vinh Te Village, at the foot of Sam Mountain. Built in the early 1800s, it has four levels and a green-tiled roof that curves upward at four corners.
Every year, a three day festival is held in honour of the goddess on the 23rd day of the fourth lunar month. Thousands of Vietnamese of different ethnicities gather here on these holy days.
Story by Nhat Tan and Khanh Linh
Photos by Nhat Tan, Hachi8, Shutterstock/Thoai