A sacred place for Buddhists, Sam Mountain (Nui Sam, 284m) and its environs are full of a lot of pagodas and temples. A strong Chinese influence makes it particularly popular with ethnic Chinese, yet Buddhists of all ethnicities drop in this place. The views from the summit are excellent (weather permitting), ranging deep into Cambodia. There’s a military station on the summit, a legacy of the days as the Khmer Rouge made cross-border raids and massacred Vietnamese civilians.
Along with the shrines and graves , the steep path to the summit is lined with the unholy clamour of commerce and there are many cafes and stalls in which to pay a visit for a drink or a snack. Walking down is ,of course, easier than walking up (a 45-minute climb), consequently if you would like to cheat, have a motorbike pick you at the summit (about 20,000d from the base of the mountain). The road to the top is a pretty ride on the east side of the mountain. Veer left at the base of the mountain and turn right after about 1km at which the road begins its climb. The mountain is open 24/7, with lights on the road for nocturnal climbs.
Tay An Pagoda BUDDHIST TEMPLE
(Chua Tay An; 4am-10pm) Although constructed in 1847 on the place of an earlier bamboo shrine, Tay An’s current structure dates from 1958. Aspects of its eclectic structure, particularly its domed tower, reflect Hindu and Islamic influences.
With a major gate of traditional Vietnamese design, on its roofline romp figures of lions and two dragons fighting for possession of pearls, chrysanthemums, apricot trees and lotus blossoms.
The temple is guarded by statues of a black elephant with two tusks and a white elephant with six tusks. Inside are arrayed fine carvings of hundreds of religious figures, most made of wood and some blinged up with disco-light halos. Statues consist of Sakyamuni, the 18 a-la-han (arhat) and the 12 muoi hai ba mu (midwives). The temple’s name – Tay An – means ‘Western Peace’.
Coming from Chau Doc on Hwy 91, Tay An Pagoda is located straight ahead at the foot of the mountain.
Temple of Lady Xu BUDDHIST TEMPLE
(Mieu Ba Chua Xu; 24hr) Built in the 1820s to house a statue that’s become the subject of a popular cult, this vast temple faces Sam Mountain, on the same road as Tay An Pagoda. Initially a simple affair of bamboo and leaves, the temple has been reconstructed several times, most recently between 1972 and 1976, blending mid-20th-century design with Vietnamese Buddhist attractive models .
The statue is possibly a relic of the Oc-Eo culture, dating from the 6th century, and is also possibly that of a man – but don’t recommend that to one of the faithful.
According to one of a lot of legends, the statue of Lady Xu used to stand at the summit of Sam Mountain. In the early 19th century Siamese troops invaded the area and decided to take it back to Thailand. Butwhen they carried the statue down the hill, it became heavier and heavier, and they were forced to discard it by the side of the path.
One day some locals who were cutting wood came upon the statue and decided to take it back to their village to build a temple for it; but it weighed too much for them to budge it. Fortunately , a girl appeared who, possessed by a spirit, declared herself to be Lady Xu. She announced to them that 9 virgins were to be brought and that they would be able to transport the statue down the mountainside. The virgins were soon summoned and moved the statue down the slope, yetas they reached the plain, it became too heavy and they had to set it down. The people concluded that the placeat which the virgins halted had been selected by Lady Xu for the temple construction and it’s here that the Temple of Lady Xu stands to this day.
Offerings of roast whole pigs are frequently presented to the statue, which is dressed in glittering robes and adorned with an amazing headdress. Once a month a creation of vegetables representing a dragon, tortoise, phoenix and qilin is also proffered to the effigy. The Chinese words in the portal where worshippers pray are 主处聖母, which mean ‘the main place of the sacred mother’. A further couplet reads 爲国爲民, which means ‘for the country and for the people’. The temple’s biggest festival is held from the 23rd to the 26th day of the fourth lunar month, usually late May or early June. During this time, pilgrims flock here, and sleep on mats in the big rooms of the two-storey resthouse next to the temple.
Tomb of Thoai Ngoc Hau
(Lang Thoai Ngoc Hau; 5am-10.30pm) A high-ranking official, Thoai Ngoc Hau (1761–1829) served the Nguyen Lords and, later, the Nguyen dynasty. In early 1829, Thoai Ngoc Hau ordered that a grave be constructed for himself at the foot of Sam Mountain. The spot he chose is nearly opposite the Temple of Lady Xu.
The steps are made of red ‘beehive’ stone (da ong) brought from the southeastern part of Vietnam. In the middle of the platform is the tomb of Thoai Ngoc Hau and those of his wives, Chau Thi Te and Truong Thi Miet. There’s a shrine at the rear and many other tombs in the vicinity where his officials are buried.
Cavern Pagoda BUDDHIST TEMPLE
(Chua Hang; 4am-9pm) Also called Phuoc Dien Tu, this temple is halfway up the western (far) side of Sam Mountain, with remarkable views of the paddy fields . The lower part of the pagoda consists of monks’ quarters and two hexagonal tombswhere the founder of the pagoda, a female tailor named Le Thi Tho, and a former head monk named Thich Hue Thien, are buried.
The upper section has two parts: the main sanctuary, where there are many statues of A Di Da (Buddha of the Past) and Thich Ca Buddha (Sakyamuni, the Historical Buddha); and an amazing complex of caverns and grottoes containing a host of deities, including a 1000-arm and 1000-eye Quan Am. There’s also a mirror room of Buddhas and an effigy of Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen Buddhism.
According to legend, Le Thi Tho came from Tay An Pagoda to this spot half a century ago to lead a quiet, meditative life. As she arrived, she found two big snakes, one white and the other dark green. Le Thi Tho soon converted the snakes, which thereafter led pious lives. Upon her death, the snakes disappeared.
Accommodation & Eating
There is a busy community at the base of Sam Mountain, with hotels (both aimed at visiting Buddhists and businesspeople), guesthouses and restaurants lining the street.
Getting There & Away
Most tourists get here by rented motorbike or on the back of a xe om (about 40,000d one-way). There are also local buses heading this way from Chau Doc (5000d).
Phu Chau (Tan Chau) District
Traditional silk-making has made Phu Chau (Tan Chau) district – at this place the market has a wide range of competitively priced Thai and Cambodian products – well-known around southern Vietnam.
To get to Phu Chau district from Chau Doc, you ought to take a boat across the Hau Giang River from the Phu Hiep ferry landing, then catch a ride on the back of a xe om (about 60,000d) for the 18km trip.