Draped along the banks of the Hau Giang River (Bassac River), Chau Doc sees a lot of visitors washing through on the river route between Cambodia and Vietnam. A likeable tiny town with significant Chinese, Cham and Khmer communities, Chau Doc’s cultural diversity – apparent in the mosques, temples, churches and nearby pilgrimage sites – makes it fascinating to discover even if you’re not Cambodia-bound. Getting a boat trip to the Cham communities across the river is another highlight, while the busy market and intriguing waterfront provide fine backdrops to some days of relaxation.
30 Thang 4 Park
(Ð Le Loi) Stretching from the market to the Victoria Chau Doc Hotel, this formal park is the city’s main promenading spot and a superlative spot for river gazing. Sculptures and a fountain are framed by manicured lawns and paths, and if you’re interested in getting river-borne, women may approach you here providing rides in small boats.
Chau Phu Temple BUDDHIST TEMPLE
(Dinh Than Chau Phu; cnr Ð Nguyen Van Thoai & Ð Gia Long) In 1926 this temple was built to worship the Nguyen dynasty official Thoai Ngoc Hau, buried at Sam Mountain. The structure is decorated with both Vietnamese and Chinese motifs; inside are funeral tablets bearing the names of the deceased and biographical information about them. There’s also a shrine to Ho Chi Minh.
Domed, arched Chau Giang Mosque, in the hamlet of Chau Giang, serves the local Cham Muslims. To get there, take the car ferry from Chau Giang ferry landing across the Hau Giang River. From the ferry landing, walk inland from the river for 30m, turn left and walk 50m.
The Mubarak Mosque, where children study the Quran in Arabic script, is also on the river bank opposite Chau Doc. Tourists are permitted, but you should avoid entering during the calls to prayer (five times daily) if you are not a Muslim.
There are other small mosques in the Chau Doc area. They are accessible by boat but you’ll need a local tourist guide to find them all.
Floating Houses NOTABLE BUILDINGS
These houses, whose floats include empty metal drums, are both a site to stay and a livelihood for their residents. Under each house, fish are raised in suspended metal nets. The fish flourish in their natural river habitat, the family can feed them whatever scraps are handy and catching the fish requires less exertion than fishing.
You can find these houses floating around Chau Doc and get a close-up look by hiring a boat (but please be respectful of their occupants’ privacy).
FISH FARMING & BIOFUEL
Fish farming accounts for around 20% of Vietnam’s total seafood output and is widely practised in An Giang province, in the region near the Cambodian border. The highest concentration of ‘floating houses’ with fish cages can be observed on the banks of the Hau Giang River (Bassac River) in Chau Doc.
The fish farmed are two members of the Asian catfish family, basa (Pangasius bocourti) and tra (Pangasius hypophthalmus). Nearly 1.1 million tonnes are manufactured by this method annually and much of it is sold overseas, primarily to European and American markets (as well as Australia and Japan), in the form of frozen white fish fillets.
The two-step production cycle starts with capturing fish eggs from the wild, usually sourced in the Tonlé Sap Lake in Cambodia, followed by raising the fish to a marketable size – usually about 1kg.
One of the more interesting developments affecting fish farming is the move to convert fish fat, a by-product of processing, into biofuel. One kilogram of fish fat can yield 1L of biodiesel fuel, according to specialists. It is claimed that the biofuel will be more efficient than diesel, is nontoxic and will generate far fewer fumes.
Because of concerns about detrimental environmental effects from fish farming (particularly related to waste management and the use of antibiotics and other chemicals), the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) placed farmed Vietnamese pangasius on a red list for environmentally conscious European consumers to avoid. It was subsequently removed in 2011 and the WWF has devised a set of standards and an accreditation agency to certify sustainable Vietnamese producers.
Trung Nguyen Hotel $
(076-386 6158; [email protected]; 86 Ð Bach Dang; s/d/tw US$14/16/20) One of the better budget places, with more midrange trim. Rooms are more decorative than the competition, with balconies overlooking the market. It’s a busy corner spot, so pack earplugs.
Song Sao Hotel $
(076-356 1777; [email protected]; 12-13 Ð Nguyen Huu Canh; r 230,000-290,000d) Overlooking the local pagoda, this nice central hotel matches a smartly presented lobby to decent rooms with wood furniture. Some rooms have a balcony, others have no view.
Hai Chau HOTEL $
(076-626 0066; www.haichauhotel.com; 61 Ð Thuong Dang Le; r US$18-28) Another decent, central choice, Hai Chau has 16 rooms spread over four floors above a restaurant, with a lift. Well-kept rooms are smartly fitted out with dark wooden furniture; some have a balcony.
Thuan Loi Hotel $
(076-386 6134; [email protected]; 18 Ð Tran Hung Dao; r with fan/air-con US$10/15) The sole cheapie with a riverside location, addition to a floating restaurant. Rooms are not so atmospheric, but good value. Fan rooms are cold water only, so recommend a larger air-con room.
Vinh Phuoc Hotel $
(076-386 6242; 12 Ð Quang Trung; r with fan US$7-10, with air-con US$10-12) The kind staff at this common budget hotel have a good knowledge of the delta region. Rooms range from fan-only cheapies to smarter air-con options with hot water. The restaurant is high value and there are usually some beer drinkers lurking around.
Chau Pho HOTEL $$
(076-6356 4139; www.chauphohotel.com; Ɖ 88 Trung Nu Vuong; r US$32-50) This excellent, friendly midrange hotel with tennis courts has 50 well-presented rooms over five floors, some with balcony. Deluxe rooms are far more convenient than the cheaper options.
Victoria Chau Doc Hotel $$$
(076-386 5010; www.victoriahotels.asia; 32 Ð Le Loi; r from US$110, ste from US$175) Stylish for Chau Doc, the Victoria delivers classic colonial charm, overseen by ao-dai -clad staff. With a remarkable location on the riverfront, the grand rooms here have dark-wood floors and furniture, and inviting bathtubs. The swimming pool overlooks the busy river action and there’s a tiny spa upstairs. A variety of tours is available to guests.
The Chau Doc Covered Market (Ð Bach Dang; 7am-9pm) has tasty Vietnamese food (10,000d to 20,000d). At night, you can also try a variety of cool che (dessert soups) at che stalls on Ð Bach Dang, near the pagoda. There are also many other inexpensive stalls with large whiteboard menus displaying their wares.
Bay Bong VIETNAMESE $
(22 Ð Thuong Dang Le; mains 40,000-80,000d; 9am-8pm) Visually it’s a letdown – metal tables and chairs, white tiles – however, the food is quite nice , with tasty fish-and-vegetable hotpot, stir-fried rice with seafood, beef noodle soup and so forth.
Mekong VIETNAMESE $
(41 Ð Le Loi; mains 35,000-175,000d) Located directly opposite the Victoria Chau Doc Hotel, this restaurant has a big covered section or an outdoor area in front of the gracefully decaying old villa.
Con Tien Floating Restaurant VIETNAMESE $
(Ð Tran Hung Dao; mains 40,000-90,000d; 7am-10pm) It’s fun dining on fish and seafood dishes in this spacious floating restaurant on the Bassac River. It’s good for hu tieu – the noodle soup (beef, seafood or chicken).
Thanh Tinh VIETNAMESE $
(42 Ð Quang Trung; mains 30,000-80,000d; 6am-7pm) This place translates as ‘to calm the body down’ and it will do just that for vegetarians looking for a reliable menu.
Bassac Restaurant FRENCH, VIETNAMESE $$
(076-386 5010; 32 Ð Le Loi; mains US$5-20; 5.45am-10pm) Chau Doc’s most sophisticated dining experience is at the Victoria Chau Doc Hotel, where the menu consists of some beautifully presented Vietnamese food and a mouthwatering selection of delicious French dishes.
Drinking & Nightlife
Chau Doc is rather sleepy. For a fashionable tipple, visit the poolside Bamboo Bar (www.victoriahotels.asia; Victoria Chau Doc Hotel, 32 Ɖ Le Loi) or Tan Chau Salon Bar (www.victoriahotels.asia; Victoria Chau Doc Hotel, 32 Ɖ Le Loi; 6am-11pm) at the Victoria Chau Doc Hotel. Another lively but considerably cheaper destination for a casual drink is the Con Tien Floating Restaurant.
Mekong Tours (076-356 2828; www.mekongvietnam.com; 14 Ð Nguyen Huu Canh 8am-8pm) Local travel agency for booking boat or bus transport to Phnom Penh, boat trips on the Mekong and cars with drivers.
Post Office ( 076-386 9200; 2 Ð Le Loi)
Getting There & Away
The buses from Ho Chi Minh city to Chau Doc take off from the Mien Tay bus station. Express buses will take six hours and cost around 130,000d. Chau Doc bus station (Ben Xe Chau Doc) is located on the eastern edge of town, where Ð Le Loi becomes Hwy 91. Other destinationsconsists of Ha Tien (70,000d) and My Tho (51,000d).
Car & Motorbike
By road, Chau Doc is around 95km from Ha Tien, 117km from Can Tho, 181km from My Tho and 245km from HCMC.
Boats to Chau Giang district (across the Hau Giang River) come from two docks: vehicle ferries depart from Chau Giang ferry landing (Ben Pha Chau Giang), opposite 419 Ð Le Loi; smaller, more frequent boats leave from Phu Hiep ferry landing (Ben Pha FB Phu Hiep), a little further southeast.
Private boats (80,000d for two hours), which are rowed standing up, can be hired from either of the ferry landing spots or from 30 Thang 4 Park, and are highly suggested for seeing the floating houses and visiting nearby Cham minority villages and mosques. Motorboats (per hour 100,000d) can be hired in the same area.
GETTING TO CAMBODIA: CHAU DOC TO PHNOM PENH
Vinh Xuong–Kaam Samnor Border Crossing
Getting to the border One of the wonderful ways to reach Cambodia is across the Vinh Xuong–Kaam Samnor border crossing situated just northwest of Chau Doc along the Mekong River. Many companies in Chau Doc sell boat journeys from Chau Doc to Phnom Penh through the Vinh Xuong border.
Hang Chau (Chau Doc 076-356 2771, Phnom Penh 855-12-883 542; www.hangchautourist.com.vn; per person US$24) boats go to Chau Doc at 7.30am from a pier at 18 Ð Tran Hung Dao, arriving at 12.30pm. From Phnom Penh they set off at noon. The more upmarket Blue Cruiser (HCMC 08-3926 0253, Phnom Penh 855-236-333 666; www.bluecruiser.com) leaves the Victoria Hotel pier at 7am, costing US$55 (US$44 in the reverse direction, leaving Phnom Penh at 1.30pm). It takes you about five hours, including the border check. As well departing from this pier at 7am (and from Phnom Penh at 1.30pm) are Victoria Speedboats, exclusive to Victoria Hotel guests (US$97, five hours).
At the border If you come from Cambodia, arrange a visa in advance. If you leave Vietnam, Cambodian visas are available at the crossing, but minor overcharging is common (plan on paying around US$24).
Tinh Bien–Phnom Den Border Crossing
Reaching the border Eclipsed by the newer crossing of Xa Xia near Ha Tien, the Tinh Bien–Phnom Den border crossing is less convenient for Phnom Penh–bound visitors, yet may be of interest for those who savour the challenge of obscure border crossings. Buses from Chau Doc to Phnom Penh (US$15 to US$21, five hours) depart at 7.30am and can be booked through Mekong Tours in Chau Doc. The roads leading to the border are quite bad .
At the border Cambodian visas can be taken here, though it’s not uncommon to be paid US$25, several dollars more than the official rate.
Moving on most travellers opt for a through bus ticket from Chau Doc.