Chau Doc: Mountains, temples and crocs

We set off really early for the submerged mangrove forests and bird sanctuary some 50 kms from Chau Doc. The Submerged Forest This place doesn’t seem to have really hit the guide books yet, but it really is worth a visit.

Our guide San is keen on the early start as she wanted us to be the first to arrive so we could be the boat to disturb the birds from their slumbers. We were second but it didn’t seem to matter that much as there where loads of birds around of many different varieties, including egrets and lots of brilliant blue kingfishers.

These mangrove forests  were destroyed by Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge during that dark period of Cambodia’s recent past when they made many incursions across the border. The area was designated a National Park back in the nineties when the government replanted 90 plus hectares with mangroves in an attempt to restore this fragile ecosystem. It is a terrific example of what can be done with the environment if only there is the will.

As we slowly made our way through the mangrove forest, the water was completely still and mostly covered with bright green algae and weed, so perfectly, it could have been mistaken for a billiard table. An incredibly peaceful and tranquil place, it hardly seems as though we are in Vietnam anymore. It is worth taking the long overland route through the delta into Cambodia just for this! Sam Mountain Chau Doc On the way back from the submerged forests we stopped off at Sam mountain to visit the hill top temple. Not so much a mountain as a big hill, but the only one around for miles in the delta. The temple is unusual as it is built into as well as on the mountain. Part of the temple is within caves inside the mountain. As well as the usual temple statuary, there are some small cartoon like monk statues scattered around the gardens including one of a bespectacled skateboarding monk!

As impressive as the temple is, it is the views Of the plains below which steal the show. Just wish we had made it at sunset.

On our visit to Chau Doc a few weeks previously we had borrowed bikes to ride out here with the intention of climbing the hill to the temple then. But foolishly we took the long way around at the very hottest part of the day and decided instead to take a look around the stalls at the bottom of the mountain selling countless different types of Bun Mam, the fermented fish paste for which the town is famous. Smells disgusting but when used in Chau Doc Bun Mam fish soup, is absolutely incredible. After Phó, our favourite soup ever!

Crocodile Farm After stopping for some lunch on the way back into town, we round off the day with a visit to a crocodile farm. They produce crocs mostly for export and there are some VERY big ones here. Really wouldn’t want to be around if someone forgot to lock the gates.

Closer inspection reveals that some of the bigger ones have bits missing. The odd foot, nose or part of a jaw. Two of the biggest decide to wake up and have a fight while we are there. Not sure but I think one may now be missing a foot! Just as we are leaving we see the ladies at the farm skinning a croc and chopping up the meat for fish food. The skin is no doubt already on its way to Louis Vuitton…

Leaving Vietnam It is time to leave behind Vietnam, a country we have grown to love over the years. We have enjoyed our 10 weeks here visiting many new places revisiting some old haunts. On on our last night in Vietnam the four of us have dinner at the French Vietnamese fusion restaurant at the Victoria hotel. Great food and great views over the Bassac river at night. Much as we have enjoyed Vietnam’s street food and “local” restaurants, it was a welcome change. Knives forks AND a tablecloth! All seemed very odd. We are now, once again, heading off by boat up the Mekong to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. The boat operator promises it will take 5 hours. I will believe it when we get there!

First we must get to the boat landing which involves the four of us piling onto a couple of cyclos to be pedalled through the early morning traffic to the bus station. Leigh and Alan set off before us and appear to go directly to the market. Our man, for reasons he only knows, decides to take us on a circuitous route through the back streets and markets area. He seems to be in bad mood as he shouts, what I presume, are Vietnamese obscenities, at anyone who gets in his way! Anyway, we eventually arrived at the boat dock where suddenly he is all smiles and asking for a tip! 5 hours to Phnom Penh? We will see….

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