Bassac River - Gieng Islet - Chau Doc
Leaving the Aqua Mekong behind, today we journey by sampan into the Tra Su Cajuput Forest, floating deep into the acacia flooded forest under dense tree canopy. The 845 hectare preserve is a colony for 70 bird species including the rare Painted Stork and Oriental Darter. Flora here is equally abundant with over 140 specified floral varieties including 22 tree varieties, 70 types of grasses, 13 species of aquatic plants and many medicinal herbs of great value in traditional Vietnamese medicine.
Back on board the Aqua Mekong, we sail onward to the village of Chau Doc, which sits along the Hâu River, a tributary of the Mekong. We head to the shore by skiff then by road for a change, about six kilometres to the 230 metre high Sam Mountain, the highest point in the Mekong Delta, and home to dozens of pagodas that dot the mountainside, some even set in caves.
We make the easy climb to the mountaintop for the most captivating views of the surrounding countryside’s rice fields, and into Cambodia. We won’t be alone up here. As this is border territory, there is a military outpost on the summit. This legacy of the Khmer Rouge era confers a slightly anachronistic aura, which allows us some insights into the tensions of that horrific period, although these soldiers appear far more relaxed. If you ask, they will likely pose for your photos, assuming you have a few cigarettes handy as payment for their impromptu modeling duties.
Still at the top of Sam Mountain, Aqua Expeditions guests have the unique privilege to sit with the venerable Mahayana Buddhist monks at Long Son Tu Temple for a private audience. Enlightened, we head back down at the foot of the mountain, stopping to visit the Temple of Lady Xu, one of the major religious sites of the Mekong Delta. According to a legend, in the early 1800s, villagers found a statue of a lady dating to the 6th century in the forest. In 1820 they completed this temple to honor her and in hopes that she would bring them better crops, thus improve their lives. Even today, the marble statue of Ba Chua Xu, meaning "country lady" is worshipped, with Vietnamese coming year round to ask for her protection and benediction.
The chef heads into the local market here with any gourmet minded guests interested to explore an authentic Vietnamese wet market, its copious baskets of the day’s catch from the river, crisp vegetables and luscious tropical fruit