Mekong Delta travel blog — Beyond rivers of Southwestern Vietnam
Because of a tragic love tale, my vacation to the west of Vietnam was not as enjoyable as earlier visits. Before I chose to travel the Mekong river delta, commonly known as Vietnam’s west, I was inspired by a legend about a tragic love affair between King Bao Dai and a local girl who was a Christian and known as the last Queen of Vietnam’s feudal system. It was the reign of Queen Nam Phuong. To turn this love story into a blissful wedding, the French petitioned the Vatican for permission to allow both of them to practice their own faith while their children were christened and followed Christianity. Let’s explore Vietnam’s lovely Mekong Delta region together via my Mekong Delta travel blog.
My first trip to western Vietnam left me with a recollection of a distinct region with a combination of many Vietnamese faiths, including the Cham and Khmer communities, to create a multi-colored religious life.
Here in western Vietnam, I could visit the country’s first mosque, see locals worship in front of a wooden figure of a famous priest, and view Buddha sculptures in traditional Khmer pagodas.
Buddhism and Christianity
The Khmer are famous for their pagodas and southern Buddhism. In the Mekong river delta, there are 600 Khmer pagodas. The most well-known is the Doi (Bat) pagoda, also known as Mahatup in Khmer. This pagoda got its name because hundreds of bats hang around in the pagoda’s garden every day. Some of them weigh 1kg and have a 1.5m wingspan.
Doi pagoda is built in the traditional Khmer architectural style. You may see patterns of colored tiles on two rooftops if you remain far enough away from the pagoda. Naga, the serpent deity, is elegantly carved on one side of the ceiling, while fairy stories are created on pillars around the center chamber to reflect the obstacles that Buddhists must overcome on their path to leading a holy life.
After saying my goodbyes to the 400-year-old pagoda, I go to Ca Mau and visit the Tac Say church in Bac Lieu. From the outside, this church impresses visitors with its massive and solid construction, which is built on three levels and has a towering cross. All of the interiors are constructed of wood, and the late-afternoon golden light makes this area appear incredibly religious.
Tac Say church is well-known for its priest, Truong Buu Diep, who was jailed in 1946 along with over 70 Catholics due to sectarian tensions. In order to protect his flock, priest Diep chose to be executed in order to avoid persecution. When I visit his tomb, his sacrifice may make a nonbeliever like me emotional.
Muslim religion of Cham people in An Giang
Catholicism and Buddhism are two of the most popular religions in Vietnam, but not the only ones. There is a small community of Muslim people developing in Chau Doc city of An Giang province with its own traditions.
The mosque in Da Phuoc, Chau Doc, is distinguished by a circular roof that represents the sun and a crescent. A white tiled hall creates the illusion of a big and wide area. Blue and white hues, in particular, may be found in various mosques across the world. The Cham hamlet in Da Phuoc, on the other hand, shows its unique personality through the palmyra and banana trees of this Southwestern area.
I was able to see old historical items from this location in the Cham sculpture museum in Danang, which provided some background. However, it wasn’t until I observed Cham women wearing hijabs weaving expertly that I realized how much work they put into preserving their ancient rituals and practices.
While visiting the Muslim village, I wished I could have had more time enjoying a bowl of Hallal noodles, talking with doctor Mohammed and following local children to their typical Cham stilted houses.
I will definitely come back here to do what I have missed on this journey and to explore the daily life of Vietnamese, Khmer, and Cham ethnic people in southwestern Vietnam again.
+ Itinerary: My journey started from Can Tho to Soc Trang, down to Ca Mau and then to Chau Doc.
+ Names: I was impressed by the regional names, including Cai Rang, Cai Be, Cai Mon, Tac Cau or Chac Ca Dao.
+ Food: Dishes in southwestern Vietnam are often sweet, from the taste of lotus roots, and feature caramelized fish as well as fish hotpot.
+ Hospitality: Southwestern people are very hospitable. If you wander around the village at noontime, you will almost certainly be invited to have meals with local people.
+ Inspiration: If you’re searching for a book to read while you’re here, The Lover by Marguerite Duras is an excellent choice. This tale, set in the environment of the river region in the early twentieth century, tells the narrative of a couple who overcome their constraints and ideals to have a happy ending.