A fun day trip from Cao Lanh
Published/Last edited or updated: 8th September, 2018
One of the larger islands on the upper reaches of Vietnam’s section of the Mekong River, Cu Lao Gieng makes for an excellent half day or overnight trip from Cao Lanh—as long as you have a set of wheels to explore with—and for those with more time, there is a cute little homestay to overnight at.
Actually set in An Giang province (the Mekong River forms part of the border between the Dong Thap and An Giang provinces), Cu Lao Giang is a roughly 14km long elliptical island and is easily reached from Cao Lanh. The island is primarily a farming island and is home to market gardens and fruit orchids, but it is also home to a large Buddhist temple, a cathedral, two large Christian monasteries (one for men and one for women) and a decent sized fresh produce market. Best of all, being a river island, it is flat as a pancake—great for cycling.
While we visited all the following cycling around with Truc from Happy Homestay, you could just as easily visit these sights independently as they are all located along the road which runs close to the south–western bank of the island. By bicycle the island is surprisingly large and there are plenty of back lanes and canals to follow—just go and explore and see what you find—traffic is very limited and foreign faces still a rare enough occurrence that should you get lost there will be no shortage of people offering to help you out.
Chua Phuoc Thanh has an entry in the Vietnam Book of Records thanks to the number of Buddha statues within the grounds (48), but we reckon the centrepiece, a 39 metre tall standing Buddha is the most reward–worthy part of the complex. The original pagoda dates back to 1872, with a substantial renovation and expansion happening in 1973 and again in 2005, and today the site continues to grow, with another walkway being added at the time of our visit in August 2018.
The site is impressive and it is certainly worth climbing up to the upper levels to enjoy views over the surrounds, though watch yourself on the tiles on the upper walkways if it has been raining—they are outrageously slippery when wet.
Dating back to 1875, Cu Lao Gieng Cathedral was the first church to be built in the Mekong Delta and the tombstone of the man responsible, Father Gazignol (1843–1917) can be seen on the floor of the interior. As it was undergoing renovation when we visited, we were able to climb up a steep set of stairs to reach the bell tower where you can see the bell was founded in Marseille, France (unfortunately we couldn’t find a year on the bell) and then enjoy the views of the surrounds.
At the rear is a large graveyard that makes for an interesting wander—some of the oldest graves marked by little more than a old wooden or concrete crucifix. A little down the road from here (heading back towards Chua Phuoc Thanh, you’ll see tow large French period buildings—these are the monasteries—one for women and one for men. A French–speaking nun offered to show us around when we popped by.
While you could easily take these in, along with a bit of a poke around the island in general, on a day trip from Cao Lanh, if you have the time, we highly recommend a night at Happy Homestay, to give you a bit more time to appreciate the island.
Stuart McDonald co-founded Travelfish.org with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.