Photo: Wandering Chau Doc.

Things to see and do

This short walking tour will take one or two hours at a relaxed pace, and it takes in some of the minor points of interest that make Chau Doc interesting.

Start at the Buddhist temple in the centre of town, flanked by Phan Van Vang to the north and with food stalls to the left and right. In the evening the temple is floodlit making for a good photo opportunity (the surrounding food stalls are also worth returning to once you have worked up an appetite).

No shortage of fish products at Cho Chau Doc. Photo taken in or around Chau Doc, Vietnam by Stuart McDonald.

No shortage of fish products at Cho Chau Doc. Photo: Stuart McDonald

From the temple, walk towards the river on Bach Dang Street and after a block you’ll see the imposing facade of Cho Chau Doc. Chau Doc is famous for its fish sauce and be sure to take a look at the piles of fish along the southern flank of the market—the vendors are not shy and are used to being photographed, but as always, please do ask before taking a photo.

From here, duck into the market and slowly meander your way towards the river. The market in total spans three blocks, the main building two, then a secondary building one (which you have to cross the road to reach), finishing out at the wet market by the river. This final section is best in the early morning (so perhaps revisit before getting your boat) when it is just jammed with fresh seafood—very much still alive and kicking. Once you reach the actual river, backtrack to the road and head south.

Typical scenes around Cho Chau Doc. Photo taken in or around Chau Doc, Vietnam by Stuart McDonald.

Typical scenes around Cho Chau Doc. Photo: Stuart McDonald

The market will fade back opening eventually to 30 Thang 4 Park on your left and Nguyen Huu Canh temple on your right. Head into the temple. Built in honour of Nguyen Huu Canh (who is seen as the founder on Ho Chi Minh City) the temple was built in 1926—the wooden pillars holding the roof up apparently came from Laos...some things never change.

Leave the temple and continue southish along the river. You’ll have the post office to your left and opposite on the riverbank is a lazy chair cafe. Plonk yourself down for a coffee (they do have cold beer should that be more to your liking). From here continue south along the riverbank. If you’re nearing sunset there could be aerobics or judo classes going on. The park tapers off and you’ll hit the Victoria Chau Doc Hotel. Depending on the time you could pop in for a sundowner at their bar, but if it is still early afternoon, we’d say push on.

Prayer time at Jamiul Azhar Mosque. Photo taken in or around Chau Doc, Vietnam by Stuart McDonald.

Prayer time at Jamiul Azhar Mosque. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Another couple of hundred metres and you’ll see the ferry terminal on your left. Pay the 1,000 dong fare for a foot passenger and get the ferry across to the Cham Village. Once on the other side, take a right (east) and it is about 700 metres to Jamiul Azhar Mosque. While the mosque and its accompanying cemetery is worth a look, the real attraction are the beautiful wooden houses along the way. If you don’t want to walk this far, turn left instead of right to reach Mubbarak Mosque.

Either way, return for the ferry back, then take a right and just about opposite the Victoria Chau Doc is Mekong Restaurant—try the claypot fish accompanied by some cold drinks and head back to your hotel.

6km southwest of Chau Doc

Calling Sam Mountain (Nui Sam) a mountain is a stretch—it is more like a small hill that just looks big because so much of the rest of the Delta is as flat as a pancake.

Misnomers aside, the “mountain” has two main attractions—a cluster of temples at the northern base, and the viewpoint from the summit. The hill is roughly 6km to the southwest of Chau Doc. Our advice is if you are “templed out” skip them and just hire a xe-om in Chau Doc to whisk you straight up to the summit so you can enjoy the views. If you want to take a peak at the temples, read on.

The views are solid. Photo taken in or around Chau Doc, Vietnam by Stuart McDonald.

The views are solid. Photo: Stuart McDonald

The three primary sites are conveniently set along the northern base of the mountain, and running west to east they are the Tomb of Thoai Ngoc Hau, Chua Xu Temple and, to the east, Tay An pagoda.

The first is a tomb for Thoai Ngoc Hau, a high–ranking official of the 19th century—he is flanked by the tombs of his two wives and other tombs in the area correspond to people who worked for him. Buried with your boss, fancy that.

Offerings of roast pig at Chua Xu. Photo taken in or around Chau Doc, Vietnam by Stuart McDonald.

Offerings of roast pig at Chua Xu. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Next along is Chua Xu, notable for the offerings of entire roast pigs given up here. The temple was quite busy when we visited and there were at least a half dozen pigs on the bench. No photos are allowed at the inner area off the temple. Last but not least, Tay An is known for the many photogenic statues and the quite outlandish colour schemes and statuary.

Once you are done with the temples, organise a xe-om (they will find you) to whisk you to the summit. We paid 50,000 dong for the run up and back including waiting time. The ride takes you past the entrance to the Victoria Nui Sam Lodge along the way, we didn’t have a look inside, but we imagine the views would be pretty special.

Impressive statuary within Tay An. Photo taken in or around Chau Doc, Vietnam by Stuart McDonald.

Impressive statuary within Tay An. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Ongoing roadworks in mid 2018 suggest the road (appalling for years)—will be improving soon. At the summit there are plenty of cafes with hammocks should you want to while away some some enjoying the excellent views.

As mentioned in the Chau Doc walking tour and introduction above, Chau Doc is home to a couple of easily reached Cham villages which make for an interesting excursion for a few hours, both to enjoy a slightly more rural setting, and to observe a Muslim way of life in the Mekong Delta.

A Muslim minority group within Vietnam, today substantial Cham populations can be found in Chau Doc and Phan Rang Thap Cham in Vietnam and Kompong Cham in Cambodia, but historically they formed the Champa Kingdom which, at its apex stretched along much of the central to southern coastal area of modern–day Vietnam.

A traditional wooden house, built in 1957. Photo taken in or around Chau Doc, Vietnam by Stuart McDonald.

A traditional wooden house, built in 1957. Photo: Stuart McDonald

In the late 15th century after centuries of being squeezed by the Khmer Empire to the west and Vietnamese invasions from the north, the Cham were defeated in the Cham Annanese War of 1471 which marked the end of the kingdom—its people killed, enslaved or scattered.

From Chau Doc there are two primary settlements which are relatively easily reached, either by a quick boat ride or longer scooter excursions. The first is on the land at the confluence, so between the Chau Doc and Bassac Rivers-you’re most likely to end up here if you are on a tour of some sort, as tour guides tend to bundle it with the floating fish farms.

Chau Phong pagoda. Near the Cham village across the Bassac River. Photo taken in or around Chau Doc, Vietnam by Stuart McDonald.

Chau Phong pagoda. Near the Cham village across the Bassac River. Photo: Stuart McDonald

The second is across the Bassac and is easily visited independently by getting the ferry across the river. A ferry ticket costs 1,000 dong for a foot passenger or just a little more for a bicycle of scooter, and once on the other side, we advise breaking right first, till you reach the Jamiul Azhar Mosque and then back tracking and going the other way around.

Heading to the left, the road goes and goes, passing some interesting pagodas, sausages hung out to dry and all manner of rural Mekong scenes. Just remember if you are pedalling, you’ll need to pedal back too! We really enjoyed the hour or so spent cycling over here.

A weaving display at the Cham village at the confluence of the two rivers. Photo taken in or around Chau Doc, Vietnam by Stuart McDonald.

A weaving display at the Cham village at the confluence of the two rivers. Photo: Stuart McDonald

In either of the villages, expect mosques and plenty of beautiful traditional wooden homes along with the occasional more colonial looking house. If anything, the village favoured by the guides feels more contrived—there is a dedicated gift and souvenir store, along with a weaver on hand to show you how the beautiful scarves and kramas are made. In the other village you won’t encounter this kind of stuff.

On the Bassac River a little to the east of Chau Doc town

Many towns in the Mekong Delta have their own floating market, and Chau Doc is no exception, with a daily market on the waters of the Bassac River running through the very early morning.

If you’ve already seen Can Tho’s floating market, Chau Doc’s affair will seem a little small, but it is nevertheless interesting and don’t expect there to be anything like the volume of tourists you see at the Can Tho market—we were the only foreign tourist the day we visited.

Bananas or sugarcane anyone? Photo taken in or around Chau Doc, Vietnam by Stuart McDonald.

Bananas or sugarcane anyone? Photo: Stuart McDonald

This is a wholesale market—fresh fruit (especially watermelons on the day we visited), sweet potato, mountain loads of garlic (of Chinese origin) and all manner of other fresh produce will be seen. The boats generally lay at anchor in the speeding waters and hoist an example of what they are bearing at the prow so buyers know where to head. Smaller buying boats dart between, tying up alongside to make the deal. Smaller-still sampans dash around offering hot coffee and steaming bowls of bun ca.

This really is just like a visit to Can Tho’s market—just smaller. As with most floating markets, it gets going very early—generally between 5am and 6am and by 8am will be dwindling, so get up early and aim to be on the water by 6:30—the morning light will be great then for photos.

<i>Bun ca</i> on a boat. Photo taken in or around Chau Doc, Vietnam by Stuart McDonald.

Bun ca on a boat. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Being a floating market, you will need to get onto the water to best appreciate it. You could feasibly watch it from the shore, but we do recommend getting onto the water. This is most easily done by doing a tour, and a visit to the floating market is generally packaged with a trip to the Cham village, some moderately interesting fish farms, and, if you are interested, a crocodile farm.

We used Mr Long of Hoa Sen Tours and he charges $18 for one or two people for what works out to be about a three hour excursion. Perhaps a bit pricey for a single traveller, but quite reasonable value for a couple. Mr Long speaks good though heavily accented English and we found him to be a very thorough guide. He and his wife can also arrange tours to Sam Mountain, Tra Su and other points of interest around Chau Doc. Their small hole in the wall agency doubles as a second hand English and French book store and is worth dropping by at even if you are not planning to do a tour.

Plenty of coconuts on hand. Photo taken in or around Chau Doc, Vietnam by Stuart McDonald.

Plenty of coconuts on hand. Photo: Stuart McDonald

If you just want to see the market from the water and don’t want a guide, we were quoted 250,000 dong for an hour on the water from a boatman hanging out at the gate on 30 Thang 4 park, so you could do this approach—we did feel though that Mr Long was worth the extra money.

Mr Long (Hoa Sen Tours): 14 Nguyen Huu Canh, Chau Doc T: (076) 386 7817; (0913) 777 978 $18 for 1 or 2 people.

Around 30 km south south west of Chau Doc
T: (0296) 221 8025

The roughly square–shaped Tra Su Ecological Park makes for an excellent half day trip out of Chau Doc and if you’re over-landing between Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh and have an overnight stay in Chau Doc, it presents a pretty compelling argument to make your stay a two night one.

Tra Su Ecological Park/Wildlife Reserve/Bird Sanctuary (depending on what you are reading) is around 30km to the south south west of Chau Doc, and importantly (if you are cycling, as we were), the official entrance is at the southwest corner of the reserve. Once you reach the parking area, you need to pop in to pay admission (on a sliding fee depending on the number of people, see below for details).

Passing through lotus ponds. Photo taken in or around Chau Doc, Vietnam by Stuart McDonald.

Passing through lotus ponds. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Once paid up you get into a long motorised boat which takes you into the reserve, through large lotus ponds to a landing point where you are then transferred into a small sampan and paddled through a sunken green cajuput forest.

This second part, padding through the forest is the highlight of the trip, as there is no engine noise and you are well positioned to observe plenty of bird life, along with lizards, frogs and other swampish critters. The paddling follows a set route (you can see how netting has been used to keep nature under control and to allow an easy path through the brackish waters) and we imagine on weekends and holidays when many are visiting the park it can be a bit hectic, but on a mid-morning, mid-week visit, we were the only people on the water (aside from out paddler) and it was pretty special and very beautiful.

Being paddled through the sunken forest. Photo taken in or around Chau Doc, Vietnam by Stuart McDonald.

Being paddled through the sunken forest. Photo: Stuart McDonald

After the paddling, you jump back into the larger boat which then takes you right into the centre of the park, where there is an observation tower you can climb, allowing you to see the entirety of the park along with Cambodia in the distance. Surrounding the base of the tower there are a bunch of salas and a few places to eat so you are welcome to spend as much time as you want here, and just jump on a boat back when ever you feel like it (the boat that dropped you off doesn’t wait for you). Between the paddling point and the look out tower, boatmen will stop to point out roosting birds—don’t hesitate to ask them to take their time, we found the boatmen to be very accommodating.

There is no public transport from Chau Doc to the park, but it is a straightforward ride or drive here. Tours can also be arranged in Chau Doc (mostly by xe-om though a car transfer is also possible) expect to pay $10-15 for a half day excursion. We cycled here which made for a long, but very pleasant day, as we were able to randomly pick and choose our way along the back roads and canals to get here. Figure on about a 65km round trip. If you are travelling by scooter a visit to Tra Su is easily combined with Sam Mountain.

Moody monsoon weather from the observation tower. Photo taken in or around Chau Doc, Vietnam by Stuart McDonald.

Moody monsoon weather from the observation tower. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Admission is staggered by the number of people. 130,000 dong for one, 75,000 dong per person for two, 65,000 dong per person for three and so on. The price struck us as being incredibly reasonable for all the boating that was included.

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Where to next?

Where are you planning on heading to after Chau Doc? Here are some spots commonly visited from here, or click here to see a full destination list for Vietnam.

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