Photo: Big streets, big trees.

Things to see and do

In town, one of Cao Lanh’s main claims to fame is as the resting place of Nguyen Sinh Sac, the father of Ho Chi Minh.

According to Duiker’s Ho Chi Minh, he died in the region near penniless and distant from his son in 1929, but you wouldn’t think that wandering the expansive memorial garden and tomb located in the southwest reaches of town.

Keeping a watchful eye over Nguyen Sinh Sac. Photo taken in or around Cao Lanh, Vietnam by Stuart McDonald.

Keeping a watchful eye over Nguyen Sinh Sac. Photo: Stuart McDonald

To our mind the tomb looked like a clam shell, but it is apparently a stylised lotus petal lined with nine (equally stylised) dragon heads. In Vietnamese the Mekong is called Cuu Long, which means Nine Dragons—named after the river’s (official) nine mouths, and the nine dragon heads atop the clam shell, sorry, lotus leaf, pay homage to this, suggesting that the people of the nine river delta are looking over Nguyen Sinh Sac.

Also within the sprawling gardens is a life-size replica of Ho Chi Minh’s stilt house in Hanoi. While you are not allowed inside, it makes for a pretty photo and if you’re not going to Hanoi, well you can tick it off here. Just across the way from the stilt house is a small 1960s style building which houses a motley collection of unlabelled (in English) photos. Overall we found the park of a surprising scale considering his humble end, but if you’re already in the area, (say to visit the Dong Thap Museum) then this is worth the extra ten minutes to walk to. There is also a large, garish Chinese pagoda next door.

Save yourself a trip to Hanoi. Photo taken in or around Cao Lanh, Vietnam by Stuart McDonald.

Save yourself a trip to Hanoi. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Nearby, the Dong Thap Museum is a surprisingly comprehensive and well laid out museum, well worth an hour of your time should you find yourself in Cao Lanh. The collections is, by Vietnamese museum standards, fairly predictable, with a collection of war booty (from both sides—it includes both a US helicopter and a Mig–17) in the surrounding grounds, the ground floor dedicated to natural history and the upper floor tracing the region’s more modern history.

Some of the exhibits are tatty (or was that tacky), with the stuffed animals and fish a bit past their sell by date, but we enjoyed some of the other exhibits, including the musical instruments, fishing basketry and agricultural tools. The water mine was also pretty impressive.

They don’t make them like they used to. Photo taken in or around Cao Lanh, Vietnam by Stuart McDonald.

They don’t make them like they used to. Photo: Stuart McDonald

As with many museums, there is considerable floor space dedicated to the wars, with tactical maps illustrating thrusts and parries, but the English labelling in this area was unfortunately minimal. Note also upon entry the tall mural with a bunch of people standing atop crushed tools of war—the flag they’re waving (red and blue bands with a yellow star) is that of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam (better known as the Viet Cong). Allow an hour for a visit, though you could skip through quicker if you wanted. On the opening hours, the museum is officially open seven days a week, but in practise, it was closed on the Sunday we arrived in Cao Lanh.

The city has a number of other public parks of which the “Temple of Literature” park and Khong Tu lake are the centrepiece. Decorated with the occasional cluster of zebras and giraffes, the park is undeniably pleasant to walk around, especially in the late morning or early evening (when some of the chairs are taken over by canoodling couples). In the morning, grab an iced coffee from one of the cafes near the Huong Sen Hotel on the south side of the park and plonk yourself down by the lake’s edge. The Temple of Literature faces onto the west bank of the lake—it was apparently originally a public library, though it was unclear what is planned for it now.

By the lakeside, Cao Lanh. Photo taken in or around Cao Lanh, Vietnam by Stuart McDonald.

By the lakeside, Cao Lanh. Photo: Stuart McDonald

To the east of town, just over the Dinh Trung river is a large monument—our map described it as the “Revolutionary Martyr Monument”—dedicated to those who died fighting and while it is not worth driving across the Delta for, sitting across a lotus filled pond, with a magnificent socialist statue out front, it makes for a pleasant diversion before dinner.

Dong Thap Museum: 226 Nguyen Thai Hoc, Cao Lanh T: (02773) 851 342; (02773) 874 983 Mo–Su: 07:00–11:30 & 13:30–17:00 Admission free

Group 4, Tram Chin town, Dong Thap Province.
T: (0277) 3827 436

Covering over 7,000 hectares to the northwest of Cao Lanh, Tram Chim National Park offers the opportunity for extensive boating in a protected wetland area, with the chance to observe endangered and migratory birds in their natural setting.

Set around 40 km to the northwest of Cao Lanh, as with Tra Su near Chau Doc, a visit to Tram Chin provides an insight the type of environment which must have been prevalent across an area which was once known as the Plain of Reeds. While across the Mekong Delta, the forests were systematically levelled to make way for coconut and rice cultivation, fish farming and other cash crops, this area was particularly fragile.

Those are real birds—not props. Photo taken in or around Cao Lanh, Vietnam by Stuart McDonald.

Those are real birds—not props. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Established in 1998, today the park is home to over 200 species of birds, including the Eastern Sarus Crane—thanks in park to an ambitious project replicate the original Mekong Delta hydrological regime, which was undertaken with WWF and, of all companies, Coca Cola.

While Tram Chin is considerably larger than Tra Su (around 7,000 hectares Vs under 1,000 hectares) the smaller park has one considerable advantage being that for a portion of the trip you are paddled around in a non-motorised boat, thus allowing for better chances to spot birdlife. At Tram Chin, while there are apparently some solar–powered boats on hand, our entire boating experience was in a medium–sized motorized boat—it wasn’t noisy like a Thai longtail, but it certainly wasn’t silent either—and while our English speaking guide was remarkably skilled at pointing out all manner of birdlife, we reckon we would have seen even more, had be had either a solar boat, or, better still, had been able to paddle for a bit.

Looking over the park from the observation tower. Photo taken in or around Cao Lanh, Vietnam by Stuart McDonald.

Looking over the park from the observation tower. Photo: Stuart McDonald

This aside, it is still an impressive wetland, boating forest, grasslands and enormous swathes of lotus flowers. Our guide said your best bet for birdlife watching is to arrive at the park early in the morning, in which case we recommend staying at nearby Tram Chin town, where there are a few bog standard mini hotels on offer. But even with us arriving at around 10am, we were well impressed with the quantity and variety of birdlife on hand. A portion of the boat trip deposits you to a cafe and observation tower where you can grab a drink and climb the tower for a view over the surrounds.

Most allow for one to two hours for a complete visit to Tram Chin—at the boat landing there are a few small restaurants set right by the river, where you can get a feed and relax by the water should you wish.

Meet your chariot. Photo taken in or around Cao Lanh, Vietnam by Stuart McDonald.

Meet your chariot. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Admission to the park is free, but to access the waters you need to hire a boat. Boats seating up to ten cost 500,000 dong for 45 minutes to an hour in the park, but guides will encourage you to wait around to share the coast with other people. On a Sunday visit, we had only to wait five minutes before finding a crew of five others to share with, bringing the cost down to an exceedingly reasonable 80,000 odd. Longer trips of over two hours, which will take you deeper into the park, start at 800,000 dong.

There is no direct public transport from Cao Lanh to Tram Chin, so you’ll need to organise your own transport (we hired a scooter) for the roughly one hour ride to the park. Dong Thap Tourist Office can assist with a more structured tour if you wish. If you do want to go by public transport and are not bothered by the lack of a direct bus service, you need to get a local bus from Cao Lanh west to Thanh Binh and then change there for a bus north to Tram Chin—we would suggest though going by scooter (or car) to make better use of your time and to get to the park at a reasonably early time in the day, which is considerably better for bird watching.

Just cruisin. Photo taken in or around Cao Lanh, Vietnam by Stuart McDonald.

Just cruisin. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Roughly half way between Tram Chin and Cao Lanh (as the crow flies) sits Gao Giang Tourism Area, a similar, though far smaller reserve. Unlike Tram Chin though, this is not a national park. We didn’t visit it due to time constraints, but if you have your own transport and sufficient time, it could be worth having a look.

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.

The only way onto the island. Photo taken in or around Cao Lanh, Vietnam by Stuart McDonald.

The only way onto the island. Photo: Stuart McDonald

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.

Meet Chua Phuoc Thanh. Photo taken in or around Cao Lanh, Vietnam by Stuart McDonald.

Meet Chua Phuoc Thanh. Photo: Stuart McDonald

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.

The cathedral was slightly Work In Progress.  Photo taken in or around Cao Lanh, Vietnam by Stuart McDonald.

The cathedral was slightly Work In Progress. Photo: Stuart McDonald

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.

Meet all out new friends... Photo taken in or around Cao Lanh, Vietnam by Stuart McDonald.

Meet all out new friends... Photo: Stuart McDonald

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.

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Where to next?

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

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