A sacred place for Buddhists, Sam Mountain (Nui Sam, 284m) and its environs are crammed with dozens of pagodas and temples. A strong Chinese influence makes it particularly popular with ethnic Chinese, yet Buddhists of all ethnicities visit this spot here. The views from the summit are wonderful (weather permitting), ranging deep into Cambodia. There’s a military settlement on the top , a inheritance of the days when the Khmer Rouge made cross-border raids and massacred Vietnamese civilians.
Along with the shrines and graves , the steep path to the the highest place is lined with the unholy clamour of commerce and there are many cafes and stalls in which to drop in for a drink or a snack. Walking down is ,of course, easier than walking up (a 45-minute climb), so if you want to cheat, have a motorbike pick you at the summit (about 20,000d from the base of the mountain). The road to the top is a pretty ride on the east side of the mountain. Veer left at the base of the mountain then turn right after about 1km where the road begins its climb. The mountain is open 24/7, with lights on the road for nocturnal climbs.
Tay An Pagoda BUDDHIST TEMPLE
(Chua Tay An; 4am-10pm) Although constructed in 1847 on the place of an earlier bamboo shrine, Tay An’s current structure dates from 1958. Aspects of its eclectic architecture, especially its domed tower, reflect Hindu and Islamic influences.
With a main gate of traditional Vietnamese model , on its roofline romp figures of lions and two dragons fighting for possession of pearls, chrysanthemums, apricot trees and lotus blossoms.
The temple is protected by statues of a black elephant with two tusks and a white elephant with six tusks. Inside are arrayed fine carvings of hundreds of religious figures, most made of wood and some blinged up with disco-light halos. Statues include Sakyamuni, the 18 a-la-han (arhat) and the 12 muoi hai ba mu (midwives). The temple’s name – Tay An – means ‘Western Peace’.
Coming from Chau Doc on Hwy 91, Tay An Pagoda is situated straight ahead at the base of the mountain.
Temple of Lady Xu BUDDHIST TEMPLE
(Mieu Ba Chua Xu; 24hr) Built in the 1820s to house a statue that’s become the subject of a popular cult, this big temple faces Sam Mountain, on the same road as Tay An Pagoda. Initially a simple affair of bamboo and leaves, the temple has been rebuilt several times, most lately between 1972 and 1976, blending mid-20th-century design with Vietnamese Buddhist appealing motifs.
The statue itself is likely to be a relic of the Oc-Eo culture, dating from the 6th century, and is also possibly that of a man – but don’t suggest that to one of the faithful.
According to one of many legends, the statue of Lady Xu once standed at the summit of Sam Mountain. In the early 19th century Siamese troops invaded the area and decided to take it back to Thailand. But as they carried the statue down the hill, it got heavier and heavier, and they were forced to abandon it by the side of the path.
One day some locals who were cutting trees came upon the statue and decided to take it back to their village in order to construct a temple for it; yet it weighed too much for them to budge it. Fortunately , a girl appeared who, possessed by a spirit, declared herself to be Lady Xu. She announced to them that nine virgins were going to be brought and that they would be able to move the statue down the mountainside. The virgins were then summoned and transported the statue down the slope, but when they reached the plain, it got so heavy that they had to set it down . The people said that the place at which the virgins halted had been selected by Lady Xu for the temple building and it’s here that the Temple of Lady Xu stands to this day.
Offerings of roast whole pigs are usually presented to the statue, which is dressed in glittering robes and adorned with an amazing headdress. Once a month a creation of vegetables representing a dragon, tortoise, phoenix and qilin is also proffered to the effigy. The Chinese words in the portal at which worshippers pray are 主处聖母, which mean ‘the main place of the sacred mother’. A further couplet reads 爲国爲民, meaning ‘for the country and for the people’. The temple’s most important festival takes place from the 23rd to the 26th day of the fourth lunar month, usually late May or early June. During this time, pilgrims flock here, and sleep on mats in the big rooms of the two-storey resthouse near the temple.
Tomb of Thoai Ngoc Hau TOMB
(Lang Thoai Ngoc Hau; 5am-10.30pm) A high-ranking official, Thoai Ngoc Hau (1761–1829) served the Nguyen Lords and, later, the Nguyen dynasty. In early 1829, Thoai Ngoc Hau ordered that a tomb be built for himself at the foot of Sam Mountain. The site he chose is nearly opposite the Temple of Lady Xu.
The steps are made of red ‘beehive’ stone (da ong) brought from the southeastern part of Vietnam. In the middle of the platform is the tomb of Thoai Ngoc Hau and those of his wives, Chau Thi Te and Truong Thi Miet. There’s a shrine at the rear and several dozen other tombs in the vicinity where his officials are buried.
Cavern Pagoda BUDDHIST TEMPLE
(Chua Hang; 4am-9pm) Also called Phuoc Dien Tu, this temple is halfway up the western (far) side of Sam Mountain, with excellent views of the rice fields. The lower part of the pagoda includes monks’ quarters and two hexagonal tombs where the founder of the pagoda, a female tailor named Le Thi Tho, and a former head monk ,Thich Hue Thien, are buried.
The upper section has two parts: the main sanctuary, in which there are many statues of A Di Da (Buddha of the Past) and Thich Ca Buddha (Sakyamuni, the Historical Buddha); and an excellent construction of caverns and grottoes consisting of a host of deities, including a 1000-arm and 1000-eye Quan Am. There’s also a mirror room of Buddhas and an effigy of Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen Buddhism.
According to legend, Le Thi Tho came from Tay An Pagoda to this site half a century ago to lead a quiet, meditative life. As she arrived, she found two enormous snakes, one white and the other dark green. Le Thi Tho soon converted the snakes, which thereafter led pious lives. Upon her death, the snakes disappeared.
Sleeping & Eating
There is a bustling community at the base of Sam Mountain, along with hotels (both aimed at visiting Buddhists and businesspeople), guesthouses and restaurants lining the street.
Getting There & Away
Many travellers get here by rented motorbike or on the back of a xe om (about 40,000d one-way). There are also local buses heading this way from Chau Doc (5000d).
Phu Chau (Tan Chau) District
Traditional silk-making has made Phu Chau (Tan Chau) district – at this place the market has a wide range of reasonable Thai and Cambodian goods – famous throughout southern Vietnam.
To reach Phu Chau district from Chau Doc, you should take a boat across the Hau Giang River from the Phu Hiep ferry landing, then catch a ride on the back of a xe om (about 60,000d) for the 18km trip.