Ha Tien is in
the extreme south-west of the Vietnamese mainland close
to the Gulf of Thailand and the Cambodian border. It’s a
busy, but remote, town of about 42,000 people around 100km
from Chau Doc and 340km from Ho Chi Minh City by road. There's
also a canal to Chau Doc.
Once part of Cambodia,
the area was subject to Thai incursions. The Kh’mer governor,
an immigrant from the Chinese ‘Mac’ clan, turned to Vietnam
for support in 1708. At the end of the 18th century, the town
and its surrounding area was taken over by the Nguyen Lords.
During the American
War, it was the first base for ‘swift boat operations’ along
the south Vietnamese rivers close to the Cambodian border.
Eventually, operations extended the length of the Giang Thanh
River and all the way to the Bassac River. Ha Tien also became
the western anchor for such operations, but was never a really
In the late 1970’s,
the area again came under attack from the Kh’mer Rouge, who
massacred thousands of people and forced many more to flee
to safety’ prompting the Vietnamese Army to enter Cambodia
to rid it of the evil regime.
It’s an interesting
area of grassland, wetland and limestone ‘karst’ ecosystems,
rich in biodiversity, particularly birds and cave animals.
It’s also a good example of the difficulties of conservation
in a poor area. A World Bank funded cement works, and increased
shrimp pond development and subsistence rice farming, are
a considerable threat to the unique environment. However,
the predominantly Kh’mer population is among the poorest in
Vietnam. Encouraging crop diversification, woven craft production
and sustainable harvesting of grasses from the grasslands
might be a long-term solution.
Its climate is similar
to that of the rest of the Mekong, but the rainy season occurs
somewhat sooner and ends later. It’s also wetter, averaging
more than 2,000mm each year.
Ha Tien and its
hinterland is a popular destination for Vietnamese people,
but few visitors from abroad venture into such an out-of-the-way
corner of Vietnam. Nevertheless, for travellers seeking an
authentic experience and prepared for basic accommodation
and infrastructure, it has a lot to offer.
It’s an attractive
destination – a French film company used it as a location
for a romantic feature film in the 1990’s. The jagged limestone
outcrops on land and in the water are striking, and contain
many grottoes and caves. There are some good beaches within
reachable distance from the town.
Ho Dong ‘lake’ is
actually an inlet of the sea. Nevertheless, it’s a picture-postcard
location. Apart from its beauty, it’s known to have ecologically
diverse marine creatures, including rare species of fish and
shrimp. Local legends say that when there is a full moon,
fairies come to Ho Dong to dance and bathe, hence the town’s
name – ‘Tien’ in Vietnamese means ‘fairy’.
The imprint of the
Mac on Ha Tien runs deep. On nearby Nui Lang Mountain are
the tombs of Mac Cuu, Ha Tien's saviour and other members
of the clan including his three-year-old daughter, apparently
buried alive. Den Mac Cuu is a temple dedicated to the clan.
Of the pagodas in
the town, the Tam Bao Temple and the Phu Dung (Cotton Rose
Hibiscus) Pagoda stand out. The latter involves a long and
complicated love story, which, unlike most of Vietnam’s legends,
seems to be based on fact.
The Thach Dong Pagoda
is underground, inside a limestone hill. Wind blowing through
the many clefts and crevices creates strange noises – fanciful
visitors liken them to the sound of a gong.
Apart from wandering
around and sampling the local cuisine (Ha Tien's specialty
is 'mam chao', a shrimp paste combining the sour taste from
central Vietnam with the sweetness of south Vietnam’s version),
the area is good for snorkelling around the islets about a
hundred metres offshore, and very good for cycling.
If you travel with
Haivenu, we can arrange both.