It’s day three of our tour of the Mekong Delta in Vietnam and our group of more than fifty noisy tourists has been reduced down to just four fairly quiet ones. As we leave Can Tho our driver takes advantage of all of the extra room in his minivan by filling it up with local passengers, who I presume are also going to Chau Doc or somewhere else along the way. One or two our new companions appear to have a cold and we are treated to a melodic chorus of phlegm hocking for the next hour or so as we drive on wards through the Mekong Delta towards Sam Mountain. When we finally get there we are more than happy to give up the comforts of the air conditioned van and step out into the humidity and hot mid morning sun.
Sam Mountain is really more of a small rocky hill surrounded by rice fields, but in a land as flat as the Mekong Delta, it does give the appearance of a mountain. As we begin to climb up the steps towards the pagoda above with the hot sun beating down on us, it certainly feels like we are climbing a mountain.
As we pass by the Monk’s quarters and find ourselves amongst the gardens below the temple buildings of Phuoc Dien Tu Pagoda, I can feel the serene peacefulness of this place. I look out at the panoramic view of the Mekong Delta and realise just how vast this area is. Looking at the horizon I know that I can only really see a small portion of it and that it stretches off much further away, all of the way to the South China Sea.
Apart from a handful of flip flop clad tourists disrupting the quietness, there is hardly anyone else around. I’ve had the occasional glimpse of a monk walking past or sweeping the tiled floors, but there is hardly a sound – a huge change from the Vietnam that I have experienced so far. I remove my flip flops and begin exploring some of the buildings and shrines. Desperately trying not to disrupt the blissful quietness of the place, I almost tip toe around. I come across a monk who smiles at me and points his arm with his palm up in the direction that I was already heading, as if to say “Don’t be awkward, just relax and explore”. I smile and nod awkwardly and head deeper into the temple.
I discover that Phuoc Dien Tu also extends within the mountain itself, following a natural cave filled with different shrines to different deities. I enter one that is completely surrounded by mirrors and I am forced to look upon myself rather than at something else. I get the feeling that this room may be for self reflection.
The heavy humid air of the cave starts to make things feel a little claustrophobic and I head back out and find myself on a large terrace where the tiles are hot on my feet from baking in the sun. I look out at the amazing view and try to absorb the serene peacefulness of this place. I can see why these monks would want to live here. It really is a sanctuary.
Have you been to Sam Mountain in the Mekong Delta? Share your experience in the comments below.