From Rạch Giá, it’s a two-hour taxi ride to Hà Tiên, Vietnam. We rented a 16-seat taxi for the day, which costs 1,500,000 VND (approximately $75 USD). This rate is negotiated and is more cost effective for longer distances and durations which can be from 7AM to 9PM. The driver will pretty much drive you wherever you desire in the destination city, given that he can return to base within the day.
My parents had once lived in Hà Tiên for 3 years when I was only three months old. They want to show us where we lived, share how things have changed, take us to the beach and visit a few temples.
It is a common theme that after 30 years, everything has changed – drastically. What were once rice fields, devoid of people, accessible only by small long boats via a small river that runs through it is now serviced by a 2-lane “highway” (80). On both sides along this highway are dotted with houses and mom-and-pops store fronts, so densely close together that the distance between one house from the next is literally an arm’s reach. So, as we approach my parent’s old neighborhood, it is not surprising that they couldn’t recognize it at all.
We head over to the Golden Deer Point Resort to hangout on the beach front. Here I am, arriving at the beach front area with the 16-seat taxi in the background. It’s off-season so it’s deserted but there were a few buses of people arriving shortly after us. It is peaceful with a constant inward wind, basking us in fresh yet salty air.
The beach is beautiful in combination with the nearby hills and outlying islands. The sand is dark and clean but with the churn as the waves approach the shore, it creates a muddled looking color. The water is pleasant if not slightly on the warm side for me and oddly, it isn’t as salty compared to U.S. beaches.
We walk along the shoreline toward the deer point where the resort resides. It’s on a hilltop with amazing views out toward the Gulf of Thailand and islands, one of which is the popular Phú Quốc Island.
Here’s the view from one of the resort room deck. And yes, the city across the bay is Khum Angkol, Cambodia.
As we continue to walk along the beach toward Cambodia, we noticed a bright red building, like a small temple perched high on the hilltop. We ask a local what it is and it turns out, it’s a viewing station. For 40,000 VND (approximately $2 USD) per person, you get a ride up the hill to this station which provides a stunning panoramic view of the neighboring area.
Here’s the actual ride up and eventual ride down that surprised everyone!
Apparently, you can also do this at night! I’m afraid to imagine what the ride down is like in pitch black.
My parents are Buddhists so they want to visit Buddhist temples, donate small amount money and pray for our ancestors as well as for the living.
This particular temple is nestled inside one of the many bat caves. My father remembers that during the Vietnam War, there were South Vietnamese troops stationed here to protect it. Notice the round pit in the lower left corner of the picture. There is a legend of a dynastic struggle between to heirs who kidnapped an important figure and hid him/her down this pit. I don’t fully know the story since it is told to me in Vietnamese but the point is, most of these caves have a story/legend attached to explain their significance or existence.
This is another temple my parents frequented 30-something years ago. It used to be much smaller, which is hard to believe but is now surrounded by a cemetery and urbanization.
Our trip back to Rạch Giá is fairly uneventful, except for one thing. We are stopped by the police during a roadside checkpoint, around 8 PM and 15 minutes from home. I mentioned earlier that Hà Tiên is less than 10 km from Cambodia and as such, there is unregulated commerce across the border. For particular items like cigarettes, they are much cheaper in Cambodia than in Vietnam and if obtained illegally, there is also no tax.
Well, the Vietnamese government is fully aware of these activities and setup roadside checkpoints for travellers coming back from Hà Tiên. They wave you over, check the driver’s papers asking if he has anything to declare and then proceed with the vehicle inspection. They don’t fuss with the passengers, although I am quite concern for my family and of the unknown (to the point of nausea). They’re looking for large boxes, large quantity of items which has no other purpose but resale. Unbeknownst to us, our driver is transporting contraband – one large box of cigarettes. I’m not familiar with how cigarettes are packaged but it’s about $100 USD worth and at resale would profit about $20 USD in total.
The driver tries to pull a fast one by asking us to claim it’s ours, which is a non-starter. So I believe the contraband is confiscated and the driver additionally fined. We are held, albeit inside the vehicle, on the side of the road for 45 minutes. For the driver and the taxi company, it is a lost venture and a loss of this customer.
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