Life and commerce in Chau Doc, a bustling border town, centers on the water. Many people live not only by the river in stilt houses, but on it in floating houses. The town’s exceptionally busy market is also located along the riverfront. During a period of several centuries, control over Chau Doc has passed between the Funanese, Cham, Khmer, and Vietnamese. It is no surprise that this is one of the most ethnically and religiously diverse towns in the region. It is also home to the Hoa Hao sect, an indigenous Buddhist order founded in the 1930s, and based on the rejection of religious practice and the inter cession of priests. The small community of Cham Muslims residing in Chau Doc worship at the green Mubarak Mosque across the Hau Giang River and the larger Chau Giang Mosque. Neither has a proper address, but boatmen know how to reach them.
In the town center, the Bo De Dao Trang Plaza is dominated by a statue of Quan Am, Goddess of Mercy, standing in a gazebo. Behind the deity, a statue of the Buddha sits under a tree facing a small pagoda. Close by, Chau Phu Temple is dedicated to a Nguyen lord, and also serves as a tribute to the dead, with many memorial tablets amid colorful artworks.
A sacred site for hundreds of years, Sam Mountain lies 4 miles (6 km) southwest of town. Its slopes are covered with shrines, grottos, pagodas, and ancient tombs. At the northern base, lies the Phat Thay Tay An Temple, packed with statues of elephants and monsters – all painted in lurid colors. Many women sell birds for release at the entrance. A statue of a monk guards the inner sanctum. Close by is Ba Chua Xu Temple, dedi- cated to a Vietnamese heroine, Lady Xu. Her statue is bathed and clad in finery every May. The view from the summit is most stunning, with the rice fields of Vietnam to the east and the plains of Cambodia on its west side.