THE MEKONG DELTA || RACH GIA
About 100km southwest of Ha Tien, though also easily accessible from Long Xuyen, Can Tho or Ca Mau, the thriving port of RACH GIA teeters precariously over the Gulf of Thailand. The capital of Kien Giang Province, it’s home to a community of around two hundred thousand people, many of whom live in new housing on reclaimed land on the coast just south of the centre. A small islet in the mouth of the Cai Lon River forms the hub of the town, but the urban sprawl spills over bridges to the north and south of it and onto the mainland. The town has little in the way of historical and cultural attractions, and for most foreign visitors it is simply a place to overnight en route to Phu Quoc Island.
It’s worth taking a walk along Bach Dang or Tran Hung Dao to watch the activity on the boats of all sizes that clutter the port. Men and women darn and fold nets, charcoal-sellers hawk their wares to ships’ captains and roadside cafés heave with fishermen – many of whom have seen the bottoms of a few beer bottles – awaiting the next tide.
The heroics of Nguyen Trung Truc
From 1861 to 1868, Nguyen Trung Truc spearheaded anti-French guerrilla activities in the western region of the delta: statues in the centre of Rach Gia and at the temple dedicated to him depict him preparing to unsheathe his sword and harvest a French head. In 1861, he masterminded the attack that culminated in the firing of the French warship Esperance; as a wanted man, he was forced to retreat to Phu Quoc, from where he continued to oversee the campaign. Only after the French took his mother hostage in 1868 did he turn himself in and in October of the same year he was executed by a firing squad in the centre of Rach Gia. Defiant to the last, his final words could have been lifted from a Ho Chi Minh speech: “So long as grass still grows on the soil of this land, people will continue to resist the invaders.”