Since the opening of the border to Cambodia a few kilometres north of town, CHAU DOC has boomed in popularity, and is the only place apart from Can Tho where you are likely to see foreigners in any numbers. Snuggled against the west bank of the Hau Giang River, the town came under Cambodian rule until it was awarded to the Nguyen lords in the mid-eighteenth century for their help in putting down a localized rebellion. The area sustains a large Khmer community, which combines with local Cham and Chinese to form a diverse social melting pot. Just as diverse is Chau Doc’s religious make-up: as well as Buddhists, Catholics and Muslims, the region supports an estimated 1.5 million devotees of the indigenous Hoa Hao religion. Forays by Pol Pot’s genocidal Khmer Rouge into this corner of the delta led to the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in 1978.
On Doc Phu Thu and a few other streets in town, colonial relics are still evident, but their grand shophouse terraces, flaunting arched upper-floor windows and awnings propped up by decorous wrought-iron struts, are interspersed with characterless new edifices.