Tay Ninh, a multi-in-one destination

Tay Ninh boasts a number of attractions that can be easily taken in on a day trip out of HCMC.

Around 100 km northwest of HCMC, Tay Ninh province is a popular destination for tourists and backpackers seeking a host of unforgettable experiences in a single day.

One of the most popular places is Ba Den Mountain, which is the highest in the south of Vietnam, with Linh Son Temple, midway up the mountain, being an interesting attraction for most visitors. Another place of interest is Cao Dai Great Temple), which is the home of Caodaism, the religion of most residents in Tay Ninh.

Yet another is Dau Tieng Reservoir, the largest artificial lake in Vietnam’s south and the source of one of the branches of the Saigon River, meandering down to and through HCMC before pouring into the East Sea.

It’s also well worth trying some local specialties and a good idea to take home some fish sauce and bags of Tay Ninh shrimp salt mixture. This is a special shrimp salt mixture that originated in Tay Ninh and been popular around the south for two decades. It’s now also made elsewhere but the mixture in Tay Ninh is considered the genuine article.

Conquering Ba Den Mountain

About 11 km northeast of Tay Ninh city, Ba Den Mountain covers 24 sq km and actually has three peaks: Heo (Pig) Mount, Phung (Phoenix) Mount, and Ba Den Mount, at an altitude of 986 metres above sea level. There are dozens of pagodas, including Ha Pagoda (lower pagoda), Trung Pagoda (middle pagoda), Thuong Pagoda (upper pagoda) and Hang Pagoda, from the foot to the top of the mountain. There are also several caves in which Buddhist statues have been placed for worshipping.

All within reach

Several legends surround Linh Son Temple. One of the most popular was written in the old book ‘Su tich Thanh Mau Phat Ba Tay Ninh’ (Legend of the Tay Ninh Mother Goddess). The area around Tay Ninh was at one time wilderness, with lots of wild animals, including tigers and panthers. A government official was in charge of controlling the whole area and there was a mountain called Mot Mountain. The official had a son and a daughter. The son’s name was Thach Bien and the daughter’s Thach Nuong, but she was also called Denh. When Denh was 13 years old, a monk named Trung Van Danh, with Trung Thanh as his Buddhist name, went midway up the mountain and set up a temple to teach Buddhism lessons. Denh was interested in the lessons and asked to go to the temple to study.

The official in charge of controlling Trang Bang district saw that Denh was beautiful and asked a go-between to tell her parents that he wanted his son to marry her. When the two families were preparing for the wedding, Denh suddenly disappeared. People went out searching for her, and found a leg they thought was hers. People thought she has been attacked by a tiger, so her family brought the leg home and buried it at the foot of the mountain. People then called the mountain Ba Denh Mountain, with Ba meaning ‘Ms’, and over time Denh became Den as people mispronounced her name.

Once arriving at Ba Den Mountain, visitors can climb to the top or take the cable car. Those keen on hiking can choose from several routes leading to the top, taking four to six hours. It’s quite steep at some points and people are advised to be well prepared.

It’s a thrill to walk under bamboo, banana and mango trees heavily laden with fruit, or under the shade of other tall trees and see flowering wild plants that are as yet unnamed. Walking on huge rocks and breathing in the cool clean air is also a joy. Even the clouds can be pleasing to the eye.

The cable car is VND 160,000 (USD 7.04) for a return ticket and takes just ten minutes. A climb of about 100 steps is then needed to reach several pagodas.

Those in good shape can climb about 300 metres more to reach the top of the mountain. Looking down on Tay Ninh city and the surrounding area from an altitude of almost 1,000 metres is also an unforgettable experience.

All within reach

Cao Dai Great Temple’s architectural splendour

Some 4 km southeast of Tay Ninh city, Cao Dai Great Temple is located in Long Thanh Bac commune in Hoa Thanh district. It’s an architectural work of art and the home of Caodaism. Construction began in 1933 and went through the ups and downs of Vietnam’s history before being completed in 1955.

The pagoda worships the God’s Eye - the symbol of Caodaism, which has some 3 million followers. Caodaists worship different saints and gods, including Buddha, Guanyin, Jesus Christ, Confucius and Laozi. The pagoda represents Bach Ngoc Kinh (white precious stone palace), a place for God on Earth.

Situated on a 40 sq km area surrounded by trees, the pagoda is a network of almost 100 buildings of different sizes, built from bamboo-reinforced concrete. It has 12 gates, all of which have carvings of the four Vietnamese sacred animals: Dragon, Ky Lin, Tortoise and Phoenix, and a big colourful lotus flower.

Tourists can visit the pagoda any time of day free of charge but must obey the rules. For example, they have to leave their shoes outside. Men enter the door on the right while women enter the door on the left. Monks show male visitors around and nuns show female visitors around, and they must keep going straight, with no backtracking allowed.

Specialties of Tay Ninh

People say you can’t claim to have visited Tay Ninh if you didn’t buy a bottle of shrimp salt mixture to eat with mangoes or guava, didn’t buy some dew-wet rice paper to eat with boiled pork slices and wild vegetables, didn’t buy a bottle of shrimp paste, or didn’t taste a bowl of Trang Bang thick noodles (bánh canh).

All within reach

Some want to enjoy a bowl of bánh canh before heading home, even though it’s late in the afternoon. Bánh canh is popular in southern Vietnam but is special in Tay Ninh. It’s made from rice flour with pork chops and some additives, spices and fragrant vegetables, and so delicious it leaves a long-lasting impression on diners.

Other specialities include snails and lizards from Ba Den Mountain, which can be made into different dishes. A dish of snails is said to possess medicinal properties, while a dish of lizards is popular among men for the ‘boost’ it gives and is the Number 1 dish in the region.

All within reach

Tay Ninh may lack the myriad canals found in nearby Mekong Delta provinces but its pagodas and specialties have attracted large crowds of domestic and international visitors for decades, and not a few choose Tay Ninh as a religious destination every year./.

( VNF/Vietnam Guide )

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