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Thach Dong (stone cave) is situated three kilometers away from the center of Ha Tien city in Kien Giang province, along the National Road 80. From afar, the cave resembles a giant block of limestone covered by greenery. Around the cave are vast rice fields and palm trees that reach up to the sky, creating a peaceful and dreamlike rural landscape.
|Thach Dong stands out amidst endless rice fields in Kien Giang province / VNExpress|
Inside Thach Dong lies Tien Son, an ancient Buddhist temple built in 1790 to worship Buddha Shakyamuni and Avalokiteśvara. Geologists have determined that the limestone in the cave was formed during the Permian period, around 250 million years ago, mainly of chemical sedimentary origin.
|Inside Tien Son temple / Travelmag.vn|
One of the most famous landscapes in Ha Tien, Thach Dong is believed to be where Thach Sanh, the protagonist of the famous Vietnamese fairy tale “The story of Thach Sanh,” saved Quynh Nga princess.
The story of Thach Sanh
Thach Sanh is a poor orphan who lives in a tent under a banyan tree. His most treasured property is a hammer his father left behind. Seeing how strong Thach Sanh is, Ly Thong, a cunning and greedy man, tries to form a friendship with Thach Sanh.
Where Thach Sanh lives, there is a ferocious python. Every year, villagers have to present a person to sacrifice to monsters. When it is his turn to become a sacrifice, Ly Thong tricks Thach Sanh into coming to the python. Thach Sanh kills the python with his immense strength, but Ly Thong tricks Thach Sanh again to claim his accomplishment.
On the day the King finds a husband for his daughter – Princess Quynh Nga, the princess is taken away by a giant eagle. Thach Sanh follows the eagle to Thach Dong to save Quynh Nga. After getting the princess out of the cave, Ly Thong tricks Thach Sanh and seals the cave’s mouth to trap Thach Sanh inside.
Thach Sanh kills the eagle, freeing the son of the Ocean King who was captured by the eagle. The King offers Thach Sanh gold and silver as a reward for saving his son, but Thach Sanh only asks for a musical instrument. He then returns to his tent.
Despite being rescued, the princess doesn’t talk or smile. The spirits of the python and eagle falsely accuse Thach Sanh of harming Quynh Nga. As a result, Thach Sanh is imprisoned. While in prison, Thach Sanh plays the musical instrument that the Ocean King gave him. Listening to the sound from Thach Sanh’s instruments, the princess can speak again. Thach Sanh is summoned to meet the King. He then tells the King about the wrongdoings he has suffered. Ly Thong is punished, and Thach Sanh marries Princess Quynh Nga. Later, Thach Sanh uses his musical instrument to help the King ward off enemies from 18 countries. The King abdicates and passes the throne to Thach Sanh.
Thach Dong has many deep passages. As they discover the cave, tourists should follow the paths paved with polished stones, where they can find signages and information boards along the way. The cave has stairways with handrails, ensuring safety for tourists if they want to explore the higher part of the cave.
Thach Dong has a so-called “way to the underworld,” in fact an extremely deep hole. Centuries ago, some curious locals who wanted to know the depth of the cave, so they threw a coconut with their name carved on it into the hole. Sometime later, other locals found the coconut while traveling through Mui Nai beach in Ha Tien.
|Limestones formed millions of years ago create a spectacular view inside Thach Dong / Travelmag.vn|
Thach Dong was sealed in 1960 due to safety reasons; today, tourists can only see the top of the cave, in the form of a well with high walls. According to legend, this is the path leading to the palace of the Ocean King in the story of Thach Sanh, where the hero met the king after rescuing Quynh Nga princess and freeing the Ocean King’s son.
From the way to the underworld, tourists traversing along the cliffs to the east of the cave will see a passage through Thach Dong. Locals call this passage “the way to heaven.” Legend has it that there was a rope casted straight down from the mouth of the cave, which Thach Sanh used to save the princess after rescuing her from the way to the underworld. The rope, however, is now broken.
|"Way to heaven" inside Thach Dong / thamhiemmekong.com|
Tourists coming to Thach Dong can see a plethora of stone statues with strange shapes like an eagle’s head or the face of a young lady letting her hair down. These statues have made the story of Thach Sanh more magical, arousing the curiosity of people coming to visit the cave.
From the side of the cave, tourists can see the Vietnam- Cambodia border from afar. The entrance fee costs VND 5,000/person. Tourists can spend 30 to 40 minutes to discover Thach Dong, then move on to nearby destinations like Da Dung Mountain, Mui Nai beach, and Phu Dung temple, or buy a train ticket to Phu Quoc Island.
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