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    WRITER – PhD. in history NGUYỄN MẠNH HÙNG !

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      Physical and Economic Geography

           The chief town of the province of Hatien [Hà Tiên] is situated at the entrance of a shallow creek, on the Gulf of Siam, north-west of the coast of Cochin-China, and 6km from the Cambodian frontier. The old fort of Phao Dai [Pháo Đài], about 1km away (now transformed into a bungalow) was in turn occupied by Annamite troops and French troops. It is one of the nicest parts of the district, and of easy access to all vehicles. On the way to Kampot, 3,5O0km from Hatien [Hà Tiên], is an enormous rock known as the Bonnet a poil (a Busby). A grotto was cut out of the rock, and has been turned into a pagoda, called Chua Hang [Chùa Hang], or Tien Son Tu [Tiên Sơn Tự]. This grotto is much frequented because it is right on the road, and more especially on account of the prestige conferred on it by the virtuous priest in charge. Four kilometers from the chief town, towards the frontier of Cambodia, the enormous rock, called Mui Nai [Mũi Nai], juts out into the sea. A light-house of the same name has been built on its summit. Although the shore of Mui Nai [Mũi Nai] is composed of blackish sand, it is fairly frequented because of its proximity to the chief town, and owing to the good condition of the road leading to it. As the water courses near the chief town come from brackish springs, the inhabitants of Hatien [Hà Tiên] would find it impossible to live there, if fresh water had not been procured by the skill of man. There is in fact, in the chief town, a large lake, called the Ao Sen [Ao Sen], dug in 1715 by the Mac Cuu [Mạc Cửu] government, judiciously placed at the foot of a hill. This lake, or reservoir, a striking monument to the illustrious Chinese adventurer, is filled by the rains coming directly or indirectly from the hills, and furnishes, during the whole of the year, the necessary drinking water for the inhatitants. By the side of this reservoir is a temple, and fetes are held six times a year in honour of the founder and benefactor of the province, uniting the faithful of the district. 5km from the chief towm, towards the south, is the district of Honchong [Hòn Chong]. This district possesses a fine shore, admirable scenery, and grottoes, as curious as they are important, and well worth visiting. The Hang Tien [Hang Tiền] (the money grotto), a name which recalls to the Annamitcs historical recollections, is a vast tunnel open to the sea, and cut in the side of a rocky islet situated near the shore (25km from the chief town of Hatien [Hà Tiên]). This grotto had once served as a refuge to the ancestor of the reigning dynasty of the Nguyen [Nguyễn], the Emperor Gialong [Gia Long], when he was only an unfortunate prince, a fugitive, hunted by the Taysons [Tây Sơn]. The ancient coins of corroded zinc which were discovered, are attributed to this prince, who made them for his soldiers, hence the name Hang Tien [Hang Tiền] (grotto of coins or “cash”).

           The pagoda with a double name “Chua Hang” [Chùa Hang] and “Hai Son Tu” [Hải Sơn Tự] is another grotto in the mountain which juts out and forms the “slab” of the headland. In it are two enourmous ancient statues of Bhudda. Apparantly they were erected by the Cambodians, but there is a legend attributing this work to a certain Siamese prince, who was attracted by the beauty of the site, some centuries earlier.

           It became overgrown with shrub and the haunts of wild beasts, and was abandoned for a very long time. About 12 years ago, an old Annamite Bhuddist priest reclaimed it from its wild state, and made it his permanent abode. The pagoda is attended to by another old Annamite priest, who conducts a service four times a year, attracting many faithful pilgrims. They are held in February, March, August and November. This grotto-pagoda, 5km, from the delegation of Honchong [Hòn Chong], is accessible by carriage and motor car for two-thirds of its space. It is situated in an extremely picturesque place on a very charming shore of golden sands. Tvo rocks, called hon Phu Tu [hòn Phu Tử] (father and son) which are in the sea, serve as screens towards the east, and contribute to form, with the grotto, a small well sheltered port for the junks which follow the coastal trade of the Gulf of Siam. On the banks of a Each, 3km on the route from Hatien [Hà Tiên] to Honchong [Hòn Chong], is the Mo So grotto, similar to those which made the bay of Along so celebrated. Hollowed out by the waves many centuries ago, under the mountain range of the same name, it has three vast chambers with tortuous walls, and the ceiling of one of these rooms is so high, that people who gaze up for the first time are seized with uneasiness.

           Galleries, several hundred meters long, cut into the bowels of the mountain, form a sort of labyrinth, inspiring a strong curiosity. It is impossible to enter these galleries without a light and a guide, if one wishes to avoid getting lost. It can be visited with a small pirogue (caux) in the rainy season, and on foot in the dry season. Finally, the shore of Bai Dau [Bãi Dâu], so called on account of the oil-trees which grow there, one of the nicest shores in Cochin-China. 20 to 30 meters wide between the sea and the verge of the forest, 2km long, with very clean and yellow sand, it faces a panorama of rare beauty formed by the many green islands sprinkled over the sea. Behind the shore, a row of filaos separates it from a carriage road which runs along its length, at the foot of the chain of the wooded rocks of Binh Tri [Bình Trị] which form the already lovely shore, and add a background of wild yet peaceful beauty. Several motor ear services link Hatien [Hà Tiên] with Pnom Penh [Phôm Pênh] and Chaudoc [Châu Đốc]. Visitors can however also travel by water from Chaudoe to Hatien, or by sea on the Saigon-Bangkok line which stops at Honchong [Hòn Chong], Hatien [Hà Tiên] and Phuquoc [Phú Quốc]. The motor ear roads are all metalled and well kept up. Hatien [Hà Tiên] is linked with Kep, Kampot, Chaudoc [Châu Đốc], Takeo and Pnom Penh [Phôm Pênh] byroads, and it follows that one ean travel by motor ear from Hatien [Hà Tiên] to Saigon [Sài Gòn], and then to all the chief towns of Cochin-China.


           The province of Hatien [Hà Tiên] is mountainous and full of forests, and hunting can be followed everywhere. But game is most abundant in the environs or Honchong [Hòn Chong] and Duong Dong [Dương Đông] (Phuquoc [Phú Quốc]). Stags, wild boar, fallow-deer, wild buffaloes, black monkeys, hares, tigers, panthers etc. Are encountered in the forests of Hatien [Hà Tiên].

          The tishing is around the islands, either with lines or with nets. The islands forming the archipelago of Binh Tri [Bình Trị] and those at Phuquoc [Phú Quốc] are reputed to be the best fishing grounds.

           There is only one bungalow in Hatien [Hà Tiên], in the chiet town at Phao Dai [Pháo Đài] (it has only four rooms). There is no rest room at the residence or at the delegation. Provisions are difficult to procure whilst travelling. It is thereíore advisable to carry cold provisions when making excursions. These can be undertaken in one day, and on retuming, one is always sure of lodging and food at the bungalow at the chiet town under the administration of Hatien [Hà Tiên] is the important island of Phuquoc [Phú Quốc], as large as Martinique (50.000 hectares), and its chiet town is called Duong Dong [Dương Đông], an important fishing centre, and renowned throughout Indo-China and even Siam, for the manufacture of nuoc-mam [nước mắm]. Phuquoc [Phú Quốc] is endowed with a T. S. F. post at Duong Dong [Dương Đông]. It is reached by the steamer Maurice Long, but Phuquoc [Phú Quốc] has no bungalow. A local apartment can however be hired by travellers if they apply in good time to the chief administrator of the province.

      BAN TU THƯ