|The climb: Dinh Cau in Phu Quoc Island attracts visitors not only because of its exotic beauty, but also for its mysterious ancient legends.
by Trung Hieu
Hundreds of thousands of visitors make the scenic climb to Dinh Cau (Sea Gods Temple) each year.
Located on Phu Quoc, the largest island of Viet Nam, the temple offers visitors the chance to listen to the whispering waves and watch the magnificent sunset.
Dinh Cau sits on a rock formation 200m west of Duong Dong Town, next to a lighthouse and near an estuary where ships pass by frequently.
Standing on the top of the rocks, surrounded by waves and rocks, the temple has faced the wind and waves for hundreds of years. It sits under the canopy of a century-old tree, which remains green throughout the year.
The temple has impressed so many visitors that it is considered the symbol of Phu Quoc Island.
We walked up the winding stairs hidden between cliffs to visit the temple. On the way up, we encountered a small shrine for the Soil God. In front of the temple were columns with Han (Chinese) script that commended the sacred Sea Gods for protecting local fishermen.
|Sea shell: Dinh Cau is home to strange rock formations, one of which looks like a giant turtle. — VNS Photos Trung Hieu
The affirmation that fishermen had been present here such a long time ago made us feel pride in Dinh Cau. Standing high on the rock formation, we gazed out at Phu Quoc's blue sea, with hundreds of fishing boats anchored near the shore.
Legend has it that the temple appeared around the 17th century, when the first inhabitants from central Viet Nam settled on the island.
"Many fishermen went fishing on the sea and never came back because of fatal big waves," said Nguyen Ngoc Tai, a local man.
"Suddenly, locals saw a huge rock gradually rise beside the estuary. Islanders considered it a sacred hill so they built a shrine to pray for divine protection to cope with the sea disasters. After they began to worship here, their trips turned out safely."
The reputation of the temple gradually spread, worshipping at the rock became a tradition and the place was named Dinh Cau.
The temple is also referred to as the Dragon King shrine. Its main sanctum is devoted to worshipping Chua Ngoc Nuong Nuong (Sea Goddess). It also features statues of two sea gods who protect fishermen, Cau Tai and Cau Quy.
|Oceanfront view: Phu Quoc sea and fishing boats can be seen from Dinh Cau.
Before each voyage and on holidays, particularly New Year's Day, locals burn incense to pray for peaceful voyages. A large festival takes place at the temple every year on the 15th-16th of the lunar tenth month.
The area has a rock shaped like a floating turtle (one of the four sacred animals according to Vietnamese belief) and another rock that looks very similar to a crocodile with its mouth open wide when the sun is slowly falling into the sea.
"The area of the temple has big rocks with strange shapes, so perhaps that's why people call it ‘the sacred and ancient holy place'," said Tai.
The most exciting thing for visitors is to view the magical sunset from the temple.
Dinh Cau is a worthy symbol of Phu Quoc where the sea, sand, sunlight and rocks blend to create a magnificent scene.
Adjacent to the temple is Duong Dong beach, also called Dinh Cau beach, which features golden sand and blue water. In the moments before nightfall, the sunlight is reflected gold, then dark red, and the waves sparkle like precious stones.
In the evening, we visited the Night Market, which sells souvenirs such as pearl bracelets and wooden boxes inlaid with mother-of-pearl and fresh seafood at reasonable prices.
The market attracts a lot of tourists. From afar, visitors can smell seafood grilling at the various stalls, where tables showcase the day's catch.
The most popular dishes are boiled cuttlefish served with Phu Quoc fish sauce and grilled shrimp with salt, pepper and lemon.
"We tried all this seafood during our stay in Phu Quoc," said Ung Hong Mai, a visitor from Ha Noi. "Each time we encounter these foods, we remember Dinh Cau!" — VNS