Getting lost in Tây Ninh: ancient towers, fantastical temples, and a cable-car trip up Bà Đen Mountain

HCM CITY — It’s my custom to sip a cup of white coffee on a sunny balcony to start a new day. On a recent afternoon, I wondered how long it had been since I travelled with my family as I grabbed my favourite book The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost.

Because of my full schedule and the COVID-19 pandemic, I hadn't been able to take a trip to far-off places, so I thought I could travel to my hometown.

If you are in a similar situation, a trip to Tây Ninh may just inspire your wanderlust. Because it is only 100 kilometres from HCM City to the northwest, following National Route 22, you might want to travel by motorbike. Being able to control the bike on the open road and feeling the wind blowing on your skin can be a wonderful experience.

For our trip, we left HCM City at 5am and drove for more than one hour to Trảng Bàng Town by motorbike. The town is famous for Trảng Bàng rice noodle soup (bánh canh Trảng Bàng) and Trảng Bàng dew-wetted rice paper rolls (bánh tráng phơi sương) served with boiled pork, local herbs and fish sauce.

We stopped to sample the dishes. The rice noodle soup combines the softness and fragrance of Trảng Bàng rice with the sweetness of the broth, made by boiling pork bones, carrots, and straw mushrooms in water.

Cooks have their own way to season the rice flour, which gives noodles a special taste. The dish is more flavourful with lemon juice, fish sauce and sliced chilies. Some chopped coriander and scallions are also indispensable.

For fans of vegetables and herbs, don’t skip the Trảng Bàng dew-wetted rice paper rolls. The fresh local herbs, sweet and sour fish sauce, salty dew-wetted rice paper and softness of the boiled pork all make a nutritious and healthy meal. The ingredients are rolled up in rice paper and then dipped it into the special fish sauce.

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A portion of Trảng Bàng dew-wetted rice paper roll includes dew-wetted rice paper, boiled pork, local herbs, pickles, cucumbers, bean sprouts, and sweet and sour fish sauce. – Photo khamphatayninh.vn

Both of these dishes are must-try specialities that can be sampled at renowned eateries in Trảng Bàng such as Năm Dung, Bé Năm and Ông Cáo. ‘‘2 tô’’ (2 bowls of soup) is also famous for its presentation, including a bowl of broth and a separate bowl of meat.

A bowl of rice noodle soup costs about VNĐ40,000 (US$1.73) to VNĐ60,000 (US$2.6) and the price for a portion of Trảng Bàng dew-wetted rice paper is VNĐ110,000 (US$4.76) to VNĐ170,000 (US$7.36).

The two dishes gave us a burst of mental and physical energy that helped us continue to the following beautiful destinations of Tây Ninh:

Bình Thạnh Ancient Tower

Bình Thạnh Tower, located in Bình Thạnh Commune (Trảng Bàng District), is a destination for those who love archaeology. It represents the architecture of the Óc Eo culture with its four directions and the main door opening to the East. Many trees surround the tower, leading to a quiet and poetic space for visitors who like to explore old works.

Sun World BaDen Mountain

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The Tây Bổn Đà Sơn Buddha statue with a height of 72m is recognised as the "tallest bronze Buddha statue in Asia on the top of a mountain” and “tallest bronze Buddha statue in Vietnam located on the top of a mountain” by the Asia Record Organization and Vietnam Record Organization. – VNS Photo Phương Phạm

Bà Đen Mountain, the highest peak in the southeastern region at 986 metres, has been revamped as an international-standard tourist area in Tây Ninh.

The cable line 1 in the area has cut the travel time to the peak to eight minutes from the previous four hours, satisfying the desire among people of all ages to set foot on the ‘‘roof of the Southeast".

Bà Đen Station has been recognised by the Guinness World Records Organization as having ‘‘the world's largest cable car station’’, with an area of 10,959 square metres.

Looking down from the top of the mountain, you can see breathtaking views of the pristine, green area with houses and trees looming in the distance.

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From the cable car cabin, visitors can see all the pagodas on Bà Đen Mountain, hidden in the majestic mountains. – VNS Photo Phương Phạm

Many stalls serving food and drinks are located here. The Vân Sơn restaurant has a buffet with 80 dishes to enjoy the specialities of Tây Ninh.

Thành Tài, a 52-year-old visitor from HCM City, said that few services exist in the area because many works are still in progress. But the air is clean and the cold wind blows in the flower gardens. Many flower species like roses, hydrangea, chrysanthemums, and wild flowers bloom brilliantly on a large area.

Information about cable car fares and operation times can be found on the Facebook page of Sun World BaDen Mountain.

Ma Thiên Lãnh Valley

Ma Thiên Lãnh Valley, located in Thạnh Tân Commune, is formed by three mountains, Bà Đen, Heo and Phụng. With hundreds of hectares of primeval forests and many stunning streams, the valley is recommended as an ideal weekend getaway.

You will be overwhelmed by the spectacular scenery of streams with birds singing in the deep forest, creating a magical and charming valley. It is one of the top destinations in Tây Ninh for people who love adventure and the primitive life.

Cao Đài Holy See

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The unusual architecture of the Cao Đài Holy See reflects Caodaism, which is a mixture of a number of spiritual and religious belief systems. – VNS Photo Phương Phạm

The Cao Đài Holy See, founded in 1926, is the governmental Holy See of Caodaism in Việt Nam with a unique religious architecture. It includes 12 gates and a gorgeous main entrance, which is used only for monks and authorized people.

There are about 100 architectural works around the site, which is connected by wide roads. On the outside, the Holy See is painted with a sacred yellow color and decorated with many intricate designs on stairs and windows. Solid pillars covered with dragon sculptures fill the space, which has two impressive 36-metre high belfries.

Few temples in Việt Nam can show their beauty as mysteriously as this place. Hence, the scorching sun cannot keep thousands of pilgrims and tourists from visiting the Cao Đài Holy See.

After sightseeing, visit the Long Hoa market to buy shrimp salt, an addictive speciality of Tây Ninh. A combination of fresh chili and dried shrimp, it is fried on a hot pan without any chemical substances. It can be used with many dishes such as rice paper rolls, fruit or boiled vegetables, as well as a marinade for meat, squid, shrimp or chicken wings. VNS

In box

How to get there?

By car or bus

In HCM City, there are two bus lines to Tây Ninh, including Đồng Phước and Huệ Nghĩa. Their routes are from An Sương bus station from District 10 or District 11 to Tây Ninh. The fare is VNĐ70,000 (US$3.03) and VNĐ100,000 (US$4.33), respectively.

By motorbike

Route 1: Starting from An Sương bus station to Trảng Bàng Y junction, go straight on the right to Provincial highway No.19 (also known as DT.782). From DT.782, continue for 35 kilometres to the centre of Tây Ninh city.

Route 2: From HCM City to Trảng Bàng Y junction, turn left to Gò Dầu Town, following National Highway 22B. Keep straight for 54 kilometres to centre of Tây Ninh city.

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