It’s an interesting destination to discover Khmer temples in the area, even though you can probably skip these if Cambodia is on your radar.
Bat Pagoda BUDDHIST TEMPLE
This large and peaceful pagoda compound with a resident colony of fruit bats. Literally hundreds of these creatures hang from the trees: the largest weigh about 1kg, with a wingspan of about 1.5m. They are not toilet trained, so watch out when standing under a tree, or bring an umbrella.
Optimum times to pay a visit are early morning and at least an hour before sunset, when the bats are most active. Around dusk hundreds of bats swoop out of the trees to forage in orchards all over the Mekong Delta, much to the consternation of farmers, who are known to trap the bats and eat them. There are protected creatures inside the compound : the bats seem to know this and stick around.
The monks don’t ask for money, though donations won’t hurt. The pagoda is decorated with gilt Buddhas and murals paid for by overseas Vietnamese contributors. In one room there’s a life-size statue of the monk who was the former head of the complex.
The Bat Pagoda is 2km south of Soc Trang, a 20,000d xe om ride away (or you can easily walk). Head south on Ð Le Hong Phong and after about a kilometre veer right onto Ð Van Ngoc Chinh.
Clay Pagoda BUDDHIST TEMPLE
(163 Ð Ton Duc Thang) Buu Son Tu (Precious Mountain Temple) was built more than 200 years ago by a Chinese family named Ngo. Unassuming from the outside, this temple is highly unusual in that nearly every object inside is made entirely of clay. Therefore , it is better known as Chua Dat Set, or Clay Pagoda.
There are hundreds of statues and sculptures which adorn the interior were hand-sculpted by the monk Ngo Kim Tong. From the age of 20 until his death at 62, this ingenious artisan dedicated his life to decorating the pagoda. Although the decor borders on kitsch, the pagoda is an active place of worship, and totally different from the Khmer and Vietnamese pagodas else where in Soc Trang.
Entering the pagoda, tourists are greeted by one of Ngo’s biggest creations – a six-tusked clay elephant, which is said to have appeared in a dream of Buddha’s mother. Behind this is the central altar, which is fashioned from more than five tonnes of clay. In the altar are a thousand Buddhas seated on lotus petals. Other highlights is comprised of a 13-storey Chinese-style tower which is over 4m tall. The tower features 208 cubby holes, one with a mini-Buddha figure inside, and is decorated with 156 dragons.
It is necessary for travellers to know , the clay objects in the pagoda are fragile, so discover with care. Donations are welcome.
Kh’leang Pagoda BUDDHIST TEMPLE
(Chua Kh’leang; 68 Ð Ton Duc Thang) Except for the quite garish paint job, this pagoda could have been transported straight from Cambodia. Originally constructed from bamboo in 1533, there was a complete concrete reconstruct in 1905. Lots of monks reside in the pagoda, serving as a base for more 150 novices who come from around the Mekong Delta to learn at Soc Trang’s College of Buddhist Education across the street.
There are seven religious festivals held here every year, drawing people from out lying areas of the province.
Khmer Museum MUSEUM
( 079-382 2983; 23 Ð Nguyen Chi Thanh; 7.30-11am & 1.30-5pm Mon-Fri) Devoted to the history and culture of Vietnam’s Khmer minority, it’s a small museum which doubles as a type of cultural centre. Traditional dance and music shows are periodically staged here for bigger groups. Exhibits are limited to photos and a few traditional costumes and other artefacts.
The museum, which is opposite Kh’leang Pagoda, may close ; if so, rouse someone to let you in.
Worth a Trip
Xa Lon Pagoda
Originally constructed in wood in the 18th century, this amazing Khmer pagoda was totally rebuilt in 1923 but proved to be too small. Between 1969 to 1985 , the present-day big pagoda was slowly constructed as funds trickled in from donations. The ceramic tiles on the exterior of the pagoda are particularly remarkable .
The monks lead an austere life, enjoying breakfast at 6am and seeking alms until 11am, when it takes them an hour for worship . They eat again just before noon, learn in the afternoon and eat no dinner. The pagoda also operates a school for the study of Buddhism and Sanskrit.
It’s located 12km from Soc Trang, towards Bac Lieu, on Hwy 1A.
Festivals & Events
Every year , the Khmer community holds the Oc Bom Boc Festival (called as Bon Om Touk or the Water Festival in Cambodia), with longboat races on the Soc Trang River. Races are held according to the lunar calendar on the 15th day of the 10th moon, which roughly means November. The races begin at noon, but things get jumping in Soc Trang the evening before. The event appeals to visitors from all around Viet nam and even Cambodia, so hotel space is at a premium.
Sleeping & Eating
Soc Trang has lots of hotels but it’s quite difficult to be particularly excited about any of them, and you’re better off keeping on to Can Tho. Few restaurants in Soc Trang have menus in English , and prices are often omitted from the Vietnamese ones.
Que Huong Hotel HOTEL $
( 079-361 6122; 128 Ð Nguyen Trung Truc; r 270,000d, ste 450,000-600,000d) Rooms here are in better shape than the no- nonsense exterior might first suggest. The suites include a sunken bath and a full-size bar, though drinks are not included. There is wi-fi in lobby only.
Quan Hung VIETNAMESE $
(24/5 Ð Hung Vuong; mains 40,000-130,000d) Down a lane off the main road into town, this large, open-sided restaurant is perpetually popular, serving up tasty grilled meat and fish. If there are a few of you, try a hotpot.
Getting There & Away
Buses run between Soc Trang and most Mekong cities. The bus station is on Hwy 1A, near the corner of Ð Hung Vuong, which is the main road into town. The 90-minute ride to Can Tho costs 60,000d; to Bac Lieu, 65,000d; and to Ha Tien, 130,000d.