Soc Trang province
is located in the Mekong River Delta region near the mouth
of the Bassac River (Song Hau Giang). It is the centre of
an intensive rice-growing area and a crossroad for road
and canal traffic. It’s a poor area (as demonstrated by
the scruffy condition of the provincial capital, Soc Trang
town) with an estimated population of 59,000 just over 200km
from Ho Chi Minh City. The road journey involves two ferry
The main ethnic
communities living in Soc Trang province are the Kin, Khmer
(28%), and Hoya (8%). There are several attractions in and
around the town, including some excellent pagodas.
(‘Maha Tup’ in Kh’mer, but better known as the ‘Bat’ Pagoda)
The original pagoda was built during the 16th century, but
has been renovated several times since. It’s notable for its
architecture, an ancient Buddha statue and a number of Buddhist
books written on sugar palm leaves, but its main claim to
fame is the presence of large numbers of fruit bats. They
have wingspans of more than a metre and roost in the trees
behind the pagoda, resembling large ripe pears as they hang
upside down from the upper branches.
The presence of
the bats has not affected the plants growing in and around
the pagoda (although their droppings can have a marked effect
on tourists’ clothes), and they seem oblivious to the people
wandering around below them. The best time to see them is
in the late afternoon when they fly away to look for food.
This is a fine example of a typical Kh’mer pagoda. Set on
a two-level terrace, the doors and windows are ornamented
with Kh’mer motifs and in bright colours. The interior is
dominated by a large gilded Buddha and there are several interesting
artifacts in dusty display cases. A donation of the box will
The guide books
often say the building is usually locked, which is true. However,
those in the know or travelling with Haivenu, will knock on
the door, whereupon one of the resident monks will appear,
open up, and be delighted to show you round and chat about
the temple, Buddhism and anything else of interest.
Just across the
road is a small Kh’mer museum with some good exhibits relating
to the local culture.
Soc Trang also has a truly unique pagoda. Chua Buu Son Tu
(Precious Mountain Temple) was founded more than 200 years
ago, but is now known as Chua Dat Set (the Clay Pagoda). At
the age of twenty, a devout Buddhist monk called Ngo Kim Tong
devoted the rest of his life and considerable talent to decorating
the temple with clay effigies and objects ranging from the
exquisite to the bizarre. The fruits of his labour over 42
years are a delight.
He is commemorated
by a pair of massive candles lit upon his death in 1970 and only burnt off half way the wax. As there are another four pairs in stock, his memorial
will last beyond 2,100!
Please be generous
with your donations. The Clay Pagoda is a family temple and
thus relies entirely upon the generosity of well-wishers to
cover the considerable costs of maintaining the building and
its remarkable contents.
Im Son Rang
Not far from the town, the Im Son Rang is a recently-built
Kh’mer pagoda in pleasant gardens among the orchards on My
Phuoc Island. The many monks enjoy having visitors. It’s about
a half-hour boat ride.
Soc Trang is a sleepy place apart from December. On the 14th
or 15th day of the tenth lunar month, the local Kh’mers stage
a series of longboat races that attract visitors and competitors
from all over Cambodia and Vietnam. Each boat is carved from
a single tree-trunk, diamond-shaped with curved ends. There's
a substantial cash prize at stake, so it’s a lively event.