VIETNAM TRAVEL

 

Mekong Delta

My Tho - Around My Tho - Ben tre - Around Ben Tre - Vinh Long - Tra Vinh - Around Tra Vinh - Sa Dec - Cao Lanh - Around Cao Lanh - Can Tho - Soc Trang Around Can Tho - Around Soc Trang - Bac Lieu - Around Bac lieu - Ca Mau - Around Ca Mau - Nam Can - Long Xuyen - Around Long Xuyen - Chau Doc - Around Chau Doc - Ba Chuc - Tuc Dup Hill - Ha Tien - Around Ha Tien
Hon Chong - Rach Gia - Phu Quoc Island

AROUND SOC TRANG

Bat Pagoda
This is one of the Mekong Delta's most unusual sights and has become a favourite stop-off for both foreign and domestic tourists. The Bat Pagoda (Chua Doi) is a large monastery com pound. Upon entering through an archway, you'll almost immediately hear the screeching of the large colony of resident fruit bats. There are thousands of these creatures hanging from the fruit trees. The largest bats weigh about 1kg and have a wingspan of about 1.5m.
Fruit bats make plenty of noise - in the morning the din is incredible (likewise the smell). The bats are not toilet trained, so watch out when standing under a tree, or bring an umbrella. In the evening the bats spread their wings and fly out to invade orchards all over the Mekong Delta, much to the consternation of farmers, who are known to trap the bats and eat them. Inside the monastery the creatures are protected and the bats seem to know this -no doubt this is why they stay.
The best times for visiting 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 go foraging.
The monks are very friendly and don't ask for money, though it doesn't hurt to leave a donation. The pagoda is decorated with gilt Buddhas and murals paid for by over-seas Vietnamese contributors. In one room there's a life-size statue of the monk who was the former head of the complex. There's also a beautifully painted Khmer longboat here of the type used at the Oc Bom Boc Festival.
Behind the pagoda is an odd tomb painted with the image of a pig. It was erected in memory of a pig with five toenails (usually pigs have only four toenails). It died in 1996, but two other rare pigs with five toenails have survived and are being raised by the monks. These pigs are not for eating - they are pets.
There's a small restaurant just opposite the Bat Pagoda.
The Bat Pagoda is about 4km west of Soc Trang. You can catch a motorbike taxi or easily walk there in under an hour. About 3km out of town towards the pagoda the road splits into two - take the right fork and continue for 1km.

Xa Lon (Sa Lon) Pagoda
This magnificent, classic Khmer pagoda is 12km from Soc Trang, towards Ca Mau, on Hwy 1. The original wooden structure was built over 200 years ago. In 1923 it was completely rebuilt, but proved to be too small. From 1969 to 1985, the present-day large pagoda was slowly built as funds trickled in from donations. The ceramic tiles on the exterior of the pagoda are particularly stunning.
As at other pagodas, the monks lead an austere life. They eat breakfast at 6am and beg for contributions until 11 am, when they hold a one-hour worship. They eat again at noon and study in the afternoon - they do not eat dinner.
At present around 25 monks reside here. The pagoda also operates a school for the study of Buddhism and Sanskrit - the language of all original books about Buddhism.

My Phuoc Island
A 15km journey east of Soc Trang brings you to the Hau Giang River. From there it's a short boat ride to My Phuoc Island. It's an isolated spot very suitable for growing fruit. The local government tourist agency likes to bring foreigners here for tours of the orchards. You can do it yourself, though this is a little complicated since you'll need a motorbike to get to the river.