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

SOC TRANG

IDD code: ( + 84 ) 79 / pop 115,000
Soc Trang is the scruffy, workaday capital of Soc Trang province. Khmer people make up about 28% of the population. Although the town itself isn't much, it's a good base for exploring some impressive Khmer temples in the area. Furthermore, there is a colourful annual festival (usually in December) and, if you're in the vicinity at the right time, it's worth your while to catch it.
Soc Trang Tourist ( 131 Ð Nguyen Chi Thanh; 8-11am & 1.30-5pm) is adjacent to the Phong Lan 2 Hotel. The staff are friendly enough, but speak little English and are not all that accustomed to walk-in tourists.
ATMs are available outside the Khanh Hung Hotel and Que Muong Hotel. The post office (Tell: 820 051) is at 1 ÐL Tran Hung Dao.
Sights
KH'LEANG PAGODA
Except for the bright orange paint job, this pagoda (Chua Kh'leang) looks like it's been transported straight from Cambodia. Originally built from bamboo in 1533, it had a complete rebuild in 1905 (this time using concrete). There are seven religious festivals held here every year that are worth seeing - people come from outlying areas of the province for these events. Even outside of festival times, Khmer people drop in regularly to bring donations and pray.
Several monks reside in the pagoda, which also serves as a base for over 150 student monks who come from around the Mekong Delta to study at Soc Trang's College of Buddhist Education across the street. The monks are friendly and happy to show you around the pagoda and discuss Buddhism.
KHMER MUSEUM
This museum (3 Ð Nguyen Chi Thanh; admission free; 7.30-11am & 1.30-4.30pm Mon-Fri) is dedicated to the history and culture of Vietnam's Khmer minority. Indeed, it serves as a sort of cultural centre, and traditional dance and music shows are periodically staged here for larger groups - advance notice is essential.
The Khmer Museum is opposite Kh'leang Pagoda and often appears closed; you may have to rouse someone to let you in
CLAY PAGODA
Buu Son Tu (Precious Mountain Temple) was founded over 200 years ago by a Chinese family named Ngo. Today the temple is better known as Chua Dat Set (163 Đ Mau Than 68). or Clay Pagoda.
Unassuming from the outside, this pa goda is highly unusual in that nearly everything inside is made entirely of clay. These objects were hand-sculpted by the monk Ngo Kim Tong. From age 20 until his death at 62, Tong, an ingenious artisan, dedicated his life to decorating the pagoda. He made the hundreds of statues and sculptures that adorn the interior today.
Entering the pagoda, visitors are greeted by one of Ngo's greatest creations - a six-tusked clay elephant (which is said to have appeared in a dream of Buddha's mother). Behind this is the centre altar, which alone was built from over five tonnes of clay. In the altar are a thousand Buddhas seated on lotus petals. Other highlights include a 13-storey Chinese-style tower over 4m tall. The tower features 208 cubby-holes, each with a mini-Buddha figure inside, and is decorated with 156 dragons.
The pagoda also features two giant candles (200kg and 260cm tall) that burn in honour of the great artist.
Though some of the décor borders on kitsch, the pagoda is an active place of worship, and totally different from the Khmer and Vietnamese Buddhist pagodas elsewhere in Soc Trang. The resident monk, Ngo Kirn Giang, is the younger brother of the artist and a delightful old man to chat with about the pagoda. He speaks excellent French although very little English.
The Clay Pagoda is within walking distance of the town centre. Needless to say, the clay objects in the pagoda are fragile - do not touch.
IM SOM RONG PAGODA
This large, beautiful Khmer pagoda was built in 1961 and is notable for its well-kept gardens. A plaque on the grounds honours the man who donated the funds to build the pagoda. There are many monks in residence here, most of whom are very friendly and happy to chat.
Im Som Rong Pagoda is over 1km east of Soc Trang on the road to My Phuoc Island. When you reach the main gate it's a 300m walk along a dirt track to the pagoda itself.
Festivals & Events
OC BOM BOC FESTIVAL
Once a year, the Khmer community turns out for the Oc Bom Boc Festival, with long boat races on the Soc Trang River. This event attracts visitors from all over Vietnam and even Cambodia. First prize is over US$1000, so it's not difficult to see why competition is so fierce.
The races are held according to the lunar calendar on the 15th day of the 10th moon, which roughly means December. The races start at noon, but things get jumping in Soc Trang the evening before. Hotel space is at a premium during the festival and travellers without a prepaid hotel reservation will probably have to sleep in a car or minibus.
Sleeping
Phong Lan 2 Hotel ( 133 Ð Nguyen Chi Thanh;r 90,000-130,000; Though a bit worn, this is still an OK place to stay, with friendly staff and tidy, airy rooms. Rates include breakfast, and there's massage and sauna service.
Khanh Hung Hotel ( 15 ÐL Tran Hung Dao;r 110,000-341,000d; The Khanh Hung boasts a large indoor-outdoor cafe and trim rooms that range from bare and fan-cooled to air-conditioned and adequately furnished. All rooms have small balconies. There's a lift.
Phong Lan 1 Hotel (124 Ð Dong Khoi; r with/without hot water 150,000/125,000d; This riverside hotel is fair value for its clean rooms. As elsewhere, some rooms lack windows, and street-facing rooms may be noisy.
Ngoc Suong Hotel ( Km 2127 QL1; rUS$20-40,ste US$80; Located 3km outside of town, on the road to Can Tho, this attractive new complex offers light and airy rooms with comfortable furnishings and big windows. There's also a pool and tennis court.
Que Huong Hotel ( 128 Ð Nguyen Trung Truc; r 190,000-390,000d: Run by the People's Committee, this sleek new hotel has comfortable rooms with flat-screen TVs, minifridges, DSL access and sizable windows. There's a good restaurant here, with one of the only English menus in town.
Eating
Most restaurants in Soc Trang do not have English menus, nor are meal prices written anywhere, though no one's likely to gouge you.
Hung (Tell: 822 268; 74-76 Ð Mau Than 68; mains 20,000d; breakfast, lunch & dinner) One of the best places in town, Hung serves delicious grilled meat and fish and always seems to be busy.
Hang Ky (Tell: 612 034; 67 Ð Hung Vuong; mains 20,000-50,000d;breakfast, lunch & dinner) Recommended for its good traditional dishes. Hang Ky is a large, airy space that's quite popular (wedding parties included).
Sao Minh 2 (Tell: 610 836; 115 Ð Ngo Gia Tu; mains 20,000-50,000d; breakfast, lunch & dinner) On the main road into town, Sao Minh 2 is another popular spot, serving tasty xiu mai (marinated pork) among other good selections.
Getting There & Away
Long-distance buses stop at the station on Ð Nguyen Chi Thanh, just down the street from Soc Trang Tourist. Buses run between Soc Trang and most Mekong cities, including Can Tho (20,000d) and Ca Mau (40,000d). Regular vans travel to Ho Chi Minh City (80,000d, around six hours).