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

TRA VINH

IDD code: ( + 84 ) 74 / pop 96,000
Boasting more than 140 Khmer temples scattered about the province, Tra Vinh is a quiet place for exploring the Mekong's little-touted Khmer connection. The town itself is fairly quiet and sees little tourist traffic, owing to its somewhat isolated location on a peninsula. Getting there is a straight up and back trip, because no car ferries cross the rivers here (motorbikes can be ferried by small boats).
About 300,000 ethnic Khmer live in Tra Vinh province. At first glance they might seem to be an invisible minority since they all speak fluent Vietnamese and there's nothing outwardly distinguishing about their clothing or lifestyle. However, digging a little deeper quickly reveals that Khmer culture is alive and well in this part of Vietnam. Many of its numerous pagodas have schools to teach the Khmer language - many Tra Vinh locals can read and write Khmer at least as well as Vietnamese.
Vietnam's Khmer minority are almost all followers of Theravada Buddhism. If you've visited monasteries in Cambodia, you may have observed that Khmer monks are not involved in growing food and rely on do-nations from the strictly religious locals. Here in Tra Vinh, Vietnamese guides will proudly point out the monks' rice harvest as one of the accomplishments of liberation. To the Vietnamese government, nonworking monks were seen as parasites. The Khmers don't necessarily see it the same way and continue to donate funds to the monasteries surreptitiously.
Between the ages of 15 and 20, most boys set aside a few months or years to live as monks (they decide themselves on the length of service). Khmer monks are allowed to eat meat, although they cannot kill animals.
There is also a small but active Chinese community in Tra Vinh, one of the few remaining in the Mekong Delta region.
Information
Tra Vinh Tourist ( 64 Đ Le Loi; 7.30-11am & 1.30-5pm) is probably the friendliest outfit in the Mekong. The staff can provide regional travel info and book various trips to sites around the province, though the boat trips are the most interesting. A good map (Tra Vinh Yellow map, 12,000d) of the town and province is available here.
There's an ATM at Cuu Long Hotel. Incom-bank (Tell: 863 827; fax 863 886; 15 A Ð Dien Bien Phu) exchanges foreign currencies and handles Visa cash advances.
Sights
ONG PAGODA
The very ornate, brightly painted Ong Pagoda (Chua Ong & Chua Tau; cnr Ð Pham Thai Buong & Ð Tran Quoc Tuan) is a 100% Chinese pagoda and still a very active place of worship. The red-faced god on the altar is deified general Quan Cong. He is believed to offer protection against war and is based on a historical figure, a soldier of die 3rd century. You can read more about him in the Chinese classic The Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
The Ong Pagoda was founded in 1556 by the Fujian Chinese Congregation, but has been rebuilt a number of times. Recent visi-tors from Taiwan and Hong Kong have con-tributed money for the pagoda's restoration, which is why it is in such fine shape.
ONG MET PAGODA
The chief reason for visiting the large Khmer Ong Met Pagoda (Chua Ong Met) is its accessibility - it's right in the centre of town. The friendly monks will happily show you around.
BA OM POND & ANG PAGODA
Known as Ao Ba Om (Square Lake), this idyllic, square-shaped pond is surrounded by tall trees and makes for a pleasant respite from the city noise. It's a spiritual site for the Khmers and a picnic and drinking spot for local Vietnamese.
More interesting is the nearby Ang Pagoda (Chua An in Vietnamese; Angkor Rek Borei in Khmer), a beautiful and venerable Khmer- style pagoda. Opposite the pagoda entrance is the nicely presented Khmer Minority People's Museum (Bao Tang Van Hoa Dan Tac; admission free; 7-11am & 1-5pm Fri-Wed), which displays photos, costumes and other artefacts of traditional Khmer culture.
Ba Om Pond is 7km southwest from Tra Vinh along the highway towards Vinh Long.
HANG PAGODA
This modern Khmer pagoda is also known as the stork pagoda owing to the great white birds that nest in the tall trees here. Although the pagoda itself is modern and painted in soft pastels, the birds are a worthwhile sight if you come at the right time - around dusk during the rainy season. The monks here are particularly friendly and eager to practice their English skills. Chua Hang is located 6km south of town on Ð Dien Bien Phu.
UNCLE HO TEMPLE
The highly unusual (particularly in these southern parts) Uncle Ho Temple “Den Tho Bac; 7-11am & 1-5pm) is dedicated, of course, to the late president Ho Chi Minh, and contains a shrine to Ho as well as a small museum displaying photos of his life. The temple was built in 1971, while the war was still in progress, and there's a downed US aircraft on the grounds. The Uncle Ho Temple is at Long Duc com-mune, 5km north of Tra Vinh town.
THE PLIGHT OF THE KAMPUCHEA KHMER
Visitors to some Mekong provinces may be surprised to find Khmer towns whose inhabitants speak a different language, follow a different brand of Buddhism and have a vastly different history and culture than their Vietnamese neighbours. Though the Khmer are a minority in the Mekong, they were the first inhabitants here, with an ancestry going back at least 2000 years.
The Kampuchea Krom (meaning 'lower Cambodia') is the unofficial Khmer name for the Mekong Delta region, whose indigenous inhabitants are the Khmer Krom, an ethnic minority living in Southern Vietnam. The Khmer Krom trace their origins back to the 1st century AD, to the founding of Funan, a maritime empire that stretched from the Malay peninsula to the Mekong. Archaeologists believe Funan was a sophisticated society that built canals, traded in precious metals and had a high level of political organisation as well as agricultural know-how. Following the Funan came the Chenia empire (630-802), the mightiest ever in Southeast Asia, and then the Khmer Empire (which saw the creation of Angkor Wat among other great achievements). By the 17th century, however, the empire was in ruins. This was also the time of rising power for their northern rivals, when the Vietnamese empire, under rule from Hue, began expanding south - conquering first the Cham empire before setting their sights on Khmer lands in the Mekong Delta. According to some historians, there were around 40,000 Khmer families living around Prei Nokor when the Vietnamese arrived in the 1600s. This was an important port of the Khmers that was rechristened in 1698 as Saigon. Waves of Vietnamese settlers populated the city as other colonists continued south. Prior to their arrival there were 700 Khmer temples scattered around South Vietnam. Over the next century the Khmer Krom fought and won a few victories in the region, expelling the intruders, only to lose their gains in new rounds of attacks.
When the French subjugated Indochina in the 19th century, the hope of an independent Kampuchea Krom would be forever destroyed. Although the ethnic Khmer were a majority in Southern Vietnam at that lime, the French didn't incorporate the colony with Cambodia but made it a separate protectorate called Cochinchina. When the French were finally driven out in 1954, the delta was incorporated into the state of South Vietnam. Since then, the Vietnamese have adopted a policy of integration and forced assimilation (adopting Vietnamese family names and the Vietnamese language among other things). According to the Khmer Kampuchea-Krom Federation, many atrocities have been committed against the minority in the last four decades, and the Khmer Krom continue to suffer persecution. They report difficult access to Vietnamese health services, religious discrimination (Khmer Krom are Theravada Buddhists, unlike Vietnam's Mahayana Buddhists) and also racial discrimination. The Khmer are the poorest segment of the population. Even their numbers remain a contentious topic. Vietnam reports one million Khmer Krom, which are called 'Nguoi Viet Goc mien' (Vietnamese of Khmer origin) by Vietnamese officials, while KKF claims there are seven million Khmer living in Southern Vietnam.
Sleeping
BUDGET
Phuong Hoang Hotel (Tell: 858 270; 1 Ð Ie Thanh Ton, r 50,000-176,000; Rooms behind the thin bam-boo doors range from dingy to grim. There s no hot water.
Phuong Dong Hotel (Tell: 865 486; 1A Ð Pham Dinh Phuong; r 65,000-125,000; Another grubby cheapic, with hot water and very basic rooms.
MIDRANGE
Hotel Van Tham (Tell: 858 959; 151 Ð Le loi; r 150,000-180,000d; Above the market. Hotel Van Tham has clean, light-blue rooms and kind-hearted staff. The worst rooms are small and windowless; the best are spacious with balconies (US$2 spells the difference).
Hoan My Hotel (Tell: 862 211; fax 866 600; 105A Ð Nguyen Thi Minh Khai; r 160,000-340,000d; This tall, slender hotel has a horse painting in the lobby and trim, pleasantly furnished rooms with dark wood furniture, good natural lighting and glass shower stalls.
Tra Vinh Palace Hotel (Tell: 864 999; fax 863 005; 3 Ð le Thanh Ton; r 180,000-280,000; Set with a plant-filled courtyard, the Palace features attractive details, making for a pleasant overnight. The best rooms are spacious with tall ceilings, balconies and solid furniture.
Luu Luyen Hotel (Tell: 842 306; 16 Đ Nguyen Thi Minh Khai; r180,000-280,000d, ste 390,000d; This new hotel has a range of nicely outfitted rooms with a dash of style. A good restaurant is next door. It's located 2km south of downtown on the road to Vinh Long.
Thanh Tra Hotel ( 1 Ð Pham Thai Buong; rUS$ 13-27; This big, central hotel has comfortable and clean rooms and draws occasional tour groups.
Cuu long Hotel ( 999 Ð Nguyen Thi Minh Khai; r US$17-27, ste US$37; The three-star Cuu Long has a range of comfortable, bright rooms; the best have balconies, pretty wood furniture and bathrooms with tubs. There's a lift.
Eating
Vi Huong (Tell: 865 738; Ð Phan Dinh Phung; mains 10,000d) A cheap place doing simple Vietnamese dishes, including sour soup, fish in a clay pot and pork with rice.
Phuong Nam (Tell: 853 511; Ð Chau Van Tiep; mains 12,000-18,.000d) The spot for excellent barbecued and clay-pot dishes.
Cuong Thinh (Tell: 848428; 18A Ð Nguyen Thi Minh Khai; mains 15,000-60,000d) This pleasant, open-sided place is popular for its traditional mains and palm-lined ambience. It's 2km south of town on the road to Vinh Long.
Tuy Huong (Tell: 858 312; Ð Pham Thai Duong; mains 20,000-30,000d) Serves good Vietnamese and Chinese fare amid simple but not unpleasant ambience.
la Trau Xanh (Tell: 862 615; 999 Ð Nguyen Thi Minh Khai; mains 20,000-60,000d) One of the town's best restaurants. La Trau Xanh sits behind the Cuu Long Hotel and offers rich dishes like steamed seabass and shrimp in coconut sauce.
Viet Hoa (Tell: 863 046; 80 Ð Tran Phu; mains 30,000d) Run by a friendly Chinese family, Viet Hoa is justly famous in town, serving some of Tra Vinh's best dishes (try the fish kebab or a hotpot to share).
Getting There & Away
Tra Vinh is 65km from Vinh Long and 205km from HCMC. Buses to HCMC depart regularly (60,000d, 41/2 hours) from Tra Vinh's intercity bus station on Đ Nguyen Dang, on the south side of town.