The Mekong Delta is home to an array of distinctive Khmer pagodas off the beaten
A trip through the region reveals a different side of
Vietnam, one in which farmers
wear traditional Khmer Kroma scarves and Khmer script can be seen on roadsides.
Touring the delta's Khmer pagodas is not only a serene getaway, but also a fascinating way to glimpse Khmer Buddhist culture and architecture not usually
associated with Vietnam.
The Mekong region's 500 Khmer pagodas vary in size and age but all host typical
Khmer architectural traits.
At many of the pagodas, it's not hard to see the architectural relationship to the
legendary Temples of Angkor.
The main hall of a Khmer Pagoda is always at the center of the complex and spans
from east to west as it is believed that the Great Buddha sits in the west and
blesses his disciples in the east.
The length of the pagoda must be twice its width and equal to its height and the
overreach of its roof must match the size of its outdoor floors.
In addition, the embellishments of the pagodas often take the shape of the
isosceles triangle as the form is thought to symbolize perfection.
According to Khmer teachings, enlightenment is symbolized by fire, which often
takes the representative form of the isosceles triangle.
The main hall of a Khmer Pagoda is always a long corridor with four main doors
facing east and west and seven or nine other doors looking north and south.
Another common feature shared by Khmer pagodas is a multi-layered roof with a
vibrantly-colored pointed top.
Although the pagodas bear much architectural resemblance, they each have
distinctive decorative aspects.
One example is Chen Kieu (Bowls) Pagoda, also known as the Salon Pagoda, in Soc
Trang Province's My Xuyen Commune.
The pagoda boasts ornate porcelain designs and glazed terra cotta bowls and plates
on its roofs, pillars and walls.
Its inner sanctum has 16 pillars carved with images taken from Khmer legends while
two walls are carved with pictures depicting the Buddha's path to enlightenment.
Chen Kieu Pagoda also has beautiful carvings of Hanuman, a monkey-god associated
with Hinduism and Khmer Buddhism who saved Vishnu's wife from demons.
The pagoda also features representations of the goddess of hawks, one of Cambodia's
most important deities.
The curvy design of the top roof layer symbolizes freedom while the lower layers
resemble a vast colorful carpet.
Built in 1533, Kh'leang Pagoda is the oldest pagoda in Soc Trang and bears much
architectural similarity to its Cambodian counterparts.
Two oval-shaped stupas housing honored monks' ashes sit near the pagoda gate.
Inside its sanctum are 16 huge gold-inlaid wooden pillars featuring pictures of the
Buddha and Buddhist activities.
Its roof's elaborate carvings symbolize the harmony between the Buddha, humans and
the Jade emperor in Khmer teachings.
The pagoda also boasts an assemblage of artifacts from ancient Khmer settlements.
Another famed Buddhist destination in the province is Doi (Bat) Pagoda, which is
also known as Ma Toc or Mahatuc Pagoda.
The 400-year-old pagoda located at in Soc Trang Town is not only famous for being a
sanctuary for thousands of bats but also for its striking architecture.
There are also clay statues of the tu linh (four sacred animals):, namely Long
(dragon) which stands for power, Ly (Kirin) for peace, Quy (tortoise) for longevity
and Phung (phoenix) for happiness.
Its pillars feature a beautiful nymph named Kemnar while its walls are covered in
pictures gifted by Buddhists from around the country.
The roof tips are sculpted with images of Naga or Niek, the snake god of Khmer
The Hang (Cavern) Pagoda, also known as Kam Pong Chray in the Khmer language, is
another example of Khmer Buddhist architecture, this time in Tra Vinh Province's
Chau Thanh Commune.
The 400-year-old pagoda is one of the more gorgeous structures less frequently
mentioned in travel guides.
Its main hall is covered in elaborate carvings and the pagoda also boasts a
lavishly decorated pointed top with bird-bodied, human-faced deity idols and
intricately embossed sculpture.
Tra Vinh's Ong Met Pagoda, or Wat Kompong in the Khmer language, is a true
architectural standout with elegant reliefs featuring the god Vishnu on the dome of
its main hall.
Vishnu is one of three supreme gods in Hinduism, namely Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva
which signify creation, protection and destruction respectively.
The province is also home to Xiem Can, a century-old pagoda where uniquely Khmer
Buddhist festivals are held.
It has a stupa housing the ashes of revered monks and several small temples dot the
Xiem Can's architecture somewhat resembles Angkor Wat.
Inside the sanctum, statues of the Buddha in various poses and sizes represent the
Buddha's reincarnation in several eras.
The walls of the pagoda's main hall are covered in pictures showing the Buddha's
life from birth - as Prince Gautama, life in the palace, renunciation of his royal
life, and becoming the Buddha.
Can Tho City, the largest municipality in the region, is home to the Munir Ansay
Pagoda on Hoa Binh Street.
The pagoda was built in 1948 and modeled on the Tam Bao (Three Treasures) tower,
which is part of Cambodia's famed Angkor Wat complex.
Munir Ansay is very popular due to its elaborate sculptures.
The province's largest pagoda, it hosts ethnic Khmer festivals each year like Ok Om
Bok (The Moon Prayer Festival on April 13), Chol Chnam Thmay (Khmer Lunar New Year,
April 12-15), and Don Ta ("Amnesty" Festival for the Dead, October 12-14).
There are nearly one million Khmers in Vietnam, concentrated mostly in the
Delta provinces of Soc Trang, Vinh Long, Tra Vinh, Kien Giang, An Giang and Can Tho
Khmer pagodas are both imposing and sacred, an indispensable part of preserving the
traditional arts and culture of the Khmer people.
Between the ages of 11 - 15, most Khmer males set aside a few months or years to
live in the pagodas as monks before adulthood.
Reported by Diem Thu