Tra Vinh which is one of the most beautiful towns in the Mekong Delta, are still lined with shady trees, harking back to an earlier era. With more than 140 Khmer pagodas dotting the province, Tra Vinh is a quiet destination for exploring the Mekong’s little-touted Cambodian connection. The town itself sees minimal tourist traffic, owing to an isolated place on a peninsula.
Approximately 300,000 ethnic Khmer live in Tra Vinh province. They may seem an invisible minority since they all speak fluent Vietnamese and there’s nothing outwardly distinguishing about their clothing or lifestyle. Dig a bit deeper and discover that Khmer culture is alive and well in these parts of Vietnam. Several its numerous pagodas have schools to teach the Khmer language and many local people here can read and write Khmer at least as well as Vietnamese. Vietnam’s Khmer minority are almost all followers of Theravada Buddhism. Between the ages of 15 and 20, most boys set aside a few months to live as monks (they can decide the length of service). Khmer monks are allowed to eat meat, but cannot kill animals.
Not large but active Chinese community still exists in Tra Vinh nowadays, one of the few such communities that maintain in the Mekong Delta region.
Ba Om Pond & Ang Pagoda BUDDHIST TEMPLE
(Square Lake) Known as Ao Ba Om, this large, square pond surrounded by tall trees is a pleasing place for a stroll. It’s a spiritual destination for the Khmers and a picnic and drinking spot for local Vietnamese. It would have once served as a bathing pond for the 10th-century Angkor-era temple that was located here.
Established on the temple ruins, Ang Pagoda (Chua Ang in Vietnamese; Angkor Rek Borei in Khmer) is a amazing and venerable Khmer-style pagoda, fusing basic Khmer architecture with French colonial influences. The interior features beautifully painted scenes from the Buddha’s life.
Opposite the pagoda entrance is the remarkably presented Khmer Minority People’s Museum (Bao Tang Van Hoa Dan Tac; 7-11am & 1-5pm), which demonstrates photos, costumes and other artefacts of traditional Khmer culture.
Ba Om Pond is 5km southwest of Tra Vinh, along the highway towards Vinh Long.
Ong Pagoda TAOIST TEMPLE
(Chua Ong & Chua Tau; 44 Ɖ Dien Bien Phu) The very ornate, brightly painted Ong Pagoda is a fully fledged Chinese pagoda and a very active place of worship. The red-faced god on the altar is deified general Quan Cong who is believed to provide protection against war and is based on a historical figure, a 3rd century soldier.
The Ong Pagoda was founded in 1556 by the Fujian Chinese Congregation, but has been reconstructed many times. Recent visitors from Taiwan and Hong Kong have raised money for the pagoda’s restoration, which explains why it is in such good shape.
Hang Pagoda BUDDHIST TEMPLE
(Chua Hang, Kampongnigrodha; Ð Dien Bien Phu) This modern Khmer pagoda is also known as the stork pagoda after the great white birds that nest in the tall trees here. It’s an amazing , peaceful complex and the birds are an amazing sight in themselves. You should see them around dusk for the best view. The pagoda is set 6km south of town, approximately 300m past the bus station.
A NIGHT ON THE MEKONG
Spending the night onboard a boat on the Mekong River is a good way to explore more of the waterways that make up this incredible site and helps bring you closer to life on the river.
Besides, there are several companies which offer luxury cruises between My Tho (including transfers from Ho Chi Minh City) and Siem Reap. Pandaw Cruises (www.pandaw.com; 7 nights US$1132-2713) is preferred by high-end tour companies. Compagnie Fluviale du Mekong (www.cf-mekong.com; 5 nights from US$2415) is smaller and is well regarded for its good personal service and tasty food. Taking the competition to a new level of lush are AmaWaterways(www.amawaterways.com; 6 nights US$1599-2599) and Heritage Line (www.heritage-line.com; 7 nights US$3384-8129). When tourists take the longer cruises, it means that you have a lot of time looking at amazing scenery, so it’s arguably better just to opt for a shorter sector such as My Tho to Phnom Penh.
The more interesting options for overnighting on the Mekong consists of the following:
Bassac (0710-382 9540; www.transmekong.com; overnight US$232) Offers a range of beautiful wooden boats for small groups. The standard itinerary is an overnight between Cai Be and Can Tho, but custom routes are possible.
Exotissimo (08-3827 2911; www.exotissimo.com; overnight 4,123,000-12,659,000d) Upmarket tour operator Exotissimo offers a variety of single- or multi-day tours of the delta by boat.
Le Cochinchine (08-3993 4552; www.lecochinchine.com; price on application) Offers cruises on a luxurious converted rice barge and a traditional sampan that are akin to floating hotels. The main routes are Cai Be to Can Tho (overnight) or Cai Be toSa Dec, Vinh Long and Can Tho (two nights). Private trips are available.
Mekong Eyes (0710-246 0786; www.mekongeyes.com; price on application) A stunningly converted traditional rice barge, the name plays on the ever-present eyes painted on fishing boats throughout Vietnam. This stylish boat travels between Can Tho and Cai Be, but is also available for charter.
Tra Vinh Tourist BOAT TOUR
(074-385 8556; 64 Ð Le Loi; 7.30-11am & 1.30-5pm) They can arrange trips to a wide selection of beauty spots around the province, consisting of boat cruises to local islands.
Tra Vinh Palace 2 HOTEL $
(074-386 3999; 48 Ð Pham Ngu Lao; d/tw/tr 180,000/220,000/250,000d) With sparkling rooms and tiled floors and either a bath-tub or a shub, this is a very friendly minihotel that you can take a look at this to book a room . However, there is no window in double rooms , so consider upgrading to a triple.
Hoan My HOTEL $
(074-386 2211; 105A ÐL Nguyen Thi Minh Khai; r 200,000-360,000d) With natty exposed brickwork, polished wooden floors and a lift, this hotel’s trump card is its pricier rooms with oodles of space and balcony.
Tra Vinh Palace HOTEL $
(074-386 4999; www.travinh.lofteight.com; 3 Ð Le Thanh Ton; r 250,000-350,000d) Dominating the corner of a sleepy backstreet, this four-storey hotel is all pink columns, decorative plasterwork, terracotta tiling and balconies. The spacious rooms have high ceilings and mother-of-pearl-inlaid furniture.
Cuu Long Restaurant VIETNAMESE $
(999 ÐL Nguyen Thi Minh Khai; mains from 70,000d) This restaurant, which is rather famous for its extensive English-language menu, is behind the stolid façade of the government-run Cuu Long hotel . Menu includes many delicious salads and soups, and, for the more adventurous, snake and snails.
Cuong Thinh VIETNAMESE $
(18A ÐL Nguyen Thi Minh Khai; mains 30,000-200,000d) Huge open-plan Cuong Thinh, 2km south of town on the road to Vinh Long, is popular for its traditional mains, local and regional favourites and palm-lined ambience.
Vi Huong VIETNAMESE $
(37A Ð Dien Bien Phu; mains 15,000-45,000d) Not expensive, cheerful hole-in-the-wall with wholesome traditional dishes such as sour soup, fish in claypot and pork with rice.
Getting There & Away
Tra Vinh is 65km from Vinh Long and 185km from Hochiminh city. From Ben Tre travellers can reach easily by yet another new bridge and a car ferry across the Co Chien River (per car 35,000d); work has already commenced on a bridge to replace this ferry.
It’s about 5km to go to the south of the town centre on Hwy 54, which is the continuation of the main street, from the bus station (Ben Xe Khach Tra Vinh) , Ð Dien Bien Phu. Buses head to Ho Chi Minh city (85,000d), Cao Lanh (49,000d) and Ha Tien (125,000d).