THE MEKONG DELTA || TRA VINH
It’s only another 65km southeast through some classic delta scenery – vivid green rice paddies, backed by coconut and water palms – to TRA VINH, an outback market town whose broad, tree-lined streets and smattering of colonial piles have yet to see tourists in any numbers. Even if you don’t plan to stay here, it makes an interesting day out from Vinh Long. This region of the delta is Khmer country; as you get nearer to Tra Vinh, distinctive pagodas begin to appear beside the road, painted in rich pastel shades of lilac, orange and turquoise, their steep horned roofs puncturing the sky. Altogether there are over 140 Khmer pagodas scattered around the province.
Most visitors come here to visit the storks at nearby Hang Pagoda, although the town’s low-key charm makes it an intriguing place to spend a day or two. Unusually, Tra Vinh isn’t ostensibly dominated by a branch of the Mekong – you’ll have to journey a couple of hundred metres east of the 800-metre-square grid forming the town centre to find the river. A hike through the market to riverside Bach Dang makes the most engaging approach. The bridge 100m north of the fish market commands great views of the Tra Vinh River, whose eddying waters run canal-straight to the north. In places the river is almost corked by boats moored seven or eight deep.
Just south of the market, at the junction of Pham Thai Buong and Tran Quoc Tuan, the Chinese Ong Pagoda is worth a visit as it’s a very active place of worship and there’s always something interesting going on. North of the town centre up Le Loi, the Ong Met Pagoda is very different, with a Khmer-style roof above colonial arches and shutters: you’re assured of a friendly reception here from the monks studying at its English school. Immediately north is the pretty Tra Vinh Church, an imposing buttressed construction, fronted by a statue of Christ above the entrance, with waves of stonework rippling up its spire.