A Khmer tribute to the Buddha in the Mekong Delta

By Huynh Phuong   February 26, 2020 | 11:39 pm PT
The Bat Pagoda gets its name for hosting thousands of bats on its premises, but its Khmer heritage is its real distinctive feature.

The Bat (Doi) Pagoda, also known as Ma Toc or Mahatup, is located about 3 km southeast of downtown Soc Trang Town in Ward 3. The pagoda is a place of worship for devout Buddhists, most particularly from the Khmer community. It is also a social space for the community where traditional festivals are held.

The Bat Pagoda was recognized as a national cultural and historical relic site in 1999. Its main hall is surrounded by a grove of many old trees.


Two foreign tourists pass by the pagoda’s main hall on February 16.

The number of visitors to the pagoda has dropped recently as people concerned about the novel coronavirus outbreak stay away.


Venerable Lam Tu Linh, deputy abbot of the pagoda, said that it was first built in 1569 with a thatched roof and simple decorations. It has gone through several renovations to become the spacious place of worship people get to see today.

The pagoda carries a lot of uniquely Khmer characteristics including its architecture, the Sala (an open pavilion used for worship), stupas and a stilt house for monks to rest and study.


The creature that gives the pagoda its name.

An adult bat has a wingspan of 1 - 1.5 m and weight of 0.5 - 1 kg. At dusk, the bats fly away to find food and return at around 3 - 4 a.m. the next morning.

Venerable Linh said that until a few decades ago, hundreds of thousands of bats could be seen perching on branches, but now their numbers have decreased greatly due to hunting.

"The sight of thousands of bats flying in the sky every evening has become a memory now."


In the pagoda’s courtyard, a woman kneels and offers incense to the 1.5-meter high Gautama Buddha statue made of monolithic stone with a pedestal decorated with typical Khmer motifs.


A novice monk burns incense inside the pagoda.


Novice monks read by the pagoda's windows. Next to them are columns with embossed statues of Khmer maidens praying.


Novice monks carry rice bags that have just been harvested for the winter-spring crop. The image of monks harvesting rice or helping with the pagoda's construction is a common sight in the region.


A monk shows a guest a small boat model next to a life-sized one.

Every pagoda in the area has a boat about 22 - 27 m long that is used to participate in the local boat race held on the 15th of every 10th lunar month.

Photos by Dinh Cong Tam, Trieu Hon Vo

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