This lively town is famous for its festivals and religious sites. Once part of the Angkor Empire, the entire province is home to 90 Khmer, 47 Chin ese, and 30 Vietnamese pagodas, many of which are in Soc Trang itself. Of the ten annual festi vals held here, the largest is the carniva- lesque Khmer festival, Oc Om Boc, with its famous boat racing. Set in beautiful grounds, Khleang Pagoda is the best-known Khmer temple in town. The mandarin-orange building is topped by a peaked roof with gables, and festooned with colorful gargoyels. The sanctuary is lit by lotus-motif chandeliers, and a gilt Buddha dominates the altar. About 356 ft (200m) east of the Khleang Pagoda, is Chua Dat Set, or Clay Pagoda, populated by fantastic clay figures sculpted by Ngo Kim Tong, also known as the Clay Monk, between 1930 and 1970. Standing guard at the door is an almost life-size statue of an elephant, while a golden lion, giant phoenix, and numerous other beasts contribute to the menagerie of imagery inside the pagoda. The Khmer Museum doubles as a cultural center at times, hosting traditional dance and music recitals. The exhibits at the museum include ethnic cloth- ing, crockery, statues, and even a couple of boats. The building itself is a peculiar blend of Khmer and French-Colonial architecture.
Earning its nickname from the legions of fruit bats living in its dense groves, Chua Doi or Bat Pagoda is 2 miles (4 km) west of town on Le Hong Phong Street. At sunset, the bats take flight, filling the sky like a great screeching cloud. The pagoda’s other highlights are its friendly monks, the graves of the five- toed pigs, and the vibrant murals inside showing scenes from the Buddha’s life. Farther west, 9 miles (14 km) from town, Xa Lon Pagoda began about 200 years ago as a thatched Khmer structure, though it was almost destroyed in 1968 by the intense combat of that year. Today a stout building, with exquisite exterior tilework, it serves as a pagoda as well as a Sanskrit school. Also worth a stop is the handsome, Khmer-style Im Som Rong Pagoda, located about one mile (1.6 km) east of Soc Trang.