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Rod Page
10th December 2011, 02:37 PM
​Soc Trang, a lively town with a certain Cambodian feel given the large number of Khmer residing there & its almost 100 Khmer temples, would be our next stop. Our travel there involved the crossing of the newly opened Soc Trang Bridge just out of Can Tho. In 2007 one of the bridge spans collapsed during construction killing 59 & injuring many more:

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We had geared our visit around 'Oc Bom Bac' or the Festival of the Water, a spectacular festival dedicated to the moon & involving the racing of 'ngo' or longboats along the Soc Trang River. People from across Vietnam & Cambodia flock to Soc Trang for the event so much so that Soc Trang's accommodation is fully booked out months in advance.

From 15kms out via all access roads the streets are lined in a non-stop welcoming wave of flags:

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The whole town lights up with associated events - the Rice Festival, a wealth of Khmer performances & food-stalls, a massive amusement park.........roads throughout the city become pedestrian only thoroughfares & its as though the whole town is out walking, out celebrating. Its wonderful, its invigorating:

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Everyone has come to witness the longboat races. For those unable to attend, the races are telecast live! Although the races start at mid-day & are conducted over a 2 day period, spectators take up key vantage spots along the river from dawn; they will not move from their well earned spot come rain, hail or shine (& it poured at times on each of the 2 days). A very significantly sized stand, pointing to the importance of this event, has been constructed from which 'the elite' can view proceedings but the majority span out over the length of the course to cheer on their champions - prizemoney is significant & the competition is correspondingly fierce.

Each longboat is paddled under the patronage of a Chua (Buddhist Temple) & its refreshing to see the monks in their saffron robes sitting in the stand alongside the communist elite in the official stand. Prior to the commencement of the races villagers have placed trays of rice, bananas & coconuts in temples seeking good health & an abundant harvest both on land & at sea from the moon diety.

A look at a 'ngo' to give you a feel of the frenzied ride that lies ahead:

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A more detailed look at several ngo bows to get a sense of the religious significance of the canoe:
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In the next 2 days almost 50 of these craft would race their way up the Song Trang River paddled in both mens & womens divisions in a strenuous 'knock-out' series. To put you firmly in the picture - there are 58 paddlers per vessel, multiply that by the 50 odd teams competing & you start to get an idea of the size of this event!

Rod Page
10th December 2011, 02:46 PM
Awaiting the start of the women's competition (male paddlers are there to support the women's crews & to get that last chance training run):

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The women race, race, race........

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Everyone in the ngo is a woman, from those who paddle, through those setting the tempo, to those baring the canoe (with the possible exception of the person seated, but not paddling, at the bow). Language was a major issue in terms of gaining information but it appeared that such person may well be a benefactor of the ngo concerned. Language also means that it is my guess that the woman's event was conducted over a 1,000m course).

There are up to three ngo, though normally two, in each heat. After each heat the losers are eliminated; the winners paddle gently or are towed by support tenders back to the start & the competition starts again......... until only one ngo remains undefeated.

Due to the number of entries several heats were run for the men following the women's final, the men paddling 1,500m:

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VICTORY is sweet!

Rod Page
10th December 2011, 03:15 PM
Men's Day - the racing is closer, the roar of the crowd deafening, the adrenalin pumps & not just in the ngo. Its a massive day for a massive crowd spilling out right into the river!

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Up to three ngo per heat:

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Those who have finished their heat gather, awaiting the conclusion of the last heat of the series before all the winners return to the start to again match-off:

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Towed back to the start by support tenders:
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The crowd 'moves in':
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A dangerous finish in sight:
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Spectators will not move even in the rain. The red plastic stools can be rented & make viewing easy for tall westerners (although, incredibly, I did not see a single other westerner in Soc Trang in the 4 days we were there):

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Every vantage point is taken up:

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An absolutely fabulous, sensational & spectacular gathering!


(Postscript - you may be able to see a 'cloudy blur' in several of the photos - a fungus which ultimately necessitated that I change the camera lens!)

Davidfl
10th December 2011, 06:47 PM
Hell that looks like quite an amazing colourful & noisy spectacle.
Being the only westerners there must have made the event even more exotic& special; & I don't doubt you enjoyed yourselves to the max.

Rod Page
12th December 2011, 02:23 PM
Outside of Oc Bom Boc, Soc Trang offers a number of attractions to keep you occupied. Its a town rushing towards modernity with side-walk cafes starting to appear:

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Being home to a large Khmer community there are a number of impressive temples around the town:
Chua Doi, more popularly known as the Bat Pagoda, is well worth a visit - set in expansive grounds surrounded by high trees its home to a very large colony of fruit bats. At dawn & before dusk hundreds of these giant bats, some weighing up to 1kl with wingspans approaching 1.50m darken the skies:

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Xa Lon Pagoda is amongst the most memorable temples I've seen in Vietnam. Built from ceramics, the tiles on the pagoda's exterieur are nothing short of stunning:

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As my wife is a keen potter we also visited Chua Det Set, an unusual temple in that its interior is almost totally built from clay & created over a 42 year period by the monk Ngo Kim Tong.

The 6 tusked elephant that appeared to Budda's mother in a dream:
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A 4m high 13 storey tower containing 208 Buddah's each in their own pigeon-hole:
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The altar fashioned from 5 tons of clay where 1000 buddas are seated on the lotus petals:
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We'd come to the Mekong Delta to see the emerald greens of endless ricefields; at last we were not disappointed in the fields that surrounded Soc Trang:

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Rod Page
11th September 2012, 02:17 PM
Oc Om Boc (or Ooc Om Boc) will be celebrated this year on 27th & 28th November, 2012 (by my calculations).

Its a fabulous time to visit Soc Trang if you are travelling in the Mekong Delta at the time & is a great base from which to plan the return leg north offering many choices. Soc Trang hums during this festival.

I mention it now as accommodation is extremely hard to find during the festivities, Soc Trang being totally booked out often months in advance. Confirm the festival dates when making your booking.

Anyone who already knows that they will be in the area at the time is strongly urged to pencil the event in & get accommodation confirmed without delay.

I'll repost the advice again in November for those who are travelling that way at that time by chance, & perhaps oblivious to the fact that this spectacular event is being conducted nearby.

Rod Page
7th September 2013, 12:48 AM
Looks like being bigger than 'Ben Hur' this year with teams invited from Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia & Laos. Dates - 14-17 November, 2013. Check when booking or with your agent (Flamingo is great for dates, bookings, bikes....) as there are many associated events some of which may interest you. This is a truly spectacular event supported by a massive crowd giving tremendous ambience. Letting you know early as the place gets booked out months in advance.

VietHorse
7th September 2013, 12:01 PM
Thanks for your info and pix, Rod Page.
I have heard alot about this event, however haven't got a chance to be there to enjoy the feeling.