Nineteen kilometres from Phan Rang there's a Buddhist temple in a remote location, nestled up against the hillside.
It's still something of a work-in-progress -- on our visit they were developing the grounds with Buddhist statuary and seemed to be blocking out space for a lot more to come. The temple itself is not very old, but its chief virtue is that it's a working temple, not a relic, and a good place to experience Buddhist religious practices in Vietnam.
The trick to getting the most out of a temple visit is to show up at 11:00. This is when the monks are having lunch -- their final meal of the day, by the way. After noon, they don't eat anything. Maybe a little tea, but that's it. If you show up at meal time the staff will, without fail, ask you to sit and eat with them (don't try to eat with the monks!). The monks here are nuns, and if you feel like chipping in a couple of dong for the meal, find the head nun and place the bills on the mat in front of her -- especially if you are a guy, don't try to hand the bills to her directly.
After the meal they'll head into the temple for a long session of chanting and prayer, accompanied by faithful lay Buddhists who have shown up for worship. You're welcome to kneel down and join in and they'll happily show you the ropes. In addition to the statuary being added to the grounds, there's a temple up on the hill -- it's not a long climb, but if you attempt it at high noon in hot weather, you'll definitely experience what the Buddha was talking about when he said, Life is suffering.
How to get there
To get here, head north on Thong Nhat St from Phan Rang until you reach kilometre 16 (the marker reads 'P. Thiet 132' on the side you'll see first.) Look for a road to the left and a small sign that reads 'To Dinh Tra Canh'. If you reach the Petrolimex petrol station you've gone too far. The dirt road leads three kilometres to the temple -- it's a bit tricky, so take it slow, drive around the watery bits and watch out for the sandy bits.
Last updated on 23rd May, 2007.