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‘King Lotus’ rules over pagoda

After hearing about giant lotuses with leaves that are 3m wide and thick enough to “carry” a person weighing up to 80kg, we became curious.

Larger than life: The giant lotuses that grow in the ancient pagoda of Phuoc Kien in the southern province of Dong Thap have leaves up to 3m wide and can carry a person weighing up to 80kg.
Larger than life: The giant lotuses that grow in the ancient pagoda of Phuoc Kien in the southern province of Dong Thap have leaves up to 3m wide and can carry a person weighing up to 80kg.

We decided to visit the ancient pagoda of Phuoc Kien, Chau Thanh District in the southern province of Dong Thap, where the lotus grows miraculously large.

The noble beauty of the lotus, the sacred flower of Buddhism, impresses the many tourists who visit the wild wetlands.

While lotuses in the North bloom only in summer, the flower blooms in Dong Thap Province year-round. Lotuses are everywhere, but they are most prominently displayed during floating season (between August and November).

The kind of lotus in Phuoc Kien may be the most special one. Thanks to its big size, it’s called King of Lotus. Local people often refer to it by the name “Lotus Pagoda” because there are many giant lotuses in the ponds.

The pagoda was established in the 18th century. It was the revolutionary base in the two wars of resistance against France and the US, said chief monk Thich Hue Tu.

In addition to offering fruits to Buddha and monks, the local people brought goods and food to soldiers who stayed at the pagoda during the wars.

The pagoda was mostly demolished in 1966 after a US bombing, and then it was rebuilt by the local people.

The King Lotus began growing in ponds that were once wartime bomb craters, wowing locals and monks in the pagoda.

This kind of lotus has big, thick, spiny leaves measuring 1.5m to 2m in diameter. In the rainy season, the leaves can reach 3m wide. Lotus stems are as big as adult wrists.

Transformation: The lotus bud is white in the morning. The flower turns pink and then purple when it’s in full bloom.

The front face of the leaves is glossy green, while the other side has many thorns. Mature leaves can “carry” a person weighing up to 80kg.

“Not only are lotus leaves so special, but its flowers are charming with a pervasive scent,” said Tu. “Lotus flowers bloom twice in three days, and their colour continuously changes.”

The lotus bud is white in the morning, and the flower turns pink when it’s in full bloom. Then it closes and opens again the next day. Each time it blooms, its colour gets darker. The flower is dark purple when it fades.

Monk Tu said experts from Can Tho University had visited the pagoda and researched the lotus. They also scattered seeds for growth in other regions, but the lotus can’t develop like the one grown at the pagoda.

“They said this strange kind of lotus originates from the Amazon, with the scientific name Victoria amazonica or Victoria regia,” Tu said. “Originating from South America, it is the largest of the Nymphaeaceae family of water lilies.”

“After spending time to enjoy sightseeing around the pagoda, they don’t miss the exciting chance to stand on the leaves to take photographs.”

He added, “I suggest that tourists come in September and October of the lunar calendar. It’s a good time to enjoy King Lotus. By then, the leaves are very big and thick, filling the pond surface and allowing people to stand on them. The bridge across the pond will help you stand on leaves easier.”

Unique find: Phuoc Kien Pagoda houses a special kind of lotus called Victoria amazonica, which originated from South America.

In addition to the extraordinary lotus, tourists may feel interested in legends told by the chief monk. One pertains to a crane that once lived at the pagoda.

“I don’t know where it comes from, but it lived at the pagoda and paid attention when I recited the Buddhist scriptures,” said Tu.

He also showed us photos of the crane standing on the lotus leaf. He believes that the crane understood him, as it was obedient when he told it to perch upon the leaf.

The crane left the pagoda when local authorities wanted to bring it to a nature reserve.

Phuoc Kien Pagoda also stores the mummified body of a tortoise. Tu said he raised it since 1948 when he was a novice. The tortoise became his friend. Even after the pagoda was bombed many times, the tortoise left and always remembered the way to return.

The tortoise was eventually caught, but escaped and travelled a few dozen kilometres back to the pagoda.

Nowadays, the monk also raises a few small tortoises by the lotus ponds, which are friendly to guests.

After visiting the pagoda, visitors can feel free to have a vegetarian meal with the monks and listen to old stories relating to the pagoda’s history.

Nguyen Tuyet Loan from HCM City, a Buddhist, visits Phuoc Kien several times a year to see the flowers.

“Located deep in Chau Thanh District, the pagoda is small, concealing itself under a tree canopy,” she said. “Just ask the way to the Lotus Pagoda, and you will be carefully guided by the locals.”

“From Highway 80, you turn on quite quirky riverside roads for two-wheel vehicles only, then across a wooden bridge to get to the village gate. The tranquil space and sound of prayers cover the pagoda’s atmosphere.”

Loan said she always feels peaceful when she comes to the pagoda and is received by the hospitable monks. For her, visiting the pagoda is a way to ease the mind and listen to Buddhist philosophy that helps us to live better and more positive lives, she said.