Hang pagoda, also known as Komong Chray pagoda, in Chau Thanh District in Tra Vinh Province is known not only for its wooden sculptures but also for the noisy bird yard in front of the main temple. Flocks of wild bird gather here all year round, stirring the tranquility of the sacred place.
"Birds are noisy but so cheerful! I always feel lonely without those chattering voices," said Thach Xuong, head monk of Hang pagoda. The old monk happily talks about his hobby of sitting for hours on the terrace to watch wild birds every morning and evening. He has even bought a telescope to better observe them in the high trees.
Occasionally the monk will discover a rare species among the wild birds, "This year, l have seen co quam, a kind of rare stork, several times. I like it a lot," he said.
Visitors to the pagoda will easily understand the monk's love for wild birds if they witness the beautiful scene of hundreds of birds hovering over trees in the red twilight, especially storks and night herons with white feather.
Thach Xuong is trying to keep these big trees as natural shelters for his beloved wild birds. Thanks to his efforts nearly 10 hectares of Hang pagoda is covered with the fresh green of trees and plants, resembling a small jungle. He is unwilling to chop down trees even when the pagoda needs more space for accommodation.
The yard has been a shelter for many kinds of wild bird for over 20 years. They typically fly here on rainy days, which is also breeding season. "Many pigeons choose the yard as their home after they are set free by pilgrims at the pagoda," said the pagoda's cleaner Thach Phia.
Tra Vinh Province has over 140 pagodas surrounded with green gardens or large, old trees. However, the birds have only chosen Hang pagoda and some in Tra Cu District as shelters where they are protected from hunters and other dangers.
Years ago, Hang pagoda was often visited by a large number of bats, like the Doi (bat) pagoda in Soc Trang Province. Unfortunately, the bats have not returned since 1968 due to flurries or random bombs during the war time.
The story of the bat colonies has been a lesson for the head monk Thach Xuong. Some people call him prissy for preventing nearby children from playing in the bird yard. But in fact the monk only wants to provide a safe and calm shelter for birds.
Birds of different species often get into battles for food everyday, accidentally dropping fish and shrimps in the garden. Xuong still tells a story about a neighboring boy who can make many jugs of salted fish from booty collected in the bird yard every morning and night.
Residents living in Hang pagoda often have to take care of young birds hurt in their parents' battles, sending them back to their flocks when they have recovered. Unfortunately, the merciful people feel powerless in protecting the birds from hunters and dangerous living environment.
Wild birds can only live safely in a few places, like the quiet Hang pagoda with green and fresh gardens. "I hope people join us in protecting the bird yard as it is not only a place of worship but also a home for natural birds," Xuong said.