by Chieu Anh
The Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta province of Bac Lieu is a symbol of natural bounty with its rice paddies, shrimp ponds and luxuriant orchards.
Picnic time: A longan garden adds a certain charm to the area, which is already popular among locals.
|What's left: The Khmer people's Vinh Hung Tower in Vinh Loi District is one of the most historically significant sites in southern Viet Nam. — VNS Photos
Getting lost in such a green space is a gentle experience even on the hottest of days thanks to the scent of rice, soil and the taste of sweet fruits.
About 6km due east of the Bac Lieu City centre lies a road named after late composer Cao Van Lau, on the right of which stands one of the largest bird sanctuaries in the delta, home to more than 60,000 birds and over 40 species. On the left hand side, the century-old longan garden features the luxuriance and pride of the delta province.
The garden covers an area of over 200ha across the communes of Hiep Thanh and Vinh Trach Dong. It was reportedly established over 100 years ago with longan seeds brought from China by a local resident named Truong Hung and which adapted well to the coastal area.
Today, in a family garden in Chom Xoai Hamlet, Truong Kiet, Hung's great grandson, is still caring for the gigantic longan tree allegedly planted by his great grandfather.
Longans from Bac Lieu are famous for their big fruit, thick and fleshy pulp, small seeds as well as their sweet taste and scent. On average, each tree can produce 300-400kg of fruits each year, helping local growers prosper.
Roads along the longan garden help visitors reach the site easily while farmers have installed a lighting system to keep bats away from the fruit, adding a certain charm to the area, which is extremely popular among locals.
The garden is planned to become a thriving tourist attraction, according to Vu Duc Tho, head of the provincial Culture, Sports and Tourism Department.
"By 2015, we will introduce typical historical features related to the development of the Kinh, Hoa and Khmer ethnic groups," Tho added.
This is part of a provincial eco-tourism development plan to connect the villa of Cong Tu Bac Lieu (the playboy son of a local rich landlord from the early 20th century famous for his extravagant lifestyle), Nha Mat – Hiep Thanh Beach, the longan garden and a coastal mangrove forest.
Vinh Trach Dong Commune additionally plays host to a 300-year-old mango tree 20m in height and believed to have mythical healing powers as well as a ghost as resident.
According to legend, when people first settled in the area, a rampant tiger was terrorising the vicinity. After it got caught in a trap, it supposedly bit off its own leg to escape on the remaining three. After considerably veneration and offerings beneath the magical tree, the tiger never re-appeared.
It is easy to reach ancient Vinh Hung Town in Vinh Loi District if driving on the National Highway from Bac Lieu towards Ca Mau.
The tower is the only vestige in the Mekong Delta to include the Angkor-style architecture of the Khmer. Found in 1911, Vinh Hung Tower, also known as Luc Hien or Bhah Dhat, is one of the most historical sites in southern Viet Nam.
Archaeologists discovered a stele engraved with Sanskrit script in a pagoda next to the tower, dating from AD 892.
The 8,9m-tower was built on a low hill with a simple structure including a rectangle basin and an arching rooftop.
Inside you will find hand made copper Buddhas, the lower body part of a goddess, a statue of a goddess made from green stone, a statue of Brahma, a copper Buddha head and many other items.
Monks at the pagoda chant twice a day at 4am and 4pm. Every year, local residents organise an anniversary on the 15th day of the first lunar month at the tower. A large number of Buddhists inside and outside Bac Lieu Province make pilgrimages to the pagoda to pray.
The holy atmosphere around the tower makes it an ideal place for people to find inner peace and comfort. While time has left its trace on the tower walls, for thousands of years rice fields and orchards have continued growing in the delta province. — VNS