|Racing the clock: Local salt makers rush to collect salt because a downpour is enough to ruin the whole field. — Photos www.vamvo.com
Central Viet Nam is famous across the world for its magnificent beaches with vast pristine-white sandbanks and perfect summer temperatures the year round.
Tourists from far and near come to these pockets of paradise to take a dip in the blue crystal-clear water and enjoy their leisure time, regardless of whether it is winter or summer elsewhere in the world.
However, not many know that they can also visit the immense salt fields, sparkling under the burning sun of the central region. The fields have drawn the interest of many travellers – including me – who are curious about the local life.
During the trip to Ly Son Island – a gem of the East Sea in Quang Ngai Province – before heading back home to Ha Noi, our group spent half a day visiting the Sa Huynh salt field in Pho Thanh District, in Duc Pho Town, a well-known field in the past.
I still remember the trip to the salt field at the end of March. The fields were divided into squares, and were glittering in the sun as if they were filled with gems. It was the beginning of the season, and the first load of sea water sitting in the squares for the past three days had started to ‘ripen', yielding the first coarse grains of fresh white salt.
We stood on the edges of the field squares, nearly holding our breath, to observe the scene in front of our eyes.
|Glimmering gems: When the salt starts to crystallise, the local people start the harvest process.
From noon to 1pm, the local people came to the field and checked the salt concentration. They patiently checked their future products with bent backs, notwithstanding the raging sun. The more sunshine the fields got, the faster the salt was created. The seemingly uncomfortable sunshine turned out to be nature's gift to the local people, promising a successful season with fresh white grains of salt.
Nguyen Hai, a veteran salt maker with 40 years of experience, tasted a grain of salt and let it dissolve on the tip of his tongue, saying, "Good! The taste shows the sea is not polluted. There's no contaminant in the salt."
After pouring some water over the newly crystallised salt to keep them fresh, Hai invited us to the hut nearby for a cup of tea. His generosity and friendliness with the tea truly cooled all of us down amid the vast salt field in the hot weather.
The short conversation at noon with Hai and other local workers in the salt fields haunted us for a long time. The Sa Huynh salt fields are the largest and the most important ones along the coastline in central Viet Nam.
Established in the 19th century, the local people around the Sa Huynh salt fields mastered the production process and founded the village dedicated to the craft. The area has no less value compared with other salt-producing places in the central region such as Ca Na or Hon Khoi.
"We sacrifice our comfort in the harsh weather to ensure the best quality of our product. The harsher the sun, the better the salt quality," Kieu Thi Diem, a local resident, said.
"Sunshine is never enough for us, and yet just a downpour of rain is enough to ruin the whole field. It is heartbreaking to see a field that is full of ripe salt ready to be harvested dissolving in the rain."
"Looking at the beautiful sparkling salt fields in Sa Huynh, I didn't imagine the salt-making craft to be that strenuous and risky," my friend Nguyen Thu Ha said.
At about 2pm, when the salt started to crystallise, the local people didn't waste a minute in starting the harvest process. Fresh salt was collected as large white piles, reflecting the sunshine and sparkling as a gift from the sky.
As dusk fell, all the local workers, with baskets full of freshly made salt on their shoulders, happily walked to the salt storage area. Their faces were filled with joy and satisfaction after a long day's work with great results.
"I have to say that all the local people working in the salt fields look so small amid the vast landscape of the ocean and the eternal murmur of waves. But I can feel their bursting vitality and powerful efforts for growth and a better life," Nguyen Tuan Anh, a member of our group, said.
I told myself that I was lucky to take this fleeting trip to the these salt fields, which has left a strong impression on me about the scenery and people in central Viet Nam for years to come. — VNS