|Shapely: A shop selling grapefruit wine inside the Nam Hue Resort.
by Thu Ngan
Tan Trieu village is only 60km away from HCM City, but might well be on a different planet with its clean air, greenery, and hectare after hectare of pomelo orchards.
To reach the place, drive down Ha Noi Highway to Bien Hoa and turn into Dong Khoi Street. The journey takes just more than hour.
It is on an island of the same name in Tan Binh commune, Vinh Cuu District, and is surrounded by canals that are fed by the Dong Nai River.
You know you have arrived when the subtle perfume of pomelo flowers wafts along and pomelo trees throw their cool shade on both sides of the road.
There are grapefruit trees everywhere you turn.
The Tan Trieu pomelo, or buoi duong la cam, has for long been famous, and southerners immediately recognise the name because they often eat it. During Lunar New Year many people make offerings of it at their ancestors' altars.
|High in flavour: Pomeloes feature prominently in Tan Trieu.
Locals claim it is the only pomelo variety that is tasty when planted in that soil. To even things out a bit, buoi duong la cam grown elsewhere is not tasty.
Ngo Van Than, chairman of the Tan Trieu Pomelo Co-operative, said: "It is very strange. Farmers from other villages and provinces have come to us to get technology and seeds but in vain.
"Buoi duong la cam planted in Tan Trieu is sweet and a little sour, but when planted in other places, it is sour like lemons.
"When we bring other pomelo seeds to plant in our village, they are not good. Maybe the soil and water in Tan Trieu island are only good for buoi duong la cam," he said.
Vu Manh Ha of the South-East Fruit Research Centre, who has researched about the pomelo, said locals have grown and lived with the fruit trees for a long time.
|Balancing act: Two young people try to walk on tree-trunk bridge while their friends cheer them up. — VNS Photos Thu Ngan
He said it began in the 1860s.
"A [Catholic] priest brought two grapefruit trees from Brazil to plant in this church. It bore very delicious fruits, and the priest gave them to locals to plant in their own gardens.
"Since then, for more than a century, the pomelo has been famous and become a speciality of Dong Nai."
The village is divided into two by a road, and locals say the quality and taste of the fruits are different on either side of it.
"We do not know why but the difference is palpable," they say.
"On one side the taste is strong, on the other it is less so."
After the village became popular as a place to visit, locals turned the pomelo gardens into eco-tourism areas, where farmers provide an authentic experience about growing the fruits and tell tales about the village.
We chose Nam Hue Resort to rest and try grapefruit dishes.
It is a cool place with huts along the river so that visitors can eat, lie on hammocks, and admire the beauty of a Dong Nai River tributary.
The more restless types can go fishing or take a walk on a cau khi, or tree-trunk bridge, a famous import from the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta.
In the delta, people lash two bamboo poles together and tie them to upright poles on either bank of a river or canal and use the horizontal poles as a bridge. A pole is also tied horizontally at around shoulder height to cling to while crossing.
The foods are made from pomelo skin and flesh.
Goi buoi (pomelo salad) is one of most delicious dishes, and is made by mixing the grapefruit with shrimp and a slew of ingredients like chilli, onion, sugar.
Another tasty dish, one that children are sure to like, is fried grapefruit skin. The skin is dipped in wheat batter and deep fried until it is crisp.
One can drink a glass of grapefruit juice to relax under the heat of the southern sun, or pomelo wine if you want something stronger.
Nam Hue, the owner, said he experimented with making wine for many years before succeeding, and his products are now extremely popular.
After the meal it is time for a tour around the island by boat.
It takes more than an hour, but the greenery and the waters make for a breathtaking sight.
On Saturday nights there are singers who sing traditional southern songs for visitors during dinner.
After a hectic working week in HCM City, the pomelo island makes for a great one-day weekend getaway.
For many, it might also be an opportunity to relive childhood memories of growing up in rural areas. — VNS