April, 11 2014 09:25:00

Traditional lotus flowers bring joy to Mekong farmers, tourists

In full bloom: Giant lotus ponds not only provide a source of lotus seed-pods but also a beautiful site for tourists. — VNA/VNS Photo Xuan Chinh

by Ngoc Tai

When trying to find somewhere to go during weekends, one of my friend suggested making a trip to the Dong Thap Muoi (Plain of Reeds), 165km west from HCM City, to watch lotuses in full bloom. Curious, my friends and I later drove down to the "Land of Lotuses".

Residents in Thap Muoi in Dong Thap Province treat the sacred Buddhist flower as a wonder plant that provides seed pods and roots for sale. The ponds themselves are also a tourist attraction.

Driving through cajuput forests surrounding Go Thap Relic in My Hoa Commune, we can smell fragrant perfume from the lotus in the air. Eventually, we came to an amazing lake full of pink lotus. The colourful scene spreads for more than two kilometres.

It is part of the Thap Muoi Lotus Field tourism area in the commune. A visitor, Le Thi Ngoc, wearing an ao dai and a traditional conical hat (non) beams with joy as she is photographed against the pink and green background. "Whenever I visit the lotus ponds, all my troubles seem to go away. I wish time would stand still so that I can stay among the fragrant scent forever," she said.

Ngoc said that she first learned about the lotus ponds when visiting a Facebook page on tourism. She read many reviews by young people about the tour. She then visited the ponds, taking plenty of photos to share online.

"A local told us that tourists could become farmers for a day in the flood season from August to November," she said. "They are allowed to go by boat to collect lotus roots and seeds, which are good for making pudding. The kernels of the seeds are a natural sleeping pill.

"If they decide to also catch some fish or frogs, pond owners will help prepare typical country dishes, such as grilled snake-head fish wrapped in lotus leaves, or grilled frog combined with lotus-stem salad. And, of course, the drink for the feast will be pink lotus wine.

Natural art: The amazing scene spreads over two kilometres with images of pink blossoms dancing under the sun. — VNA/VNS Photo Ngoc Nhu

The tourist areas are newly established. Prices are cheap. Visitors pay VND10,000 (5 US cents) to buy a ticket. They can also rent ao dai or colourful ao ba ba (traditional shirt used by women in the south) to pose for photos. Tourists are delighted that for about VND100,000 (US$5) they can buy an entrance ticket and also have a great meal.

Bui Van Kiet, one of the owners of the Thap Muoi ponds, has spent his whole life with the lotus. However, he had never thought of developing the industry into a tourist business until a group of young people made the suggestion last year.

He agreed, despite of the fact that the concept was too ambiguous for him. The youngsters prepared the basic infrastructure for tourism while retaining the natural beauty of the lotus ponds. "My homeland has long been famous for beautiful lotuses. Now, I am happy to widely share the beauty," Kiet said.

Sight for sore eyes: Lotus-growing areas in the district have become a tourist attraction. — Photo dongthap.com

Pham Thi My Hanh, one of pioneering young people who offered Kiet the novel business opportunity, joined in opening the new tourism area. After visiting the ponds many times, she realised the tourist potential of the district had had never been tapped.

So, they spoke to farmers about developing a community-based tourist area. Now, the area attracts more than 200 visitors a day during weekends.

Besides the Thap Muoi Lotus Field, five similar sites have been opened. Hanh said that her group was thinking about linking up with nearby tourist attractions as the lotus blooming season lasted only for about two or three months.

She said that Tram Chim National Park in Tam Nong District, also in Dong Thap, was about 40km away from the lotus ponds and attracted thousands of visitors a year to watch birds, go sailing or become lotus farmers for a day.

Vice chairman of Thap Muoi District People's Committee, Dinh Minh Dung, said the district was planning to turn all the lotus growing areas in the district into tourist developments. — VNS

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