by Nguyen Tien Hung
|Floating huts: Above the transparent waters of Thi Tuong Lagoon are numerous rows of stilt houses which resemble pretty bird nests on the vast water. — Photos tuoitre.vn
As the biggest natural lake in the Mekong Delta, Thi Tuong Lagoon in the southern province of Ca Mau has earned a reputation as "a sea on plains".
On contemplating its primitive beauty and listening to the legendary stories told by locals there, the visitors will feel as if they are joining a trip back to the old days when the southern land of the country began to be explored.
Located just a dozen kilometres away from Ca Mau City and surrounded by lush green nipa palms, Thi Tuong Lagoon is formed by three subordinate lagoons, called Inner, Middle and Outer Lagoon.
The lagoon is associated with a renowned legend. It is said that Tuong, a woman whose name that the lagoon is named after, was one of the first people to reclaim the southernmost land of the country.
She courageously protected the water from being filled up with stones by Ho God who took revenge against the King of Ocean. The vestiges of the battlefield can still be seen today, and it has become a shelter for an abundance of fish, which is the main source of income for the local fishermen.
"If one rides a boat around the lagoon, it might startle the fish who could jump into the boat, which is enough for a meal. The fish here is in abundance, especially when Tet (Lunar New Year) approaches," a local boatman says.
|Breaking out of one's shell: Visitors are treated with delicious meals of local specialties.
The most beautiful moment in the lagoon is early in the morning when the whole area is blanketed by a thin fog. As soon as the sun starts to rise, the quiet lagoon seems to wake up, creating a very lovely and peaceful picture of a fairy land against the backdrop of birds singing.
Above the transparent water are numerous rows of stilt houses which resemble pretty bird nests on the vast sheet of water. Each house is located about 100m away from each other, which is utilised to exploit the seafood by each family.
The most outstanding stilt house on the lagoon, which looks like a villa above the water, belongs to Nguyen Van Hung, who is also known as "the king of lagoon" by the local people. If any visitor wishes to spend a night, he can choose to stay at Hung's house.
Hung did not intend to offer homestay services to visitors to his house. His first guests were artists, journalist and backpackers who were charmed by the primitive beauty of the lagoon. By word of mouth, the number of visitors kept increasing, and Hung's house became their stop on the trip while discovering the lagoon.
Despite being amidst the vast expanse of water, his house lacks nothing of modern life, from an ultra-thin TV, a stereo, and even exercise machines. Below the house are two boats that can carry up to 10 people, piggeries, coops, fishes and shrimp cages, just like a small farm on water.
|Prize: Thi Tuong Lagoon boasts an abundance of seafood.
Hung's guests are welcomed with a freshly-roasted blood-cookie, which help to warm their bellies in the cold of spring on the vast water. While tasting the local specialties with spice made from lime juice and salt, the visitors also enjoy interesting stories and local legends told by the host himself.
"We miss the lagoon whenever we have the intention to move to the mainland," Hung says. "We have been living here for over 30 years, and so have our relatives. Each season brings us different kind of fish, like sagor catfish, eeltail catfish or barramundi."
Hung says that the Thi Tuong lagoon has salty water in the dry season and mixed water of both salty and rainwater in wet season. "The fish here is abundant thanks to its special water that is not too salty."
Unlike other tourism destinations, Thi Tuong Lagoon has no restaurants or recreation centres. Instead, the visitors' main source of fun comes from the surrounding peaceful poetic scenery and participation in the daily activities of the locals.
As soon as the sun starts to go down, beaming its last light on the silvery ripples, Hung led his guests to his "water farm" where they could observe or join him in harvesting fish and shrimps from the nets. Such activities are familiar for the locals but might be very strange and interesting to urban visitors.
If his guests wish to, Hung takes them for a ride around Thi Tuong lagoon. The two-hour trip will reveal more about the floating life there while at the same time, visitors will also have the feeling of joining a trip exploring this waterbody of many years ago.
The trip ends with a pleasant meal of local specialties at Hung's house, like sour soup of eeltail catfish, brined eel-tail catfish and especially, crab, the meat of which is lean, sweet and so tasty.
As night gradually descends, the lagoon becomes mysterious and tranquil. The view is even more stunning on a full moon night, when the fragile light of the moon plays on the gentle waves of the lagoon. It is pleasant to contemplate the moon, drinking wine, chatting, neglecting the bustling urban life and gradually falling asleep in the "villa" above the water.
A trip to Thi Tuong Lagoon will certainly leave an unforgettable impression about the life of the locals in Viet Nam's southernmost part, especially how they conquer nature and flourish living in the midst of this vast expanse of water. — VNS