|Bright future: Chrysanthemums are one of the many flower varieties grown in the village of Sa Dec. — VNS Photos Thanh Nhan
|Pick of the bunch: Lai Vung mandarins are famed throughout the country for their juicy sweetness.
|Pink-tipped perfection: Lotus flowers adorn Dong Thap Muoi (Plain of Reeds). — VNS Photos Thanh Nhan
|Birds of a feather: Wading birds such as storks, herons and cranes are a common sight at Tram Chim National Park.
|Flight of fancy: A flock of storks takes to the air at Gao Giong bio-tourism site.
|Floating around: Foreign tourists take it easy at Xeo Quyt tourism site. VNS Photo Lam Vien
The Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta province of Dong Thap has a myriad attractions, ranging from its luxuriant landscape and rare and exotic animals and plants to its myriad temples and bustling markets. Ha Nguyen
Visiting the provinces of Viet Nam's Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta is the dream of many, and the region welcomes millions of visitors and travellers every year, says Tran Thang Vinh, director of the Dong Thap Province's Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism.
The province recently welcomed a group of South Korean travellers led by Kim Tae-soo, who said his group of six had chosen Dong Thap as their first Delta tour because they wished to discover the untouched natural landscapes as well as the cultural and historical sites.
Their first leg was a boat ride to the Gao Giong bio-tourism area in Cao Lanh District.
Located about 17km north of the district, the 36 ha site is home to many rare and valuable species of animals.
Before entering the site, Kim and his group were given binoculars invited to the top of an 18-m high observatory.
From here, the guests took in the scenery of the area before getting back on the boat.
Immediately, Kim and his group were interested in the diversity of birds such as teels, herons and storks. The most common were the storks who seemed to take over the cajeput forests.
"Some of them landed on our shoulders," said Kim.
Their tour guide Huynh Van Thom said what they were seeing could be the largest flock of storks in Dong Thap Muoi or Plain of Reeds.
"At sunrise or sunset, the site is much livelier with the sounds of birds calls and the many stork groups flying in different directions back to their nests," Thom said.
"During the dry season, white storks seek food from the fields, creating a quaint and beautiful scene."
Thom said Gao Giong was also the largest fish farm in the Plain of Reeds, with more than 30 tonnes per quarter of anabas and macropodus.
Kim and his group decided to camp at a corner of the forest near the fish farm. They were excited to fish and cook at the spot.
"The fish are so tasty and delicious. It is unforgettable for us all," said Kim.
The next day, the group moved to Sa Dec Village of flowers and bonsai located at the Tan Quy Dong Commune of Sa Dec Town.
Head of the village Ho Hung Thinh said more than 3,600 villagers were involved in growing flowers and bonsai on their 177ha of land.
He told the South Korean guests that travellers could visit the village any month of the year. It's possible, he said, to feel as if you were lost in a world of colour and miraculous fragrances.
"Thinh was right. We found ourselves among dahlias, orchids and colourful hibiscuses everywhere. We love the flowers very much," said Kim.
Thinh told the guests that roses were the most common, with over 50 kinds including varieties of red, violet, yellow and orange.
The roses have been carefully preserved by villagers for decades.
Apart from flowers, the village is also home to valuable, hundreds-of-years-old bonsai.
Thinh told the guests that his family had several such bonsai. They included thistle, areca tree and ochna.
"Last Tet (Lunar New Year), some people paid me VND50 million for an ochna plant but I didn't accept it. I wanted to keep it and leave it for our younger generation," said Thinh.
Leading the guests on a tour of the village, Thinh said flowers helped improve villagers' living standards as 1ha could bring growers a profit of VND100-120 million a year.
"It's important that our village become an attractive tourism destination for domestic and foreign travellers. Through their visits to the village, we've contracted exports of our flowers to Taiwan and Japan," said Thinh.
Leaving the flower village, Kim and his group were advised to visit Dinh Yen Mat Village in Lap Vo District, about 30km south of Sa Dec.
"We arrived on a weekend morning. The road to the village centre was rather smooth and beside it were red, green, yellow and violet rush mats.
"Entering the village we heard the sounds of mat weaving machines and the skilled hands of artisans," said Kim, adding that his group visited an artisan's home who had practised the craft for more than 50 years.
Owner Nguyen Thi Bay, 72, briskly told the guests that all her nine family members earned a living by mat weaving.
"The craft has been handed down from my ancestors. We have to work very hard during the day time and then bring our items to sell at night," said Bay.
She said her family was among the few households in the village still weaving mats by hand.
Kim and his group asked Bay for a demonstration and she showed guests the weaving technique.
"The weaving process needs two people. Hand-made weaving requires meticulousness so we only weave two or three mats a day. Each mat is about VND80,000-100,000," said Bay.
When night fell, Bay led the group to the night mat market which often opens at 12pm.
"We were very surprised to see such a bustling market at night with porters bringing the colourful mats to the market.
"Bay showed us mats of traders from the nearby province of Vinh Long's Vung Liem, saying their mats are of the highest quality because artisans have chosen and dried them very carefully," said Kim, adding that he liked the scenery of the market very much.
Bay told the guests that she was proud of her traditional craft, saying that "despite changes, we promise each other to try to keep the occupation alive".
Saying good-bye to Bay, the early next morning Kim and his friends headed to the tomb of President Ho Chi Minh's father, scholar Nguyen Sinh Sac.
The 3.6-ha site is located near the inner of Cao Lanh City.
Tour guide Hoang Chanh told the guests that the site was inaugurated in December, 1977.
Chanh led the guests to the site, and told them very clearly about Sac's pure and upright life and work.
"Construction of the tomb is meaningful. On the east is the tomb palate shaped like a lotus flower and nine dragons symbolising the people of the Cuu Long (Nine Dragon - Mekong) who protect the scholar."
Next to Sac's tomb is President Ho's stilt house whose design is the same of that in Ha Noi.
"Dong Thap Province built the stilt house to serve southerners who do not have a chance to visit his stilt house in Ha Noi," said Chanh.
Kim said landscape around the site, which includes hundreds of rare and valuable flowers and bonsai delivered by local people, brought him a quiet and relaxed feeling.
"We are lucky to visit the site and understand more about President Ho and his father. Their lives are admirable," said Kim.
Every year, on the 27th day of the 10th lunar month, people from every where flock to the site to mark Nguyen Sinh Sac's death anniversary.
The site was recognised as national heritage in 1992.
While the South Korean travellers are making plans to visit the neighbouring province of Tien Giang, director of Dong Thap Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, Vinh says he hopes to receive more foreign travellers including Korean visitors in the near future.
Vinh says Dong Thap is calling businesspeople to upgrade and invest in tourism and the province's sites such as Go Thap heritage site, Sa Dec flower village, Tram Chim National Park and the Xeo Quyt Culture and Historical site.
"From now to 2015, Dong Thap will give priorities to develop infrastructure at these tourism sites to welcome 2.1 million visitors. This year we hope to receive 1.5 million visitors compared to 1.3 million of last year," said Vinh. — VNS