|Pretty in pink: Flower island owner Tran Le (left) and his friend under a pink canopy of cherry blossoms. — VNS Photo Viet Thanh
by Chu Quoc Hung
Many visitors may remember Muong Phang Commune as the headquarters of the Viet Nam People's Army during the Dien Bien Phu 60 years ago. But it seems that few are aware of the existence of cherry blossoms, or sakura, island here.
Located in the midst of Pa Khoang lake, cherry blossoms island is about 30km away from Dien Bien Province's Dien Bien Phu City after passing over the high sides of mountain roads and tens of Thai ethnic villages.
The tiredness of travelling on a roundabout route disappeared the instant we saw the island covered in a beamy pink colour of cherry blossoms and their reflection on the lake.
There were probably 50 cherry blossom trees and many were at a height between six metres and seven metres. They are Edohigan varieties whose blossoms are faint pink and white and closely bloomed, according to the flower island owner Tran Le.
The striking colour of cherry blossoms and an immense number of mimosa, orchid and lily revealing their beauty have turned the once deserted island into an attractive destination to tourists both domestic and foreign.
The magnificent scene reminded us of a friend's remark that it was a pity to not visit the flower island when setting foot on the former Dien Bien Phu battlefield.
"It is a memorable place, though I have visited it only once. The beauty of the bloomy blossoms reflection on the clear lake made me feel like living in a fairyland," remarked the friend.
Among the many people standing in the midst of the flower island, a Japanese tourist, Hiro Miyazono, had an impression that he was staying in his own house.
"I have been to 50 countries, but only three countries have planted cherry blossoms. They are the US, Kenya and now Dien Bien Phu in Viet Nam."
"It is a surprise that cherry blossoms have been planted in such a beautiful and romantic place by a Vietnamese. This also manifests a deep and friendly feeling between Viet Nam and Japan," noted Miyazono.
Bewitched by the beauty of cherry blossoms, Le stated that some rich Hanoians were willing to pay over VND500 million (US$23,800) for two cherry blossom trees.
To the Japanese, cherry blossoms are symbols for beauty, fragility and purity.
Leaving the city
Growing cherry blossoms in Muong Phang Commune was accidental, originating from the familiar friendship between General Vo Nguyen Giap and the flower island owner.
"Several times, I was able to talk with Gen Giap during 1975-78 when he was a deputy prime minister in charge of science issues. I first met him when he was inspecting scientific research projects in Lam Dong Province's Da Lat City and my laboratory of flora tissue transplants included," Tran Le recollected.
Yet, a visit to Gen Giap's house on the occasion of Lunar New Year in 2005 was a turning point in Le's routine life. Their conversations turned around to growing and expanding rare flower varieties to help poor provinces escape poverty.
"I still remember Gen Giap's advice when he urged me to visit Dien Bien: It is a must to research on seedlings that can contribute to people's life. If you are able to find out rare and valuable flowers, vegetables and fruits seedlings, it is possible to expand their acreages to help many people inherit from the research achievements. Then, you can name your research Muong Phang," Le said.
He had promised Gen Giap that he will concentrate on his research and not leave Dien Bien until he saw results.
"Having spent eight years in hand tilling soil, setting up tents and a nursery garden, I have achieved encouraging early results," Le added.
To fulfill his promise, Le decided to leave Da Lat City and his family to grope different places in Dien Bien to experiment on various flower varieties.
He started growing cherry blossoms in Muong Phang Commune in 2006 after an official of Japanese embassy gifted him ten seedlings of cherry blossoms.
Nine out of the ten seedlings had grown into trees. Le multiplied the first four trees into 500 new ones as the official had asked to have five plants grown in the embassy. Of which, 40 trees have blossomed.
Le intends to cover the island with cherry blossoms. Additionally, he has provided nearly 600 cherry blossoms seedlings to Dien Bien Agriculture and Rural Development Department to expand cherry blossoms acreage in other areas of the province.
To this effect, cherry blossoms have been successfully planted in the province's Tay Trang international border checkpoint. The department intends to expand the acreage in gateways to the province.
In addition to cherry blossoms, Le and his company – Muong Phang Agriculture and Forestry Technology Joint-Stock Company – has planted and researched on more than 40 varieties of flowers. They include scarlet lily, orchids and peach blossom, with all intentionally named Muong Phang.
"I have been using my money to do research. I have neither borrowed money nor used state budget. Absolutely not. This is my own research."
"I receive support money from friends. It is meaningless to keep promises to Gen Giap simply to take budget from projects A, B, C. I want to name the flowers after Muong Phang in accordance with Gen Giap's wish," Le said.
Talking about imminent plans, Le pointed out that he will ask Dien Bien Province to build a road to connect the island with the province's centre before investing in building a tourist resort and research laboratory.
Growing and expanding cherry blossoms on Pa Khoang Lake will attract more tourists to visit Muong Phang, a historic destination of Dien Bien Province.
In 1970, Pa Khoang Lake was built by tens of thousands of youth volunteers. The lake bed is about 600 hectares and is capable of providing water to Dien Bien Phu rice fields.
There are tens of small and big islands in the lake covered with verdant trees all year round, and is a habitat for various types of birds and animals. — VNS