Eco Tourism in Vietnam

Into Darkness
Image by ecstaticist via Flickr

Gao Giong in the southern province of Dong Thap is a place that Cong has been closely connected to for many years. Its development has been his life’s passion, ever since he was a boy.

He says he will never forget the days in the past when the rainy season was approaching. His family and neighbours would bind together several small boats to make a large floating platform that was converted into a temporary house floating on the flooded rice paddies.

“Spending our nights out there we had to battle mosquitoes, bloodsuckers, snakes and mice,” recalls Cong.

But life has changed.

After a dozen years of helping out with developing what was a dry and neglected area into one of the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta’s most famous eco-tourism sites, Cong is now proud of what he and his colleagues have achieved – an eco-escape rich with precious flora and fauna.

Work on the ambitious project started in 1985, when district authorities called for young volunteers to help develop and protect Dong Thap Muoi (Plain of Reeds). Cong was assigned to lead the group.

They dug channels, built irrigation systems and bridges and planted cajeputs, small flowering trees of the myrtle family, native to the East Indies and Australia. Many hectares of cajeput helped to create a more inviting environment for fauna and other flora to flourish, especially bird life such as stork, cormorants and herons.

The park has become a popular destination for both domestic and foreign tourists. They come here to relax and enjoy meandering sampan cruises through the wetlands.

Bird watchers in particular are in for an enthralling visit, as the park provides a sanctuary for several species of birds during the flood season.

Cong says Gao Giong is most beautiful at this time, when the waters rise from August to October. During this time, water from the Mekong River flood the local rice fields and turn Gao Giong into an oasis teaming with life. Thousands of white storks hover over the green cajeputs, coming to feed on fish and bugs hidden in the reeds and waters. Bird nest across about 40ha of the park, which attract 15 types of birds, including egrets, sparrows, wild ducks and herons.

The environment is an example of the region’s mangrove lowlands and the park acts as a ‘green lung’ of the Dong Thap Muoi region.

Cong says the site has earned tens of billions of dong from tourism. In addition, they also earn VND4 billion (US$216,000) from exploiting the cajeput, which contains a greenish oil with a range of medicinal uses. Sales of the oil contribute a significant sum to the local government’s budget.

From 2003, the park’s management board has co-ordinated with tour operators to develop tourism services. About 300ha of 10-year-old cajeputs have been set aside for visitors. The park’s total size is 16,000ha.

To protect and preserve the park’s environment, Cong has focus on sustainable practises. Local residents are allowed to prune unsightly or excessive cajeput branches, which are used as fire wood or sold for money.

Cong says the park’s management board has spent hundreds of millions of dong in building houses and providing rice for needy households and underprivileged families in the area, granting scholarships for poor but talented children, providing free health checks and treatment to the poor and contributing to building bridges and roads.

Rural life in the Gao Giong has changed for the better and the local economy is thriving. There are now vital roads crossing floodways and new houses have sprung up with red tiled roofs sprouting antennas and providing a more comfortable life for local residents.

After nearly 25 years of working in the park, Cong and his management board have received many certificates of merit and gifts from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Department of Forest Watch and Dong Thap People’s Committee.

“I hope the Party and the State will further support us to improve infrastructure, creating good conditions for tourists to visit the area and help the site’s development as a precious example of the great outdoors,” says Cong.

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