The Tra Su cajeput forest in the southern province of An Giang has become a favourite tourist spot, especially for those who respect its diversified ecosystem.
Winding waterways: A rowing boat takes visitors to the centre of the Tra Su cajeput forest, home to a multitude of flora and fauna.
The 845ha forest zone is located about 20km from Chau Doc Town, 10km from the border with Cambodia. The man-made forest is home to 140 species of plants, 70 of birds, 11 of animals, 23 of fish and 20 of reptiles. Two species of birds have been listed in the Red Book, including the giang sen (painted stork) and dien dien (anhinga or snake bird).
The Nhon Thoi canal flows through the reserve, creating a swampy environment that attracts aquatic species which make up the primary food source for the birds.
With those ideal living conditions, the number of birds, especially stocks, coming to region to nest has increased every year.
However, in order to maintain the natural environment, tourists are allowed to travel only within a 159ha area of the zone, starting by motorboat in Tra Su forest.
As the boat glides from the wharf, the cool air is refreshing. The green trees, cool water and birdsong are enhanced by the sight of pink waterlily flowers rising and falling in the wake of the boat.
Flowery feast: Different kinds of flowers can be used as vegetables. Many dishes offered by the only restaurant in the reserve are prepared from local indigenous ingredients.
August and September is the fragrant cajeput blossom season, also called “honey season” because of the millions of bees that flock to the forest to make honey from the flowers. Big bee hives hang from tree branches.
“I know how bees create honey in man-made wooden boxes on bee farms,” said Tu Minh, from HCM City, “but this is the first time I’ve seen such huge bee nests in the wild.”
Watching small birds with very thin, long legs walking on thick carpets of water fern intrigues children who ask: “How can those birds walk on the water?” and “They have such long legs.”
The birdsong gets louder as visitors get deeper into their territory and it’s about time to transfer to rowing boats so the noise of motors doesn’t cause flight.
Gliding silently across the green duckweed and other water plants, visitors can see life going on at low-branch level while on high white storks fly into tree-top nests with a cacophony that dominates the feathered score.
On branches near the surface, pelicans stand quietly, ignoring the babble around them, eyes glued to the water for a sign of fish.
In fact this swamp-like environment is ideal for catfish, which can be caught on fishing rods hired at the only restaurant in the reserve.
Bird paradise: The reserve is home to 70 species of birds.
There, restaurant owner Ut Thao said that most fishing enthusiasts came during the wet season from August to October.
“There are more fish during that time,” she said.
One fisherman said he expected to catch a snakefish.
“The swampy environment and aquatic plants are a perfect habitat for them,” he said.
Alongside fresh fish, restaurant customers can savour local ingredients such as steamed snake-head fish in gourd, charcoal grilled snake-head fish wrapped in lotus leaves, and field crab with tamarind sauce and dien dien flower pickle.
There’s an observation tower next to the fishing area with a panoramic view of the park, where you can see the immense green zone that stretches for miles, and to catch the harmonics of breeze and bird to purify the soul.
The Tra Su Reserve closes at 5pm. There is no accommodation available, so it’s a 20km bus ride back to the town. However, cajeput honey or oil can be bought as a reminder of this unspoilt and tranquil green zone.