Weekend getaway to Ca Mau mangrove forest

Vietnam’s southernmost province, Ca Mau, offers mesmerizing weekend trips to experience its mangrove forests and local rustic life.

Vietnam, Ca Mau, Mui Ca Mau National Park, mangrove forest

Departing from Saigon the night before, we arrived in Ca Mau at 5 a.m. after eight hours of traveling. Around 8 a.m, after a short break, we were taken to the Mui Ca Mau (Ca Mau Cape) National Park in Ca Mau Biosphere Reserve.

Here, we listened to park staff introduce the mangrove forest while navigating the swamp on canoe.

Around 10 a.m, we arrived at the park's center, home to a project that boasts 50 hectares of alluvial ground set aside for natural mangrove regeneration.

We partook in activities hosted by Gaia Nature Conservation, an environmental non-profit organization, aiming to expand the mangrove forest, a national treasure, and so restore the ecosystem and vital habitat for endangered local species.

Challenging our creative abilities, we built a fence to trap Avicennia seeds. The system of fences measures 2,900 meters in length and uses over 11,000 cajuput piles and 2,900 meters of net. It helps trap ripened Avicennia fruits, let them develop into seedlings, and grow into a mangrove forest after six years.

The regeneration zone is carefully monitored and tended by the park management board to ensure healthy and stable growth. The goal is to yield at least 185,000 strong and healthy mangrove trees.

Vietnam, Ca Mau, Mui Ca Mau National Park, mangrove forest

The system of fences help trap ripened Avicennia fruits, let them develop into seedlings, and grow into a mangrove forest.

After erecting 20 meters of fence, and with the water level rising, we continued our journey. The route back to our homestay was an exploration in itself. We managed to reach into the nooks and crannies of the muddy forest where heaps of shrubs and verdant 50-year-old mangroves thrived.

At Ba Su Homestay in Mui Ca Mau National Park, we had the opportunity to learn more about the life of Ca Mau locals. The homestay comprises a traditional stilt house hovering over the water.

The facility consists of two guest houses, a communal kitchen and dining space, and four large bedrooms that can accommodate big groups of eight and upwards. Surrounding it is the green mangrove forest and brackish water.

After a hearty lunch with local specialties, we embarked on a crab-hunting expedition on a small motorized canoe. As it grew darker, we caught three-striped crabs in the kilometer-long river near the homestay.

At 6 p.m., we huddled around a warm fire and enjoyed the fresh air of the countryside, as well as nostalgic anecdotes. The smell of earthy mangrove wood, along with grilled corn and sweet potatoes permeated the air.

Vietnam, Ca Mau, Mui Ca Mau National Park, mangrove forest

Ba Su Homestay is nestled in a peaceful mangrove forest landscape.

In the early morning of the second day, we woke invigorated to the cheerful chirping of migrating birds.

Everyone got a bit of personal time in the morning to stroll through the gardens and chat with locals, who are allowed to reside within Mui Ca Mau National Park as long as they do so responsibly.

Homestay owner Diem, 28, said: "The forest-to-water ratio must always be 70 to 30. Aside from shrimp and oyster farming, we’ve developed other services like the homestay, and experience packages in recent years as tourism grows. The homestay is actually a 90-year-old house passed down from my grandmother’s generation."

After learning more from Diem about local life in Ca Mau, we picked some butterfly pea flowers to make hot tea and checked out.

One simply cannot miss the landmark marking kilometer 0, the southernmost point of Vietnam when visiting Ca Mau Cape. After checking out, Tu, our tour guide, led us to the national coordinate GPS0001, a landmark in the shape of a ship pointing toward the sea. The special milestone marks the last stop on Ho Chi Minh Highway.

Nearby is Lac Long Quan Temple, Au Co Mother statue, and Hanoi Flagpole facing the East Sea. Au Co was, according to the creation myth of the Vietnamese people, an immortal mountain fairy who married Lac Long Quan, and bore an egg sac that hatched 100 children known collectively as ancestors to the Vietnamese people.

Vietnam, Ca Mau, Mui Ca Mau National Park, mangrove forest

Hanoi Flagpole in Ca Mau.

We took in the scenic meeting point of the East and West seas while enjoying scrumptious local treats.

The flagpole has ten levels of which the first two display the ecological succession of the Cape. Composed of over 180 diverse pictures and two models showcasing the mangrove forest ecosystem, the exhibition is an absolute visual feast.

On the third floor is an exhibition depicting the cultural heritage of Thang Long – Hanoi with 16 national relics and 12 artifacts. The exhibits are national treasures.

From the upper levels, we enjoyed a panoramic view over Ca Mau mangrove forest stretching out into the vast East Sea and majestic Hon Khoai Archipelago.

Vietnam, Ca Mau, Mui Ca Mau National Park, mangrove forest

An aerial view of the magrove forest in Ca Mau.

Photos by Gaia Nature Conservation, Thanh Hang

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