A solo family venture in Vietnam

When Nguyen Van Long was 26 years old, he moved to Nam Bau Islet in the middle of a lake in the southern province of Dong Nai in Vietnam. Nothing unusual about that, but at the time he was the only person there.

Today, Long, 62, lives there with his wife and five-year-old grandson.

Long settled on the islet that was formed, along with 75 other islets, on the lake after the Tri An Hydropower Plant was built on the Dong Nai River in 1984.

The 323sq km lake was once a forest, and in the early days, Long made a living by cutting down trees. The islet is 3km from the main shore and can only be reached by boat.

In 1987, locals called the islet Nam Bau because Long’s wife Tran Thi Thanh Nga, now 57, was pregnant at the time. It is his wife’s nickname and means “pregnant” in the local dialect “The name helped locals distinguish this islet from the others on Tri An Lake,” Long said.

His family later started planting cashew trees because of the soil. The cashew crop is now Long’s main source of income.

Though the family faced difficulties over the years, they have been able to adapt to changing situations, according to Long.

For extra income, Long uses a boat to catch fish and other aquatic species to sell in the market.

In 2011, solar power panels were installed on their roof to generate power for electricity. In the past, they had to use a rowboat for transport, but now they have a motorboat.

Nam Bau Islet has seen a rising number of visitors in recent years. Most of them are young people or families who want to explore pristine nature and enjoy fresh air.

In recent years, people who visited Tri An Lake and stopped on the islet for rest asked Long and his family to cook dishes.

As more people began to hear about the islet, the number of visitors increased. “We built a small hut with hammocks to serve them,” Long said.

After people suggested that he offer an eco-tourism model, Long built accommodations for a homestay service with prices at only VND50,000 (RM9) per person per night. Last year, the family installed more solar power panels to ensure electricity needs for visitors.

To promote eco-tourism, Dong Nai Province’s Culture and Nature Reserve plans to add the islet to its tour on Tri An Lake.
Nguyen Hoang Nam, a tour guide at the reserve, said he had taken many groups of tourists to the islet. The family can serve 15 to 20 people daily, or a maximum of 30 visitors.

“This place is one of the best choices for people looking for peace and quiet,” Nam said.

Visitors can ride in boats and catch fish, taste local dishes prepared by the family, and enjoy fresh fruits from their garden at reasonable prices, he said.

Many people often buy fresh fish to take back home as gifts.

“I feel very relaxed here. My children enjoy this place,” a female visitor from Ho Chi Minh City said. She added she would likely return and tell other people about the islet’s offerings.

Long said he was happy to receive guests. “Tourists are very welcome if they are well-behaved and care for and protect the environment,” he said.

He hopes the next generation will continue not only to live on the islet, but also protect the natural landscape and the peaceful atmosphere. – Vietnam News/Asia News Network

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