Awakening the potential of Quang Binh’s mountainous commune

Monday, 2020-05-25 16:50:34
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Ngan Thuy in the sunrise.
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NDO – Ngan Thuy, a mountainous commune in Le Thuy district in the central province of Quang Binh, is located on road section no.10 that connects the east and west of the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Previously, whenever talking about Ngan Thuy, many people were afraid of going on such a bumpy road. However, now many visitors come to Ngan Thuy to not only savour the unique cultural identities of the land and people in the locality but also immerse themselves in the pristine beauty of the great Truong Son mountains and discover the many majestic caves.

Land of great potential

The road section no.10 was opened by soldiers and conscripted labourers during the resistance war against US imperialism in order to connect the east and west sections of the strategic Ho Chi Minh Trail. Once the war ended, this historical route fell into oblivion. Due to the difficult life of local people and the tricky terrain, people were afraid of travelling via the route. As a result, small hamlets on the side of the road lagged behind villages on the plains that were dozens of kilometres away. In return, Ngan Thuy has a beautiful natural landscape full of lakes, streams, vast meadows and magnificent caves that are waiting to be discovered. The locality possesses a “General cave” where General Vo Nguyen Giap stayed to direct the Road 9 – Southern Laos campaign and lead the Truong Son soldiers during 1971-1972.

Thanks to the State’s attention, road 10 has been gradually revived and the life of the Van Kieu ethnic minority people in Ngan Thuy has seen many changes. The bringing of wet rice to the Van Kieu people has become a miracle addition to the cause of poverty reduction for ethnic minority groups in western Quang Ninh. Along with wet rice, many new models, such as cattle raising, land allocation for afforestation and the exploitation of rubber have helped the locals, especially the Van Kieu people, gradually stabilise their lives. Many infrastructural projects have been initated, including bringing electricity to the villages, constructing roads and providing clean water. The development has narrowed the “distance” between the mountainous and plains region.

There are many ideal destinations that have been gradually “awoken” in Ngan Thuy. Nuoc Lanh (Cold Water) stream. Perhaps its name was inspired by the presence of cold water despite the blazing sun in May. The pristine beauty of the mountains, fresh air and clean water creates an unforgettable impression on visitors. The stream, which flows from the headwater, hits the large mossy rocks created thousands of years ago, making beautiful small waterfalls. The cool breeze among the mountains seems to dispel the sultry weather of the summer.

Not far away, one can find the Cha Loi cave system, where General Vo Nguyen Giap and his soldiers stayed during the resistance war. Inside the cave, pristine stalagmites and stalactites have formed many strange shapes that can stimulate the imagination of visitors. An underground river and small lakes, where some species of shrimp and fish live, are also impressive. The stalactites in the cave contain many silicas, so they sparkle beautifully under the light.

Coming to Coi Da hamlet with its vast grasslands, tourists can also explore the unique cultural identity of the Van Kieu ethnic minority people as well as other peoples and the land of Ngan Thuy. The development of tourism in Ngan Thuy is expected to bring about efficiency as many enthusiastic community-based tourism enterprises have paid more attention to the locality’s potnetial and the locals have begun to earn money from the new activities.

Visitors exploring the cave system in Ngan Thuy.

Restoring festivals and typical products

Over the past two years, Ngan Thuy has become more well-known and attractive thanks to those who are always dedicated to the locality’s tourism and responsible for the community, including Secretary of the communal Party Committee Nguyen Huu Han and Director of the Netin Travel Company Tran Xuan Cuong. Nguyen Huu Han said that with farming, the Van Kieu ethnic people earn just enough to live on. They had to provide tourism services if they wanted to be more prosperous. Firstly, he mobilised the locals in Coi Da hamlet to keep the environment clean and their stilt houses tidy in order to welcome visitors. Following his talks with patriarchs, Han knew the variety of coal sticky rice. During their nomadic journey, the Van Kieu people always take a kind of precious glutinous rice variety that had black seeds and sow them on their fields. However, this rice variety has been lost.

“Why not seek to revive the precious glutinous sticky rice variety for the local people and create a unique product attracting more visitors to Ngan Thuy?”. This question motivated engineer Nguyen Huu Han to find a way to rejuvenate the coal sticky rice. He went to A Luoi district in Thua Thien – Hue province to find out and returned home with a handful of the coal sticky rice seeds of the Pa Co ethnic minority people. He sowed the seeds into plastic pots and buckets at his home. With a few more trials on the field, Han was successful in cultivating the sticky rice twice a year in Ngan Thuy. The dark purple sticky rice grains and delicious flavour have since satisfied many village patriarchs and visitors.

In addition to restoring the local sticky rice variety that has not only brought about novel and high efficiency in its production for the people, Secretary of Ngan Thuy communal Party Committee Nguyen Huu Han worked hard to collect documents and proposed to his superiors to support the locality in reproducing a “new rice festival” of the Van Kieu ethnic minority people. Village patriarch Ho Tham said it was their biggest festival that was held annually in the tenth lunar month, offering a chance for them to pay their tribute to the heavens as well as pray for fair winds, bumper crops and prosperity. At the festival, the Van Kieu people often played their traditional musical instruments, sang folk songs, drank “ruou can” (wine drunk out of a jar through pipes) and enjoyed traditional food. The festival faded away over the recent years. In 2019, thanks to the support of the Quang Binh provincial Department of Culture and Sports, the new rice festival of the Van Kieu ethnic minority group in Ngan Thuy commune has been restored, bringing joy to the locals, especially the elderliy. Patriarch Ho Tham shared: “I am very happy and must give many thanks to Han and other cultural cadres who helped the locals remember the new rice festival so that the Van Kieu people’s cultural identity has not been lost”.

Taking full advantage of the potential for tourism development, Tran Xuan Cuong and his Netin Travel Company decided to launch a tour “exploring the nature and culture of the Van Kieu community in Le Thuy district’. Many tourism workers selected “Phong Nha – Ke Bang cave kingdom”; however, Tran Xuan Cuong focused on Ngan Thuy. Pristine caves such as Van Cong and Cha Loi and “love valley” Coi Da, along with the unique cultural identities and customs of the Van Kieu ethnic minority people attracted him. Cuong said on the first day when he led a team of experts to survey the terrain to later open the tour, the local people looked at him with much scrutiny. After he presented his plan of opening tours with an absolute respect for nature, they understood and proactively cooperated. Following a year of implementing pilot tours in Ngan Thuy, Tran Xuan Cuong decided to develop a community-based tourism model with attractive experience products, such as exploring caves, stream bathing, sleeping in tents in the forest, learning about the life of and enjoying the specialties of the Van Kieu people.

According to Secretary of Ngan Thuy communal Party Committee Nguyen Huu Han, the tourism products launched by Netin Travel Company have initially brought about efficiency in awakening and exploiting the potential of the locality. The local people began to earn more income thanks to their provision of specialties to visitors. The reproduced festivals are expected to be preserved. According to the Deputy Director of Quang Binh provincial Culture and Sport Nguyen Mau Nam, the restoration of the new rice festival is a practical activity to preserve and promote the traditional values and beauties of the Van Kieu ethnic minority people. The department will coordinate with the local authorities and travel enterprises to develop the festival into a special tourism product.