Just 10km outside Hue, Ru Cha, a primary wetland forest of mangroves has become a popular for day trippers exploring Huong Tra town.
A cottage belonging to a local man in the middle of wetlands in Huong Tra town. The wetlands are a popular site for day trippers
On the Thuan An estuary, only five hectares of cha (a mangrove family) have been saved as a natural bank to protect Huong Tra from storms and floods, as well as salt intrusion.
The forest – the only primary wetland forest preserved in the newly recognised Tam Giang – Cau Hai Lagoon Wetlands Nature Reserve – can be easy reached by motorbike or bicycle along national road 49.
Trippers are advised to leave Hue at dawn to start exploring, as local people begin their days by flocking to rural markets and fishing boats bring in fresh catches.
Five years ago, Ru Cha was only accessible by foot through the wetlands, but concrete paths and a watch tower have been built to pave the way.
The forest, which links Thuan An estuary and Tam Giang – Cau Hai lagoon with rich wetlands, provides incomes for thousands of local people who make a living from fishing and aquaculture.
Vo Ngoc Thanh, a local guide, said September was the best time to visit the forest when the mangroves blossomed.
Thanh said the site was also a popular destination for photographers and couples.
Nguyen Ngoc Dap, 76, and his wife are the only villagers in Thuan Hoa who live in the forest as voluntary guards. The elderly couple have been living and working in the forest for 30 years, and live a 10-minute bicycle ride away.
Dap said the rich aquatic species in the forest had provided a stable income for his family of 10 children over the past three decades.
“It’s long story. I earn a living from fishing in the wetlands, and I've devoted myself to protecting the forest,” Dap said.
“We have adapted to living in the area; even my children already have their own families. I never used to fish, but I row my boat each day to patrol the forest to stop illegal logging and hunting.”
Dap said he offered visitors boat trips while his wife cooked lunch for them when they returned.
“It does not cost much. Fish, shrimp, crabs and oysters can be found in the aquatic areas in the middle of mangrove forest. We help visitors understand stories of the forest and the important role the mangroves play in preventing disasters,” he said.
Dap and his wife built a cottage at the entrance to the forest as a patrol base and reception area for day trippers.
Tourists explore Ru Cha by road. Boat trips in the wetlands are also available
He said Ru Cha was the name given to the forest by local people. Ru means forest, while cha is the species of mangrove that grows there.
An old temple remains in the forest dedicated to the Mother Goddesses, and local people often brings offerings to the temple on the third day of lunar March.
It is said the temple was built centuries ago after a big flood, when an incense burner was found on a bank in the forest. Local people believed the incense burner had flown from Hon Chen temple in the imperial royal capital of Hue.
Tourists can find tranquil scenery isolated from busy city life. Only the wind and whispers of the mangroves can be heard.
Boat trips help tourists explore daily life, while the dense mangroves can be penetrated along concrete paths.
A watch tower in the middle of forest helps local rangers spot forest fires, but it's also a great perch from which to take photos of the forest.
Currently, entry to the forest is free, and an eco-tourism site is planned for the area.
Thuan An beach, Chuon lagoon and the sandbanks at Te all offer seafood banquets for hungry guests.
Thua Thien-Hue province has also been expanding the forest as an eco-tour site and protected wetland conservation area for scientific research for both domestic and international universities.