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Floating in Paradise of Lotus

For those looking for a short weekend trip, or those who just love travelling, a visit to Tan Lap "floating eco-tourism village" in the southern province of Long An is ideal.

"If you want to visit a wild, natural landscape, visit Tan Lap," a friend who was in Long An recently commented.

"Referring to Long An, everyone often thinks that this province is only the birthplace of the famous nang thom (aromatic rice) and Go Den rice wine, and there is nothing else for tourists to explore," said Nguyen Kim Long, who visited the province earlier this year.

"But in those days, when my friends and I visited Tan Lap, the place really moved me," he said.

Tan Lap floating village eco-tourism area is in Moc Hoa District. The way there is easy. From HCM City, visitors go along National Highway 1 to Tan An District (of Long An Province), then turn right to Highway 62 to Moc Hoa.

When you arrive in Moc Hoa, just ask any resident, and they will enthusiastically show you the way.

The area covers 135ha and has a 500ha surrounding zone. The region has been planned with a budget of more than VND100 billion (about US$4.6 million) to build a tourism area for Long An and the Dong Thap Muoi (Plain of Reeds) wetlands in future. It will include an immigration wildlife area, a natural reserve, an environmental education centre and houses built on stilts.

After more than an hour's travel by car, Long's group arrived in Tan Lap. A few minutes after passing through the gate, a cool and peaceful scene greeted everyone.

"In this place, you can admire the rustic beauty of lush rice fields, pineapple fields and custard-apple gardens in shimmering yellow sunlight," Long said.

Walking a bit farther, they arrived in the bee-keeping area with countless honey barrels whirring.

Upon visiting the floating village, the group was surprised because they had never expected that a place so close to HCM City would have such a beautiful and peaceful landscape.

"Sitting on a canoe on the river to view the floating village under the blue sky and cool air, this landscape is even much more beautiful than many other destinations," said Khanh Van, a young woman in the group.

Previously, Tan Lap was a large mangrove forest of Long An Province, bordering the wetlands of the Plain of Reeds to form one vast forest covering tens of thousands of hectares.

Because the region is located near the border with Cambodia, it was previously under the strict control of border guards. Over time, the place has been renovated into an ecotourism zone with the distinctive name "Tan Lap floating village".

Visiting Tan Lap, guests can relax by fishing, boating past lotus and water lilies, picking wild vegetables to eat with grilled fish, watching birds and visiting the local farm to see how they grow pineapples.

Visitors are guided to explore the forests flooded in alluvial water, which gives it a reddish tint. They enter the vast cajeput forests and ride power-boats to admire the tremendous lotus lagoons.

"Our boat was drifting in the immense forest, and we heard birds chirping," Long said.

On the waterways that curve like silk bands, the visitors' boats weave between cajeput trees that are hundreds of years old and emit subtle scents from white petals.

Since the cajeput forest is submerged year-round, a concrete road has been built over the water, which passes through the lush mangrove forests.

Cajeput trees are protected and have been planted in the last 10 years, creating a vast green space in the region.

In the flooding season, the surrounding fields are underwater.

If you stand high above to look down, Tan Lap floating village resembles a floating raft or a green island over the water. But that is not how the "floating village" got its name.

As explained by the locals, residents are accustomed to "living with floods", and they have built houses on the high wooden poles.

Today, the resort is no longer inhabited. When the province developed the eco-tourism area, they rebuilt these floating homes to serve tourists.

Visitors can bring tents to stay in the tourism area, or stay in guest houses and hotels in Kien Tuong Town, about 5km from the place.

Prices are quite affordable, between VND50,000 and 60,000 per person per night.

"Tan Lap is pretty quiet, suitable for those who want to relax and experience a life close to nature, and to educate children to love nature and protect the wetland ecosystems," Long said.

"Another good point is, the locals are very enthusiastic and hospitable," he added.

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