Located in the Mekong Delta, near Chau Doc in An Giang Province of Vietnam, the protected nature reserve of Tra Su is unlike any other. It is a forest, but it stands in water. And while mangrove walks are common in tropical countries, in Tra Su the majority of trees are not mangrove but cajuput. It does look different, more ephemeral, unreal. The standard way to tour the forest is by boat, but there is also an extensive network of bamboo walkways crisscrossing the territory. For one to see a few birds in a hurry and enjoy the view from the water level, a boat is an obvious choice. But for a serious twitcher, walking is preferable. Either way, it is a lovely place, relaxing and picturesque, if lacking in any specific attractions. Tra Su is quite popular with Saigonese on weekends, but for a tourist, it is better to stay in Chau Doc and combine the reserve with other sights in the vicinity.
The lowland plains of the Mekong Delta have been used for rice cultivation since before the recorded history of the region. Seasonal floods kept the ground swampy, and the abundance of natural waterways made it more practical to dig canals for transportation than to built roads. As more land was turned into agricultural plots, few forests were allowed to survive, but for whatever reason Tra Su, surrounded and bisected by a network of canals, remained relatively intact. In the 1980s, local authorities built a dike to control the flooding in the area, and about twenty years later, they promoted the protected zone as a nature reserve. The forest contains over 140 plant species and gives shelter to more than 70 species of birds. The most popular plant here is, of course, cajuput. Its oil is valued for medicinal properties, but in this place, it is the appearances that matter: looming over the greenish, still water, the twisted cajuput trees look like witches brewing an evil potion in the giant cauldron of the swamp.
Infrequent buses from Chau Doc town in An Giang pass the turn-off to Tra Su. From the junction, it is another 3 km to the nature reserve. An alternative is to hire a motorbike, with or without the driver. The ticket price is rather high and modular: there is the entrance fee itself, plus, optionally, a motorboat ride to the boating station, and yet separately, a paddleboat cruise through the hyacinth swamp. The motorboat is unnecessary, as you will see more by meandering through the cajuput forest on the bamboo pathways, but it is a long walk. Count on at least an hour each way, excluding the time to relax or stalk aquatic birds. Next to the boating station is a group of tourist restaurants serving, aside from the usual fare, a peculiar local dish - grilled rice field rat. A few meters further is a tall observation tower - if you do not have a drone, you can climb it and pretend you did. The last bus back passes the junction around 17:00. If you stay for the sunset and do not have your own wheels, hitchhiking will be your only option.
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