Experience the rustic charm of this river islet in southern Vietnam

A river islet in the Mekong Delta city of Can Tho has mesmerized eco-tourists with its idyllic scenery and the hospitality and sincerity of its people.
A river islet in the Mekong Delta city of Can Tho has mesmerized eco-tourists with its idyllic scenery and the hospitality and sincerity of its people.
Con Son (Son Islet) is a mound of land sitting in the middle of the Hau River, a distributary of the Mekong River that starts in Cambodia and runs through a number of Vietnamese provinces in the Mekong Delta region before entering the East Vietnam Sea.

Part of Binh Thuy District in Can Tho City, Son Islet is located six kilometers from the city center and takes only five minutes to cross by ferry to reach from a port in the district.
The river islet accommodates 79 households, whose residents enjoy a tranquil lifestyle amidst a network of canals and waterways that weave through the solid green of trees and tropical plants.
The secluded islet has emerged as a tourist destination thanks to its singular eco-tour offers, where tourists get to experience first-hand the taste of homemade traditional Vietnamese rice cakes, engage in sampan racing through the shadowy canals, and enjoy eating fresh fish caught by their own bare hands.
A competition-free business
The tradition of making a variety of southern-style Vietnamese rice cakes has been passed on for generations on Son Islet, but it was not until tourists began to flock to the islet that the cakes started to appear at occasions other than local parties and ceremonies.
As the ‘rice bowl’ of one of the world’s leading rice exporters, the Mekong Delta region of Vietnam is known for its diversity of rice cakes, which are prepared using various cooking techniques including frying, steaming, boiling, and baking; as well as incorporating readily-available ingredients native to rural Vietnam.
Tourists can easily ‘order’ the cakes they would like to taste by phone the night before, with them ready to serve for their trip the morning after.
‘Tour operators’ on the islet are the locals themselves, who seem unaffected by the competitive nature of the economy outside their islet, as they are always willing to help each other out to deliver the best experience to tourists.
Each household on Son Islet only makes certain types of cakes to avoid competition, and tourists enjoying the delicacies at one house may very well be surprised to find the neighbours casually bringing over their own cakes to add to the fun.
Phan Thi Kim Phuoc, a resident of Son Islet, said the local people used to lead a lonesome life before the introduction of tours bringing tourists in.
Phuoc said it was to ‘have fun’ that she had initially jumped at the idea of operating locally-sourced eco-tours when it was suggested by the local Communist Youth Union and Binh Thuy District Culture Bureau.
From merely having fun, running eco-tours has become the main source of income for some households on Son Islet.
Phuoc said she had once had to mobilize the whole neighborhood to pick and wash homegrown herbs at nine in the evening to prepare for a 40-person group of tourists who wanted to try ‘banh xeo’ (a type of Vietnamese turmeric-flavored savory fried rice cake) the next morning.
In addition to traditional cakes, tourists visiting the islet are also served a range of southern Vietnamese specialties like garden chicken congee, freshwater crab hotpot, and spicy deep-fried fish, the taste of which is not found anywhere else.
According to Le Thi Be Bay, a senior cultural affairs official in Binh Thuy District, 12 out of 79 households on Son Islet had participated in the tour program, while six others have opened their fish farms to visitors.
Agricultural immersion
Before setting foot on Son Islet, tourists are taken by ferry to visit fish farms built right in the middle of the Hau River, where a VND10,000 (US$0.45) entrance fee will allow tourists to observe fish in the river water and experience feeding the fish themselves.
Upon reaching the islet, tourists are given the chance to immerse themselves in the day to day activities of farmers, including picking fruits from the garden or catching fish in a shallow ditch.
These fish are natural river ones which follow the water current into the ditch, an age-old method of catching fish in rural Vietnam.
Tourists are also encouraged to take part in fish-catching contests and sampan races, before unwinding at one of the fruit gardens to watch flocks of native storks flying home in the scarlet sunset after a day of hunting prey.
According to Bay, for the moment only tourists going in groups can register for the tour at either the local Communist Youth Union or the Culture Bureau of Binh Thuy District, a requirement Bay said was necessary in order to guarantee safety and quality service for visitors.
Bay noted that tourists should bring their own first-aid kit to treat minor injuries, as there is no medical station on the islet.

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