October 07, 2009

War veteran turns dead bomb zone into lively tourist village in Vietnam

It’s taken 18 years for a veteran of the Vietnam War to turn a heavily bombed swamp into a showcase of Vietnamese culture.

War veteran turns dead bomb zone into lively tourist village in Vietnam

A Little Vietnam occupies 22 hectares of land near the Saigon River in Cu Chi District, Ho Chi Minh City that used to be five meters lower than the surrounding area and so devastated that neither rice nor fish could survive.

The woman behind the ambitious project is 65-year-old Tran Thi Tuyet Nga, who grew up in the fertile land of Cu Chi and fought there until it became an unlivable fire zone.

When she returned to build a school after the war, Nga suddenly thought of something bigger she could do for her homeland.

Since then, nearly half a million cubic meters of soil has been used to fill the swamp and create a solid base for A Little Vietnam.

On the crowded opening day last week, Nga frequently burst into tears as she showed off the centerpiece of her craft village - an earthen altar made of soil from all over Vietnam, including a place in Hanoi where the monarchs of old would make their supplications to the gods.

The ash in the middle of the altar came from the altars at Truong Son Martyrs’ Cemetery in the central province of Quang Tri and Hoa Yen Pagoda in the northern province of Quang Ninh.

This is Nga’s way of expressing the unity of Vietnam.

The country’s history and culture are on display everywhere at A Little Vietnam.

One exhibit tells of the three stakes that were driven into the bed of the Bach Dang River to skewer approaching enemy ships in three important battles in the tenth and thirteenth centuries.

Nguyen Van My, director of Lua Viet Tourism Company, thinks A Little Vietnam should be on the itinerary of every tourist and recommends it for Vietnamese families and students too.

“There are valuable antiques. The way the village portrays the culture of Vietnam’s different regions is so authentic,” My said.

“Real craftsmen and women demonstrate how to make do (poonah) paper, silk, woodcuts, pottery, china and so forth,” he said.

So far Nga has spent nearly VND100 billion (US$5.6 million) on A Little Vietnam, so it’s unsurprising that money has been her biggest problem.

“We sold all the valuables we could, borrowed money anywhere we could, sometimes from loan sharks,” she said.

Few banks and businesses were willing to finance the project as they doubted its commercial viability.

The people who helped make it happen spent four years in “misery and disgrace”, to quote Nga, until they gained the title deeds to the land purchased from more than 50 households.

With a certificate of ownership in hand, it became much easier to borrow money and find financial backers.

The prime lender in the past three years has been the Khang Thong Construction, Commercial and Service Company with a VND1-billion loan. The North Asia Bank has also lent money, and donated some as well.

“Now I only wish to make enough money to pay off the debts and develop the village into a place fully deserving of its name,” Nga said.

Source: Thanh Nien

Related sites:
Vietnam Travel guide: http://www.activetravelvietnam.com/vietnam_travel_guides.html
Ride Ho Chi Minh Trail: http://www.ridehochiminhtrail.com/
Adventure tours in Vietnam: http://www.activetravelvietnam.com/tour.php

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