Students and professors from the University of Montana learn about how people are dealing with life and livelihoods under dynamic conditions

The Boat to Realizations

January 9, 2012

Story By Kyle Burke

The boat careened around the corner, “Oh No!” I thought, “we are heading in the mangrove forest.” There would be no avoiding the collision with the shore, but then miraculously we rounded the bend and sped farther up the canal and deeper into the mangroves. This boat ride had given me a new perspective on tourism on Vietnam. Previously I had experienced some very stylized parts of the industry. The pig races and fishing for our lunch had provided me with an urban based perspective of tourism. However, now deep in the mangroves I could see the other side, the side that greatly appealed to me. With only 10% of foreign tourists being from America it is hard to say that if this area will ever attract large numbers of foreign tourists, especially when most head to the ever expanding Phu Quoc Island, an island that is being slowly developed for a more western appeal. Ca Mau National Park however, was my paradise. Deep inside the mangroves where we had to get there by a speed boat driven by an expert operator and navigator. My faith in his knowledge and control of the canals and boat grew with every passing twist and turn of the river. With our final arrival at the Ca Mau National Park and the walk down to the southernmost tip of Vietnam, allowed me to envision a side of Vietnam that I had wanted to see: the forests and ecology.

With every passing moment I enjoyed more and more about this remote location. The drizzle of rain had begun and the monkey bridge was calling our group’s name. Led by the enigmatic Dr. Be, we scaled this rickety “bridge” and continued into the forest and onto the walkways suspended above the mire below. The rain continued and only deepened my love for this day in the forest. We continued to traverse these walkways continuing all the way until we popped out right at the ocean. The return trek led us again the bridge which I couldn’t help but notice was not there anymore. “Wait! There it is, right below the surface of the river.” While we were out the high tide had come in and submerged our already sketchy crossing. However, this only added to our adventure. We slopped through the muck and reached the other side with some of us a little more adapted to this environment than others. “See!” says Dr. Be pointing at the mire covered Ally, “The difference between an indigenous and foreigner,” as well all laugh.

Then it was back on the boat for another thrilling ride back to the van, increased by the fact that it was raining steadily and our driver was being pelted by rain and so only on occasion looking at the path of the speeding boat. Still we zig zagged in between sticks and fishing nets hardly slowing when blowing through towns or down narrow canals. Finally we were back into the main river and I began to reflect on the day. The pure beauty of the park, the amazing people that had guided me through it, and the ever increasing danger of it all disappearing. This place had shown me the necessity of the mangroves and the role they play in creating a buffer zone for the delta. Dr. Be created a great view of the importance of the Mangroves and the ecology of the MeKong Delta. This place could draw much tourism from outside Vietnam and with that tourism help to preserve this amazing place. In this one day and one boat ride Vietnam has again completely won me over and changed me in more ways than I can mention.

Where I saw a complete disconnect between my view of what tourism is and should be, earlier in the trip, I now have the feeling of being naive. How could I have judged all of Vietnam on one day in Can Tho? This trip opened my eyes and my mind. Don’t judge too quickly or come with preconceived notions. This is a hard thing to do but my day in Ca Mau National Park helped me to realize that even when attempting not to, it is inevitable. However, in the future I will try to remember what I should have all along, don’t judge a book by its cover. In this one day and one boat ride Vietnam has again completely won me over and changed me in more ways than I can mention.

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