Imagine, if you can, an island getaway in the heart of Ha Noi, with lush vegetation and peace away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Well, imagine no more, as there is an island getaway under the iconic Long Bien Bridge, just a few minutes from the Old Quarter.
The ecological garden named 'Experiencing Hồng (Red) River' is located some 2.5km from the foot of Long Bien Bridge on the island called Bãi Giữa (Middle Island).
The quiet garden welcomes visitors through a rough gate built of recycled bricks, where the lush 1,500sq-m space hosts two bamboo roofed houses.
Visitors can prepare their lunch with baked clay chicken and vegetables grown in the garden and while waiting for the food to be cooked, they can cycle through the vegetable fields on the island.
They then can watch the sunset on the small Lau Island, which was formed up by the river’s silt, try stand up paddleboarding and even camp overnight.
The service is the brainchild of Ha Đong Minh, who has 25 years of experience as a tour guide for inbound tourism.
Minh set up Anytrails Ltd Company in 2019 to offer active travel tours.
“From my guiding experience, I know that active travel makes a more lasting mark on tourists as they can live closer to locals and nature at the destinations,” Minh told Viet Nam News. He said exploring the Red River is another tour that the company plans to offer.
The service was first aimed at foreigners, but the company shifted to serve Vietnamese customers due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It turns out that many Vietnamese people like the tour,” he said.
Many people think travelling is going far away, he said.
“Yet many Hanoians have not paid attention to the Red River, which offers various relaxing moments to people. They just need to spend half or a day to two days for it," he added.
Families or groups of friends or colleagues can join a tour, bike through fields of vegetables and banana plants and learn about crops, flowers and fruits, while children can join classes to make utensils from plastic leftovers.
“We will soon host survival skill classes to teach children and young people to manage when left alone in nature like how to check which vegetables are edible, fish on the river, and make tents on an island,” Minh said. “Urban children need such skills.”
Nguyễn Trung Hòa recently took his son’s class to the island for a day and came away a big fan.
“Children can play team-building games together while exploring nature here,” he said. “Such a tour is safe, cheap and quite interesting. We will return here more.”
Minh said more visitors come at the weekends while many weeks they had to close due to the pandemic situation.
On average, the tour receives 60-80 visitors per month.
Trần Nhung, another visitor, was impressed with the sunset tour.
“I think this tourism model is suitable to the pandemic situation, which secures distance, no mass gathering,” she said. “Each group should be some five people to be safe enough to enjoy nature.”
Among all his visitors, Minh remembers most the ambassador of Netherlands, Elsbeth Akkerman, who came along with her colleagues then returned once more with her husband.
“It turns out she understands a lot about Vietnamese culture, nature and likes the surroundings on the Red River,” he said.
“She’s modest and witty, too,” he said.
Minh said he and his colleagues have spent lots of time clearing rubbish in the area and on Lau Island.
He often reminds visitors to use paper bags, not plastic, and to bring containers for their rubbish.
He also guides visitors to make recycled bricks to build flower pots or rubbish bins.
The garden and Lau Island have no electric wires, so he and his colleagues have built a solar power system for electric water pumps, juice makers, lights and fans.
Tourists can also ride a bike to produce electricity for the attached juice makers.
Minh said he will develop other active travel tours in areas surrounding the capital. VNS
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