What I saw in online photos of Tan Lap turned out to be completely different from the actual reality. Instead of the sense of romance expressed through pre-wedding photos, I found the place to be wicked and strange with two main colours; green from the mangrove trees and grey from the mud under my feet.
Tan Lap floating village is located in Moc Hoa commune of Long An, more than 100km away from the heart of Saigon. There are many ways to get there as long as your 3G Google Map works well. Thanks to Vinaphone’s 3G, I ended up getting lost and had to board a small local ferry to get to Tan Lap.
“You will see Tan Lap when you see the buffalos,” said a passer-by.
The buffalos were actually statues placed at the welcome gate of the village. My eyes searched for the views I got from the internet, but I couldn’t see anything familiar. There was an array of stilt houses on the left, with what looked like part of an abandoned amusement park on the other side.
It’s a Forest
When I travelled there last month, the waterway was not as splendid as many people had described, with lotus plants and water lilies. According to the boat driver, there are two watchtowers in the village and you know you have arrived when you see the first 38-metre-high watchtower.
Wearing a backpack containing my cameras, two bottles of water and other personal stuff, I set off up the tower. I had to stop for a while to take some deep breaths at the top. A large green velvet carpet of mangrove trees stretched to the skyline; suddenly I realised I was in a jungle. I looked at the other watchtower standing among golden sunlight, blue sky and green trees. The 100km drive and 38-metre climb had been worth the time and energy.
Leaving the watchtower to the other visitors, I followed the concrete path into the mangrove. A shiver went down my spine as the stillness and green-grey ambience began to engulf me, reminding me of a horror movie. There were some sections here without sunlight, so I pulled my hoodie out of the backpack and put it on.
According to the manager, who gave me a bottle of water and a cap (included with the ticket price of VND50,000 per person), the concrete path is a 5km-long trail in the shape of a butterfly and getting lost is impossible. Following the path, I got to a bridge which crossed a small creek, with a handmade wooden dock next to it. I guessed it was there to serve people who wanted to take a shortcut to the other side of the forest. If so, they were out of luck, as there were no boats and nobody around. Just me and the forest.
An Unfinished Project
For some reason, that was all that Tan Lap had. There were no services such as food, accommodation or other entertainment. I was told that it’s more fun if you go during the rainy season, as you can travel in boats to visit the forest with lotus flowers and water lilies in bloom. However, you have to call the place in advance to check conditions.
I decided to ask the manager for some information.
“Oh, we gave out all the brochures already. We’re printing some more. But you can ask me anything about this place,” the manager replied. “There will be more investment in the future. We will build restaurants and hotels and have more staff later this year. And we might collaborate with other nearby tourist attractions to organise well-designed trips.”
I left Tan Lap searching for a late lunch and wondering whether I would ever go back. Maybe in the next two years, I said to myself. The question is with the arrival of tourist amenities, will Tan Lap remain the same? Or will it be transformed into another concrete and artificial destination so typical to Vietnam.
From Ben Thanh Market go to Le Lai then turn left onto Nguyen Thai Hoc, and turn right onto the East-West Highway, Vo Van Kiet. Turn left to QL1A (Highway 1A), then turn right to CT 01, turn left at the intersection with QL62 and keep following QL62 until you see the buffalos.
Entrance is VND50,000 per person, but if you go by yourself, you will have to pay at least VND200,000 for the boat to take you to the forest. Best to go in groups of four or eight.