Nha Trang's own "cherry blossom' season

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The sight of gliricidia flowers in bloom evoke comparisons with major Japan attraction

  Gliricidia flowers bloom at Waterland Thach Lam Stream, a theme park-outdoor sport complex 20 kilometers from Nha Trang

Gliricidia trees, scientifically known as Gliricidia sepium, are native to the Central America.

In Vietnam, where it is known as Ä‘á»— mai (pea apricot), or anh Ä‘ào giả (fake cherry blossom), the tree is mainly distributed in the Central Highlands. It is grown as live fencing in Kon Tum Province. In the Khanh Son mountainous district of Khanh Hoa Province, it is present in forests that are 600-800 meters above the sea level.

However, despite its wide presence, the tree, which produces flowers in white, pinkish or red-pinkish colors, was relatively unknown until it was brought to the famous resort town of Nha Trang some ten years ago by Nguyen Van Phung, a 51-year-old man who has worked at designing eco-tourism sites across the country, including Suoi Tien theme park in Ho Chi Minh City.

From relative obscurity, the Ä‘á»— mai has become a tourist attraction in the town, especially during the Tet (Lunar New Year) season, when the tree is in full bloom.

Several people have remarked that walking under Ä‘á»— mai trees in bloom at this time gives the feeling that it is something like being in Japan during the famous cherry blossom season.

The feeling is enhanced when tourists visit Phung's grove of 4,000 Ä‘á»— mai trees at the theme park-outdoor sport complex called Waterland Thach Lam Stream in Cam Lam District, Khanh Hoa Province. The complex, opened in June 2011, is located in Suoi Cat Commune, some 20 kilometers south of Nha Trang's center. Some of the flowering trees here are as high as seven meters.

Visitors can enjoy the spectacle thoroughly since the flowering season for Ä‘á»— mai lasts one month, said Phung.

He said he was "spellbound" by the flower's "pure beauty" when he first saw it at a house at the foot of the Hon Ba Mountain in Khanh Son District.

So, he asked the house's owner to sell him two trees that he transported in a truck to Nha Trang. He then planted them on a 500-square-meter plot of land that he had leased at a cheap price in Phuoc Dong Commune, some seven kilometers from the town's center.

Phung later managed to grow dozens of the trees at the area, which he named Hoang Hoa Thon (the village of yellow flowers).

Initially Phung planned to grow yellow flowers around houses with ancient Hue architectural styles there, but the switch to Ä‘á»— mai made the combination electric. The village soon became a tourist attraction.

However, in 2009, Phung agreed to sell the "village" to the investors of the Tam Island resort and had it moved there on a barge. He reportedly earned VND3.5 billion (US$165,996) from the sale, and used the funds to open Waterland Thach Lam Stream.

The move disappointed many people, but Phung said then that he had made the decision in the hope that it would attract more foreign tourists to see and understand the "ancient culture" of Vietnamese people.

He compared the move to sending off his "daughter" in "marriage."

Phung later grew another 100 Ä‘á»— mai trees on Hon Tam Island at the resort's behest, polishing another jewel in Nha Trang's tourism crown.

VALENTINE'S DAY FESTIVAL

A festival will be hosted at the Ä‘á»— mai grove in Waterland Thach Lam Stream on Valentine's Day, which will fall on the fifth day of the Year of the Snake.

Couples who register for the event can spend a romantic time on benches set throughout the grove, enjoy an outdoor lunch party as also games like golf and grass sliding.

Registration should be done at the office of White Water Vietnam Tourism Development and Investment JSC at 14 Cuu Long Street, Phuoc Hoa Ward, Nha Trang Town.

Tel: (058) 3 873 878 - 8 503 225; Fax: (058) 3 871 479

Website: waterlandthachlam.com

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