But in 2000, as part of the Government policy to award martyr families land - Mr Ngot’s lost two brothers in the war - his family was assigned 60 hectares for fish farming and afforestation. Twenty hectares were part of the U Minh Ha National Park. The idea was to help boost the nation’s economy while protecting the precious environment.
The family devoted itself to the tasks at hand but it was not easy, as the surviving son recalls: “At first, we encountered many difficulties because of the wasteland: the grass was even higher than a person. Every day, my family and I, and some neighbours, had to cut the grass, plant trees and make embankments for the fish.” He will be forever grateful for the opportunity, but it took a lot of hardship, sweat and tears to build the property up to what it is today.
“I planted Melaleuca and released catfish and perch,” he recalls. “Since planting, I have exploited two Melaleuca seasons. On fish farming, a few years ago I harvested about 15 tons of fish per year, even 20 tons once. For the last three years I have not harvested at all because I wanted to let the fish multiply. Since I first started up here, I was determined that Ca Mau must always treasure its forest and fish as these are assets that must not be thrown away.
“Knowing the family has a square fish drop and beautiful scenery, many people come here and offer to pay to fish. So my family opened a fishing service to meet the needs of guests. More and more visitors were coming every day resulting in increased demand for food and drink. At that time, I did not know how to handle so many customers. Then I heard about community tourism and I realized that this offered a real opportunity for the family business”.
“When applying to the Provincial People’s Committee, I received a lot of support. Later, the Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism also provided valuable assistance. In 2015, the tourist community of Muoi Ngot officially came into operation and reached its third anniversary in August 2018”.
“Since it was the first of such tourism models to appear in the area it received a lot of government support. People were also excited because the village was busier than before and the community’s cultural activities have been enhanced. At first, my family were like amateurs, but have contributed a lot by improving our performance in serving visitors as well as neighbours.”
Once again, though, there were problems. He says: “Access was difficult at first and because this is an area of alum soil, it was difficult to plant [big] trees for the scenic surrounds. But I cultivated the land and planted thousands of papaya trees, grew oranges, mandarins, bananas and many other fruits to serve tourists as well as creating more greenery.
Before that, I got experience in some northern and southern regions, where community tourism had already developed. I like this new line of business because of all the feedback I have received. I now have more understanding about tourism - about the different aspects such as reception, organization for meals and activities for guests to experience. Although I am very busy, every year I spend time learning more about it in our own country and in Thailand. It is essential to acquire more knowledge.
Initially supported by the province and related industries, we put information about our family business online, so visitors in many places know about it and come to us. Visitors will experience many interesting activities that range from walking in the Melaleuca forest to getting honey, watching bees and catching eels. Besides, the Muoi Ngot Community Ecotourism Destination organizes Don ca tai tu performance where not only tourists but neighbours join in.
My family now has 70 homestay rooms, which can accommodate group visits. Most visitors come here in the dry season (September to November) but we still get them in the rainy season. Over the big holidays such as April 30th - May 1st, Muoi Ngot Community Ecotourism can serve over 400 guests per day.
Most international visitors come here for sightseeing, visiting the fruit gardens and tasting fruit but few of them stay overnight. I found out through the travel company that the foreigners were ‘afraid’ to stay in a place they thought might be humid and not even clean.
I am studying whether to invest in the construction of housing that would meet their requirements. I have also built a house on stilts in the forest so visitors have a place to take a rest. Since doing this business, I have found life more interesting and have a wide network of contacts. Sometimes it can be a little too busy - but all of my family members are happy.
The main problem is that there is no electricity here - the family has to get power from a distance and it’s sometimes weak. Besides, the road is too narrow for a 40-seater coach to enter since so it’s difficult to welcome big groups. We will be attending to all this though so we can attract more visitors.
“Doing business in tourism brings me a lot of joy, not only because of enjoying a better life but creating jobs for others. I am committed to protecting natural resources, forests and the environment and always respecting values from forests for sustainable tourism development.”