Prao Town and Bohoong Village, Quang Nam Province, Vietnam
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The family owned hotel in Prao town, formerly Hien village, where I have just been staying but first visited in December 1997 refused to accept payment for extras they provided to me . All those years ago I trekked up steep well worn forest paths to meet the Katu people in remote hamlets clustered across the landscape above what has become a bustling frontier town with a number of these B&B style hotels popping up.
Quynh runs the small hotel and raises three young boys, while her husband works in a province 100 kilometers away. They were exceptional hosts, offering me their bedroom, since the hotel was filled with adventurous tourists. When Quynh’s husband returned for the weekend they gave me a hotel room and invited me to dinner and breakfast with the family, insisting it was free of charge.
Quynh and her family are typical of families that have migrated in search of a better life along the Ho Chi Minh Highway. The road winds a harrowing route through the Annamite or Truong Son Mountain range that straddles the Lao/Vietnam border of Central Vietnam. I couldn’t find any recognizable landmarks today except for the provincial Forest Protection Department where I tucked myself into a warm down sleeping back and stretched out on a large meeting table on a cold rainy night 15 years ago.
Then, there were no hotels or restaurants, only Katu houses with thatched roofs and walls and floors woven from rattan and bamboo. We warmed ourselves next to small fires in smoke filled rooms while the men and women showed off saola and other trophies. The atmosphere and the terrain have been altered dramatically. The Katu houses are now covered with metal roofs, many of which have been relocated to the roadside, and Kinh style modern buildings with flat cement roofs and walls dominate the landscape. I have parachuted into an urbanized world.
It seems the saola and the large-antlered muntjac would agree. They have, as the villagers tell me frequently, escaped to the Lao borderlands, running a gauntlet through unexploded munitions (UXOs) from the US/Vietnam War and forests littered with thousands of lethal wire snares. They are captured in traps set for “anything that moves”, more often a victim of bycatch than a direct target.
Coor Lam, a local Katu resident and WWF Foret guard, guided us through Bohoong Village this morning with its grand ceremonial house and its bungalow style hotel. He took us to meet the only trapper who said he hadn’t sold his saola trophy.
Briu Bia, 79, retrieved a set of dusty female saola horns, which he kept tucked away. “The young people go to the forest to set snares, but won’t tell you they do because they are afraid of prosecution. People will always refer to ‘the past’, but it isn’t true. When asked if the saola had a future, Briu replied that he hoped there is “at least one male and female left”.
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