Discovering honey-harvesting tour in U Minh Ha Forest

Nga Do
In spring, U Minh mangrove forest in Ca Mau province of southern Vietnam is inundated with hordes of apiarists, who come in to collect bee honey that the hives produce.

If Nam Can forest is known for its mangroves, U Minh is known for its white-flowering mangroves in these flooded forests. This forest represents an exciting ecological area for the fertile area of Ca Mau. Due to its unique and distinctive characteristics, U Minh has been preserved and developed under international standards. The forest is separated into two parts with the Trem and Cai Tau rivers forming natural borders. The upper part is named U Minh Thuong and the lower part is U Minh Ha.

During Spring, this area features forests of mangrove flowers. A local guide, takes us to the center of the forest to view the famed mangroves. We take in the beautiful, swaying trees, set against the  ambience of bees buzzing as they search for nectar. The spring breeze gently blows through the wild forest. Occasionally, a small boat laden with plastic boxes fleets quickly towards Ca Mau city. Local guide tells us these boats are transporting honey collected from wild bees in the forest.

U Minh is famed for its honey, widely regarded to have the highest quality compared to other regions. U Minh has yellow-flowering Melaleuca trees, which are grown for wood and oil production. Additionally, white-flowered mangroves boast an irresistibly sweet scent that entices bees to build their hives in great quantity in the forest. At this time of the year, with the forest replete in white flowers, apiarists venture in to search for the valuable, natural honey.

In the Southwest of Vietnam, harvesting mangroves for honey is unique to U Minh. To harvest the best honey, the beekeeper must be very skillful and experienced. They use green branches of melaleuca trees to entice bees to build a hive. After cutting a mangrove branch, the beekeeper will find the most convenient place in the mangrove to put it. This mangrove must be big and grown away from the trail yet still with sunshine. If the mangrove is located in a shady place with less sunshine, bees will choose not to build their hives there. This also affects the quality of the honey.

Beekeeping may seem to be an easy career however it is actually very complicated. After putting the branch on the tree, the beekeeper must clear nearby branches in order for bees to take the honey. To take the best honey, the beekeeper must choose and place the branch two months before the flowers bloom. It is said that the best time for placing branches is between October and November. At that time, the monsoon season is drawing to a close, with the last heavy rains cleaning the tree branch, before it dries. People claim that bees have a very good sense of smell. They will not build a hive if they find any unusual scent on the branch. After placing the branch, the beekeeper will wait for the bees to come and build their hive. After that, they come to extract the honey.

In spring, U Minh fills with a large number of beekeepers. The more that come, the more interesting and energized the atmosphere in the forest is. To prepare for the bee season, apart from many necessities such as food, drink, mosquito spray and bedding, the beekeepers also bring dry coconut leaves to use as torches. The torches are soaked in water to create smoke when burning. The bees will fly out of their hives when smelling the smoke. Once the hive is empty, the beekeeper uses a sharp knife to cut the hive and extract the honey. The honey drips out until there is nothing left in the hive.

When visiting Ca Mau, it is a wonderful experience to taste specialties made of honey. Local people often use young bees mixed with wild banana flower, persicaria, dried spring onion and fried peanuts. This dish is best served with a glass of wine under white mangrove flowers in the spring.

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