Dubbed a "biological treasure trove" with unique sceneries, the Mekong River Delta is one of the most popular destinations in Viet Nam for both local and foreign visitors. (Photo: VNA)

Ho Chi Minh City (VNA)
- The vast natural and cultural treasures of southern Vietnam, exemplified by unique folk traditions and festivals, lush green rice fields, forests and stunningly beautiful islands, will be the fitting focus of National Tourism Year 2016.

Mother Nature seems to have a soft corner for the Mekong Delta in Vietnam, where there is always a "new" island or village to explore or a "mind-blowing" vista to discover no matter how many times you have visit the region, which spreads across 13 provinces and a city.

The Lang Sen Wetland Reserve in the high-water season (that is the last quarter of the year), is worth a trip.

It is a wetland complex in Dong Thap Muoi (the Plain of Reeds), comprising "a mosaic of seasonally flooded grassland, open swamp, riverine Melaleuca and mixed forest".

The Reserve, sprawling over 4,800 hectares in Long An Province, was established in 2004. Its flora and fauna, estimated at 60,000 animals and plants, includes 156 species of plants and approximately 149 species of water birds, particularly around 25,000 storks.

Sadly, several of these birds are listed in Vietnam and the World's Red Book of rare and threatened species, but a recent increase in the variety of birds spotted in the park is said to be a positive sign.

In November, 2015, the reserve was recognized as the 7th Ramsar site (wetland holding significant international importance in terms of biodiversity and conversation) in Vietnam and the 2,227th in the world.

A motorboat round-trip through the reserve would take visitors seven hours, during which one can easily fall into a trance by the sight of trees meditating in "knee-deep" water, undisturbed by the lushness and colours they take on, or, for that matter, the fragrance of the cajeput flowers, the pleasing cacophony of birds and other creatures that inhabit the area.

It is also well worth the effort to keep a close look out for bird's nests. If you are fortunate, you can spot some holding small eggs or even hatched chicks being fed by their mothers.

Adding to the enjoyment of nature at the reserve are several typical food specialties of the Mekong Delta, including boiled snails, fried catfish, grilled snakehead fish rolled in young lotus leaf, ca linh (henicorhynchus fish) sour soup and dien dien flowers.

As noted earlier, the Lang Sen Reserve is only one of the striking examples of Mother Nature's bounty that the Mekong Delta enjoys.

Two other Ramsar sites, the Ca Mau National Park in the eponymous province and the Tram Chim National Park in Dong Thap Province, are also located in the delta, drawing increasing numbers of tourists, scientists and researchers.

Among the islands that the Delta boasts, Kien Giang province enjoys the lion's share, with Phu Quoc, Nam Du, Ba Lua, Hon Son, Hon Tre, Hai Tac and Phu Tu each laying claim to unique charms.

Of these, the heart-shaped Phu Quoc Island is the largest, and has already become famous for its stunning beaches, friendly locals, and superb scuba diving and snorkeling locations.

Just a 45-minute flight away from HCM City, Phu Quoc is inarguably the jewel in the Mekong Delta's crown.

It is estimated that the island is home to virgin forests of over 37,000 hectares. Its white sandy beaches, offshore coral gardens and diverse flora and fauna, make it an ideal eco-tourism destination.

A good place to explore, discover and enjoy the island's special treats is the Phu Quoc National Park, which is a part of the Kien Giang biosphere reserve, recognised as a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 2006.

One of the most attractive places in the island district that teems with natural attractions, the park is a place where one can enjoy the experience of being a part of pristine forests, mountains and the sea.

Phu Quoc is also famous, within and outside Vietnam, for traditional products like fish sauce and relatively new ones like black pepper and cultivated pearls.

In a master plan approved by the Prime Minister, the island is to be designated as a special economic zone with a centre for high-quality eco-tourism, a trade and luxury services area, and a high-tech area.-VNA