Discovering a kingdom of birds

Published: 10/06/2011 05:00



upon a time, salanganes selected an island on which to build their kingdom.

: A photographer captures
images of birds from close range.

After an hour by boat
from Nha Trang city, the Noi and Ngoai islands, home to thousands of salanganes,
appear on the horizon.

Although accessing the
islands used to be forbidden in order to protect the environment and salangane
nests, tourists can now discover the magical world of the salangane between
February and September yearly.

Apart from its
salanganes, the islands boast pristine beaches, a pure atmosphere and a strange
kingdom where humans are but guests and birds their hosts. While Ngoai Island
can only be seen from by boat, visitors are allowed to walk around Noi Island.

Salangane nests (yen
sao in Vietnamese) are extremely expensive and legendary products collected and
consumed for thousands of years. Its demand and economic value has only
increased as time has gone by.

: Salanganes build
theirs nets in narrow crevaces on the island’s high cliffs.

Chemical analyses have
shown that salangane nests contain special nutritious components including
protein, glucid, sialic acid and microelements.

Eating salangane nests
thus has the effect of filling you up, fostering strength and you recover from
health problems.

Tourists are allowed
to visit the rock cliff caves where the salanganes create their nests while
enjoying delicious and nutritious cooking which, in the past, was reserved for only
kings or as rewards to their courtiers and distinguished guests.

Amongst many regions
along Viet Nam’s long coastline, Khanh Hoa Province plays home to an abundance
of salangane nests, according to Le Huu Hoang, director of the Yen Sao Khanh Hoa

It has been estimated
that over 12 rock islands, especially Noi and Ngoai islands off the Khanh Hoa
Province coast, hosts more than 200,000 salangane birds during breeding season.

While Ngoai Island
housed the most salanganes, Noi Island is famous for the high quality of its
salangane nests, said Hoang.

Tour guide Vo Van Cam,
also a salangane nest collector, took us to the island’s goddess temple upon our

: Tourists explore the
island of salanganes to learn more about the birds. — File Photos

It is said that the
island’s Governor, Le Thi Huyen Tram (1753-93), a female officer in the Tay Son
Navy during the 18th century, sacrificed her life to protect the salangane
islands and the Khanh Hoa sea territory.

A 5.5m tall Goddess
statue was built in honour of the valiant Governor, locals still believing that
she protected the land, the sea, the salanganes and the nest collectors. Before
setting foot on the island, collectors visit the temple, burn incense and pray
for protection, seeing as collecting salangane nests is often fraught with

A festival, dedicated
to the Governor, is held annually on the 10th day of the fifth lunar month,
consisting of a ritual worshipping ceremony and performances, which mainly
attract salangane nest collectors from around the region.

Discovering the
salangane caves, where collectors use bamboo stairs to get their hands on
precious nests, is an unforgettable experience.

Although most birds build their
nests from straw and twigs, salangane nests are made from their saliva, stuck to
high cliffs in rugged, inaccessible caves throughout the island. To access the
nests, collectors are required to climb bamboo ladders. Because the caves have
to remain dark, lest the birds are scared off, many climbers fall to their death
annually whilst hunting nests.

“Tourists are always
interested in my stories,” Cam said adding that, “apart from learning about
salanganes and the beautiful sights, they also learn about our work and the
dangers we have to face.”

Salangane nests are
shaped like teacups split lengthways, the bottom of the nest is thickest and
stuck to the cliff. There are various types of salangane nests, dependent on
size and colour.

Nowadays, tourists
visiting Noi Island have the chance to enjoy salangane nest soup. The nests are
usually placed in a porcelain pot, steamed with chicken, beef, young pigeon or
lotus seeds.

In the past, devotees
often bathed first and dressed up in their best garb before partaking in a
porcelain bowl of soup.

Salangane nest soup
can be served as either an appetiser or following a dish.

Because of the huge
demand for nests (thought to have medicinal qualities), locals began collecting
nests several times a year, causing the birds to have to produce new nests more

Noi Island has a
beautiful twin-beach, one side towards the land and another towards the ocean.

The white sand bank,
stretching out along pure blue water, is a wonderful place to get away from
worry and stress.

By glass bottom boat,
visitors can see fantastic coral reefs surrounded by colourful fish; enjoy
swimming and snorkelling in clear, smooth water.

Tourists can
additionally enjoy the sunset from 90m Du Ha Mountain.

Discovering the
salangane islands can be a once in a lifetime experience for many and is well
worth the trip.

Nam News

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