THE DOMAIN PROJECT
PROTECTING A MYTHICAL FOREST
The aim of the Domain Project is to protect and renew one of the most ancient and venerable primary forests in Vietnam and Southern Indochina and to develop sustainable micro-economic activities for the local Vietnamese and Cau Maa’ population.
The forest lies in southwestern Lam Dong province, in the center of the ancient and wild Cau Maa’ confederation. By 1952, virtually all of French Indochina had been explored and mapped, except the heart of Cau Maa’ confederation – a rugged territory located inside the loop formed by the Dong Nai river (Daa’ Dööng). Although only 250 kilometers north of Saigon, this region is impenetrable, mystical, and uncontrollable. It is locally known as
, literally the
Domain of the Maa’
Domain of the Genies
Since ancient times, the Domain of the Genies was sacred to southern proto-Indochinese peoples and likely the proto Chams as well. They viewed the forests as the genesis for ancient gods, a celestial residence forbidden to uninitiated souls and foreigners. The land was worshiped for its exceptional forestry formations on mid-altitude basaltic sols and for its spectacular natural wonders, believed to be inhabited by wood denizens and other intriguing divinities. The heart of the holy forest was protected by the Maa’ Huong, stern, impressive and unpredictable combatants who were its consecrated guardians. Today, the forest is home to elephant herds, Javanese and Sumatran rhinoceros, tigers, panthers, gaurs, bears, pythons, crocodiles and various bird species.
Starting with Doctor Alexandre Yersin’s 1882 mission to the eastern edge of the Domain, explorations into the area were doomed to failure, including that of Henri Maitre in 1910 and the Japanese Imperial Army. The terrain was so unfriendly that it became known as a virtual tomb for those explorers brave enough to venture into the dense woodlands and erratic waterways, a mystic area haunted by the specter of the ferocious guardians of the forest. The region becomes a myth, named
. Finally, in 1952, ethnographer Jean Boulbet managed to form an alliance with the Coop’s, a Cau Maa’ sub-group. He became the first foreigner allowed to enter, explore, and study the territory until 1967.
During the Vietnam War from 1964 to 1975, the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong used the Domain’s inaccessible woods as a haven for guerilla forces, and the US Army built an airport, base, and sub-bases nearby. The Cau Maa’ villages, slash-and-burn fields, forests and sacred groves were bombed by the US Air Force and the South Vietnamese Air Force. After 1975, the Domain closed once again and nearly vanished from collective memory, as in ancient times. Even in 2018, it remains enigmatic, restricted and difficult to access.
In 1997, Nicolas Vidal, the vice-president of Secret Indochina, decided to rediscover the forbidden jungle and the myth of the Domain. After years of research, he completed several pre-surveys to study the region, identify its center and possible access. Between 2015 and 2018, in collaboration with Francois Bouvery (co-founder of Ta Lai Longhouse) and Olivier Roy from Diamond Wood, four official missions have been organized into the Domain’s two central meadows.
Since the war, the Domain has been severely degraded. More than 60% of the original surface has been deforested, devastated, and replaced by coffee, cashew, rice fields or rubber plantations. Savannas, swamps and their native rhinoceros have disappeared, along with most of the local fauna, animal species, some Cau Maa’ clans, villages and hamlets. Miraculously, two parts remain untouched – one in the southwest of Thon 5A (Dang Pör – Haut Intégral) and the other around the two central meadows (Ddang Yaang – the Spirit Ridge). These areas are marked by sinuous ridges, high meadows, shadowy narrow vales, ancestral groves, primeval forests, seas of bamboo, solitary ponds, dark ravines and meandering streams.
The primary protection zone would cover an area of around 1,500 hectares along the two central meadows. The secondary theoretical protection area could cover 15,000 hectares, in the northern part of the two meadows (in the Ddang Mor, the Cursed Highs area).
The Domain project will include different phases:
1. Primary forest protection;
2. Primary forest re-plantation;
3. Research on the Domain’s history;
4. Development of a cacao-tree plantation to grow in symbiosis with the primary forest; and
5. Integration of responsive and selective adventure tourism.
THE BOKOR PALACE
AN HISTORICAL NATIONAL TREASURE
The Bokor Palace is perched in Preah Monivong Bokor National Park of Southern Cambodia, in the highlands of the Dâmrei Mountains that form the southeastern parts of the Cardamom mountains. Built by the French in the 1920s, this old palace with its colonial architecture overlooks the top of Bokor Hill Station, which served as a retreat from the heat of the plains for the French social elites living in Cambodia. The national park is named after King Sisowath Monivong, who built his modest Black Palace holiday residence two thirds of the way up the mountains. Also known as Elephant Mountains, the park is mainly 1,000 meters above sea level and home to leopard cats, gibbons, hornbills, civets, Sun bears, and formerly tigers and elephants.
The historic hotel was abandoned during World War II and then used in the 1950s and 60s as a casino during the time of Prince Sihanouk. Later, the entire Bokor region saw fierce fighting between the Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge; at one point, one side was holed up in the Catholic Church and the other in the old casino. In 2018, this national treasure was restored by Sokha Group, and now features 36 tastefully appointed luxury rooms and suites that preserve the original features and echo its colonial interior design.
On the way to your pristine island escape in the Gulf of Siam or during a stay at the charming riverside of Kep-Kampot, which is known for its premium quality pepper, visit this exceptional site that commands breathtaking views of what the French once called the Opal Coast. Meet the S’aoch, one of the smallest ethnic groups in mainland Southeast Asia and a remnant of Cambodia’s pre-Khmer population. Visit the Prey Nup polders, which inspired French writer Marguerite Duras to write
The Sea Wall
THE LAST EMPRESS OF ANNAM
Empress Nam Phuong was the first and primary wife of Bao Dai, the last emperor of Vietnam, from 1934 until her death, and the second and last empress consort of the Nguyen Dynasty. Born Jeanne Marie-Thérèse Nguyen Huu Thi Lan, in Go Cong, a Mekong Delta town, she was the daughter of Pierre Nguyen Huu-Hao, a wealthy merchant from a poor Roman Catholic family. Until 1932 the young Marie-Thérèse studied at the Couvent des Oiseaux, an aristocratic Catholic school in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, where she was sent at the age of 12 and became a naturalized French citizen.
On March 9, 1934 she married the young European-educated King Bao Dai in the ancient imperial capital of Hue. She received the title
and the name Nam Phuong, roughly translated as
Fragrance of the South
in acknowledgment of her birthplace. At the time, the wedding caused some controversy due to the bride’s religious affiliation.
Combining the grace of the West and the charm of the East, Nam Phuong had five children with the emperor, most of whom were educated at the same French boarding school she had attended. During her life, she served as a member of the Reconstruction Committee for Vietnam after the end of World War II and was the patron of the Vietnamese Red Cross. After her husband’s abdication in 1945, she moved to the family home in Château Thorens outside of Cannes, France, where she had her children converted to Catholicism.
The history of Hue is told through various sources, Secret Indochina's local partners, including a professor-lecturer and PhD on translatology; a veteran who worked as Director of Hue Monuments Conservation Centre and oversaw Hue’s application to be recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site; or by an enthusiast with a passion for literature, art and history who oversee Hue external relations
PHU PHA THI - LIMA SITE 85
FIFTIETH ANNIVERSARY & EXPLORATION
During the Vietnam War, and especially in 1968, the American military launched numerous operations in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, notably Operations Niagara, Rolling Thunder, Igloo White, Commando Hunt, Sea Dragon and Sealords. Their main purpose was to support military campaigns and shut down the Ho Chi Minh Trail using commandos on the ground, tactical bombardments, sophisticated ammunitions and systems, ships and other amphibian engines.
Operation Niagara was a US Seventh Air Force air support campaign from January to March 1968 that aimed to demonstrate American air power and support Khe San Base. During this campaign, the USAF flew 691 sorties delivering 14,223 tons of ammunitions. Naval aviation contributed with 5,337 sorties delivering 7,941 tons of ordnances. Operation Rolling Thunder was a bombardment operation organized by the Seventh Air Force Division and the US Navy from March 1965 to November 1968, in order to destroy North Vietnam’s transportation system, industrial bases and air defenses. Air Force pilots flew 25,971 sorties and dropped 11,114 tons of bombs, while Navy aviators flew 28,168 sorties and dropped 11,144 tons. The VNAF undertook 682 missions with unknown ordnance tonnages.
Operation Igloo White was a covert US Air Force electronic warfare operation that ran from January 1968 until February 1973, with the objective of striking the logistical system of the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) that snaked through central and southern Laos (the Ho Chi Minh Trail). Operation Commando Hunt was a covert US Seventh Air Force and US Navy Task Force 77 against the Ho Chi Minh Trail, mainly in Laos, from November 1968 until March 1972. At the end of Commando Hunt, Air Force intelligence services claimed that 51,000 PAVN trucks and 3 400 anti-aircraft guns had been destroyed.
Operations Sea Dragon and Sealords (an acronym for Southeast Asia Lake, Ocean, River and Delta Strategy) were a series of American naval operations from 1966 to 1971 to destroy intercepts, suspect barges, and junks used by the PAVN for the maritime Ho Chi Minh Trail along the Southern China Sea or the South Vietnam deltas and rivers.
These deadly campaigns transformed Laos into the most bombed country in the world, with 580,000 air sorties and delivery of 2 million tons of bombs. Roughly one third of these bombs remain hidden, killing on average 300 people each year (principally farmers, ethnics minorities) since 1975
Secret Indochina was established in 2011, following the encounter of two professionals, Tran Quang Hieu and Nicolas Vidal, passionate about authentic travel. Secret Indochina, DMC branch of Amica JSC, strives to lead travellers to outstanding sites, magical places, and little-known ethnic communities
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