Beyond Saigon’s urban sprawl, a green spread

 A helicopter tour that takes off from HCMC offers surprisingly verdant sights not normally associated with the nation’s biggest city and commercial hub.

On April 12, an AW-189 helicopter lifted off from the helipad of Military Medical Hospital 175 in Go Vap District to Can Gio District and the Endless Field tourist site in the Mekong Delta province of Long An. It was a trial run for the helicopter tour that will be officially launched during the Reunification Day (April 30) holiday.

For short tours of 30 to 45 minutes, tourists will get to see downtown HCMC and Can Gio, an outlying district famous for fresh seafood and eco-tourist sites. The district hosts the Can Gio Mangrove Forest, a UNESCO recognized biological reserve.

Mid-range tours that last one hour takes visitors from HCMC or Can Gio to the Endless Field tourist site in the Mekong Delta province of Long An.

After taking off from the city center, the helicopter heads towards Can Gio District and the scenery that comes into view is the dense green of the mangrove forest, considered the green lung of the city.

In 2000, the Can Gio Mangrove Forest, or Sac Forest was recognized as a world biosphere reserve.

Located 40 kilometers from downtown Ho Chi Minh City, the reserve is an important wildlife sanctuary in Vietnam characterized by a wetland biosystem dominated by mangroves and many rare species.

A corner of Thanh An Island in Can Gio District. This is the only island commune in Ho Chi Minh City.

Thanh An is surrounded by a protected forest of 13,000 hectares. The island is home to more than 1,130 families with about 4,500 members.

Leaving Can Gio, passengers can admire the green and yellow rice fields in Long An Province as the helicopter flies over the Endless Field Tourist Area in Moc Hoa District.

This is an aerial view of the area that belongs to the Dong Thap Muoi Center for Research, Conservation and Development of Medicinal Plants in Long An.

The area has over 1,000 hectares of centuries old primeval melaleuca forest hundreds of years old and a "medicinal forest" that preserves more than 80 types of rare herbal genes.

The chopper tour also affords a view of vast fields of bang grass, which grows wild in the flooded fields of Mekong Delta. Of late, this grass is being used to replace plastic straws.

The helicopter tours will use the helipad at the 175 Military Hospital, and the choppers will also be used to provide healthcare services. The Southern Vietnam Helicopter Company is required to ensure flight safety in compliance with regulations set by the Ministry of National Defense.

Green rice fields in the suburban areas of Long An.

Authorities and service providers are yet to reveal the prices of chopper rides that will soon be on offer to locals and tourists.

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