“You are late today”, chu Lau exclaimed upon seeing me and a family of Grasshopper Adventure cyclists slowly enter his yard. “Sorry, chu we stopped too much for photos. It’s so green today”, I answer cheekily while the cyclists are still amazed at the surprising stop after riding freely on paved roads among rice paddy fields. “Xin chao”, he smiled gently, gesturing for us to come inside. A few years ago, the Grasshopper Adventures Saigon team discovered this unique Vietnamese cacao farmer for the first time while we zigzagged on motorbikes to map out the best Mekong routes. It was a day just like today, as the Mekong Delta was brightening up after pouring rain, soaking rice paddy fields, coconut lanes, and patches of herbs in a vast green mosaic. Against that backdrop, were chubby cacao fruits in a bright array of colors. “Is it edible?”, the 9-year-old boy asked while his sister was busy picking her favorite color.
Known more as a land of coffee and rice, there are only a few areas in this tropical country with land suitable for growing cacao fruits. “There are some farms in Central Highland, and some in Mekong”, Chu Lau said, pointing at Vietnamese cacao map hanging on the wall. Cacao plants were first introduced to Vietnam more than 15 years ago via the efforts of a non-profit organization. Taking part in that project since the beginning, Mr. Lau is one of the pioneers who fosters skills and knowledge in cacao planting training courses. “It was difficult to distribute or buy the materials needed”, he recalled. In those days, the roads were narrow and many just dirt. While many farmers gave up, Mr. Lau didn’t and has now become the most trusted distributor for the first bean-to-bar product in Vietnam called Marou Chocolate.
Marveling at slightly bitter cacao beans bathing in the sun, we were reluctant to go. “There’s a tranquil cycling path ahead of us”, I have to console our cyclists who still want to linger at his house a little bit longer. This home has become a beloved stop both for Mekong in one day and multi-day Mekong cycling trips, and Mr. Lau is now a good friend of Grasshopper Adventures Vietnam as well as an ambassador of the cacao industry to his foreign visitors. About the author - Thang Quyet
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