Within spitting distance, Nha Trang offers a very special attraction
In the last few years, Nha Trang Bay in Khanh Hoa Province has been making waves for something other than its beaches, diving and seafood.
Enamored of its health benefits and curious about its origins, tourists have been flocking to the islands where Bird’s Nest is found – nests that are built with the saliva of the swiftlet birds.
The Sanest Tourist Company, 89 Thong Nhat Street, Nha Trang, has been operating tours to these islands since 2009. Visitors are taken on a two-hour boat trip to Hon Noi Island and led into dark caves to watch the swiflets with the help of flashlights. It is estimated that the Nha Trang Bay has more than 500,000 cave swiftlets that have made its sheer cliffs their home.
The swiftlets breed in colonies in caves, in clefts in cliffs on Nha Trang’s islands. Their bracket-shaped nests are white and translucent and made of layers of hardened saliva. The solidified saliva is now gathered and used to make bird’s nest soup and other beverages that people say are not only tasty but also have several health benefits. According to bird-nest workers, swiftlets live in pairs and do not perch anywhere but in their own nests.
Day after day, the male and female swiftlets drop their saliva in sticky transparent strands on the rocks. The interwoven strands slowly take the shape of a solid nest, looking like a shallow cup or an oyster shell.
The nests are farmed or collected from caves without harm to the birds. If their nests are taken away (‘harvested’), the birds make a new one.
The swiftlet’s nesting season usually lasts from December until March every year. Two to three months after making the nest, the female birds lay eggs. The chicks begin flying a couple of months after hatching.
What is called the "Caviar of the East" or the "White Gold" are delicacies famous for their health benefits
According to locals, bird’s nest harvesting dates back to more than half a millennium ago when Le Van Dat, a commander of the Tran Dynasty (1255-1400), found the bird-nest caves in Hon Tre Island. The industry has developed ever since.
In Vietnam, a kilogram of bird’s nest can fetch as much as VND60 million (US$2,871). That makes exploiting the bird’s nest a lucrative business, and it is called “white gold on the sea.” So far 27 bird’s nest islands with 102 caves have been found in Nha Trang, and more than 3,000 kilograms of the precious commodity is harvested a year.
The price of an exported kilogram of bird’s nest harvested from the cave is US$2,469, and it is reported that companies in the business earned VND380 billion ($18.2 million) last year. VinaCapital, a leading investment fund in Vietnam has invested millions of USD to assist businesses in strengthening its distribution channels, production capability and product development.
Dubbed “Caviar of the East,” bird’s nest soup is a delicacy in Chinese cuisine and several Asian countries including Vietnam. A small bowl of bird’s nest soup served on the tour in Nha Trang costs VND220,000 ($10.52).
The authentic bird’s nest soup may taste quite rubbery to Westerners the first time, but Vietnamese cooks make it much more delicious with other ingredients like chicken, lotus seeds (to make sweet soup), and eggs. The soup has a sweet, gelatinous, almost cartilage-like taste.
The bird’s nest is believed to have wide-ranging benefits. It aids digestion, raises libido, improves your voice, restores young and beauty, and strengthens the immune system. It is said that it also has high levels of calcium, iron, potassium, and magnesium.
Sources: vietnamnet, VNS, VinaCapital, Sanest