Museum on Phu Quoc for animal lovers

For those who eventually get bored relaxing on white sands and paddling in crystal blue waters, Phu Quoc Island’s sightseeing list has something else to tempt bird and dog lovers.

For those who eventually get bored relaxing on white sands and paddling in crystal blue waters, Phu Quoc Island’s sightseeing list has something else to tempt bird and dog lovers.

It is the Coi Nguon (Root) Museum, in Duong Dong Town, in the southern province of Kien Giang - a 40,000sq.m outdoor exhibition area where curator and owner Huynh Phuoc Hue displays artifacts and shows his flock of over 60 rare sea eagles. Already established on the sightseeing circuit, Hue says about 200 tourists visit the museum everyday.

Natural preservation area

"It all started a few years ago when I rescued two injured birds from a couple of fishermen who caught them in their nets. I have been breeding them ever since," Hue says.

Hue’s efforts to raise the eagles has won him praise from Vice Chairman of the Provincial People’s Committee Van Ha Phong. "The sea eagles are well cared for at Coi Nguon Museum and I hope he will get expert help to safely release them back into the wild."

With a wing span of 1.5m, eagles are the largest native birds on the island. Fishermen know them for the distinctive piercing sound they make heralding a storm.

But birds aren’t Hue’s only interest. He also has a passion for dogs and has written a book about Phu Quoc breeds. "Phu Quoc dogs have many unique characteristics," he says. "They are very clever and have features similar to hunting dogs. I often use several dogs when go hunting. I’ve taught them many instructions, for example when I jerk my chin up it means they should attack."

Phu Quoc dogs like swimming, that’s why it’s difficult to breed them inland, Hue says. "They are amazing animals. The museum is large but I don’t need to employ many security guards because my dogs do the job just as well."
Hue began collecting stumps of wood from old trees in nearby forests in the early 1990s. He carves these stumps and turned them into strange statues of animals, women, Buddha, Christ, human faces and other random effigies then places around his enormous garden.

Hue is collecting tree chunks and roots to make furniture. He owns 70 sets and aims to collect 29 more.
"There are 99 mountains on the island; thus 99 furniture sets as a symbol of Phu Quoc’s mountains," he explains.

Indoor showroom

From 1991 to 1997, Hue had a chance to collect documents about Phu Quoc Island. He even compiled a book for tourists that briefly introduced Phu Quoc’s history, its tourism development and products specific to the island. The book was published by the Youth Publishing House. All documents are stored at a showroom in the Coi Nguon area for tourists.

One of Hue’s hardest won artifacts was a part of a boat used by national hero Nguyen Trung Truc (1837-68), that he managed to convince a family to sell.

Hue spends a lot of time and money to buy dugong bones and fossils. When he found a family that had a 500kg dugong bone, he bought it for VND13 million (nearly US$773).

"Dugong bones are greatly valued for its medicinal purposes; scientists are trying to figure out how to preserve it from disintegrating," Hue says.

The showrooms store many valuable objects featuring the history and culture of the local people including tools for making Phu Quoc’s specialty, nuoc mam (fish sauce).

A collection of stone axes dating the 15th century BC that has been analyzed at an archaeological workshop in Hanoi is preserved at the showroom. Hue insisted on buying them from people who found them on the coast.

Hue offers a souvenir shop at the site, selling souvenirs such as lacquer paintings, ornaments and bags made from shells and other materials from Phu Quoc Island. He also opened a jewelry shop selling top-quality adornments made from the home-grown pearls processed on the island and other Phu Quoc-based products including white peppers and sea-horse wine.

When Professor Duong Trung Quoc, General Secretary of Vietnam History Association, visited the complex, he said he was very impressed with Hue’s collections, which he says, are valuable cultural relics. Quoc also encouraged Hue in his dream to build the private museum on the island.

When Hue first laid down VND30 million (nearly $1,800) to set up the museum, he says his friends and family thought he was crazy. But now he’s reaping the rewards. "Tourists come in crowds to my museum everyday," he says. "At the moment I employ 16 people, but I plan to hire professional guides to show people around."

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