Visitors to Sai Gon will notice most of the trees are painted white around their bases; most trees in the rest of the country and the South East Asian region are similarly painted. I’ve asked why this is done and I’ve had many, many answers.
One reason is that many streets are poorly lit and it would be easy to miss the tree trunks in the darkness. Painting the trees white at the base makes them stand out in the gloom, and considering the sheer numbers of drink drivers, I’m glad they’re hard to miss. This reason certainly rings true because the painted trees really do jump out at you at night. This is an elegant, low-cost, long-term solution to a problem. But then, check out some of these exceptional examples below.
Also this tree on a hill top at 150 metre elevation.
So, we come to another good explanation for the paint. It is supposedly Limewash; a breathable paint that soaks into underlying materials and is primarily composed of Lime (Calcium Hydroxide, not the fruit) and chalk. It can prevent termites and insects from eating or boring into the trees. This would explain why you find painted trees deep in forests, far away from any traffic.
Other explanations given are that it is kind of sun protection to prevent damage from excessive sunlight. This pairs nicely with the Vietnamese obsession with avoiding the harmful effects of solar radiation.
By far the most romantic reason given was that during the American War, trucks would travel down the Ho Chi Minh Trail, but as they couldn’t use their headlights to see the way, women from the villages used to stand along the road during the night wearing white Ao Dais (Vietnamese women’s traditional dress) to guide them on their way. Trees are painted white in their memory.
The white paint might be a combination of all these reasons and more. If anyone wants to add another explanation, I’m open to suggestions.