When many westerners hear the term Vietnamese (people) they often think of boats. Yes, it’s a sad but true fact that the ‘boat people’ fleeing after the Vietnam War in the late seventies & eighties is still synonymous with the country & it’s people. In an ironic view, the Vietnamese always have been & still are ‘boat people’. It’s something they are proud of although these days, unlike that dark period, they are not using their boats to escape persecution (a story for another time).
With a coastal length 3260km (excluding islands) and a very dense population, it’s hardly a surprise when you visit any coastal city or town in Vietnam to be amazed & somewhat shocked at the sight of literally hundreds of fishing boats. It’s hard without seeing it in person, but nothing come close experiencing the reality of seeing these boats, scattered across the ocean like a spray of confetti, filling the bays at places like Vung Tau, Phan Thiet & Nha Trang.
Once on the coast, the life of the waterfront & piers has a gravitational effect on oneself & the first thing that personally captured me were the colours! Secondly, was the noise, ever present & coming at you from every angle. The most entertaining thing is the organised chaos, as sunset hits & men are screaming across boats to each other, rushing to fill their boats with ice & to prepare for another big night of fishing in the East Sea. In addition to the sunkissed, thin but muscle-bound fishermen, you have the gentle & hardworking women on the pier sorting through the fish, crabs & squid from the days haul. For hundreds of years, the sea has brought life, energy & wonder into Vietnamese lives and it still does, for tourists alike – its a feast for every sense you have & an addictive experience.
Of course, fishing is a massive industry in Vietnam,engaging a huge population along it coastline, a similarity it has with its South East Asian neighbours. A little know fact is that actually, thousands upon thousands of fish served in western countries, come direct from these waters. A skilled trade such as a fisherman or a boat builder is a respected vocation along the coastal areas & a highly regarded art, involving hard work & long hours that demands a strong respect for the sea; otherwise the sea will take you & your crew to the bottom of its murky depths. (Many boats, usually only barges for some reason, have large eyes on the bow to guide & protect them when out to sea)
As such, they take great pride & place a tremendous amount of importance on buliding & maintaining their fishing vessels. Be it constructing a large or small boat, it must be strong, sturdy & made to last the years of solid use as a seabound best of burden. Still to this day, I have yet to see an aluminium fishing boat anywhere in Vietnam. Commercial fishing boats are all made from solid timber; huge amounts of solid timber! Even the small boats are of an incredibly strong & sturdy construction.
The fishing boats of Vietnam, for generalising, fall into two categories. Most fishing boats I have seen (in the south) are of a modern hull design (1960-on) & intended for the more powerful Japanese diesel engines which were available at the time. The boats are larger, wider & have sharper edges as opposed to a traditional design which are longer, curvier & inherently narrower as these were engineered for use of a sail as its only form of propulsion. The modern boats are a beautiful design with their high sides, big work decks & as I mentioned before, the amazingly vivid colours they are painted with, which is just the icing on the cake.
Another beautiful & iconic fishing boat in Vietnam is a type of small multi -purpose fishing boat called a Coracle. It was quite a common style of fishing boat used throughout the world at one stage but now only used still popular in several countries, such as Vietnam, Iraq & India. Traditionally it is made of woven grass or reeds shaped over a lightweight frame, animal hide or bitumen for water proofing, the modern keel-less boats are usually made of fiberglass. With a wide, flat bottom to the boat, the weight is evenly spread & can be used to access shallow water & creates minimal disturbance to fish beneath the surface. They are now primarily used to access & supply the larger boats & are also used out to sea to help retrieve nets but still often used for fishing close to shore.
>>> Please check out my Flickr account where I have more pictures of Vietnamese fishing boats<<<