Captain coconut

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Pham Hong Binh may be the first man to float a restaurant on coconuts. But, then again, he wouldn't have it any other way.

In 2009, the rural knick knack baron commissioned a 25-meter long, two-story pleasure boat made, in part, out of reconstituted shells.

"It's important, in business, to take the lead," said Binh. "Our products must be like no others. That the vessel was made of coconut shell and other light materials really caused curiosity and represents my first foray into the field of tourism."

Last month, he piloted the Lac Hong 1 on its maiden voyage down the Da Rang River.

The boat, which was modeled after the mythical Lac bird of Vietnamese folk lore, will serve as a floating restaurant in the central coastal province of Phu Yen's Tuy Hoa Town.

In 2003, Binh's 26-year-old son Pham Hong Bao visited Song Cau Town"”famed for it's coconut plantations.

During his trip, Bao noted that tons of the useful shells were simply being thrown away. The young man urged his father to purchase the materials and create a workshop to recycle them. Several young locals were then sent to be trained into skillful craftsmen"”who still work for the family, today.

The same year, his father launched the Binh SVC company selling coconut jewelry, souvenirs, and fixtures. The products were sold throughout Vietnam and exported abroad.

They began to think big. They made giant vases, lamps and ornamental birds. During their first two years of operation, the crew set three national records for the largest coconut shell handicrafts ever made in Vietnam.

But Bao and his father remained determined to do more. Their goal was to combine coconut shell composite and space age materials"”something that was at once attractive and practical.

"We launched the Lac Hong 1 project in the hopes of accomplishing something new and different," said Bao.

In November of 2009, they began construction on the first cruise ship to have ever been built in the province.

The strange and oversize figure drew attention from people living along the town's Hung Vuong Avenue. The crew built a frame out of wood and then cast the hull out of coconut composite. The natural materials were then lined with fiberglass and synthetic resin.

The whole boat, including its inferior, bar, stage and toilets, were paved and decorated with millions of pieces of coconut shells.

In January 2011, construction concluded.

Father and son had spent roughly half a million US dollars to build the cruise ship which could accommodate 120 passengers during its daily sightseeing trips down the Da Rang. In addition to the Lac Hong 1 the firm produced four smaller boats to ferry passengers from Da Rang Wharf to the ship.

To complete the ship's 10km journey to the riverside, the workers had to install heavy-duty- truck-sized wheels to the bilge. To avoid electric and cable wires, Binh asked for permission from the local government to temporarily cut off the power and lift the wires so that his vessel could pass through.

Binh says that it was all worth it, in the end.

"I would not have taken on the project if it weren't a challenge," Binh said.

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