While they have yet to win much interest at home, miniature submarines made by an inventor in Ho Chi Minh City has caught the attention of tourism companies of Southeast Asia.
Phan Boi Tran, who spent years working for a French submarine and helicopter body manufacturer, said he has received an order of around 300 mini submarines from Thailand.
Tran said his team will make the submarines in Thailand and the partner, whose name has not been disclosed, will sell them to travel companies.
He said he could not make the subs here in Vietnam and then export them.
“Vietnam has not issued a product code for my product. Without a certificate of origin, I will have to pay 30 percent tax if I export completely built subs to Thailand,” Tran said.
The 61-year-old exported his first five mini submarines to Malaysia last September and has been supplying equipment and staff to build 25 more in Malaysia.
Both orders from Thailand and Malaysia were brokered by a former French colleague, who planned to seek more buyers from Central and South America.
Tran said the submarines for Thailand will be similar to those he sold to Malaysia, which are around two meters long, 1.5 meters tall and just big enough to carry one person.
The composite submarine uses electric engines. It is designed to dive to three meters under water for around two hours, and at the speed of one to five nautical miles per hour.
“It is technically a diving device,” Tran said.
His team will travel to Thailand for the production in the next ten days.
He said the Thai customer has agreed to pay US$5,000 for a sub, 50 percent higher than the price offered to the Malaysia partner.
Tran said he is raising the price as his subs have proved "effective and safe" in Malaysia.
Tran is the descendant of the patriotic scholar and talented diplomat Phan Boi Chau (1867-1940), who in the early 20th century started a movement to train and educate young Vietnamese for a revolution against the French.
Tran returned to Vietnam from France in 2006 to open a company that specializes in designing machinery, electric bicycles and toys.
He won local fame in 2010 for successfully piloting the country’s first mini-sub, Yet Kieu 1.
But his invention has not brought him any orders from local customers.