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Vông Viêng Village in Ha Long Bay, the northern province of Quang Ninh, is home to 72 families who still maintain customs from the old nomadic lifestyle and the originality of a Vietnamese fishing village
PHOTO BY DOAN DAT

It was foggy in the morning when we set off in a canoe from Bai Chay Town in the central province of Quang Ninh to Vông Viêng Village, some 30 kilometers away.

Soon, we arrived at a giant rock arch that serves as an entrance to the village that is tucked away in a corner of Ha Long Bay, the natural wonder which is Vietnam's premier destination.

Going through the arch, we entered what looked like a lost world compared to the lively bay out there: the green mountains surrounding them seemed to have had a calm influence on the waters, as also the blue skies high above.

The houses on boats anchored along islands added to the picturesque look.

Around us, local women were rowing boats for tourists to go sightseeing. The boats moved very quietly and calmly, and we were thankful for that.

The children playing on the sampans were a lively lot, looking perfectly safe and at home on the water as they played with the oars.

Vông Viêng is home to 72 families who live on fishing. For the last few years, tourism has allowed them to augment their income after they were approached by a group of travel firms to provide services new to Ha Long Bay.

The businesses organize homestay tours to the village. During the tours, tourists live, eat and fish with local people. They also join them in traditional festivals and ceremonies when these happen.

These activities have helped visitors learn more about the culture of Vông Viêng, which was established centuries ago when nomadic fishermen living off the sea settled down here.

Locals still maintain customs from the old nomadic lifestyle as well as the originality of a Vietnamese fishing village from the practice of worshipping sea gods, to singing old folk songs relating to the sea. That they do this in the middle of a famous destination receiving thousands of tourists a day is a welcome development.

Original fishing trip

During our stay in Vông Viêng, we were guided by Duong Van Thanh and his family.

They first took us out on a fishing trip. Initially, Thanh was at the helm of the boat, and just after it left the village's bay, he handed the steering wheel to his youngest son, Hoang.

Just ten years old, Hoang looked more mature than other boys his age, a result of the fact that he was taught to earn a living at sea to support his family at a very young age.

After finding a good place for fishing, the boy stopped the boat and his family, namely Hoang, Thanh, and his wife, threw their net in.

Once the net was stable, they drove the boat around it for a few times while all of them continuously hit the boat's sides with a pair of sticks in their hands.

We also joined them in the creating the drum-beat like din.  Sometimes, Hoang stopped hitting and hit the water surface with a long pole to scare fish into their net.

It looked as though this original way of fishing dated back hundreds of years. We ended the fishing trip without a big catch, but the experience was exciting. Knowing that the catch would provide us the meal at Thanh's house when we returned added edge to our appetite.

Thanh's house is almost rectangular with each side less than four meters long, yet it was home to six people in the family. His other children were also engaged in fishing and rowing boats to show tourists around.

After the meal we were rowed to a floating raft that hosts a school with two classrooms one for preschoolers and another for students of first grade to fifth grade. On the raft, there was also a reception area for tourists and even a small gallery.

As we were showed around the village, we became aware that in such a secluded place, people tended to bond together. Their houses were tied closely together, and we were told that it was a way to cope with storms. Whenever a storm approached, they would help each other fortifying their homes. Even generators are also shared, one serving six families.

Experiencing this sense of community was perhaps the most attractive part of our trip to Vông Viêng, not to mention their hospitality and being part of locals' lives for a short time. Amidst a natural wonder of the world, this touch of human magic enclosed in a very simple lifestyle gave us plenty to reflect on as we returned to the chaos of our daily life.

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