Staying afloat in a picturesque lagoon

Thanh Nien News. Original Vietnamese story by TBKTSG

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Hai Hung, host of the sole homestay service on Thi Tuong lagoon, the biggest of its kind in Mekong Delta poses with a bag of ghem - a kind of small crab / PHOTO: PHU SA LOC
Thi Tuong Lagoon stretches along for about 10 kilometers. Its widest part is some three kilometers, and its water surface covers an area of some 700 hectares.
The lagoon hosts some 20 big and small floating bamboo houses where local fishermen stay while waiting to collect their catch.
Nguyen Van Hung, or better known as Hai Hung, owns most of the houses there, earning him the moniker, “King of the lagoon.”
He is also the only fisherman to operate a homestay service at his biggest house, or “the water villa” as the locals call it.
We visited Hung’s house on the recommendation of famous writer Nguyen Ngoc Tu, who led a dozen tourist groups, including foreigners, there last year. Most of the people that Tu, Hung’s friend, has taken to his floating house are writers. Some of the writers with foreign friends asked her to guide the latter as well.
Hung’s children picked us up on motorized boats at the Xeo Duoc relic site, which is over 30 kilometers from Ca Mau Town.
They took us directly to the popular house, which is ten meters wide and 20 meters long. The house can accommodate as many as 100 people. Next to it was an old boat where vegetables are planted, while inside there were several cages holding fowls.
After a short break, the 51-year-old host, who started working at Thi Tuong some 30 years ago, took us around the lagoon.
Since it was late in the afternoon, the sun was moving down to the sea on the west, leaving sunrays reflected on the slightly moving water surface. We all agreed that the scene was a hint that the lagoon deserves the praise it gets for its beauty.
 HAI HUNG'S HOMESTAY
 (078) 656 7770 (Mr. Nguyen Van Hung)
Occasionally, on the way, fishermen collecting the yield from their nets would raise their head above the water to greet Hung and his guests.
Hung said the water level reaches an adult’s chest during summer, and its highest level is around 1.6 meters during the rainy season.
Despite the shallow water, the lagoon is a rich source of fish, prawn and crab throughout the year, helping local fishermen, including our host, make their living.
For instance, September is the season of ghem which is a small crab known for its quality meat and roe, Hung told us, adding that during the season, fishermen can harvest at least 500-700 kilograms per day.
It took us almost two hours to finish the tour around the lagoon, taking in a beautiful sunset and other scenes before returning to Hung’s house, where an array of dishes made with local produce by his wife, Duong Thi Lua, was awaiting.
We ate and drank, sitting on the wooden floor, and Hung entertained us with stories about the lagoon.
He said legend has it that the lagoon was named after a woman who was the first one to exploit it. Its other name is Ba Tuong (Lady Tuong). Locals also call it Dua Nuoc (Nipa fruitcans) because it is surrounded by these palms.
Situated between Phu Tan and Tran Van Thoi districts, the lagoon consists of three smaller lagoons: Trong (inside), Giua (middle), and Ngoai (outside). The largest is Giua which is often compared to a fully inflated balloon.
As Hung’s stories continued, a chilly breeze blew in from outside the house, but several glasses of rice wine mixed with honey kept us warm.
Hung said he once treated a group of Korean tourists to the homemade liquor, and the foreigners loved it so much that they drank a lot. The next morning, one of them, nursing a hangover, missed his step when getting on a boat, and fell into the water. He was covered in mud, but kept laughing.
According to Hung, positive reviews online have helped increase the popularity of his service.
We finished the dinner soon, but stayed up until it was nearly midnight, drinking and admiring the lagoon’s night scene: the moon and stars lit up the vast dark sky, and moonlight was reflected by the calm waters.
When we woke up the next morning, we were offered bowls of hot rice porridge with small shrimps cooked by Lua, and glasses of lightly fragrant tea.
It was still early, so we were able to catch the soft light before sunrise, and see how crystal clear the water was. But soon, clouds appeared in the sky, coloring the water with a slightly pink shade.
Finally, the sun came out, breaking the morning dew, and streaks of red seemed to move along with waves across the lagoon before disappearing.
The homestay cost us just VND200,000 each, but besides accommodation, meals, and the lagoon tour, Hung also gifted us bags of ghem.
Meanwhile, Lua kept blaming us for not being able to prepare mam (fish paste) – a native specialty – as gifts for us, saying that we should have informed them of our visit in advance.
“It is such a strange place,” Tu had told us. “People treat their guests whole-heartedly, and are ready give guests gifts even before starting any conversation.”

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