Untangling the Nets, Phan Thiết

Along a street near the big Phan Thiết fish market, a group of mostly men were at work untangling the nets used to catch the fish. These days, no natural fibers in sight – the nets are made of a thread-fine synthetic of some kind. After watching for about 10 seconds, I realized I had no clue how these people went about sorting out and making sense of the huge piles of netting they were working with. Better them than me. I would go off the rails completely in a matter of minutes trying to untangle all those tiny threads.

Fishing Boats in Early Sun, Kê Gà

There is a fish market that gets going in the pre-dawn every morning in Kê Gà village. I presume the boats in this photo are back from a night of fishing in waters near the coast. As far as I know, Vietnam does not have any of the huge factory-type fishing boats that put to sea from Japan and a number of other countries, but there are some larger Vietnamese boats that operate in deep water for days at a time. Smaller boats like these and the ones I see in Hoi An stay closer to home.

Fishing Boats on the Beach, Kê Gà

I went recently to visit my friends Mark and Phoung who live in the seaside village of Kê Gà about 150 km east of Saigon. The trip by mini-bus from Saigon took around three and a half hours, a good part of which was spent crawling through the traffic generated by Saigon’s vast urban sprawl to get to a new expressway that took me most of the rest of the way. Kê Gà, itself, is a quiet place with residents depending mostly on fishing in the East Sea and the raising of dragon fruit for their livelihoods. The center of town consists of a restaurant or two, a small sample of Vietnam’s ubiquitous noodle shops, and several coffee shops. A number of homestays and a few proper hotels – though none of the big resort variety – are located along the beach or on the highway that runs through town hugging the coast. Visitors it seems are mostly Vietnamese escaping Saigon for a few days of relaxation. Non-Vietnamese faces were few and far between, at least during my stay. Local beaches are pleasant enough, but definitely not of the tropical paradise variety.

To determine how far off the beaten track for foreigners a place is, like many of our kind, I consider the availability of imported Western foods in the area. Mark uses olive oil as representative of all imported foods when making his calculations, and that makes perfect sense to me. After all, you have to draw the line somewhere and being able to buy olive oil seems as reasonable a place as any. In any case, the nearest olive oil to Kê Gà is in a Korean big-box chain store called Lotte located in the small city of Phan Thiết about 45 minutes down the road from Kê Gà. So when you just cannot take another day of steamed rice or bun, you have to plan a drive to get the makings of that eggplant parmesan with penne you are craving.

On the plus side, if you think being out of the house at 8:30 pm constitutes a late night – and I do – then you are almost sure to like Kê Gà.

Kê Gà’s fishing fleet is anchored off shore along various stretches of beach. I presume the covered boats here are also fishing boats or serve the larger, anchored fishing boats in some way, but I do not know their function. That is Kê Gà light house in the background.

Floating Market in the Mekong Delta

Long Xuyên is a city of some 400,000 people located on the banks of the Hau River (Sông Hậu). The Hau is part of the massive Mekong River delta system of rivers. Long Xuyen is 140km upriver from the coast where the Mekong and its tributaries spill into the East Sea. Even at that distance from the sea, the Hau River is not a small river on its own, but the delta’s main channel, the Mekong River itself, is still larger as it flows by about 20km to the north and east of Long Xuyen.

Long Xuyen is home to a floating market where sellers of local fruits and vegetables meet with buyers on boats in the middle of the Hau River. The man standing on top of the larger boat in the photo above is weighing large bunches of bananas to sell to the man in the smaller boat. He will transport the bananas he buys to the Long Xuyen shore of the river where the bananas will be cut into smaller bunches and be sold to retail buyers in a local wet market.

The floating market opens early and continues to 10 or so in the morning seven days a week. When my brother visited Vietnam in 2018, we made a brief stop in Long Xuyen and took a boat tour through the market. There were a number of boats on the river, though the market area was hardly crowded. We arrived at about 7:30 am on a Sunday morning, and it is very possible Sunday is a slow day.

The friendly young woman in the foreground of the photo below is going from boat to boat in the market selling bowls of noodle soup for breakfast to customers and sellers.

The woman in the next image is making her way to the market area with a selection of drinks for sale.

Hoa My Hung Island sits in the middle of the Hau River, dividing the river into two narrow channels that come together just as the river flows past Long Xuyen. Houses on stilts stand in the water near the river banks. Some households are engaged in fishing, and in addition to having flat bottom fishing boats, some river dwellers use ingenious arrangements of nets deployed below the house to catch or, in some cases, farm fish. Trapdoors in the porches of the houses make both the nets and the catch accessible. I assume most of the people living in these homes depend on the river in one way or another for their livelihoods. Other families may be involved in growing fruits and vegetables on Hoa My Hung Island.

Some houses have satellite dishes providing residents with television and, I presume, internet service.

In the picture below, a family is out fishing. It is Sunday morning so it makes sense that the boy is helping his mom and dad on the weekend. But let’s hope he is able to go to school come Monday morning.

Thu Bồn River, Hoi An, Vietnam

Thu Bồn River, Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An, about 20 km south of Danang, has become a major tourist attraction for its UNESCO World Heritage site Ancient City and its beautiful beaches. Curious, I took a public bus from Danang to take a look. I had intended to make it a day trip, though I actually stayed for no more than a couple of hours. The part of Hoi An I found myself in was mobbed with tourists and everything I saw there, from the shops selling tee shirts, (allegedly) local handicrafts, and artwork to the cafes and restaurants, to the ubiquitous men with motorbikes pitching rides, was designed to part tourists from their money. Yes, the architecture was interesting and the old town was certainly quaint, maybe authentically so, but the atmosphere proclaimed very loudly, “Tourist trap.” If I had given myself a couple of days to explore, I suspect I could have found parts of Hoi An that were worth visiting. But that is not how I had organized my trip and, as it was, I quickly became fed up with the crowds and the feeling that the whole place was about money. I took a couple of dozen photos, one of which is posted here, walked back to the bus station, and two hours after arriving took another public bus back to Danang. At least I can say I have been to Hoi An.