Another Day in Paradise – Porper story #10

This Hoian fishing day is the tenth post in a series of Vietnam experiences storied by Rochelle Porper, for the previous one please read these.

So off we go at 5am. This is a side tour that Sam and I booked because we heard from some other travelers that is was spectacular. Oh my. By now you know the drill.

We ride out into the ocean on a hand carved wooden boat and the sea is perfectly calm. We are served tea in tiny cups. There are huge ancient fishing boats coming into shore, hauling the fish they have caught overnight. They all have those huge Asian eyes painted on the bow, so the boats can ‘see’ where the fish are. They are all painted different Caribbean colors and have tiny Vietnamese flags flying from their masts. You can see their fishing nets hanging off the sides of the boats. The rising sun slowly climbs over the purple mountains in the distance and the sky turns a dazzling pink. The sun hits the water and it sparkles. 

Really – this is getting ridiculous. You can’t take it all in it is so beautiful and peaceful. After getting a good dose of the sunrise, we go see the local fishing village where the night’s catch gets unloaded.  We see people rowing in these huge bamboo bowls and ask what they are. It turns out they are the row boats that are used to bring the fish to shore.

Then we get in one and go to shore ourselves. Simply incredible. They only hold three people and you sit on a tiny platform seat, and the bowl wobbles around as we get closer to the shore.  

When we get off, we walk over to an embankment where a long line of women are all squatting on their haunches looking down at the ocean and waiting for the men to arrive with the fish. When a bowl gets to shore, we can see that it is packed with several red and blue plastic laundry baskets filled to the brim with fish. They unload the baskets and line them up along the shore, alternating the colors so there is a blue one next to a red one, and so on. I don’t know why they do this and I forget to ask because I am so intrigued by what happens next.

There are about 10 baskets all lined up with space between them. The men stand back and all the women walk down the embankment to the water’s edge where the baskets are, and stand in between them. In unison, they all bend down and grab the handles so that one hand has the handle of a basket on their left and the other hand has the handle on the basket on their right. They hoist up the baskets together and walk them up the embankment in a long line. This is so perfectly timed that I am sure this is choreographed just for us but later we see them repeating this same routine over and over again.

We walk up to the communal building where the women have prepared breakfast for the men, who have been fishing all night. There are women shelling shrimp and preparing fish for drying at one end of the building. We walk over to the place where the fish are steamed before they are set out to dry in the sun, and we enter a kind of hut with a low ceiling made of bamboo leaves.

All of a sudden, there is a loud sound of commotion coming from behind us. We turn around and everyone is standing up and they are all pointing at Sam and howling with laughter. He is so tall that he has to stoop way down to fit into the hut and the villagers think this is hysterical. They are waving at us and you can tell they are enjoying the vision and we start to laugh too. It is truly a Visa moment. After breakfast, the women will take the fish to the market in Hoi An while the men sleep until its time to go back out to sea.

Then we get back in the boat and travel over to the water coconut fields where there is a vast expanse of trees growing in the water. We hop into the bamboo bowl and row deep into the grove. We learn that this is where the Vietcong snipered the Americans when the war came knocking at this part of the country. They stood in waist high water days for at a time, waiting for the soldiers to come through. The Americans knew this was a huge Vietcong stronghold, and spent a lot of time here trying to root them out. It must have been a miserable scene for both sides – the American soldiers slogging in water and mud in full uniform (sometimes in brutal rain and always in brutal heat) and the Vietcong hiding from them for days in water. The forest of coconut trees is so dense that it provided the Vietcong with a huge strategic advantage – they could see out but the soldiers couldn’t see in. Sometimes, the Vietcong literally went underwater to stay hidden, breathing through long bamboo shoots so that the could remain undetected. 

Our guide, who had to be no more than 20 years old, tells us that the Vietcong never killed the Americans but waited until they could capture an entire platoon and then use them as bargaining collateral to persuade the soldiers to get out of Vietnam. He says years later, many soldiers returned to Vietnam to thank the Vietcong for not killing them. This sounds ridiculous to me and I tell Sam that is has to be a good dose of Communist propaganda. From what I have heard already about the Vietcong, I can’t imagine them being that altruistic. Sam disagrees and says that it makes plausible sense that prisoners of war could have been used in that way. I bet him a Tiger beer that he is wrong. Later, when we catch up with Long, we ask him what really happened. He said absolutely that the Vietcong killed the American soldiers at every opportunity. I turn to Sam and smack my lips because I can already taste that beer, and it’s cold and delicious. Surely a beer that has been won over a bet about Communist propaganda has to be the best tasting beer around.

It is only 6:45 AM and already it’s sweltering. When we get back to the dock, we walk over a rickety old bridge and into an old neighborhood where people are living in either wooden shacks or small concrete houses with dirt floors. When they see us coming, they all shout hello and wave with big smiles on their faces. As a matter of fact, no matter where we go today, children and adults all yell hello to us and wave. The Vietnamese have to be the most gentle and happy people on the planet. It is remarkable, given their history, not only with us but with the French and Chinese.

best beaches in Vietnam
Cua Dai beach in Hoian

When we get back to the hotel, we eat and quick breakfast and Tasha, Diane and I grab bikes and ride down to the ocean, which is about 2 miles away. Long told us that this is the 6th most beautiful beach in the world. Since I haven’t been to the top 5, I will have to take his word for it. And because I am sure you are getting cynical by now about the beauty of this country, I will keep it short and sweet. Azure crystal clear water, requisite fishing boat offshore, cloudless blue sky, endless white sand beach, towering palm trees, cool breeze, thatched huts. I fall asleep on a hammock stretched between two huge palms, and sleep for about 17 years. Bliss.

Long catches up with us at 3 pm for our last Hoi An adventure. We hop on bicycles and off we go cycling way out of town. But really, this trip has gotten so cliché that I am not even going to bother telling you about the scenes along the way – like the women we stop to watch making tofu and soymilk out of soybeans, or the tiny cobblestone winding streets that are so narrow that when my Chinese hat falls into my eyes because I am sweating so much that I crash into someone’s window pane, or the beautifully colored and ornate Vietnamese kites that are flying high in the sky, or the village we visit that is known for its terracotta stoneware and where the 96 year old man is sitting on his doorstep carving miniatures (like he has done since he was 6) while chickens walk all over his bed, or the 83 year old woman who still stains her teeth black because of an ancient custom that says it will help keep her teeth in her mouth (it hasn’t much) or the teeny tiny woman who is pounding clay on a plank while standing on one foot because her other foot is manually turning the potter’s wheel while another woman is making clay bowls as she sits on a stool, or when we pile our bikes on a boat and go up the same river that the trading ships used 400 years ago to seek refuge in the Hoi An harbor, or the huge fishing nets the size of football fields that are tied to the ends of four poles and dropped into the ocean to start the evening’s catch, or the last rays of the sun as it shoots through the clouds and turns the sky pink and purple, or how we cycle back in the moonlight and eat dinner at a place that is so local we are the only white faces there because really – its just so much blah.

But what a fucking awesome day it has been.

by Rochelle Porper from Boston, Massachusetts, USA

For the next ones among this Vietnam travel experience, you can jump to the following days.

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