Emeraude Classic Cruises in a special feature on boats and cruises of Vietnam Word, June 2014

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  • 1. 50 | Word June 2014 | wordvietnam.com Insider PROVIDED BY ERIC MERLIN / EMERAUDE CLASSIC CRUISES ROAD RUNNER // OFF THE MAIN DRAG // LIFE’S A BOAT // THE WORLD CUP SPECIAL // A DECADE ON THE SCENE // THE NEW WORKROOM FOUR // NHA XA // H2H: MEASURING THE GAINS // MYSTERY DINER HANOI // STREET SNACKER HANOI // STREET SNACKER PHAN RANG // WAITING FOR THEIR SHIP // CLIMBING BLACK VIRGIN MOUNTAIN // WHEN IN SRI LANKA... Without whom... The majority of the old black and white photos in this issue were provided by Eric Merlin. Used to illustrate the recently published book, The Jewels of Halong Bay, the collection was started when Eric discovered some old postcards of the paddle steamer, The Emeraude, in the St. Ouen flea market in Paris. Sailing tourists around Halong Bay in the early 20th century, The Emeraude was one of an initial fleet of four boats owned and operated by the Roque family. The discovery of these postcards inspired Eric to build a modern-day version of The Emeraude, which today operates cruises on Halong Bay. For more information go to emeraude-cruises.com Without whom... The majority of the old black and white photos in this issue were provided by Eric Merlin. Used to illustrate the recently published book, The Jewels of Halong Bay, the collection was started when Eric discovered some old postcards of the paddle steamer, The Emeraude, in the St. Ouen flea market in Paris. Sailing tourists around Halong Bay in the early 20th century, The Emeraude was one of an initial fleet of four boats owned and operated by the Roque family. The discovery of these postcards inspired Eric to build a modern-day version of The Emeraude, which today operates cruises on Halong Bay. For more information go to emeraude-cruises.com Without whom... The majority of the old black and white photos in this issue were provided by Eric Merlin. Used to illustrate the recently published book, The Jewels of Halong Bay, the collection was started when Eric discovered some old postcards of the paddle steamer, The Emeraude, in the St. Ouen flea market in Paris. Sailing tourists around Halong Bay in the early 20th century, The Emeraude was one of an initial fleet of four boats owned and operated by the Roque family. The discovery of these postcards inspired Eric to build a modern-day version of The Emeraude, which today operates cruises on Halong Bay. For more information go to emeraude-cruises.com Without whom... The majority of the old black and white photos in this issue were provided by Eric Merlin. Used to illustrate the recently published book, The Jewels of Halong Bay, the collection was started when Eric discovered some old postcards of the paddle steamer, The Emeraude, in the St. Ouen flea market in Paris. Sailing tourists around Halong Bay in the early 20th century, The Emeraude was one of an initial fleet of four boats owned and operated by the Roque family. The discovery of these postcards inspired Eric to build a modern-day version of The Emeraude, which today operates cruises on Halong Bay. For more information go to emeraude-cruises.com Without whom...Without whom...Without whom...Without whom...Without whom...Without whom...Without whom...Without whom...Without whom...Without whom...Without whom...Without whom...Without whom...Without whom...Without whom... The majority of the old black and white photos in this issueThe majority of the old black and white photos in this issueThe majority of the old black and white photos in this issueThe majority of the old black and white photos in this issueThe majority of the old black and white photos in this issueThe majority of the old black and white photos in this issueThe majority of the old black and white photos in this issueThe majority of the old black and white photos in this issueThe majority of the old black and white photos in this issueThe majority of the old black and white photos in this issueThe majority of the old black and white photos in this issueThe majority of the old black and white photos in this issueThe majority of the old black and white photos in this issueThe majority of the old black and white photos in this issueThe majority of the old black and white photos in this issue were provided by Eric Merlin. Used to illustrate the recentlywere provided by Eric Merlin. Used to illustrate the recentlywere provided by Eric Merlin. Used to illustrate the recentlywere provided by Eric Merlin. Used to illustrate the recentlywere provided by Eric Merlin. Used to illustrate the recentlywere provided by Eric Merlin. Used to illustrate the recentlywere provided by Eric Merlin. Used to illustrate the recentlywere provided by Eric Merlin. Used to illustrate the recentlywere provided by Eric Merlin. Used to illustrate the recentlywere provided by Eric Merlin. Used to illustrate the recentlywere provided by Eric Merlin. Used to illustrate the recentlywere provided by Eric Merlin. Used to illustrate the recentlywere provided by Eric Merlin. Used to illustrate the recentlywere provided by Eric Merlin. Used to illustrate the recentlywere provided by Eric Merlin. Used to illustrate the recently published book, The Jewels of Halong Bay, the collection waspublished book, The Jewels of Halong Bay, the collection waspublished book, The Jewels of Halong Bay, the collection waspublished book, The Jewels of Halong Bay, the collection waspublished book, The Jewels of Halong Bay, the collection waspublished book, The Jewels of Halong Bay, the collection waspublished book, The Jewels of Halong Bay, the collection waspublished book, The Jewels of Halong Bay, the collection waspublished book, The Jewels of Halong Bay, the collection waspublished book, The Jewels of Halong Bay, the collection waspublished book, The Jewels of Halong Bay, the collection waspublished book, The Jewels of Halong Bay, the collection waspublished book, The Jewels of Halong Bay, the collection waspublished book, The Jewels of Halong Bay, the collection waspublished book, The Jewels of Halong Bay, the collection was started when Eric discovered some old postcards of the paddlestarted when Eric discovered some old postcards of the paddlestarted when Eric discovered some old postcards of the paddlestarted when Eric discovered some old postcards of the paddlestarted when Eric discovered some old postcards of the paddlestarted when Eric discovered some old postcards of the paddlestarted when Eric discovered some old postcards of the paddlestarted when Eric discovered some old postcards of the paddlestarted when Eric discovered some old postcards of the paddlestarted when Eric discovered some old postcards of the paddlestarted when Eric discovered some old postcards of the paddlestarted when Eric discovered some old postcards of the paddlestarted when Eric discovered some old postcards of the paddlestarted when Eric discovered some old postcards of the paddlestarted when Eric discovered some old postcards of the paddle steamer, The Emeraude, in the St. Ouen flea market in Paris.steamer, The Emeraude, in the St. Ouen flea market in Paris.steamer, The Emeraude, in the St. Ouen flea market in Paris.steamer, The Emeraude, in the St. Ouen flea market in Paris.steamer, The Emeraude, in the St. Ouen flea market in Paris.steamer, The Emeraude, in the St. Ouen flea market in Paris.steamer, The Emeraude, in the St. Ouen flea market in Paris.steamer, The Emeraude, in the St. Ouen flea market in Paris.steamer, The Emeraude, in the St. Ouen flea market in Paris.steamer, The Emeraude, in the St. Ouen flea market in Paris.steamer, The Emeraude, in the St. Ouen flea market in Paris.steamer, The Emeraude, in the St. Ouen flea market in Paris.steamer, The Emeraude, in the St. Ouen flea market in Paris.steamer, The Emeraude, in the St. Ouen flea market in Paris.steamer, The Emeraude, in the St. Ouen flea market in Paris. Sailing tourists around Halong Bay in the early 20th century,Sailing tourists around Halong Bay in the early 20th century,Sailing tourists around Halong Bay in the early 20th century,Sailing tourists around Halong Bay in the early 20th century,Sailing tourists around Halong Bay in the early 20th century,Sailing tourists around Halong Bay in the early 20th century,Sailing tourists around Halong Bay in the early 20th century,Sailing tourists around Halong Bay in the early 20th century,Sailing tourists around Halong Bay in the early 20th century,Sailing tourists around Halong Bay in the early 20th century,Sailing tourists around Halong Bay in the early 20th century,Sailing tourists around Halong Bay in the early 20th century,Sailing tourists around Halong Bay in the early 20th century,Sailing tourists around Halong Bay in the early 20th century,Sailing tourists around Halong Bay in the early 20th century, The Emeraude was one of an initial fleet of four boats ownedThe Emeraude was one of an initial fleet of four boats ownedThe Emeraude was one of an initial fleet of four boats ownedThe Emeraude was one of an initial fleet of four boats ownedThe Emeraude was one of an initial fleet of four boats ownedThe Emeraude was one of an initial fleet of four boats ownedThe Emeraude was one of an initial fleet of four boats ownedThe Emeraude was one of an initial fleet of four boats ownedThe Emeraude was one of an initial fleet of four boats ownedThe Emeraude was one of an initial fleet of four boats ownedThe Emeraude was one of an initial fleet of four boats ownedThe Emeraude was one of an initial fleet of four boats ownedThe Emeraude was one of an initial fleet of four boats ownedThe Emeraude was one of an initial fleet of four boats ownedThe Emeraude was one of an initial fleet of four boats owned and operated by the Roque family. The discovery of theseand operated by the Roque family. The discovery of theseand operated by the Roque family. The discovery of theseand operated by the Roque family. The discovery of theseand operated by the Roque family. The discovery of theseand operated by the Roque family. The discovery of theseand operated by the Roque family. The discovery of theseand operated by the Roque family. The discovery of theseand operated by the Roque family. The discovery of theseand operated by the Roque family. The discovery of theseand operated by the Roque family. The discovery of theseand operated by the Roque family. The discovery of theseand operated by the Roque family. The discovery of theseand operated by the Roque family. The discovery of theseand operated by the Roque family. The discovery of these postcards inspired Eric to build a modern-day version of Thepostcards inspired Eric to build a modern-day version of Thepostcards inspired Eric to build a modern-day version of Thepostcards inspired Eric to build a modern-day version of Thepostcards inspired Eric to build a modern-day version of Thepostcards inspired Eric to build a modern-day version of Thepostcards inspired Eric to build a modern-day version of Thepostcards inspired Eric to build a modern-day version of Thepostcards inspired Eric to build a modern-day version of Thepostcards inspired Eric to build a modern-day version of Thepostcards inspired Eric to build a modern-day version of Thepostcards inspired Eric to build a modern-day version of Thepostcards inspired Eric to build a modern-day version of Thepostcards inspired Eric to build a modern-day version of Thepostcards inspired Eric to build a modern-day version of The Emeraude, which today operates cruises on Halong Bay. ForEmeraude, which today operates cruises on Halong Bay. ForEmeraude, which today operates cruises on Halong Bay. ForEmeraude, which today operates cruises on Halong Bay. ForEmeraude, which today operates cruises on Halong Bay. ForEmeraude, which today operates cruises on Halong Bay. ForEmeraude, which today operates cruises on Halong Bay. ForEmeraude, which today operates cruises on Halong Bay. ForEmeraude, which today operates cruises on Halong Bay. ForEmeraude, which today operates cruises on Halong Bay. ForEmeraude, which today operates cruises on Halong Bay. ForEmeraude, which today operates cruises on Halong Bay. ForEmeraude, which today operates cruises on Halong Bay. ForEmeraude, which today operates cruises on Halong Bay. ForEmeraude, which today operates cruises on Halong Bay. For more information go to emeraude-cruises.commore information go to emeraude-cruises.commore information go to emeraude-cruises.commore information go to emeraude-cruises.commore information go to emeraude-cruises.commore information go to emeraude-cruises.commore information go to emeraude-cruises.commore information go to emeraude-cruises.commore information go to emeraude-cruises.commore information go to emeraude-cruises.commore information go to emeraude-cruises.commore information go to emeraude-cruises.commore information go to emeraude-cruises.commore information go to emeraude-cruises.commore information go to emeraude-cruises.com Without whom... The majority of the old black and white photos in this issue were provided by Eric Merlin. Used to illustrate the recently published book, The Jewels of Halong Bay, the collection was started when Eric discovered some old postcards of the paddle steamer, The Emeraude, in the St. Ouen flea market in Paris. Sailing tourists around Halong Bay in the early 20th century, The Emeraude was one of an initial fleet of four boats owned and operated by the Roque family. The discovery of these postcards inspired Eric to build a modern-day version of The Emeraude, which today operates cruises on Halong Bay. For more information go to emeraude-cruises.com
  • 2. wordvietnam.com | June 2014 Word | 51
  • 3. 56 | Word June 2014 | wordvietnam.com Sail away with me honey I put my heart in your hands Sail away with me honey now, now, now Sail away with me What will be will be I wanna hold you now — Sail Away by David Gray Cover Story Sail away with me honey I put my heart in your hands Sail away with me honey now, now, now Sail away with me What will be will be I wanna hold you now — Sail Away by David Gray Sail away with me honey I put my heart in your hands Sail away with me honey now, now, now Sail away with me What will be will be I wanna hold you now — Sail Away by David Gray Sail away with me honey I put my heart in your hands Sail away with me honey now, now, now Sail away with me What will be will be I wanna hold you now — Sail Away by David Gray
  • 4. wordvietnam.com | June 2014 Word | 57 ProvidedbyEricMerlin/EmeraudeClassicCruises Life’s a Boat We are sailing, we are sailing Home again ‘cross the sea We are sailing stormy waters To be near you, to be free — We Are Sailing by Rod Stewart We are sailing, we are sailing Home again ‘cross the sea We are sailing stormy waters To be near you, to be free — We Are Sailing by Rod Stewart We are sailing, we are sailing Home again ‘cross the sea We are sailing stormy waters To be near you, to be free — We Are Sailing by Rod Stewart We are sailing, we are sailing Home again ‘cross the sea We are sailing stormy waters To be near you, to be free — We Are Sailing by Rod Stewart We are sailing, we are sailing Home again ‘cross the sea We are sailing stormy waters To be near you, to be free — We Are Sailing by Rod Stewart Life’s a Boat
  • 5. 58 | Word June 2014 | wordvietnam.com Once Upon a Time in Vietnam The Vietnamese people’s relationship to water and the trade they plied through it were critical to the development of Hanoi’s Old Quarter. But today it lacks the same significance. Words by Hoa Le ProvidedbyJulieVola
  • 6. wordvietnam.com | June 2014 Word | 59 I t’s not a coincidence that the word ‘country’ in Vietnamese — dat nuoc — is composed of two significant words: dat (earth or soil) and nuoc (water). As architect Nguyen Huy Anh, a member of Hanoi’s architect association, puts it: “This reflects the traditional thinking of Vietnamese people. Water has a special meaning: together with earth, it’s the element that makes up the nature of how people live.” When Hanoi — then Thang Long — was first established by King Ly Thai To in 1010, it was with this harmony of earth and water in mind. He felt the location could become ‘prosperous’ due to its ideal terrain of both rivers and mountains, as well as a dense system of rivers, canals, ponds and lakes. In the 16th century, Hanoi was said to have about 400 lakes — at the time the Old Quarter was an interlacing system of dozens of lakes and numerous ponds. However, the present day name, Hanoi, only came in the late 19th century. Meaning ‘the city in between rivers’, it’s a moniker that demonstrates the special meaning water has to its existence. And as with its younger sister city Saigon to the south, it was water and boat trade that enabled the development of what today is the capital of Vietnam. From Establishment to Boomtown During the decades following the establishment of Thang Long, a citadel was built for the royal family and their court. The commoners’ residential area — the precursor to the Old Quarter of today — sprung up beyond the walls to serve the royal family. Lying along the Red River on the eastern end of the citadel, despite its early establishment, it only began to flourish in the 17th and 18th centuries. With the Red River remaining the main waterway of the city, other rivers were used for transportation. An economy gradually developed based on maritime trade and boat transportation sailing to and from the capital and beyond. However, it was only during the Le Dynasty period of the 16th century that the Old Quarter really began to flourish. Thanks to the establishment of international shipping routes, there was an exponential rise in overseas trade. Thang Long found itself conveniently located on a trade route between China and the East Sea. With new riverports and seaports attracting trade elsewhere in Vietnam, Thang Long became used as a collection and gathering point as well as a central intermediary stop. With trade came wealth and importance, and Hanoi quickly became both the political and economic centre of Vietnam as well as one of the largest cities in Southeast Asia. This was boosted by trans-ocean trade, which attracted merchants from Europe. The Dutch East India Company established a large warehouse on the banks of the Red River in 1645 while the British East India Company established their own storage facility in 1683. These ProvidedbyJulieVola
  • 7. 60 | Word June 2014 | wordvietnam.com The Story of Tran Hung Dao Regarded as one of the most accomplished tacticians in military history, General Tran Hung Dao managed to score three victories over the Mongols under Kublai Khan. However, the most impressive was in 1288 when together with other Vietnamese forces he managed to overcome a combined Mongol-Chinese army of 500,000 men. Having stuttered after initially capturing Van Don Island and destroying Vietnamese forces on the border, the Mongol leader Prince Toghan sent his fleet under naval commander Omar down the Bach Dang River towards Hanoi (then Thang Long). Anticipating the use of this route, Tran Hung Dao embedded steel-tipped spikes in the river, which were only visible at low tide. He then deployed smaller and more maneuverable vessels into agitating and luring the Mongol vessels towards the riverbank. As the tide fell, so the larger Mongol boats were forced into the middle of the river where they got caught on the embedded steel- tipped stakes. A total of 400 vessels were destroyed while the Viet forces managed to capture the remaining naval crew along the river. Admiral Omar was captured and executed and with his naval fleet destroyed, Prince Toghan retreated north of the border. warehouses stimulated the flow of goods from surrounding areas into the capital. The British merchant, William Dampier, described the facilities back in 1668: “The house is built parallel to the river, both ends have smaller rooms used for other purposes — kitchen and storage. The line up from the big house to the riverbank forms a long yard perpendicular to the river.” Thanks to increased tax revenues, in the 17th and early 18th centuries the Trinh Lords began restructuring the capital. Increasing the city’s size, they also built large houses to match their social status. This restructuring brought in artisans from the surrounding regions — bricklayers, stonemasons, carvers, painters, engravers and embroiderers were all mobilised to build and decorate the new buildings. Initially dependent on the citadel for its existence, the Old Quarter now became an independent, residential and commercial area with its own economy. Boats with cargos of rice and salt would sail up from the Red River Delta, pass through Thang Long and unload their goods onto piers in the Old Quarter before continuing upstream into the highlands. Other boats brought in locally produced goods such as metal (mainly copper), cattle, forest products, logs and bamboo, also stopping by the Old Quarter before running downstream. The goods from those boats were brought into the capital and then distributed to the smaller, satellite towns in the surrounding Delta. All in a Name During this era the Red River ran right along the residential area, which is now Tran Nhat Duat Street — piers and harbours in the Old Quarter became busy trading points. After the arrival of the French, these areas were named after the goods that were sold there. Hang Than (or Coal Street) was where boats from the south and Xu Doai (west of Hanoi) often stopped to load limestone to supply lime kilns along the dykes. Hang Be (or Raft Street) was where the bamboo rafts were loaded and sold. This trading also formed a busy market on this street, which was called the Raft Market or Cho Hang Be. About where Chuong Duong Bridge is now was a major stopping point for boats of all kinds. There were three piers here — Ky Buoi, Tau Hieu and Sova piers — where Vietnamese, Chinese and western boats moored respectively. A little further south of this area, where now sits the giant Techcombank building, was once where To Lich River met the Red River. At this confluence was the main trading point for rice — the street here was later called Rice Market Street (Pho Cho Gao). Products from the sea and other goods shipped down the Red River such as fish, fish sauce, salt, bamboo, vases and wicker mats were also traded in the capital. Streets were formed and named accordingly: Fish Street (Hang Ca), Sauce Street (Hang Mam), Salt Street (Hang Muoi), Mat Street (Hang Chieu), Bamboo Street (Hang Tre) and Vase Street (Hang Chinh). During the Nguyen dynasty of the 19th century, a wave of Chinese traders migrated to the city, forming a new class of wealthy merchants. They lived in streets like Hang Buom or Ma May. In his book, The Economic History of Hanoi in the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries, historian Nguyen Thua Hy describes the wealth of these streets: “These streets all had impressive gates inside, paved with two or three layers of tiles; the roads were carefully preserved, with beautiful brick houses along each side. The roadbed was curved slightly like a tortoise’s back and it was cobbled with broad stones.“ Besides its commercial success, the Old Quarter became a hub for food and entertainment. Along Hang Buom Street there were many Chinese cao lau restaurants, “With new riverports and seaports attracting trade elsewhere in Vietnam, Thang Long became used as a collection and gathering point as well as a central intermediary stop. With trade came wealth and importance”
  • 8. wordvietnam.com | June 2014 Word | 61 tea ‘shops’ and liquor ‘houses’. Many places on Hang Giay were hat a dao or ca tru theatres with beautiful women — they became a regular stop for wealthy merchants. Despite the bustling development of the area, road building and maintenance were neglected. Except on the wealthy streets occupied by Chinese merchants, the appearance of the streets remained unchanged. In 1888 when Hanoi formally became a French concession, new buildings and road systems were constructed. Filling Up Periods This ushered in the first major period of filling in lakes and rivers. In 1889, To Lich River was filled in to build the streets of Nguyen Sieu and Ngo Gach. A huge lake that once lay behind Hang Dao was also filled in to build roads. The Opera House was constructed on reclaimed land — where it sits today was once a lake. Around the same time, Long Bien Bridge was built and with the Red River starting to change its flow — the current began moving down the Gia Lam side of the river — a dyke road was constructed along Tran Nhat Duat in the space that had once been occupied by piers. However, according to architect Nguyen Huy Anh, the period that marks the largest wave of land reclamation was in the years following Doi Moi in 1986. By 2000, when land prices began to soar in the Old Quarter, there were no lakes or ponds remaining. Today the only body of water in the area is Hoan Kiem Lake. If once rivers and lakes held a crucial cultural and economical value to the citizens of Hanoi, today they are viewed only as a cultural asset. “It’s the result of development and the economic boom,” says Anh. “However, the meaning of water still remains sacred to Vietnam.” ImagesonthispagepovidedbyEricMerlin/EmeraudeClassicCruises
  • 9. ProvidedbyEricMerlin/EmeraudeClassicCruises
  • 10. Waterworld The former twin cities of Saigon and Cholon were originally built for boats. The traces of their waterways can still be felt in the metropolis of today. Words by Nick Ross Waterworld The former twin cities of Saigon and Cholon were originally built for boats. The traces of their waterways can still be felt in the metropolis of today. Words by Nick Ross Waterworld The former twin cities of Saigon and Cholon were originally built for boats. The traces of their waterways can still be felt in the metropolis of today. Words by Nick Ross
  • 11. 64 | Word June 2014 | wordvietnam.com Thien Hau In early 2013 the temple to the guardian of the sea, Thien Hau in Thu Thiem, was finally razed to the ground. Located next to Saigon’s CBD but on the opposite side of the river, the temple was more than a legend. Constructed to watch over boats entering and leaving Central Saigon, the temple was a physical manifestation of a belief that has stretched from its origins in China all the way through East and Southeast Asia. The story of Thien Hau is the story of Lin Moniang. Born in the 10th century on Meizhou Island in Fujian, an excellent swimmer, she would stand of the shore to guide boats home by wearing red garments, even in the harshest weather. One day, a typhoon hit the island while Lin’s brothers and father were out fishing at sea. In the midst of this storm, she fell into a sleep-like trance and had a vision — she saw her father and brother were drowning. But Moniang’s mother discovered her sleeping and tried to wake her. This diverted her attention and caused her to drop her brother who drowned as a result. The father returned alive and told the other villagers that a miracle had happened. Eventually known as Mazu — Thien Hau in Vietnamese — it is believed that Moniang’s spirit roams the seas and watches over fishermen. J ust a decade ago Thi Nghe Canal, the waterway running from the Saigon River through to Tan Binh, was a mess. Rubbish lined its banks and blocked its sewers, rainy season flooding was a constant threat and the stench that drifted off the waterway seemed to sit almost permanently over the houses and shanties that lined its banks. Fast forward to 2013 — thanks to the World Bank-sponsored Ho Chi Minh City Environmental Sanitation Project, the Nhieu Loc-Thi Nghe Basin has been transformed. 51km of combined primary and secondary sewers, and 375km of tertiary sewers have been replaced. A 9km wastewater interceptor has been installed, centralising wastewater collection. The canal has been dredged, the 18km of embankments reinforced. The list goes on. In total the work has benefited the lives of 1.2 million people. Thanks to the significant improvement of the water quality, even the fish and the fishermen have returned. Little did the authorities realise in the 18th and 19th centuries that their plans to dig canals and expand boat trade would have such an effect on the city of the 21st century. Although the Thi Nghe Canal is one of only five natural waterways remaining in the Saigon-Cholon area, much work is still to be done. The Rise of Cholon Left over from the 18th and 19th century development of the then-separate cities Saigon and Cholon, the likes of Thi Nghe, Ben Nghe, Tau Hu, Lo Gom and Ruot Ngua Canals were once the lifeblood of the developing metropolis. Acting as a thoroughfare for boats transporting goods from the Mekong, they helped create a trade route connecting the far south of Vietnam with the East Sea and the rest of Southeast Asia. Settled en masse in 1782 after the Tay Son forces pushed Chinese immigrants out of Bien Hoa, Cholon — now the modern day area covered by Districts 5 and 6 — quickly became a trade hub. Boat trade ran from China, Japan and Faifo (Hoi An) in the north to Singapore and Malacca in the Malaysian Peninsula. Aided by the economic ambitions of the Nguyen Dynasty, who widened and dug canals in the 1770s to promote trade, a market was established on the site now occupied by Cho Ray Hospital. Named Tai Ngon — meaning embankment in Chinese — by the 19th century the market appeared on several maps not as Tai Ngon but as Sai Gon, the name the French appropriated after 1859 to rename the former Ben Nghe as the new capital of Annam, Saigon. Originally connected to Cholon Creek by Pho Xep Canal (now Chau Van Liem Street), the French relocated the old market to a site closer to the Arroyo Chinoise (now Tau Hu Canal), the waterway running between Cholon and Saigon. In the 1920s, thanks to a scheme to replace Cholon Creek and its connecting waterways with roads, the Chinese businessman Quach Dam proposed the building of a new market on the area occupied by nearby Binh Tay Market. With the canals filled, merchants could no longer access the central market by boat. Binh Tay, however, was thriving. Thanks to the completion of Bai Say Canal in 1891 — which ran past the market — both the waterway and its wharf were constantly busy with merchant shipping. Much of the surrounding land also belonged to Quach Dam. Permission was granted, Quach Dam donated his land to the city, and in February 1926, construction began. Completed in September 1928, Quach Dam never saw the finished market — he died in May 1927 at the age of 65. In 1930 a bronze statue was erected in Binh Tay Market to commemorate this philanthropist and businessman, dubbed by ProvidedbyEricMerlin/EmeraudeClassicCruises
  • 12. wordvietnam.com | June 2014 Word | 65 French media as the ‘king of commerce’. It stands there to this day, as do many of the canals. The Arrival of the French The rebuilding of Saigon by the French on the site formerly known as Ben Nghe — now the centre of District 1 — was also planned with boats and trade in mind. Founded in 1698 by Nguyen Huu Canh with the establishment of a fort in Gia Dinh, by the time the French moved in Saigon was already an important commercial centre. Although the main trading commodity was rice, there was also plenty of activity in shipbuilding, sugar production, bronze making and handicrafts. When Admiral Charner arrived in Saigon by boat in 1861 with a force of about 3,500 men, there was also a large shipyard, as well as many other workshops and foundries stretching along the Saigon River. Warehouses and grain stores belonging to Chinese traders lined the banks of Hau Tu Canal. Far from being a wild and uninhabited land, Saigon and its surroundings had developed a thriving civilisation. Despite a spirited defense of the areas around Saigon by the Vietnamese, the superior weapons of the attackers ensured eventual victory. In June 1862, the Treaty of Saigon was signed by Emperor Tu Duc. The plan of Saigon drawn up by Admiral Charner changed the city from the Asian style of villages and a citadel to a western city. Yet the Vietnamese civilian population living in Saigon fell from an estimated 100,000 inhabitants before the French attack to only 6,000 to 7,000 afterwards. Despite redesigning the city, the French continued to make use of the existing canals. Five channels made up the inland waterway transport system of the time. However, by 1900 they had been filled in, later becoming main roads — Le Loi, Nguyen Hue, Pasteur and Ham Nghi. The fifth canal entered the city under the area now occupied by Ong Lanh Bridge. Yet, the need for boat trade between Saigon, Cholon and the Mekong Delta remained. In the early 1900s more canals were built, including Canal de Doublement (Kenh Doi) as well as a number of linking canals now found in District 8. By 1900, Saigon had become known as the Pearl of the Far East. Inaugurated in 1881, tramlines ran between Saigon and Cholon. Large public works like the Notre Dame Cathedral had been built. The first hotel in the colony, The Continental Hotel, was completed in 1880, and Parisian society with a distinct Indochine flair was in full flow. But the key to the success of Saigon and its neighbor, Cholon, was the rivers, the canals and the merchant trade by boats. Without boats and their ability to transport goods, the city we know today would never have existed. A New Challenge Take a speedboat down Kenh Te and then Rach Ong Lanh, two canals running through District 7, and on the river you see the city of the past. Stilt houses patched together with corrugated iron hug the embankments, fishing boats moor themselves to the banks and rubbish floats through the water. There is no proper wastewater management system here — the canals act as sewers. With the advent of motor vehicles and air travel, boat trade in Ho Chi Minh City is on the wane. In the process, this metropolis is now dealing with the negative effects of a waterway and economic system built for a past era. One environmental sanitation project has been completed and more are on their way. It will take time. But as the rivers and canals get cleaned up, so a new notion of water and boat travel will appear. “Little did the authorities realise in the 18th and 19th centuries that their plans to dig canals and expand boat trade would have such an effect on the city of the 21st century”
  • 13. 66 | Word June 2014 | wordvietnam.com Speed Karen Hewell takes a speedboat trip down Saigon River and its many tributaries to discover a collection of underutilised waterways. Photos by Mads Monsen and Nick Ross T he sun is setting along Saigon River, and the glistening white speedboat I’m sitting on is momentarily silent and still, bobbing along the waves. On our left is dense green foliage and a few lounging fishing boats along the bank, and on the right are some scattered villas with great bay windows opening out to the water. It’s quiet — eerily quiet — and the lights of the far off Bitexco Tower are just starting to blink to life. On Saigon River, you’d be forgiven for thinking you aren’t in Vietnam’s largest metropolis — or any major urban center — at all. And now that the time is nearing six in the evening, the roads surrounding Bitexco Tower are surely in the throes of rush hour traffic. Yet on this particular highway, traversed not with two wheels but two amphibious motors, rush hour is non-existent. Forgotten Highways “Normally, travelling to Phu My Hung [from District 2] would take at least half an hour,” says Carl Gay, a long-time Saigon expat who
  • 14. wordvietnam.com | June 2014 Word | 67 is part-owner of the very speedboat we are sitting on. “On a boat like this? 10 minutes.” The speed and ease of travelling on a speedboat is made obvious by the sheer distance we’ve covered in the short time we’ve been on the water. In no more than half an hour, we’ve gone from District 2’s Thao Dien area to Phu My Hung and halfway back. On a motorbike, the journey would have taken at least an hour, fighting traffic the entire way. On a boat, the only traffic is the odd fishing boat or container ship trudging past the river’s intermediary ports. “On a boat, you see another side of the city. You see everything from a new perspective,” says Carl as he maneuvers the vessel past dilapidated shanty houses on rickety wooden stilts. He’s putting it lightly — it’s nearly impossible to believe that these houses are only a stone’s throw from District 7’s Crescent Mall. Yet strangely, even with the promise of commute times cut in half and access to a side of the city few get the chance to see, the waterways are nearly empty, and the few yachts parked besides luxurious mansions are silent, probably unused for weeks. Instead, a few aging vessels carrying the day’s catch or transporting goods dominate the Saigon River. And then there are nighttime dinner cruise boats plying the stretch of water between Saigon Bridge, Bach Dang Port and District 4. Unlike this plexi- glass stallion, none of these vessels are built for speed. The Changing Tides Although the river remains strangely underutilised, a savvy few have recognised its potential, and the future promise of speedboat transportation. Started by the nearly two-decade old Riverside Apartments in District 2, luxury resorts like An Lam and Villa Song are popping up along the riverbank and building their own docks. Private speedboats transport their guests via the water, lending a rare disconnected
  • 15. 68 | Word June 2014 | wordvietnam.com solitude to the otherwise difficult-to-reach locations. Tour companies, too, have recognised the potential for boosted tourism via speedy transportation. Saigon River Express — one of the only boat tour companies that use smaller speedboats for their operations — have connected downtown Saigon with Cu Chi Tunnels and the mangrove swamps of Can Gio, skipping the lengthy bus transfer. Dai Phuoc Golf Course has even jumped on the bandwagon by adding their own speedboat dock for clients. Saigon River restaurants like Boathouse and The Deck also offer guest transportation services between District 2 and downtown Saigon. But unlike the public river transport service along Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River, the developments have stopped short of commercial water taxi services not because of the lack of demand, but the infrastructure. The transition from leisure boating to commercial transport is one steeped in complication and confusion, and the legal hurdles are yet to be cleared. “Having a personal boat on the river is pretty easy, but the moment you want to turn your boat into a business, you run into problems,” says Carl. “The infrastructure just hasn’t caught up to the demand. When the demand is there, though, maybe it will follow.” The January fire on the Vina Express hydrofoil between Ho Chi Minh City and Vung Tau may also have set back any hopes. Subsequent to the accident, all public boat services between the two cities were suspended. And recent media reports suggest they are unlikely to resume any time soon. If at all. The Future of Speed But perhaps the bright future of Saigon River is closer than we think. With each new riverside development comes more reason to take to the water and not the road. Diamond Island has taken advantage of the river to transport its residents between its District 2 location and Central Saigon, as for a number of years has Saigon Domaine. Many other new developments are setting up services as well. The promise of a quick, speedboat commute into the city centre is proving a draw for apartment developments looking to attract residents. But for many more focused on the recreation, the luxury and the lifestyle that a speedboat promises, the future isn’t just about getting around. It’s about what owning a speedboat means. “With a boat, you can’t worry about the money, or the cost of maintenance,” says Carl, whose own speedboat is still strictly for his and the other owners’ recreational use. “A speedboat is a luxury — it’s about the lifestyle. I mean, nobody buys a Bentley because it’s comfortable. They buy it for what it means.”
  • 16. wordvietnam.com | June 2014 Word | 69 Passengers in the Night It’s 1am on the middle watch, Jun. 15 1977. Seaman Karlson and myself, helmsman Monsen, observe a weak light through the darkness on the starboard side of our ship. Assuming it’s a fishing vessel and wanting to avoid any collision, we change course. The light follows and we change course yet again. This time to port side. The light continues in our direction. But now we are so close that through our binoculars we can observe people of the small vessel. They are waving kerosene lamps and items they have lit up with a fire. The captain is called to the bridge and he orders us to reduce the speed. He instructs me to proceed to the engine room where we have a supply hatch that we can open. I ask the people on the boat if they need of any food, water or medical assistance. They reply “No.” They only wish to be picked up and kept safe after leaving Vietnam behind. I enter their vessel to do a headcount. Twice — more and more people emerge. Five men, four women and 10 children, including several infants. Once they are safely onboard, our chef cooks up food for the whole group. We are en route to Hong Kong having just left Singapore. In Hong Kong we spend an extra day in port while the necessary papers and guarantees are procured from the Norwegian authorities. The boat refugees are set ashore and taken to a refugee camp. — Mads Henrik Monsen
  • 17. 70 | Word June 2014 | wordvietnam.com
  • 18. wordvietnam.com | June 2014 Word | 71 T he bats swoop and then circle, lit up by the nightlight of the boat. Noises — short, sharp, animated insect noises — drift up from the water hyacinth. Beyond a solitary vessel chugs past, its engine breaking the peace of the river night. A cool breeze drifts across the surface of the water and above the constellations are clear — The Snake, Orion, The Southern Cross — shining through the haze of the Mekong night. 3am and our boat is moored to a nha be, a floating house, and despite the fan-cooled cabin, my body refuses to succumb to much needed sleep. I’ve slept on water many times before, on cruises along the Atlantic Ocean, on luxury boats heading up the Mekong, on ferries between one country or island and another. But never have I slept in such a small vessel and at river level. Our sampan — a traditional Chinese wooden boat with a sheltered area woven out of rattan — has only two cabins. The fan- cooled cabins are comfortable enough, fitted with modern conveniences, Wi-Fi, mosquito nets and couch-style seating. But the sense of confinement, of being so close to the water, makes me desperate for the air and the world outside. For one of the few times I can remember, I feel part of the river upon which I float. I need to let its breezes brush past me, its stillness suck me in, its ambience soak me up. My boat may be affected with the luxury afforded to tourists, but beyond that I am no different to all those other people sleeping on the Mekong at night. I’m on a two-day trip along the Mekong River from Cai Be to the city of Long Xuyen before travelling the final 60km by car to the border town of Chau Doc. The last frontier before Vietnam gives way to Cambodia, the city lies at the confluence of two snakelike strands of the Mekong. Two years before I boated this part of the river and followed it up to Phnom Penh. But this time my journey is much shorter and for company I have the three boat attendants — Tri, Hoang and Phuoc — their boss and a former tour guide, Nghia, and Pascale, a long-term French expat who has been working in the travel industry for years. And of course I also have the boat, chugging through the water, merging into the boat and river life through which we move. ********** Suong lets us clamber onto her nha be. Moored in the shadow of My Thuan Bridge it is one of 18 lying in a row, each tied to the next. On her boat-cum-farm-cum-house she is breeding red snapper, together with her husband. But the nha be is not her own. “We rent it from the owner and work for him, too,” she explains. All other 17 nha be are the same. With a canal-like structure running through the midst of the house bordered by wooden planks, Suong shows us what happens when she feeds the fish. She throws the feed into the water and within seconds they come to the surface, thrashing about as they compete for each grain of food. “It takes six months for the fish to grow into adults,” she says. “We feed them twice a day. At first it doesn’t cost so much. But as they get bigger, we have to give them more food.” Unlike other people we encounter along the river, she doesn’t seem to be struggling. There’s no sense of complaint in her voice, no angst or intimations of hardship. She makes VND5 million a month, small by city standards. But this is not the city. And while her oldest son has already left school, the youngest is in Grade 6. She’s making a living. It’s meagre, but the family is cared for. ********** The sampan gets to Sa Dec and we alight, headed for the house of Huynh Thuy Le. The former lover of French writer Marguerite Duras — a love affair that was immortalised On the Sampan Nick Ross spends two days edging down the Mekong River on a Chinese-style sampan — and lives to tell the otherworldly tale
  • 19. 72 | Word June 2014 | wordvietnam.com in both her novel The Lover and then the subsequent movie of the same name — this is the highlight of visiting this Mekong Delta town. But before we enter the building, Nghia guides us through the market. He shows us the produce on sale — it’s nothing new to either me or Pascale — and then tells us about the town. I notice the Chinese characters on most of the shopfronts. “Is this a Chinese town?” I ask. He nods. The Chinese live in the market area while the Vietnamese live elsewhere in town, he explains. Huynh Thuy Le was also Chinese, and as we are shown around his house, now under the auspices of Dong Thap Province, I feel like I’m walking into a 100-year-old building in Singapore, Malacca or Penang. There are differences, of course — unlike the Straits Chinese, in Vietnam there was no merging of cultures — but the effect is the same. Century-old decadence, exquisite carvings, a sense of time forgotten but not erased. As we leave Pascale is frustrated. We’ve been forced to have a tour guide who’s told us nothing about the house itself, but has instead focused on the story of Marguerite Duras — and not even the book version. No mention has been made of what the carvings symbolise, at no point does the guide explain the odd front door or the sunken floor in the main hallway. And at no point do we learn about the daily life of the family that would have lived here. It’s a lost opportunity, a lost chance to discover another angle to the history of the fertile basin that makes up the Delta. But it was a welcome visit nonetheless. ********** Down the river we stop at a brick factory. As you get close to Cambodia, these structures line the riverfront. Buying up mud from whole paddy fields — sometimes the soil is no longer fertile, so it’s sold on — the clay-like substance is then delivered by boat and instantly turned into brick form by machine. A team of workers stacks the wet brick and leaves it to dry in the sun. Once it has dried it is cooked in one of many kilns, the beehive-like structures you see towering over the river. The baking process takes up to two weeks. Then the completed bricks are packed up and sold on to the construction industry. Vietnam is in a construction phase at the moment, and in the last decade brick factories have multiplied. With a growing population and increasing wealth, it seems Cruises BHAYA bhayacruises.com Two luxury, classic junk-style vessels plying the bays of Halong. Also have a more upmarket, cruise boat, The Au Co. Run a range of tours and private trips. DU LICH SONG HONG dulichsonghong.com One of only a couple of services running cruises out of Hanoi up and down the Red River. Email dulichsonghong@gmail. com for information — the website is only in Vietnamese. EMERAUDE CLASSIC CRUISES emeraude-cruises.com Overnight cruises on a replica of one of the original early 20th century paddle steamers that brought the first tourists to Halong Bay. HERITAGE LINE heritage-line.com Luxury cruises on Halong Bay and along the Mekong River from My Tho all the way to Siem Reap. Five-star accommodation and facilities on a boat. PERFUME RIVER EMOTION perfumeriveremotion.com Overnight cruises along the Perfume River in Hue on a traditional sampan. TONKIN CRUISES tonkincruise.com Four junk-style boats plying the routes of Halong Bay. Do one-day, two-day and three-day tours in their four-star vessels. VICTORIA CRUISES victoriahotels.asia Cruises and tours run by the Victoria group along the Mekong. Have a range of vessels from speedboats connecting Chau Doc with Phnom Penh through to luxury, two-cabin sampans for two or three nights along the river. Often run in conjunction with hotel stays at their three to five-star properties in Chau Doc, Can Tho, Nui Sam and Siem Reap. VIKING RIVER CRUISES vikingrivercruises.com 15-day luxury river cruises and tours that start in Hanoi and finish in Ho Chi Minh City, with flight travel in between.
  • 20. wordvietnam.com | June 2014 Word | 73 there is no end for the demand for bricks, the basic building blocks of life. Yet it is odd that like so much else in Vietnam, the clay comes from recycled paddy. Even the fuel to heat the kiln is recycled — dried rice husks. Castoffs from the process of harvesting rice. ********** A tug chugs by, and despite its slow speed, a wave still crashes gently into the boats sitting in its wake. We’re at the floating market outside Long Xuyen and I’ve just descended a boat selling potatoes. Tons of potatoes. The owners are downhearted and negative. Business is bad at the moment, not just for them but for everyone at the market. Two years ago sales were so good that the place was packed, but now there’s a slump and the number of boats selling fruit and vegetables on this strand of the river is falling away. Nghia points out the fruit and vegetables attached to posts on each boat. They’re paraded high above the vessels like flags. “If a boat has something attached to the pole, then that’s what they’re selling,” he explains. “What if they don’t?” I ask, as a motorised canoe zooms past filled to the brim with coconuts. “Either they’re waiting for produce or they’re buying.” “Look,” says Pascale, pointing at a boat with her finger again. “There she goes again! Breakfast! You’ve got to get a photo of her.” A woman in a motorised canoe has been weaving in and out of all the boats. I zoom in close with my camera lens. “Com tam,” I say, “She’s selling com tam!” The novelty makes we want to call her over and buy breakfast, but we’ve just been served up a spread of eggs, sausages, fruit, yoghurt, orange juice and cereal. Pascale thinks about it and later tells Nghia that guests on the sampan should have the option. They should be able to eat a normal breakfast or they should also be able to opt for one off the river. ********** The sampan drifts into Long Xuyen port, but there’s no space to moor. Our driver is waiting there, waiting to take us the last leg of the journey to Chau Doc. Lunch awaits us with the GM of The Victoria Hotel, before I continue onto my resting place, another Victoria property but this time on Nui Sam, a mountain with sweeping views of the countryside. All this once we’re able to dock. The boat sweeps round, but the turning space is at a minimum — the small mini- sampan attached to its side bumps into a rowing boat. There are calls to watch out before the collision, but after it happens not an eyelid is lifted or incrimination voiced. This is normal on the river. Boats hit boats. Wood collides with wood, metal with metal. Unlike land transport, boats are hardy, built for the wear and tear of the water on which they reside, the water that transports them from one place to the next. Only ‘hellos’ are called out from the people watching us from their boats. I respond in turn. Eventually we’re able to moor and with sadness I say my farewells. We’re leaving Tri, Hoang and Phuoc behind with the sampan, while Nghia is returning by road to Can Tho. It’s only been short yet it’s been one of those journeys, the kind of experience that even the most hardened of traveller craves for. We’ve been on the river at the same level as all the other vessels plying their waterborne course. Next time I’ll need a week. For more information on the sampan trips organised by Victoria Cruises, call (0733) 924658, email resa.caibe@victoriahotels.asia or go to victoriahotels.asia
  • 21. 74 | Word June 2014 | wordvietnam.com Birdwatching by Boat Nick Ross ventures into the wetlands of Tra Su near the border with Cambodia, and discovers the vibrancy of nature in its most glorious form I wanted to go there by bicycle, but while the early morning 25km journey would have been cool and pleasant, I was told the return would be too hot. They were right. By the time I arrived by car at Tra Su Nature Reserve in the far southwest of the Mekong Delta, the heat was nearing mid- morning intensity. Within 15 minutes, beads of sweat were rolling down my face. And that was in the shade. Tra Su is not the kind of nature reserve where you go cycling — although tandems are for hire. And if you walk, you miss both the perspective and the wildlife. To get a feel for this quite unique and little known bird sanctuary, you need to take a boat. In my case, two boats. These are melaleuca wetlands, grasslands and swamp. Those restricted to land don’t fare well out here. The first part of the journey is by motorised canoe and takes you through ponds of lotus. Algae, lilies, trees with roots built for an aquatic landscape and other river surface fauna make up the rest of the waterways here, the pink and white of the lotus flowers blending in with the many shades of green of the surrounds. But it’s only as you leave the lotus behind that you start to see the wonders of Tra Su. Through the Water On my visit, the water was low — it was the end of the dry season. The levels the water had reached last year were marked in a dark, muddy brown on the bottom of the trees. The waterways were a half-metre below their rain-aided high. Yet the birds stayed year round. We had already heard the silence- destroying jungle call of the coucal pheasant, a relative of the cuckoo, and as we rounded one corner now we both “To get a feel for this quite unique and little known bird sanctuary, you need to take a boat. These are melaleuca wetlands, grasslands and swamp. Those restricted to land don’t fare well out here” Pirates and Cavaliers Piracy in Southeast Asia began in the 13th century with the retreating Mongol Yuan fleet. Due to a huge betrayal by their Javanese allies, they found themselves marooned in the Indonesian Archipelago. Consisting of mainly Cantonese and Hokkien tribesmen, the stranded navy officers quickly set up small gangs near river estuaries in Java and Sumatra and, with their junk and pugilist and marine skills, began making a living by raiding merchant boats along the growing maritime routes of the region. However, the most powerful pirate fleets of East Asia were those of the Chinese pirates during the mid-Qing dynasty of the early 19th century. The effects large-scale piracy had on both the Chinese and northern Vietnamese economies were immense. They preyed voraciously on junk trade, which then flourished in Fujian, Guangdong and the northern part of Vietnam. They also exercised hegemony over villages on the coast, collecting revenue by exacting tribute and running extortion rackets. It took a concerted effort in the mid- to-late 19th century by a mixture of American, British and French troops to rid the area of the pirates, whose fleets finally disappeared in the early 20th century. *This extract was originally printed in The Jewels of Halong Bay, a book published by The Ministry of Labour Publishing House
  • 22. wordvietnam.com | June 2014 Word | 75 heard and saw the flapping of wings. White egrets. For the rest of the motorised trip, the closest we got to the birds was spying them from a distance perched on branches or just above the water before they took flight. Arriving at a ridge dug out of the swamps we swapped boats, exchanging motor for oars. Here the trees and plant-covered waters provided a murky background for what was to come. With rays of sun peaking through the melaleuca, we entered a tight channel and the birds came into view. They were everywhere. I spotted a white egret resting among branches no more than three metres away, before it flapped its wings and fled through the trees. Then a baby white egret, oblivious to our presence and the swooshing of the oars. As we wound our way through yet another narrow passage, I could spy nests in the trees above, and then suddenly a black-crowned night heron, perched in between the branches, leaves and trees. The oars were removed from the water and quietly we floated by. Transfixed by something else, the bird didn’t see us. Its plumage was spread before our upturned eyes — it was magnificent. Further on, the passageway broke out into a wide algae and lily-covered lake. In the distance we could see a huge group of storks with their long angular beaks, nesting on branches sticking out of the water. Eventually they sensed our presence and flapped off. The swamp hen nearby wasn’t as alert, failing to see us as it made its way across the surface vegetation of the water, chick in tow. And then the sight of the day, a bird whose species still evades me. All white but without the s-like neck of the egret or the stork, it perched for 10 seconds or maybe 15, giving us a clear view. The rowing boat drifted past in silence. When it finally flew off, it wasn’t in response to us, but to something else — the rare and endangered Asian open bill in the distance remain rooted to its spot. With over 70 species of bird in the nature reserve, I want to say that Tra Su is a birdwatchers’ paradise. But I don’t know what birdwatchers consider to be paradise. For me this place was both special and unexpected. Drifting along the waterways creates a oneness with nature, a sense of being in the middle of something that you’re close enough to touch. It’s a perspective you rarely find elsewhere in Vietnam. Tra Su Nature Reserve is 25km from Chau Doc in An Giang, close to the Tinh Bien border crossing to Cambodia
  • 23. 76 | Word June 2014 | wordvietnam.com AllimagesonthisspreadareprovidedbyEricMerlin/EmeraudeClassicCruises
  • 24. wordvietnam.com | June 2014 Word | 77 T he gusty wind cools the crackling hot air as our boat, the Marguerite Garden, chugs her way into the picturesque Halong Bay. Although this is my fourth visit to the bay, the sight of the colossal limestone pillars rising sharply out of the emerald green water and glistening in the bright midday sun still leaves me in awe. Arriving on the boat in time for a delicious lunch of local vegetables and freshly caught seafood, we settle into the comfortable, air- conditioned dining room as the limestone monoliths, topped with shaggy wigs of green vegetation, leisurely pass us by. Along with the approximately 600 other overnight cruise boats, we start our adventure into the heart of Vietnam’s most popular tourist attraction. Yesterday Since its dedication as a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site in 1994, tourism in the bay has escalated rapidly. Long before UNESCO, however, adventure seekers started finding their way to this unique and majestic area. The first tourist boats were launched at the turn of the 20th century and visitors had the option of multi-day travel on luxury cruisers or rustic cargo ships carrying goods and passengers from Hai Phong Port. Early photos show couples in long white dresses, linen suits and straw hats picnicking in small coves — while in the later shots, bobbed-haired women in sleeveless shirts tour the bay on large steamers. It was with glamour and glitz that the first paddle boat steamers took to Halong Bay, with high-class chefs, electricity and ensuite bathrooms. No expense was spared. Although many of today’s boats have lost the early 20th century glamour, the magic of the bay remains unchanged. The karst landscape, small beaches and impressive caves were as admired in the past as they are today. The diary of a visitor in the early 1920s reads: “The Bay of Halong is certainly one of the most curious places which can exist.” There’s little real difference between this quote, and a Tripadvisor review of nearly a century later — “Halong Bay is just out of this world, like nothing ever seen before.” Today Taking advantage of the clear and sunny skies, I hop off for a quick jaunt to the top of a nearby limestone hill. Venturing up the stepped path, flanked by beautiful purple flowers, I reach the summit in less than 10 minutes. At this vantage point, it is easy to visualise the story my guide Tien had shared earlier that day. Although variations exist, legend dictates that the Jade Emperor sent a dragon to help to the Viet people fend off invaders. The dragon dropped large pearls in the water to confuse and shipwreck the enemy. These pearls — there are 1,600 of them — are the weathered monoliths we see today. Although changing throughout history, the name ‘Ha Boating on the Bay Navigating the karsts of Halong Bay on pleasure cruises is an old tradition. If you look at it right, Katie Jacobs finds, not much has changed
  • 25. 78 | Word June 2014 | wordvietnam.com Tourism to the Bay Already sat on a shipping route, with regular maritime services between Hai Phong, Hong Kong, Hanoi, Saigon and Tourane (Danang), it was only at the beginning of the early 20th century that Halong Bay opened up to tourism. The pioneer? The French-born law graduate and entrepreneur, Paul Roque. The second generation of a family that had first arrived in Vietnam with the French colonisation of Saigon, by the time Paul opened up the bay, there were already regular car services running between Hai Phong and the seaside resort of Do Son, a favourite holiday destination. However, it was only with the arrival of four custom-built paddle steamers from Hong Kong — the Emeraude, Saphir, Rubis and Perle — that the true magic of Halong Bay could be opened up to the general public. The French public were instantly entranced. Almost 1,000 of the stone islands of Halong Bay had been named, most of them reflecting their unusual shapes: Elephant Island, Hen and Cock Islands, Incense Burner Island. Others resembled boat sails, or heads, candles, and of course, a dragon. Then there were the caves — The Cave of Surprises and the Cave of Wonders with their large stalagmites and stalactites. Excursions on Halong Bay became popular, drawing visitors from all over the colony. Within a decade, tourists were flocking in from overseas. And despite two world wars, the company Paul set up continued to operate until 1954 when the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu. It was only in the 1990s that tourism returned to the bay. But the knowledge that this natural wonder could draw in the tourists had already been created almost a century earlier. A replica of the original Emeraude paddle steamer bought by Paul Roque sails the bay to this day. Long’ — ‘descending dragon’ in English — is largely credited to a group of French sailors who reportedly witnessed a giant sea snake, or dragon, in the bay. Over a multi-course dinner, the highlight of which was the seasoned fresh crab, I discuss the current tourism situation with Victor Seow, Asia Pacific representative for Tonkin Cruises. Victor, onboard to assist with on-the-job staff training, tells me how Tonkin Cruises tries to set itself apart — necessary in a market saturated with identical itineraries. “Although tourism is increasing, the number of boats is becoming excessive and as competition gets stiff, the quality of service is the first to go,” he explains. “We’re very conscious of that at Tonkin. Which is why I’m on-board, to ensure that our service is always improving.” The Marguerite Garden, one of four boats operated by the Hanoi-based company, specialises in one to three-night cruises to Halong and neighbouring Bai Tu Long Bay. With 10 well-appointed rooms, the ship is as luxurious as it was comfortable. Designed in the traditional ‘junk’ style, warm wooden interiors accented with modern furnishings create a welcoming ambiance for the ship’s 20 passengers. Windows cover two sides of my bright, spacious room — and, after a long day of exploring, I happily sink into the large, soft bed. Tomorrow Lying on the roof deck, watching the sun set across the water, it is easy to forget that thousands of other visitors are nearby. As the waiter serves ice-cold beer and the hills turn to shadows against the pink sky, I block out the other boats and hope the serenity of the bay will continue for visitors long into the future. As the backpackers and adventure seekers of the 1990s are replaced by the large tour groups of the present, it is impossible to predict where the future of tourism lies for Halong Bay. Although the number of visitors shows no signs of slowing, increasing complaints of overcrowding and pollution are already impacting the integrity of tourism in the Bay. The next morning, following a sunrise session of tai chi, I kayak over to one of the many floating villages that call the bay home. Making our way past floating rubbish and oily water, the threat of pollution is all too visible. Nearby industrial development, close proximity to major shipping routes and an increasing number of tourists is threatening water quality and straining waste management. Aiding in the effort to improve environmental standards is the recently launched Halong Bay Alliance, a group of NGOs working with the government and local stakeholders to strike a balance between sustainable economic development and effective environmental protection. The aim is not to reduce the number of tourists, but to sustainably manage their impact. Improving environmental standards will ensure that the bay remains the special place it is for generations to come. With the sun rising in the sky we cruise back to shore, the hills slowly receding behind us in the hazy afternoon heat. “Vietnam is very lucky to have such a stunning landscape,” says our guide Tien, as we make our way back to the capital. “But in the future I hope that everyone, from the local communities and visitors, to the tourism companies and government, will join together to protect the delicate environment of Halong Bay.” Katie travelled on the Marguerite Garden, courtesy of Tonkin Cruises. Their newest boat, the four-star, 11-room Garden Bay, was launched at the end of May. For more information visit tonkincruise.com “The diary of a visitor in the early 1920s reads: ‘The Bay of Halong is certainly one of the most curious places which can exist.’ There’s little real difference between this quote, and a Tripadvisor review of nearly a century later — ‘Halong Bay is just out of this world, like nothing ever seen before’”