All in a spin in central Vietnam
THE INCIDENTAL TOURIST
HUONG has six children and muscles to rival those of a rugby front- row forward. I am pleased that such a capable-looking woman is the captain of our little cane coracle boat as we progress at surprising speed across the estuary towards a stand of spooky-looking mangroves.
The greenish water is shallow and her rowing pole regularly strikes the sandy bottom. My friend and I are perched across from Huong on the coracle’s rim and she gestures that we must not wriggle our bottoms or change position, lest we upset the balance and fall overboard.
On shore, Huong’s fisherman husband is busily preparing a new boat by sealing the woven and slatted cane with tar to make it waterproof. He speaks a little English and has told us before we set out that he does the waterproofing about every six months but the one we are boarding is ‘‘very old’’, which is a discouraging pronouncement, particularly as we soon begin to take in water, which Huong starts scooping out with a plastic jug.
These traditional coracles, sometimes of greater cir- cumference and with a central bench seat, are used by Vietnamese fishermen too poor to own bigger boats; typically, they must try for daily catches close to shore but in some parts of the country the coracle fishermen are towed out to sea by bigger boats, roped together in a jolly flotilla. It’s a generous and practical measure for all concerned, with the owners of the small craft paying the captains of the master boats a percentage of fuel used per trip.
We are beside Lang Co village near the new Laguna Lang Co integrated estate north of Da Nang in central Vietnam (see Home and Away, above). The coastline is strikingly beautiful, with long beaches backed by high mountains that deepen to purple at dusk, and within easy reach are UNESCO World Heritage sites, Banyan Tree Lang Co’s five-star pool villas and a Nick Faldo-designed championship golf course that runs parallel to the coast, skirting rice paddies and stands of casuarinas.
But all that seems planets removed as Huong continues to paddle us along and two of her tiny grand- children appear to wave at us from shore. With our fingers, we mime the snap of crocodiles and point to the water and she laughs so hard that the coracle starts to spin, which clearly is not a good thing.
Later, in the charming heritage village of Hoi An, we see signs for coracle lessons and a series of comic-strip images of a gormless foreign man twirling in circles with a Ghostbusters- style red slash across the boat. Intriguingly, he is wearing a life vest, but not so his coracle passenger, presumably his wife, who has her hands clasped to her head in despair.
Huong, who looks to be about 60, has been propelling coracles since she was about nine years old and the thought of trying it would seem to be the stuff of merry spectator sport for the villagers of Hoi An. So we settle for buying chunky magnets in the shape of coracles from a street vendor and every time I open my fridge I will think of Huong and her industrious hubby and the simple beauty of that day on the water.