All in a spin in cen­tral Viet­nam

THE IN­CI­DEN­TAL TOURIST

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - SU­SAN KURO­SAWA

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.

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