Date Traveled, February 2013
The Vung Vieng floating village is one of the four small communities of fisherfolk who make their living in Ha Long Bay, not near the bay or on any island but on their boats and rafts. Protected from the elements by the surrounding limestone karsts of Ha Long bay, they lead a unique lifestyle in their raft homes, some small and tight and others quite large, some with modern comforts like generators and TVs and many with dogs.
We visited the Vung Vieng floating village on the second morning of our cruise in Ha Long bay aboard the Indochina Junk company's Red Dragon. It was the final activity of our cruise before we were to sail back to Ha Long city and transfer to Hanoi from the dock there. It was a misty February morning in Ha Long but by the time we were done with out breakfast and ready to go the mists had cleared. The sky remained overcast as was typical for this part of Vietnam in February. The Red Dragon had started sailing early in the morning after anchoring for the night and had reached quite close to the village although at that time the only indication we had was the presence of a few large rafts and lots of fishing nets that we later learned was a part of an Oyster farm. Out group of 8 passengers and our guide all transferred from the Red Dragon to its attached motor boat and started to go toward the village dock which became clearer to us as we got closer.
The waters of the bay are perfectly calm and had such a lovely hue of blue. The bay is also famous for its many thousands of limestone karsts and these form the backdrop for the village. Besides providing a lovely setting, the Vung Vieng village and the other three communities are all situated in particular spots in Ha Long bay where the limestone cliffs almost completely surround the village, forming a natural wall around. This is our of necessity, while the waters may be calm on a good day, hurricanes in the region are a threat and I was told that the locations offer protection even against those kind of storms. We disembarked from our motorboat to the village docks and were immediately transferred to small paddle boats that could hold maybe four people including the rower. Transferring to the boat is a potentially hilarious or worrying scene depending as they wobble a lot as people step into them from the docks but no one from our group fell into the waters, either then or at any point during our overnight cruise.
We transferred from our motor boat to rowing boats like the one ahead
The village homes
Going to the other section of the village beyond the cliffs
Some homes were large and with modern conveniences
So we began paddling through the Vung Vieng village. It was one of the most unique and fascinating sights I have ever seen. There are a variety of raft homes as I mentioned earlier. They tend to be located in groups or clusters that are very close to each other, to make it easier to hop across I am presuming but also for the added stability with many homes attached to each other. I suppose one wouldn't want to wake up in the morning and find out that your home has drifted a few miles away from the rest of the village. One can clearly notice the difference in status among the various homes. The well to do rafts and relatively big and have more wooden planks giving them a much larger verandah of sorts. The smallest were the equivalents of a tiny hovel in a slum with tarpaulins roofs. They were all messy creations, not your average neat block of homes in some street as every raft was uniquely assembled from a different pieces of equipment with varying sizes and colors and styles. Adding to the ramshackle feel of the homes was the addition of various belongings strewn or hung around whatever space is to be had, nets, potted plants, clothesline with clothes out to dry, boats, canisters, fishing equipment all added to the chaotic feel of each home.
People went on with their lives clearly used to the daily tourist visits and for the most part ignored our wide staring eyes. Some did their washing, others were cleaning vegetables and cooking and the more well to do families were even watching tv. Most of the homes however did not have generators and only the largest few appeared to have those. I was also surprised to see a number of homes having pet dogs who all obviously have grown used to life on rafts. It was all strikingly amazing to me how people live in such a different existence several miles away from land and with some who probably haven't been to the mainland in months. Was informed that they make weekly visits to Ha Long to sell their catch and to buy supplies from the mainland. In exchange for this lifestyle, they get to live in such a spectacular surrounding with the blue waters and beautiful cliffs all around, but I do wonder having lived there all their lives, if they hold the same feelings for thei surroundings as visitors like us who see the bay only for a few days and leave enraptured. Perhaps they are too busy to think too much about where they live but I am almost certain that there are folks in the village who probably yearn to leave one day and see the big bustling cities on the mainland. It is human nature but unfortunately got no opportunity to talk to anyone really to find out.
After paddling through a zigzag zag path in the channel we arrived at the village square, so to speak, where we disembarked again to look around. The village square consists of a few functional rafts, the local school, a visitor center of sorts with information about the village, a souvenir store with items clearly imported from the mainland and certainly not worth buying in my opinion. There were also miniature fish farms around the planks we were walking on and a few caged birds and monkeys which looked pretty sad. After a short break here we were back on our boats and headed to the village "gate", which was a natural arch in the surrounding cliffs forming an interesting entrance to the village. We were paddled up close to it for plenty of photo opportunities before turning away to head back through another channel which wasn't part of the village homes. We got to get pretty close to the limestone cliff walls on our return journey which ended at the oyster farm that we could see from the Red Dragon when we started our trip.
By the village gate
The village "gate"
Heading back to the motor boat
The oyster farm
This was the place we were going to separate from our paddlers and the spot where it is recommended to tip a dollar or two to your rower.
The Oyster farm leads to a final attempt to selling you some more stuff in the form of pearl jewelry. This at least was of a much better quality compared to the earlier store and some pieces were expensive. It was obvious this wasn't being run by the villagers but they probably share in the revenue, I am not sure what the arrangement is. After a few minutes here, we returned back to the Red Dragon for a lunch meal before leaving beautiful Ha Long bay.