After cormorant fishing in China, we wanted to document the traditional fishing style and net mending in Bạc Liêu, a less known coastal province in the Mekong Delta. If the last word is reminding you about the school days then you must have been a dedicated student in the Geography class. Yes, we are just back from Southern Vietnam where 12th longest river of the world meets the south China sea after crossing 5 other countries (China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia). The large triangular region, encompassed by 7 branches of the Mekong river, is a home to diverse traditions, friendly people and floating lifestyles.
The urge for photographing unseen landscapes and old life style are dragging us to places which were well known in school days. Life did not give me any travel opportunities at young age, so only way to visualize the unseen people and places was to see with mind’s eye. But now witnessing all those with my real eyes, has become endlessly fascinating.
Bac Lieu (fishing)
I never heard a place called ‘Bac Lieu’ until I started researching on Mekong Delta. Definitely, it is not one of those top fifty destinations to be ticked off from a tourist’s bucket list. A home to many ethnic Khmer people, Bac Lieu is a coastal province in Mekong Delta, South Vietnam. We wanted to explore its fishing community.
Sprawling wetlands and proximity to the seacoast inevitably make ‘fishing’ a prominent livelihood for the locals. Since ages, the Bac Lieu fishermen use a unique style of fishing. With huge and heavy triangular nets they struggle in the waist deep sea water for their morning catch. Watching them, in the golden hour was one of our precious experiences. Due to the high tide, we could not walk a long distance in the sea like those pro fishermen. So the other alternate option looked little safer but not so easy. Had to climb down to the basement of a floating restaurant and reach near the fishermen. Thanks to our local guide Miss Chou as she found this path. We walked on the narrow stone beams where morning waves were furiously crashing. That really needed a lot of attention, enough to make my sleepy soul wide awake :). It was super risky. But the scene, ahead, was also dragging the photographer in me.
After a constant 2hr shoot when the light turned harsh, we packed up and climbed up only to get scolded by the restaurant manager. He was tensed that we took such risk when nobody was there in the early hours 🙂
Soon we explored the local seafood market along the beach. The merchants set up the stalls very early and sell ample varieties of crabs, squids, shrimps, dried as well as freshly caught fishes. In that less touristy country side, we were the only foreigners; thus attracted many curious but friendly eyes. At a local tea shop, we tasted Viet coffee, it was super sweet which obviously made my morning! (I have severe bad habit of mixing lot of sugar in coffee, enough to ruin others’ taste buds 🙂 )
Bac Lieu (Net Mending)
Next attraction for us was the net mending workshops near the river bank. After struggling in deep sea or wide Mekong river, the fishing groups need their damaged nets, repaired before next trip. So they enter the main land via water channels to park near the net mending village.
We visited the largest factor. It is run by a middle aged lady and provides many jobs to local skilled workers. With a surreal ambiance and beautiful color contrasts these factories are very lucrative to any photographer. Visiting in wet season was a blessing in disguise. A lot of ambiance light variations made us happy as the weather turned sunny to cloudy and then rainy! If you are a photographer then your South Vietnam trip would not be complete without visiting this place.But note, spotting the factories is no easy task for an outsider, a local guide can always help.
Into the ocean waves
We got heavily drenched on our way back. South Vietnam receives a lot of intermittent showers from June to September. This weather pattern promotes a very unique local business. The high ways and rivers banks of Mekong Delta are dotted with hundreds of hammock cafes. We found every table and a chair are accompanied with a cozy hammock. The bikers or boatmen stop at these places during heavy rains, sip tea(Jasmine) or coffee and cuddle up in the hammocks while waiting for the rains to stop.
We embarked on this journey primarily to explore the fishing and floating life styles but tourists can also find a lot of Khmer pagodas in this area. Buddhism is the way of life here.
Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)
After savoring a bowl of delicious local Crab meat Soup we returned to Saigon.Next morning, we started real early and headed towards the Cholon markets in Chinatown. Our aim was to catch the first light of the day on Trang Tu market in 5th district. That area was also not very touristy. Our young and dynamic guide was constantly talking to random people which gave us ample opportunities to easily load our cameras with some candid moments. So far the eye catchy thing, we noticed about Vietnam, was the conical hats, made of bamboo leaves. It is equally popular through out the generations and regions. The local ladies adore this traditional accessory indeed. The busy morning hours offer excellent opportunities for panning shot.
Established by the Hoa community, Cholon became a scary region during the Vietnam war. But now it looks just as normal as other parts of Saigon where Chinese and Vietnamese people maintain harmony.
The old pagodas in China Town were our next place to halt. In terms of language, culture and rituals this area is sort of miniature representation of China. The pagodas have mysterious twists and turns. Morning hours always turn advantageous to the photographers. Lot of people came to pay their daily homage before starting their job. The directional light and shades, the smoky environments, prayers and the burning smell of spiral incense sticks were creating such ancient ambiance.
After a while, even the beautiful photo opportunities could not make us being ignorant about the breakfast stops. The street scenes were very similar to what we see in West Bengal (we grew up there) ; probably that acted as a catalyst to our appetite 😉 People would sit on the road-side-benches to sip the morning cuppa. Another local favorite is the steaming soupy noodle with veggies or dumplings. We chose a special local shop which serves vegetarian soups but the materials would look like non veg. Strange but very tasty! Also we noticed that Vietnamese love to add leafy vegetables in their daily diet. Baskets of fresh herbs and leaves are served separately to mix with your dish at every local food joints.
Post Breakfast, we visited another pagoda but then crowd was pretty less by that time. Soon we explored the artistic side of Saigon. The hidden backstreets have turned to creative hubs by local and international artists. Residents buy paints, the artists make their walls beautiful! I really wondered how adventurous their lives are. Some of these artists left their home countries to explore new places, concepts and then went busy, converting their ideas on the walls.
We covered few more streets, old housings, Saigon river and finally reached at the most touristy place, Ho Chi Minh city hall! Built during French domination in Vietnam this elegant colonial building was contrasting well against a cloudy sky.
After taking a lazy stroll around the nearby souvenir shops, we looked no further than the Instagram famed cafe apartment. An old nine storey building, renovated by various cafe owners, became the coolest coffee hub since 2015. I had this place in my wish-list since long! So visiting Saigon and not having coffee in one of those cozy balconies would be a crime to ourselves. As we sipped our glass of cold coconut coffee it started drizzling outside. We witnessed an amazing blue evening over the Saigon river and Hochi Minh city hall. The nature God was indeed very kind to us through out the trip.
Our Vietnam trip ended with a sumptuous dinner at Tandoor, an Indian fine dining restaurant. More than us our tour guide wanted to taste the Indian food under our guidance and the taste was real authentic.
In a nutshell, our trip was undoubtedly interesting and worth our time as it offered a lot of photo and food opportunities. Moreover we could travel like locals 🙂
Would love to hear your thoughts too if you already visited these places or wish to visit once 🙂 Check out my other photo stories about South East Asia here.