Widely considered one of the highlights of Southeast Asia, Halong Bay is jam-packed with tourist attractions
Of the four floating villages that lie in Halong Bay, Vung Vieng fishing village is the one earning a reputation as the most authentic, community minded, and ecologically aware of all.
As Halong Bay experiences a momentous tourism spike, it is the small communities like Vung Vieng fishing village that one would assume are most vulnerable to the trappings of modern tourism. Yet despite the changes and developments, and even the move inland- their prevailing culture and way of life is far from fragile.
Vung Vieng fishing village, one of the four remaining of its kind, lies in what is considered to be the center of Bai Tu Long Bay. To the northeast of Halong Bay, Bai Tu Long Bay is far less populous than its world-famous neighbour- and yet lacks nothing in terms of impressive scenery.
Vung Vieng fishing village was first established in the 19th Century as a mooring for the local fisherman, and a place where they could exchange goods. Up until a few years ago, there were somewhere in the realm of 50 families who resided in the floating village of Vung Vieng, totaling just shy of 300 residents (about 100 of which were children).
These families have dwelled here for many generations, living a modest life, relying solely on the rich marine resources of the bay. In recent times, their income was also supplemented by the steadily growing tourism industry, although the bulk of earnings still came from the fishing industry.
Perhaps at a point in the not so distant past, the residents here may have felt themselves to be in another world from the tourist attractions of Halong City, Cat Ba Island and the surrounding bay. Now, however, their very homes have become a tourist attraction in themselves.
In 2012, the management board of Halong Bay set out a directive to begin the process of moving the residents of the floating villages inland. This originally caused quite some upset for those who had been living for generations in these secluded floating homes, far away from the effect of modern society.
Despite the backlash, the board insisted that the move is for the benefit of the future generations, who will have access to a higher standard of living and proper education on the mainland.
One would imagine the communal spirit is what allowed a place like Vung Vieng fishing village, in such isolation and relative poverty, to thrive for so long. Among the 50 or so homes, there was one ‘community center’ which was constructed as a location for meetings, and is now a place for locals to sell their handmade wares to visitors passing through.
The most affluent families had tiled rooves, radio sets, televisions, and furniture- although now almost the entirety of the village is a museum of sorts, for the homes that once were.
Those who inhabited Vung Vieng fishing village were not hardened from the flow of strangers who came to wander through; in reality, these people remained steadfastly kind and hospitable. As for the tourists who come to Vung Vieng fishing village now, they are usually those seeking an ‘authentic’ experience, a glimpse into local life and an insight into the rich traditional cultures of the indigenous people.
Although the village is no longer the home it once was, the locals still command a strong hold on their culture and way of life, and so have set up displays of this- such as workshops where you can learn to weave your own fishing nets and catch and prepare fish.
There’s also an overnight touring option where you can spend a night in Vung Vieng fishing village and get stuck into some night time squid fishing under the watchful supervision of the experts. The variety of activities and chance of exposure to the real-deal Halong Bay culture is why visiting the floating villages tops so many lists of must-do things in Halong Bay.
As the ever growing groups of tourists flock to Halong Bay, stakeholders become increasingly concerned with issues of pollution (another reason the board insisted on moving the floating families inland).
While measures are constantly being drawn up to encourage sustainable, responsible development; the waters of the Bay become slowly more and more at risk of pollution from litter and boats’ off-runnings. Vung Vieng fishing village, along with a number of other places across the Bay, is taking part in the recently launched “For a Green Halong” campaign.
Tourists and locals alike are encouraged to take out nets and pick up any litter they may find floating in the area during their time there. In the first 6 months of the campaign operation, clear of 16 tonnes of rubbish was removed from Halong Bay.
Residents of Bai Tu Long and Vung Vieng fishing village have also joined in USAID’s “Local Engagement for Sustainable Development” project, where locals are educated about safe water practices and community-based tourism.
As for the tourists who visit the village today, they will have the chance not only to appreciate the beauty of the scenery, but also to be educated about the marine culture, and most importantly- learn the history of Vung Vieng fishing village and its people.
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