If you are looking for a calmer, gentler, more traditional Vietnam, you might consider exploring it by boat. Needless to say, a boat trip is perfect for reconnecting with nature, family, and yourself.
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Back to the time when the pace of life was slower and flights weren’t an option, people traveled by boat when they wanted to get away. Traveling by boat is one of the most relaxing and fascinating (also romantic) ways to see the world. Vietnam has vast and scenic inland and coastal waterways, with a dense network of rivers, lakes, and canals, many with the potential to be experienced by boat (Read more about Iconic Rivers in Vietnam). Until now, there are many places you couldn’t get to unless you went by boat. For many riverside or seaside towns in Vietnam, boat rides are a natural attraction and a great way to get a view of life on, in, or near the water. Vietnam is an evolving country of contrasts - a dizzy, seething mixture of old and new, opulence and poverty, pagodas and churches, markets, and shopping malls. If you are looking for a calmer, gentler, more traditional Vietnam, you might consider leaving the frenzied streets altogether and exploring it by boat. Here are a few options to suit travel tastes ranging from luxury treats to wilderness adventures.
Rowboats have been around since early history
Back in the early days before small engines, rowing vessels were widely used in daily work, transport, and trade. This model is perfect for rowing in lakes, rivers, or narrow canals. Rowboats can be easily handled by one person alone, but could also carry up to six people. Rowboats, as different from canoes and kayaks, are propelled by oars. Ideally, the oarsman and his boat act together in a harmony of motion and balance unlike a similar unity of response and action achieved by the equestrian and his mount. Closer to our times, fishermen and ferrymen have used countless variations of rowboats. In Vietnam, these kinds of boats have been used as fishing boats to catch fish on a lake or river, even in the sea, and they are still in use today. Any small boat trip is a great experience to have a somewhat more personal experience on the market because it really is a memorable and fascinating adventure.
Rowing through a boat tour in Trang An Cave
Ninh Binh is a lovely introduction to the legendary Ha Long Bay, and discovering the difference between the two is a real experience. Duplicating the scene of Halong bay, Ninh Binh is surrounded by wondrous karts formations, and the seawaters are replaced by a carpet of rice paddies, hence its nickname: the "inland Halong Bay". That sounds idyllic, isn't it? It is a landscape that composes of water, karstic mountains, and rice fields expanding over three areas: Tam Coc, Trang An,and Van Long, all distant by a few kilometers. For many people, a boat ride is the main attraction in Ninh Binh as the boatmen will lead you silently through the sugar loaf mountains on his small sampan boat to discover the caves while watching the countryside as far as the eye can see.
Boats are major means of transport in the Mekong Delta
Lush, relaxed, and scenic, Mekong Deltais a welcome contrast to hectic Ho Chi Minh City. It’s a worthwhile destination on any Vietnamese itinerary and can be visited on a day or multi-day trip from Ho Chi Minh City. Boat tours of the river and canals are the real reason to visit Mekong Delta, and they are the best way to get a glimpse of the delta's village life. The major mouths of the Mekong River and the intricate network of canals mean that nowhere is far from the water, and, in all that water, there is a tremendous variety of boats working: most of them still traditionally built wooden boats. The serene canals are so narrow that sometimes passengers sitting on the boat can touch grass on either bank as they float by. It seems like in Mekong Delta riverine rhythms and routines still have more in common with the 19th century than the 21st. Thanks to all that silt in the river, the land is super-fertile, and life is pretty laid-back. The people of the Mekong Delta region are known as happy-go-lucky types who live for the moment. The region's industrious canal communities showcase a slower, more traditional lifestyle. The lives of these inhabitants, basic and authentic, are displayed along these narrow waterways.
In the early morning, fishermen depart on their iconic basket boats to catch the meal of the day
"Basket boat" (thuyen thung) is among the less common and lesser-known types of indigenous boats. They are crafted of split bamboo which is dried in the sun, bent, woven into shape, and then tarred or varnished in order to waterproof the craft. These boats have no wood in their construction at all. They are used because they are flexible, lightweight, while capable of carrying a heavy load. The round boats are hard to row and maneuver. You need special skills otherwise it just goes round and round. The round “basket boat” traces its history back to the French colonial era. As the story goes, in the colonial period, under the rule of the French, they levied taxes on anything they could – including a tax on the ownership of boats. Most of the poor fishermen who depended on their livelihood on boats could not afford to pay the heavy taxes, so they created a new type of boat: the basket boat. The clever fishermen argued that these were not boats at all but baskets – and therefore couldn’t be taxed!
Where to take: Hoi An
Experience basket boat trip in Hoi An
The photogenic and laid-back town of Hoi An has become one of the traveler’s favorite destinations in Southeast Asia which is still being used the way it was designed. If you have quite a bit time and want to get off the beaten path in Hoi An, opt for an eco boat trip in the nipa palm of Cam Thanh village in which you have a scenic ride through the nipa palm flooded forest out to where the river and ocean meet. This small village is ideal to relieve your stress with the joy of cruising and gaining an insight into the daily life of local fishermen. Along the way, you can learn how to paddle the unique basket boat, see a few demonstrations of traditional fishing techniques while admiring charming landscapes.
Dragon boats are so named for their peculiar shape
Dragon boats are so-called because they are designed to resemble the dragon, a traditional symbol of water in Asia. In detail, they have a carved dragon head on the front, a wooden tail on the back, and the hull of the boat is painted with dragon scales. Dragon boat has ancient Chinese origins and dates back more than 2,000 years. Unlike the racing boats, dragon boats in Vietnam are used to serve the royal family on their sightseeing trip on the river or lake.
Where to take: Hue
Dragon boats lined up on the Perfume River, waiting to take tourists on a relaxing cruise
The pretty city of Hue in central Vietnam has a far and away feel to it. Those seeking out history and heritage are in the right place as it is full to the brim of pagodas, palaces, temples, and tombs. Perfume River winds its way through Hue, there is wonder around its every bend and a boat trip is the most tranquil way to travel in the former capital city. Visitors will be greeted by a welcome sight: a colorful dragon boat to gently float you along with the poetic Perfume River. The best part of the trip is a chance to view Hue from a different angle and bringing you very close to the local life of enchanting and gentle Hue people.
Traditional wooden junks, dating back to the 2nd century, were sturdy and made for long-distance travel
Don't go by the name, a junk is an ancient and traditional boat known for its durability and versatility on the high sea voyages. Junks are supposed to be one of the most technically advanced ships of the ancient time. It is nostalgia. Early forms of junk have been traced back to the living or fishing boats of the 2nd century. The original junk boat, most commonly used for trade or functioned as warships in China and other countries in Southeast Asia, typically sailed long distances, incorporating a grand large sail and hull design. Developments in technology mean junks are no longer used broadly for trade and military expeditions, but rather for travel and sightseeing.
Where to take: Junk Boat Halong Bay
The epic landscape of Halong Bay has beckoned dreamers to Vietnam
Catching a sighting of, or riding in, the iconic red sail junk can still be seen off the coast of Vietnam in Halong Bay. The Gulf of Tonkin consists of thousands of small islands rising out of emerald green waters which made up the legendary seascape of Halong Bay. Exploring the bay is like being lost in a legendary world of huge stone statues and it’s not hard to see why this is Vietnam’s number one drawcard. Whatever your budget, whatever your needs, there always be the right boat for you. Depending on what experience you are looking for, you can either choose a day boat or opt for an overnight trip for a fun night between the stars and the sea. One thing about being at sea that you really can’t experience anywhere else is the rising and setting of the sun. It's also extraordinary to see small floating villages - homes on rafts where the people live on the water, making their living from fishing, trading, and now tourism. To get close to these villages, you can go by kayak or bamboo boat rowed by locals.
River cruises are a truly elegant and relaxing way to discover beautiful Vietnam and Southeast Asia
You simply have to experience a river cruise at least once in your life. A river cruise holiday is a unique opportunity to get to the heart of a region, with ever-changing scenic vistas that unfold as you meander from picturesque villages to historic towns and natural wonders. And it is not a recipe for doing anything in a hurry. You may think that a week on the open water can give you a case of cabin fever, but a slower pace of life can be much welcomed and enjoyable. Inland waterways are much calmer than those on ocean-based voyages - which is great for those who are prone to seasickness.
Where to take: Mekong River Cruise
The rivers of the world are fast becoming hotspots for travelers and cruising through the Mekong River is really an up-and-coming trend. It is the main artery of Southeast Asia. It begins in the Tibetan plateaus, runs through China, then flows along through a part of Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, and through Cambodia and it comes to an end in the south of Vietnam in the fertile Mekong Delta via a dendritic tributary network. The lower Mekong is home to over 50 million people, with at least 4000 years of recorded history. All aspects of daily life float on the Mekong or along its shore banks. From villages, schools, and temples to markets, goods transportation, industry, and tourism. Mekong Delta, nicknamed the ‘rice bowl’ of Vietnam, is a world on the waters. The labyrinth of rivers, canals, and streams serve as waterways instead of roads. One of the great sights in the delta is the bustling and colorful floating markets, a bazaar of tightly-packed wooden skiffs loaded with fresh tropical produce - pineapples, mangoes, papayas, durians, jackfruits, soursops, and rambutans...
Trading on water, and many daily activities you can see
The only way to truly experience the Mekongis to get on it. The region’s popularity is increasing and, with it, the choice of itineraries, type, and style of boat. The most popular options are tours between the Mekong Delta and Phnom Penh or Siem Reap in Cambodia, longer cruises extend their way to Luang Prabang in Laos. Others, meanwhile, are expanding into Myanmar’s Irrawaddy River. The common feature of every tour is the beauty around every river bend including some fantastic sights like floating villages, stilt houses, gorgeous temples, farmers at work, and floating markets. Itineraries may make key stops at major cities, but your experience will focus as much on smaller towns and villages that you come across along the way. They often include shore excursions which are the essence of the river cruise experience, typically guided walking tours, or specially planned tours (cooking classes, trips to the market, and other more offbeat adventures). And cruise lines have developed a variety of relationships to enhance the guest experience ashore.
Simply put, water is an option when considering travel to Vietnam. There are millions of people around the world who love boating: it is a great activity for people of all ages. Boats are not lightning fast, far from it. You meander across an ocean or down a river at a leisurely pace, giving you time to find yourself, read a book while enjoying the rolling of the water. Overwater, the mind wanders and drowns itself in a poetic naiad. Every time you travel by boat, you will always live an entirely new and exciting experience.
There's so much to see in the world that a trip to Vietnampromises the holiday of a lifetime. For culture, history, and independent discovery against one of the most beautiful and scenic backdrops in the world, this is the place to go. So live some unforgettable memories by traveling on a boat on your next trip to Vietnam!
(Image sources: Internet)