Tripping along the river

I am passionate about boats. I love to draw them and back home in England I even lived on one for 10 years. I can sit and watch boats bob about in a harbor for hours. Just listening to the slap of ropes on masts and watching fishermen mend nets and wind ropes fill me with delight. One of the joys of living near the water (river or coast) in Vietnam is being able to enjoy a seemingly endless parade of traditional wooden boats and ships of all colors and sizes that move gracefully along the canals and rivers and gather in harbors along the coast.

I reckon I was born with some salt water in my veins because my mother’s family were seafarers in the north of England. I can just about remember wooden sailing boats coming and going in their hometown but sadly the fishing industry is almost extinct in the UK, which is a sad loss.

Nha Trang

Here in Vietnam, however, boats still form a major part of the transport system internationally, nationally and locally. Whether you want to ship rice to Australia or take your chickens to market, boats are often the best way from A to B. Many communities in rural areas are only accessible by boat so the rhythms of the tides, the winds and the rain are the factors that set the pace of life.

Whenever I can, I make my way down to the water. In Hoi An, I love taking a little wooden boat down the river at the end of the afternoon and return to the quayside by the market just as the sun is beginning to set. The low afternoon sun casts a warm glow over the ancient town and paints beautiful reflections in the silken waters of the river.

11. View from Cam Nam bridge

In Phan Thiet, a truly evocative sight is the estuary, which is jammed with traditional, wooden fishing boats moored so close together you could almost walk from one end of the town to the other across their decks. Teams of fishermen work on their boats and the women ferry supplies (and people) from ship to shore in coracles and small wooden tenders. The sight from the bridge over the Ca Ty River reminds me of old paintings of the fishing ports of England a hundred years ago, a piece of living history.

For a more modern ride, the trip to Vung Tau via hydrofoil is a great way to experience the open wildness of the river with its backdrop of blue and purple hills in the distance. Go speeding past the crotchety fishing boats with their double and triple tiered wheelhouses and wave to the lighthouse keeper as you pass by.

Closer to home, the thrill of taking a speedboat up the Saigon River to Cu Chi is hard to beat as a way to spend a morning. Weaving through the floating islands of water hyacinths, leaving a sparkling white wake behind you is truly exhilarating.

I will never tire of the variety of craft and their activities in the backwaters and rivers of Vietnam. I guess I am just a romantic fool when it comes to boats.

Bio: A professional artist and author of A Week in Hoi An, Bridget March specializes in urban landscapes and aims to reveal the hidden treasures of city life and small town cultures through her illustrations. Bridget holds drawing classes for beginners and improvers in Saigon. For more of Bridget’s work including her new book, see BrushWithAsia.blogspot.com