Once known for its dangerous waters, the vast lagoon in the central province of Thua Thien-Hue is a deservedly popular tourism destination
In the famous 19th century geographical record Dai Nam nhat thong chi (History of the Unification of Great Vietnam), Tam Giang Lagoon is described as a vast dangerous area with deep waters and unexpectedly big waves. It says many accidents happen there.
The 22,000-hectare lagoon’s dangers are even mentioned in folk songs.
Centuries later, the wide lagoon that stretches till the horizon, is an artistic photographer’s delight. Fishermen, boats and fishing devices come up against the immense background, presenting innumerable opportunities for recording unforgettable scenic moments.
My knowledge of Tam Giang was vague and sketchy before a recent visit, when a friend in Hue Town acted as my tour guide.
He woke me up at around 4 a.m., saying: “We need to hurry up, or we’ll miss the Tam Giang Lagoon sunrise.”
Tam Giang, according to my friend, is at its most beautiful at sunrise, because the sun, a fiery red ball, would cast blotches of “fantastic” colors all over the lagoon surface.
It is “fairyland” time, he told me.
Hmm. The description was interesting, but I had seen some beautiful sunrises, and wanted to see this one with my own eyes before saying anything else.
We travelled by motorbike for more than ten kilometers to reach the Ngu My Thanh Village in Quang Dien District. The village, which hosts some 200 families, is situated on a stretch of land that intrudes into the waters of Tam Giang.
The whole area was silent and asleep when we arrived, except for a few lights that looked like fireflies moving around on the surface of the lagoon. Sounds of people hitting on the fishing nets, talking and laughing floated up from the lights.
They were gathering at the local wharf after a night of fishing, and it will be a busy fish market at daylight, my friend said, and as he spoke, I saw clouds start turning red at the horizon.
Then the red sun rose up, majestically, unhurriedly, sure of itself, shedding its glowing blessings on the fishing boats and fishermen gathering at the wharf. It was a spectacular performance, and I understood my friend’s enthusiasm to get here so early.
No two ways about it. Sunrise at Tam Giang Lagoon reminds you how beautiful this earth can be without unimaginative human interventions wrought by modern life.
Once the sun began to envelop the rest of the earth with its bright, warm, soon to be hot light, the market bustled as women busied themselves buying and selling fish, and men arranged their fishing devices and checked their boats in preparation for the next trip.
I decided to join the fishermen on a fishing trip in the lagoon, only distantly worried about 19th century descriptions.
Sitting on a small boat, we merged with the vast area of water, where manynò sáo – a fishing device that looks like a long big tube made from bamboo – are set up. The device is traditionally used by Tam Giang Lagoon natives who are also known as Thuy Dien or Van Do people. The names imply that they live on floating villages in the lagoon.
Tam Giang’s waters were calm and lulled by light breezes, making it easy for me to take photographs of everything I saw – houses that looked so small on the land, fishermen throwing or pulling up their nets full of fish, prawn, crab and other seafood.
Among the catch, what excited me the most was cá bống thệ – a kind of goby fish that is considered a Tam Giang specialty. Anyone who has tasted the famous cá bống kho (braised goby fish) of Hue would find their mouths watering just on looking at the little fishes.
It must have been my lucky day, as I was told that Tam Giang was entering the season of jellyfishes, another local specialty.
I could not see any jellyfish from my boat, but I saw a group of fishermen busy taking out numerous jellyfish from their nets in the lagoon. The transparent creature, which enters Tam Giang through flows from the sea, was as big as a nón lá (Vietnamese conical hat).
After talking to me for a while, the owner of one boat full of jellyfish gave me a big one as a gift. He told me to peel off its outer skin and wash it in saline water.
“Slice it and have it with a dipping of salt, pepper powder and lemon juice, or make it into a salad, or cook it with bún (rice vermicelli). You will find all these tasty and addictive,” he said.
Before returning, I was treated to a meal on the boat. On the menu was jellyfish with the salt-pepper-lemon dip, and steamed goby fish with nước mắm (fish sauce) – simple, delicious dishes.
Tam Giang has certainly left me with lasting impressions, not to mention an excitement that looks forward to repeat experiences.
Thanh Nien News. Original Vietnamese story by Charming Vietnam
A sunrise at Tam Giang Lagoon, Quang Dien District, the central province of Thua Thien-Hue. PHOTO COURTESY OF CHARMING VIETNAM