At first glance this floating village looks small and peaceful, resting in the shadows of the towering limestone cliffs that dot Vietnam’s infamous Halong Bay.
But upon further inspection it becomes clear that this water-bound community is a bustling linchpin of the local tourism industry. Hundreds of (pseudo-)traditional Vietnamese junk ships ferry tourists around Halong Bay to explore snorkeling sites, hidden caves, white beaches, and floating villages like this one.
As our towering boat moors alongside the small structures floating on plastic barrels and wooden planks, I can’t help but wonder how long the village has been here.
Is it an old village, dating back hundreds of years, that has only recently seen an influx of foreign visitors? Or has it been constructed specifically as a “destination point” for tourists like us?
We disembark our junk ship and climb aboard a small boat with a local at the oars. She doesn’t speak, but takes her time slowly and silently paddling us in a large loop around the village so we can take photos of the brightly colored buildings flying an over-abundance of communist flags.
We see numerous dogs scurrying around the wooden planks; some barely notice us float by but others stand guard, barking frantically when our boat dares to pass too closely.
But it’s the people we see that I’m most intrigued by. What’s life like growing up in this small, floating community?
Are residents encouraged to lounge outside so we have something more than buildings to look at? Do they resent living their lives in a fishbowl, or are they happy to have the source of income it provides… or both?
We’re never given the opportunity to talk with anyone in the village (beyond buying some fruit from a small boat before we reboard our junk and set sail), so I have no one to ask questions of.
I don’t even know if they’d resent the hassle of having to answer my inquiries, but for me it feels strange to pass through their lives with no engagement beyond observation.
So later, once we’re back on the junk ship, I ask the tour guide some questions. He doesn’t seem to know much, and only answers vaguely, but I learn that the young children go to school there in the village, older kids take a boat to the mainland, everyone is taught to swim at a young age, and of course they are all very happy to have visitors come and see how they live.
As far as answers go, it seems that’s all I’m going to get.