The Surprisingly Industrious Life of a Halong Bay Floating Village

The Surprisingly Industrious Life of a Halong Bay Floating Village

Ha Long Bay, the picturesque landscape of limestone karsks in turquoise water, is home to a thriving group of Vietnamese: those living in floating villages.

Tourists to Halong City or neighboring Cat Ba Island resorts flock to junk boat tours which advertise a trip through the bay and a stop at the floating villages. Most tourists embark on the 1-3 day boat ride full of questions and one or two assumptions:

How do these people make a living? What are their houses like? Who would choose to live here? They must be destitute outcasts.

The reality paints a picture of industrious, successful people who truly love their lives. In super colorful homes in the middle of paradise, no less.

Life on a Floating Village in Halong Bay

Cau Van Floating Village Ha Long Bay The Obriens Abroad family travel

We spent an afternoon with Mr. Zoom, a resident of the Cua Van floating village in Ha Long Bay. His small, turquoise motor boat took us through the many small floating villages of Ha Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay, until bumping into the front porch of the home he shares with other family members.

As you motor through Ha Long Bay you see a series of one-story wooden homes floating on wooden platforms on the water. The homes are typically painted in tropical colors with small families bustling around wooden square frames.

Seeing happy homes floating in emerald-green water surrounded by miniature islands makes you feel like those of us used to solid ground are the dumb ones. Why shouldn’t everyone float when you have such a view to wake up to?

When the boat bumped upon the house Mr. Zoom casually sat down at a table in his outdoor dining/ living space buoyed by old tires, plastic jugs, and mats. He and two other men shared a smoke and some orange Fanta while his sister-in-law crouched among wooden squares floating beside them, scooping small fish into the water. A fury of activity was taking place underneath her.
That was when we realized we were lounging on a floating fish farm.

Floating Fish Farms

Floating fish farm in halong bay vietnam ha long bay floating village the obriens abroad family travel

 

The majority of Ha Long Bay floating homes make a living by farming fish. They build a one-room home and an extended floating frame of wood. The square wooden frame is covered with a deep net, buoyed by plastic oil drums, tired, and mats. They buy baby fish which they feed until adolescence, when another netted frame is added beside the original for a new batch of babies. The fish and their home continue to grow in this manner for years, until square sections of fish surround a home which has been built up to include bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen, and living space.

Growing the fish is both hard and isolating work. It takes two adults half a day to feed their schools, which they do every other day. Nets are added to the tops of the square pens as the fish grow to keep the fish in and the birds out. A dog will often accompany his master on their rounds, daring any unhappy fish to stray.

woman feeds fish farm on a halong bay floating village ha long bay floating village vietnam the obriens abroad family travel

 

Homes can be either secluded to their own spot on the water or attached to others. While residents often boat down the bay to visit one another, it can still be an isolated lifestyle. The closest towns are an hour away by boat, meaning someone sacrifices time and money to scoot in for groceries, shopping, or school. For this reason the many children in the floating village stay in town all day- playing pick up games of soccer with friends beside the ferry terminal until the sun goes down.

Those rugged people willing to sacrifice a social life and dedicate themselves to having smelly hands are well rewarded for their perseverance. After raising fish for up to 3 years, their once-babies sell for 300,000 dong/ kilo (totaling 1 mil dong per large fish, or $42 USD). Their homes can grow to a comfortable size and eventually include solar roof panels for electricity, hot water, wifi, and TV.

Tourism on the Floating Village

Man shows boy a floating fish farm in ha long bay vietnam the obriens abroad family travel

We found Mr. Zoom on Cat Ba Island.
He runs an adventure tourism business on the island while his family manages the fish farm on a daily basis. We booked a half-day deep water soloing  tour with Mr. Zoom and were surprised by our up-close-and-personal stop at his floating home as we motored through the Bay. He excitedly showed us the rooms he and his brother have finished building and explained his plan of renting them out on AirBnB.
I was nothing but impressed with this man. And like Mr. Zoom, many other floating village homeowners have recognized a budding market for authentic tourism experiences in Ha Long Bay.
Savvy floating home owners are building additional bedrooms and bathrooms to rent to tourists as an authentic homestay experience on quick book sites. Others have extended their dining deck to offer a meal of fresh fish to junk boat passengers. Partnerships between floating home owners and local tour guides have formed, allowing small boat tours to offer their guests a peak into traditional living. Those with an extra set of hands and a motor boat laying around spend the day hanging out at Cat Ba Island’s Ben Beo boat terminal offering ferry services to tourists.
Cau Van Floating village Ha Long Bay Vietnam the Obriens Abroad Family Travel
It’s a brilliant plan.
This group of people is already richer than the average Ha Long Bay citizen through their fish farming efforts, and are now able to capitalize on an incredibly special way of life even more. Who knew westerners would be so willing to pay to help throw sardines to fish?
Planning a trip to Halong Bay? Pin this article for later!
 Don't go to Halong Bay without a trip to the floating villages! The Halong Bay Cruise through the floating Villages of Vietnam is SO COOL! You will love the floating villages. Learn all about how they make a living and what life is like. #HalongBay #Halong #Vietnam #Travel #FloatingVillages #FamilyTravel #TravelVietnam #TravelHalongBay #HalongBayCruise

32 Comments

  1. This is so interesting! And love how colorful the houses are… I went to the Philippines years ago and this made me think of there. Some of the houses were above water on poles, they didn’t float, but it still reminded me of it.

  2. This is one of the most interesting reads ever. I never knew this existed. I love how you were able to bump up to other people’s porches. What an interesting way of life. How do they keep their children from falling into the water? And what about medical emergencies? Wow, so many questions. And a fish farm! Who knew?

  3. Although I have enjoyed visiting Vietnam on holiday before, I never made it to Halong Bay. It just looks so gorgeous and somewhere I would love to go back and experience. Reading this post was really interesting to get some background on the people and their families that live and work there.

  4. I wish to visit Vietnam one day. Majestic place with a colorful history, rich culture, and unique adventures to offer. Thanks for covering the Halong Bay in your blog. I never heard of it until now.

  5. I have just went to Hanoi Halong Bay in last March but didnt go as details as yours trip. Didn’t manage to explore the floating fish farms. Your experience in Halong Bay should be an indepth learning about life there. Great exploring.

  6. This is so cool! I’ve actually seen these type of setups in video games at a very young age and thought they were fascinating in games, its amazing to see them in real life!

  7. What a fun adventure for your family. I really enjoy trips where you immerse yourself into the culture too you learn so much about how others live. I could not imagine living on the water like that, it is so different.

  8. Gorgeous photographs! I had no idea that is how they built upon their homes nor that fish farming was so isolating in these villages.

  9. First time to hear about this place and definitely impressed with their lifestyles and their living. Such a nice place to visit, it so beautiful!

  10. The mountainsides right next to the water are beautiful. Living in a floating house would be amazing, there are quite a few options to live right on the water in Vancouver but not so much here in Kelowna.

  11. I’m kind of blown away by this. My mind is racing about all the “potential” issues that can arise. But, that’s my personality. Obviously, it’s working. Which makes me want to visit to answer all the questions I now have about this. Thanks for sharing. This was one of the most interesting things I’ve read this week.

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