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
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?
Floating Fish Farms
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.
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.