Vung vieng fishing village floats on Halong Bay, intriguing visitors with its self-sustaining way of life. But there's more to the story than that...
Vung Vieng Floating Village on Halong Bay
In the slow burn of the morning sun, a woman gathers pots, pans and plastic bowls together and starts the washing up. An everyday task for each of us to tackle, but in this case, something is different. She leans sideways to gather water and steadies herself as she does.
Her kitchen is floating, buoyed on cornflower blue barrels beneath a golden blue sky.
The floating Vung Vieng fishing village drifts along the waters of the spectacular Halong Bay, with its piercing limestone karsts and UNESCO World Heritage Status. Technically, this is central Bai Tu Long Bay, rather than Halong but don't let the tour operators hear you say that. It's only a little northeast after all.
And it's not just the kitchen that floats. Bedrooms, games rooms, workshops. Even the schoolroom floats and lilts on the water, a few wooden desks and computer screens with trailing wires.
HISTORY OF VUNG VIENG FISHING VILLAGE
Vung Vieng began life not all that long ago, in historical terms. In the 19th century, fishermen began exchanging goods on floating stations in the bay. That lead to homesteads and the formation of villages; Vung Vieng is one of four similar setups in the area today.
At its peak, around 50 families lived in Vung Vieng, making around 300 people in total and 100 children floating on one of the most beautiful spots on earth.
Change in Vung Vieng
Then came change, as it always, always does. First, tourism began to combine with fishing as a separate income stream. And then in 2021, the Vietnamese authorities began to move these communities inland, citing concern for welfare and a better standard of living on the land.
Both issues came with controversy, with some grieving for a way of life that had lasted for generations.
Visiting Vung Vieng
When I arrived in Vung Vieng, pre pandemic, I felt uneasy. I had no desire to be part of a mob of tourists gawping at the local zoo.
Yet it didn't turn out like that. Vung Vieng women rowed out to our ship, welcoming us and rowing us onto the floating rafts. We had to wear luminous life jackets yet despite all this, the people of Vung Vieng seemed content to ignore us completely as they got on with their lives. Children splashed in the water, women chatted and smiled. I didn’t see much of the men.
I did wish I’d had an interpreter (or, in my dream world, learnt Vietnamese) to get a little more involved but, as my mother would often have to remind me, you can't do everything in this world.
Traditional and Modern Vung Vieng
Today, Vung Vieng functions as a hybrid between a community centre and a museum. With most inhabitants now on land, the village sells handicrafts on the platforms but still educates their children there. Some houses are tiled, with televisions and computers, while others seem threadbare with only a few simple things.
People run low key workshops for tourists, teaching them how to weave their own fishing nets and catch and prepare fish.
Sustainability in Vung Vieng
Another partnerships involves residents and visitors meeting to share nets and pick up any litter from the surrounding water, as part of the "For a Green Halong" initiative. Apparently, this projects scooped out around 16 tonnes of rubbish in the first six months alone.
THE AU CO LUXURY HALONG BAY CRUISE REVIEW
You'll find a range of small boat cruises on Halong Bay, easily booked online or in person from Ho Chi Minh City. Aim for local rather than international tour operators whenever you can. Here's my experience of one of the luxury cruises which visited Vung Vieng village and some of the islands.
The Long Quan Suite
Room 217 is a Long Quan Suite, so beautiful that frankly I could have spent the whole trip sat on the private deck or inside on the crisp white sheets had I had the nerve to get away with it, watching karst after beautiful karst parade past my window as a fleet of pink and charcoal sails.
However, some guests get bored, apparently, and so a programme of events filled in the hours. (Note – none of these are compulsory. It’s just the dull sense of conscience on behalf of your writer here that she thought she ought to test them all out rather than lay snoozing and drinking pina coladas all day, which is what I’m sure most of you think I do anyway...)
First up was lunch, a buffet with a fresh blend of Vietnamese spring rolls, peanut, lime and chilli noodles with some western options available too.
After that, was a swim.
A cooking class on the terrace.
A cocktail hour (see, you knew pina colada was in there somewhere!)
Dinner. Fishing. Star gazing.
And then sleep, which I sank into with all the weight of an ancient anchor falling to the seabed floor.
My alarm sounded for Tai Chi at sunrise...
And then breakfast arrived and it was time to check out. There hadn’t even been time to “test” the spa (life can be cruel, right?) and, given my jet laggy state, the bed could have done with a more thorough inspection.
It was all over so quickly and as the scrum of the port hoved into view, I longed for more time on the water.
Au Co Luxury Halong Bay Cruise at a Glance
What I loved
- Fresh, handmade Vietnamese rolls served on the deck
- Excellent service and attention to detail. Jump overboard for a swim and staff appear with towels at the ready for your return.
- Excursions are included in the price. Once you’re on the boat, you can just relax and enjoy it.
- The scenery. Just unbeatable and there’s a reason why it’s a World Heritage Site.
- The beautiful soothing white of the room in the Vietnamese heat
- The bathtub
- Spectacular sight of sunrise during the dawn Tai Chi class
- No hard sell with souvenirs on the excursions
- Wifi at the port
- The spontaneity of the staff – e.g. teaching carrot and tomato carving on the deck.
What to know
- You must pay for drinks (other than water.)
- You must queue for the buffet – and some things do run out
- Although billed as a two day cruise, you’re on the water for less than 24 hours. This seems standard for Halong Bay and if you use the transfers to and from Hanoi, you’ll need two free days in your schedule. But still, the description makes some feel short-changed.
- Check out is early – and a while before you leave the boat
- No wifi & no TV
32 cabins, restaurant, sun deck, Jacuzzi, fishing & kayaking equipment available, spa room, babysitting services, doctor on call, bar & boutique library. Find all the facts and figures here.
The Au Co Cruise is currently the only two night luxury cruise option in Halong Bay. The Bhaya Legend is a private charter so you can tailor your own itinerary and the Bhaya Classic offers both one and two night cruises on Halong Bay.
I travelled as a guest of Bhaya Cruises for review purposes. All pina coladas my own. Oh, and opinions too.