An image of Halong Bay which often springs to mind when thinking of this beautiful and striking bay, is of limestone caves and dramatically cut rock cliffs. But what isn’t publicized and is often discovered on visiting this well-known UNESCO Heritage site is the fishing villages who call this busy waterway home.
The native villagers who live in these floating fishing villages found scattered around the bay are believed to be related to the ancient Viet people and are thought to have lived around Halong for 18,000 years. Approximately 1000 villagers are thought to be living within 4 small villages; Vung Vieng, Ba Hang, Cua Van, Cong Dam.
With families living their lives out on boats and handmade houses, it’s no surprise to discover that children as young as five are experts at fishing and working a net. Yet this beautiful and charming way of life is being threatened by climate change and the Vietnamese government.
The Vietnamese government believe the pollution made by these self-reliant villagers are dramatically contributing to the pollution found within the water of Halong. The pollution is affecting not only the environment but also the way of life for villagers, with fish population on the decrease, villagers are turning to tourist based activities as an alternative way to earn income.
Though boat rides around the bay and renting of kayaks may be the only income for some villagers, the government is more focused on moving the locals out in order to preserve and cut pollution within this heritage site, which can attract up 6 million visitors a year. It is thought by moving a small percent of the villagers to the main land some of the villages will be turned into home stays for visitors to discoverer and experience the lifestyle which has survived for thousands of years…
Will moving residents out for environmental and tourism benefits be the wisest move? By doing so this ancient and traditional way of life which is uncommon and hard to find will be disregarded for the benefit of the government. Either way the traditional customs preserved within these villages will be lost to tourism and the financial benefits which it brings. Maybe now is the best time to visit Halong Bay in order to witness these fishing villages and their traditions, before their existence gets washed ashore.