Nha Trang Travel Blog› entry 69 of 126 › view all entries
The hull of the woven bamboo boat was about four-feet wide and more than two-feet deep; odd thing being that it was perfectly round. The basket boat had the shape of a deep cereal bowl. Vietnamese fishermen use them to transport crew and supplies to anchored fishing boats, for setting and pulling smaller nets at sea, and for hauling the day's catch to shore. I had always wanted a chance to ride in or paddle one and finally found an opportunity.
Sipping an iced coffee at a sidewalk café, I didn't even notice the craft approach - just across the street on the Cai River. But I recognized the paddle which the driver stowed at the café as that for a basket boat. It resembled an oversized cricket bat with a T-handle. The man responded to my gestured request and eagerly took the oar back off the wall.
The boat looked weathered and well-used. Six bamboo battens helped hold the shape of its rounded hull. Many that I had seen before used wooden pallets for a flat deck but this one provided for wet feet. Water probably seeped from the bottom by being dragged across sand during launch and recoveries. Most owners heaved them onto edge and rolled them to on-land storage. It would probably take three people to carry one.
The driver stood at the 'front' of the boat where the paddle was secured by a loop of rope. He worked the T-handle in some kind of figure-8 pattern and steadily moved us into the mouth of the Cai River. The boat rocked and teetered in winds and waves off the South China Sea.
He paddled to a rocky island temple in the river. I had seen it before from the Tran Phu and Xom Bong Bridges but never imagined I would set foot on the tiny island - not much bigger than a house. Steps from the water led to an incense urn, alter, and several smaller shrines. A caretaker there woke from a mid-day nap to ask for a small donation.
We continued around another, taller, rock formation toward the Tran Phu Bridge. It was cool to look up at that familiar structure from water level. On the way back to our starting point, I took a shot at paddling the basket boat and it was more awkward and difficult than I imagined. My wobbly stance was clumsy in the choppy waters, let alone trying to propel the craft at the same time. I felt the torque on one stroke and we glided forward. But the next put us into a counter-clockwise spin from which I could not recover. I passed command back to the driver who immediately put us back on a stable course. He made it look easy.