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Sunsets and folktales fill visitors’ senses on fishing cruise down River Vam Nao

If you want to see a peaceful and picturesque riverine region and participate in local people’s life, then a trip to the River Vam Nao might be an excellent choice.

A broad river that connects two other rivers, the Tien and the Hau, the Vam Nao River in the southern An Giang province has various kinds of fish, especially the precious Ca bong lau (Chinese Pangasid-catfish) and Siamese carp, each of which can weigh up to 10kg.

Carpe diem: Local fishermen use a net to fish on the River Vam Nao.
Carpe diem: Local fishermen use a net to fish on the River Vam Nao.

The area also has poetic scenery with great tourism potential that has been successfully exploited by the local tourism department in recent years.

Director of An Giang Tourist Farmers Centre Nguyen Thanh Tung said six local families had been chosen to participate in the agricultural tourism development project, sponsored by the Dutch Farmers Organisation (Agriterra).

They receive financial support to build new restrooms, floating bridge and stilt houses, where visitors can break their journey and rest. These local farmers, who are also the tour guides, make tourists feel at home, thanks to their good nature and great enthusiasm.

Sailing along the river, the tourists can not only see the surrounding natural beauty, but also indulge in childhood activities such as fishing or picking flowers blooming above the water.

It is highly recommended that the tourists should visit the region during the flood season, which is from the seventh to the tenth month of the lunar calendar. They can sail above thousands of fish that flock the river at that time of the year, and also observe the fishermen harvest netfuls of fish, while listening to old folktales. The experience evokes a strange sense of peace and freedom.

The flood season is also the growing season of river beans along the riverbanks, which seem to give a warm welcome to the tourists. They will also have the opportunity to pick beans and hunt for horned water chestnuts with local fishermen to prepare a very delicious meal. Else, the tourists can ask the villagers to cook other local specialties that have both exquisite and distinctive flavours.

Fish out of water: A tourist poses happily with a big fish she caught on the River Vam Nao. — Photo

Catching catfish

The most interesting part of the journey to discover the river region is observing the fishermen catch large catfish at night.

A prized fish with high economic and nutritious value, catfish is favoured by several gourmets for its delicious taste.

The catfish season in the River Vam Nao is from the 11th month to the next fourth month of the lunar year, when the muddy river water turns transparent.

The best time to catch catfish is right after sunset, when the water is still and the fish are most active.

The tourists gather at the house on stilts of the An Giang Tourist Farmers Centre before boarding the boat at 9pm. While waiting, they can enjoy catfish dishes and don ca tai tu (southern amateur music), two local specialties of the river region in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta.

The fishing equipment is pretty simple and inexpensive. The fisherman needs only a boat or a small canoe, lights and the indispensible net.

While the fishermen spread their nets, the tourists can admire the beauty of the Vam Nao, illuminated by the red lights of the buoys floating on the water.

It takes about one to two hours for the first haul. Tourists might share the anxiety of the fishermen while waiting for the first catch. However, not all nets are lucky with their first catch.

Do-it-yourself: During flood season from the seventh to the 10th lunar month, visitors can harvest the yellow dien dien wildflower, which is used in hotpot. — Photo

“Catching a catfish requires rich experience, so most fishermen are middle-aged,” villager Pham Van Sanh said.

The trip becomes even more exciting if the tourists choose to cook the fresh catch themselves, enjoy a glass of wine and listen to the interesting life stories of the fishermen.

“I was greatly impressed with my trip along the River Vam Nao,” tourist Tran Huyen Anh said. “I had a great chance to experience the simple life of the fishermen as well as the toughness of their profession. I look forward to coming back to catch more fish the next time.”