Considered one of the most interesting and instantly recognizable creations of Vietnamese people, Basket Boats are known locally as “Thung Chai” or “Thuyen Thung”. They are very important to the local fishermen in the central coastal regions of Vietnam. The boat is a variety of coracle – a small, circular boat traditionally used in parts of the British Isles as well as India, Iraq, and Tibet.
Affectionately referred to as the “Right Arm” of the fisherman and the “Child” of the mother boats, “Thuyen Thung” is an inseparable part of a fisherman’s life. It is a multi-purpose vessel – used as a very effective lifeboat in case of emergency, a singular boat to catch fish close to shore and a small, lightweight means of carrying cargo and people to and from the larger boats anchored offshore.
There is little official documentation about the origins of the Basket Boat. However, it is said that during the French Colonial Era, a variety of new taxes were introduced; one of these being a tax on owning a boat. The poor regional fisherman couldn’t pay this tax, and risked losing their livelyhoods. As they say, “necessity is the mother of all invention”, and so, they came up with a plan to circumvent the tax. Creating a sea-worthy vessel that would not be considered a boat was no easy task, but the ingenious fishermen successfully argued that these were not boats at all, but baskets – and therefore couldn’t be taxed. Their crafty plan actually worked, and every since, these iconic crafts have become a mainstay in coastal Vietnam.
The process of creating a basket boat involves plenty of weaving skills. They take split pieces of bamboo which is highly flexible, and not susceptible to marine boring creatures that affect many other types of hardwood. The bamboo is then treated with protective coats of resin made from coconut or tar, although nowadays, fiberglass is often used. In choppy waters and surf breaks, the boat remains waterproof and flexes easily against the force of the sea. Its lightweight construction means it constantly stays above the waves, even in stormy conditions.
Although modern versions of basket boats have become more complex, and are even fitted with sails or diesel engines, the traditional version requires oars. Although it looks pretty simple to do, the correct technique can take quite a bit of mastery, the proper technique is to gently wave the paddle back and forth through the water in an arcing motion.
Just one of the interesting creations unique to Vietnam, basket boats are a lovely reminder of the ingenuity of the local people, representing a beautiful and eco-friendly method of sea travel.