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Closed port opens up unspoilt rural vistas

Update: January, 12/2015 - 16:13
Netscape: Tra Nhieu Village is home to 2,000 people making a living mainly from fishing. — VNA/VNS Photo The Trung

A port that gave way 400 years ago to the famous Hoi An City is set to become a community-based tourism site offering visitors the chance to experience an ancient rural lifestyle, reports Cong Thanh.

Situated on the Thu Bon River, Tra Nhieu Village in the central province of Quang Nam emerged as a busy trading port for sailing junks before Hoi An was built on the north riverbank 400 years ago.

The change in river flow eroded Tra Nhieu Port. Hoi An was then chosen to host larger vessels, while Tra Nhieu closed. A collapsed pagoda and stone statues are now the only vestiges of the 16-17th century port.

Raw material: A local man transports sedge used to make mats in Tra Nhieu Village. — VNA/VNS Photo Duc Tam

Today, the area is home to 2,000 people making a living from fishing and sedge mat weaving. Four years ago, a plan was introduced to develop Tra Nhieu as a community-based tourism site showcasing the rural village lifestyle, along with nearby Ban Thach Village, also in Duy Vinh Commune. People visiting the tourism hub of Hoi An could extend their vacations and explore the tranquil villages.

However, the plan has yet to bear fruit due to "inflexible policy" and a lack of connections between the local administration and travel agencies to boost tourism, according to Nguyen Tan That, head of the village's tourism managing team.

"The village, which currently hosts 30 visitors a day, has a lot of potential for eco-tours and community-based tourism, but we have yet to find a way to make a profit from this," said chairman of Duy Vinh Commune People's Committee Phan Cong Nhan.

Handmade

After a 10-minute ferry travel from the wharf in Hoi An, followed by a 15-minute bike ride, one reaches Tra Nhieu Village. Spread across 2km along the Thu Bon River, the village produces 3,000 tonnes of seafood annually, while 20ha of sedge farms provide another means of subsistence.

"Fishing and sedge mat weaving were the two main jobs for people in the ancient village and the trades still earn a lot for them today," That said.

"Despite low incomes and hard work, two-thirds of the population still weave mats during the off-season for farming."

Cruising along: Tourists travel by boat on the local Thu Bon River.

Tran Thi Minh, 54, earns a scant amount from making sedge mats. It takes her three hours to complete one mat, which she sells for VND50,000 (US$2.40). If she sells 60 mats in a month, she can save VND3 million.

"The 1,000sq.m farm of sedge that we weave into mats brings us VND20 million (US$950) a year. The trade is the major source of income for my family. My husband just works at odd jobs," Minh said.

Traditionally, newly married couples were given double-sized sedge mats as wedding gifts.

"People thought the double mat would bring happiness for the couple and their descendants," Minh said.

"The elderly were invited to lay sedge mat on the bed for the wedding night. The best craftsmen used sedge threads in various colours to weave ancient scripts on the wedding mats. We were presented with a double mat on our wedding day and our five children were born in happiness."

Today, villagers still follow the centuries-old process of drying, dyeing and weaving. One handmade mat can be used for one or two years.

Arrivals: Tourists disembark at Tra Nhieu Village. — VNS Photos Hoai Nam

Le Thi Hong, 57, said mat weaving provided a key means of subsistence as climate change affected other traditional occupations.

"Rice farming is becoming less productive due to the changing sea level," she said.

Community-based tourism could revive the mat-weaving trade, but there are several obstacles.

"We now demonstrate the trade for tourists visiting the village and sell mats as souvenirs, but a 1.4m long mat is not portable for visitors," Hong said.

"A small-sized mat to cover a sofa or chair is possible, but we aren't as crowded with tourists as Hoi An."

Industrialisation

Ban Thach is recognised as one of 68 traditional craft villages in Quang Nam, but villagers struggle to market their wares.

Ban Thach Mat Market, 3km from Tra Nhieu Village, is the most crowded craft market in the area, selling over 1,000 mats from early morning to noon. However, not all of them are handmade.

On a roll: Ban Thach Market in Duy Vinh Commune, Duy Xuyen District in Quang Nam Province has specialised in selling sedge mats for more than200 years. The province plans to promote the market as a tourist destination.— VNA/VNS Photo Vu Cong Dien

Tran Thi Kim Lien, 54, who lives near the market, said her family had turned to weaving machines for higher productivity and incomes. They invested VND300 million in a workshop of eight mat weaving machines operated by 16 employees, producing 1,800 mats monthly.

"It's easier than working by hand and the salary is better," said weaver Tran Thi Kim Giao.

"I can make eight mats with a machine for VND112,000 ($5.3) a day. I have more time to take care of the housework, rice farm and kids."

Community-based tourism

Nearly 100 residents of Tra Nhieu Village were trained in tourism services including cooking, fishing, tour guiding and coracle paddling. However, tourism has been slow to develop.

"The local administration should invest more in tourist services such as ports for cruises, reception centres and folk art troupes," said Pham Vu Dung, manager of Rose Travel Service Company.

Dung said his company was a forerunner in setting up tourism services in the village in co-operation with the local administration.

"We book a package for daytime services and villagers can get shares from the community-based tourism managing board," Dung said.

"It's the way we share responsibility with the community and help the sustainable development of tourism in the village."

Tourism chief manager That said a fishing team could earn VND70,000 ($3.3) to VND100,000 ($4.8) from renting out a fishing boat and paddling coracle, or providing local cuisine for VND70,000 per visitor.

However, Dung complained that the local administration had yet to establish places for tourists to go.

"To lure more tourists, the village needs activities such as biking, paddling coracles and cooking classes," he said. — VNS

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