A Fishing Village Turned Into A Secret Destination for Art Lovers
The little rustic fishing village of Tam Thanh south of Hoi An on the coast is attracting tourists and art lovers with its colourful murals on houses and walls lining the street. This is thanks to the collaboration of Korean and Vietnamese artists and it has received an increasing number of visitors to the somewhat remote community. Tam Thanh Mural Village is still not listed in any of the guide books for Vietnam, including Lonely Planet, which makes it an intriguing day tour for anyone who wants to discover an off the beaten track location near Hoi An. We heard of the art mural village by recommendation from our hotel manager at Atlas Hotel in Hoi An, who has personally met one of the local artists and told us excitedly about the project.
The Monument of Vietnamese Heroic Mother
By taking a car with driver from Hoi An we drove south towards the village. The road south passes through a desert like landscape with only the odd hut here and there, plus a surprisingly large quantity of colourful graves dotted throughout the countryside. Apart from one large hotel building site the area south of Hoi An is thankfully still void of any tourist lodgings and building work. Close to Tam Thanh art village we made a brief stop at the Monument of Vietnamese Heroic Mother, built to honour all mothers that have lost their sons and daughters in the various wars. There is a vast image of the heroic mother Nguyen Thi Thu, she lost children and grandchildren in two wars. In the surrounding garden of Mother Thu’s home, were five secret tunnels, where Thu and her daughter, Heroic Mother Le Thi Tri, hid many soldiers and guerrillas.
Impressive Socialist Monument
For me the monument is a great example of socialist modernism and it also funnily reminded me of the Mount Rushmore Memorial in the US. The walk past the eight columns, depicting mothers, and up the steps leading to the monument was an impressive experience with the face of Nguyen Thi Thu amongst the heads of men (sons) towering straight ahead of us. Sadly the small museum underneath the large monument was closed and there was nothing else to see. Jerome was feeling light headed in the heat and we headed towards one of the cafes opposite the memorial for a cold drink while waiting for our driver to return. It certainly is an unusual place to have a monument of this size in a small town in the middle of nowhere.
Arrival at Tam Thanh Mural Art Village
After a short drive from the monument we arrived at the Tam Thanh Mural Art Village. Immediately upon leaving the car we were surrounded by vibrantly decorated basket boats. Each artist had designed their own and the motifs ranged from local life to animals and flowers. The sea and the beach behind the boats provided the perfect background for the exhibits. We agreed with our driver that we would meet him back at our car in two hours – he did not seem very keen to explore the village and just went to a local café to relax.
Colourful Murals and Artwork
Strolling along the main road that runs through the village we not only discovered many more colourful murals and artwork on the house walls, we also met many locals and even stumbled onto a Vietnamese wedding. The party seemed very lively and some of the guests lifted their glasses to cheer to us. A boy of about five or six sat on the roadside selling cool drinks and dried fish. I felt sorry for him, apart from three other tourists we saw no one else around and we purchased some cans for the beach later on. Jerome enjoyed walking through the art village, never knowing what painting we would discover next. There were plenty to please any child, with some famous comic characters included, and lots of wildlife scenes to spot, as well as the portraits of local life and people.
Daily Life in the Village
Besides the murals I most enjoyed watching the locals go about their daily life. There were plenty of opportunities to take a peek into their open fronted living quarters and many sat or lazed just inside their open doorways. Some of them looked curiously at us while others did not even take notice of our passing by. One woman was filling homemade fish sauce into bottles and straight away I was reminded of the familiar smell of the main ingredient for Vietnamese food. What surprised us was the lack of cafes or eateries in the village. When we tried to find somewhere for lunch we discovered them all to be closed. I am sure this will change of they get more guests seeing the art.
Afternoon on the Beach
We decided to forego lunch and make a beeline for the beach. The fine sand on our feet was a welcome feeling and we found a spot on one of the fishing boats for our belongings. The boys were happy to spend time in the sea, while I went on a shell hunt after a quick dip. The beach was completely deserted and a treasure trove for beach combing.
My Encounter With a Local Fisherman
On my walk I encountered a lonely fisherman, seated underneath a sail, repairing his net. He was so concentrated at work that he first did not notice my presence and I just stood there watching him. His skilled hands were fast and steady at work with the large needle and surprisingly fine thread. Eventually he felt my observing him and smiled. I asked him if I could take his photo, he nodded in agreement and continued to work. I could have taken photos and watched at work him all afternoon, but I did not want to be too intrusive and left him after showing him some of the photos on the camera – he smiled in recognition. Once I returned to the boys we packed our things and left the beach to find our driver. He had fallen asleep in a hammock and the café owner woke him up.
Drying Fish on the Roadside
Driving back along the narrow road that runs parallel to the beach rather than the main highway we passed many shrimp farms and the sight of fish drying on the fences or roadside was a common occurrence.
The Bamboo Bridge
We had asked the driver to make a little detour on the return journey from Tam Thanh Art Village to Hoi An via the “bamboo bridge”, a place I had discovered on a photo online. After some tedious research I had found the location on Google maps and the driver, while he had never seen it himself despite living in the area, agreed to take us there. Read about this wonder of craftsmanship in my next post.