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2018-02-27 - Thung Chai Builder - Câm Kim, Vietnam.

While cycling through Câm Kim we met an elderly man who has been making basket boats for roughly 60 years – ever since he learned the craft at 15. Now as we approached he stood up and posed, obviously accustomed to having his photograph taken and while I did take some portraits of him, I prefered watching him work at his craft.

Constructed by hammering strips of bamboo into place, the boat is then coated in waterproof resin made from coconut oil, tar or more often now, fibreglass. With regular re-coating, each boat can last decades – longer even than the people who make them.

The thung chai, or “basket boat”, traces its history back to the French colonial era. As the story goes, the French arrived in Vietnam and began levying taxes left, right and centre – including a tax on the ownership of boats. Most of the poor Vietnamese fishermen who depended on boats for their livelihood could not afford to pay the taxes, so they invented a new type of boat: the thung chai.