Traditional coracles made by an old fisherman in the central city of Da Nang are not only famous among locals, but have also made inroads into some foreign markets, such as Australia, Japan and the Philippines.

Phan Liem, nearly 70, lives in Tho An fishing village on the Son Tra Peninsula. He is one of a few keeping alive the centuries-old tradition of weaving the small round bamboo boats.

He makes coracles from plaited bamboo smothered in tree resin and rice bran. The knowledge has been passed down generations of his family.

“I learned the craft as a teenager,” Liem says. “Like other men, I found fishing and boat making were the main money makers before the education system improved in our poor village. Families use coracles for fishing up to five or six kilometres off shore.”

Making coracles is a hard job that requires plenty of skills and patience, Liem admits, adding that he keeps his own manufacturing secrets so the “by Liem” boats win the confidence of local fishermen and appear more unique in overseas markets.

In 2013, an Australian travel agency ordered 12 coracles made by Liem. It said it would bring them to Australia to advertise Vietnam’s traditional sea craft and maritime tourism development.

The “by Liem” vessels have been shipped abroad for ten years. Not only Australians but also Japanese, Spanish, British and Philippine tourists have come to his home to buy coracles.

According to the artisan, his boats are made totally by hand. Scars and calluses fill the palms of his hands after years of endlessly weaving the strong but pliant bamboo strips.

The bamboo comes from mountainous areas around Da Nang. A coracle uses about 10 bamboo saplings and takes one craftsman about a week to complete.

First, the craftsmen split the bamboo into different widths, but only the outer layers are used because they are more waterproof. Production starts two days after the split lengths are dried in the sun. The craftsmen begin by weaving the thin strips into the shape of a large basket with one or two hoops of thicker strips at the top.

The finished boats need to dry for another day or two before the last stage of production, Liem said.

Eight layers of sap and bran both outside and inside are needed to make the coracle fully waterproof. Another two days of drying and the vessel is finished, apart from a light trim to cut off any projecting ends.

A boat is now sold at least 3.5 million VND (149 USD), bringing an average monthly income of nearly 10 million VND (480 USD) per person, he said.

However, the old artisan reveals his sadness that young people are no longer interested in the craft and prefer jobs in more industrialised manufacturing.

“I am afraid that the craft will eventually disappear from the village,” he says, expressing hope that more young villagers will learn how to build coracles in the future.-VNA