I have always enjoyed fishing as a recreational pastime and distraction. The premise of angling is the challenge rather than the culinary objective — catch and release. I like both.
This article started when my editor assigned me and our photographer Kyle to accompany our guide and recreational angler, Mark, to find some good fishing and shrimping spots within the city. Although Mark was a recreational angler in Canada, he didn’t catch any fish for the first six years here in Vietnam. However, fishing is now big business and there are a growing number of dedicated fishing ponds, perfect for anglers like myself, and of course Mark.
Pork, Shrimp Paste and Bamboo
Our first spot, Dong Dieu, was in District 8, a 15-minute ride from downtown Saigon. I have been to this place before — together with a friend I spent six hours drinking VND10,000 beer. Yet we caught only two fish, not even 250g worth.
According to Mark, most of the fish that at these places are pacu fish — a South American freshwater fish related to the piranha family — as well as many different types of tilapia and Mekong giant catfish, a species in danger of extinction.
Within 20 minutes Mark had caught a 2.5kg pacu — even our beers and coffee had yet to arrive. Using his own professional rod he was able to cast further out into the water than the standard bamboo rods for rent. He also used some unconventional bait — thit suon (grilled pork). The bait is normally shrimp paste rolled up into balls or fresh shrimp meat — both are available for purchase at the pond. But for Mark it wasn’t good enough. He demonstrated the superiority of his barbecued pork not long after when he caught what looked like a small version of the Mekong giant catfish. Plying away with my bamboo rod and my rolled up shrimp paste, I was still empty handed.
Two other Vietnamese anglers close by got their catch — one a 6kg tilapia and the other a 5kg snakehead. Both were using professional rods and a range of fishing lures. This confirmed my belief that the rods and bait are vital, even in dedicated fishing ponds. Although according to Mark early morning is the best time for fishing, I attribute getting that catch to other factors.
With our two hours over, we explored the shrimping area, a small covered pool. It was full with a fairly large group of people, mostly couples. The property here is vast, with areas to suit both individuals and groups. The service, however, is slow — best to stock up on beverages at the makeshift shop next to the shrimp pool upon arrival.
Our next destination, Thanh Truc, is an indoor shrimping spot where the pool is situated in the centre of the space with surrounding tables and chairs. It boasts a newly built karaoke area, an extensive seafood menu, exotic meats and various shrimp cocktails and a mostly attentive female staff. The cost for an hour’s shrimping is VND90,000 — although if you make a catch, you pay for the crustaceans and get your hour for free.
Shrimping is both easy and kid friendly, and this spot would make for a good Saturday or Sunday afternoon break with family and kids. Within five minutes of our arrival, the staff showed us how easy it is to catch shrimp, bagging 10 of the creatures with the bamboo rods and worm bait — all provided. In case you get bored with the crustaceans, they also have free Wi-Fi.
Leaving Thanh Truc we headed to Thap Nga, a recently opened, lavish fishing spot and restaurant. The place is enormous. From the entrance to the table we chose in the centre was a five-minute walk — had we known, we would have used the free buggy service provided to the designated area. We were greeted by 10 waitresses, all clad in Japanese school girl-style uniforms with full-length stockings. Quick service is a priority here — several waiters were on roller-skates and bicycles.
Browsing through the menu it became clear that fishing was only of the attractions of Thap Nga — exotic dishes and cheap beer are also part of the allure. The menu included ca mat quy (devil-faced fish), ca chinh (eel), ca duoi (batoidea or ray), heo toc (wild boar) and heo sua (suckling pig). To be on the safe side, we opted for the spare ribs.
With the sun high in the sky now, Mark cast his line without any hope of catching anything worth keeping — at this time of the day, the big fish usually go deeper to avoid the sun. Yet after 15 minutes he caught a 3kg pacu. Many people had told me that the various fishing spots in town contained very little fish. Yet already I could see that the pools were well-stocked and the fish well-fed. After all, if you don’t make a catch, you’re unlikely to come back for more.
The Garden of Relaxation
It was now running late and with one final stop to make before sunset, we headed to Vuon Thu Gian.
Arriving after 4pm there were few people out for that afternoon catch. Besides ourselves there were a couple of anglers and to our surprise a group of westerners drinking beer rather than fishing. However, according to Mark, at the weekends Vuon Thu Gian is a hotspot for families and couples wanting a bit of privacy. It is also popular at lunch with many regulars.
For me the problem was not the lack of people, but the service — the waitresses although attentive seemed disinterested, perhaps because of the day and time. As for the menu, the food on here was typical with a variety of poultry such a duck and pigeon, as well as squid, octopus and frog. Unlike the two other previous places the menu did not have pictures and was only in Vietnamese.
And yet this is one of Mark’s favourite spots — not because of the intimacy but because of the catches. Here he’s made a few big ones, something to keep him coming back for more.
Going to fishing ponds in Ho Chi Minh City is not just about the all-important catch, but recreation. They’re places where families and couples can go catch not just fish, but a few hours away from the daily grind. Another version of quan nhau or bia hoi joints, the difference is the leafy, pond-filled environment and the fact, of course, that you can fish.
168 Nguyen Huu Tho, Xa Phuoc Kieng, Nha Be, Tel: (08) 62712712
793/35/4 Tran Xuan Soan, Q7, Tel: 0974 799669
33/2 Cao Lo, Q8, Tel: (08) 2431 2949
Vuon Thu Gian
Nguyen Huu Tho, Cau So 2, Phuoc Kien, Nha Be, Tel: 0989 770450