By Jeremy A. Rich
This is an anecdote of my aquatic adventures of multiple types during my family’s 2019 Thanksgiving cruise vacation aboard the Viking Orion through Asia. This Asian Thanksgiving adventure on the Viking Orion cruise ship’s general itinerary was a cruise starting in Hong Kong, then passing through multiple stops in Vietnam, a couple of days in Cambodia and to finish off with a day and a half in Bangkok, Thailand with some days at sea. This vacation I was allowed a firsthand look at important aquatic habitats, markets, and cultures of this part of Asia.
This aquatic adventure began in Hong Kong, sort of. My family, I included decided to skip the scheduled and private tours during our day in Hong Kong. My mother had medical issues on the 15 hour flight over and had to spend our entire time in a Hong Kong hospital. The family decision for the entire time in Hong Kong changed to take care of mother and for the rest of the family to rest the entire time in Hong Kong. However, I plan to return to visit Hong Kong as the cities Aquarium and Reptile street markets are legendary. My brother Chris lived in Hong Kong as a student abroad at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology in 2003. The stories he returned with about these markets warrant a return visit to Hong Kong and first hand exploration of these markets. There was one surprise experience at port on the top deck while having Martinis with my family at 8:00 PM. There was a surprise treat to the world’s largest laser light show (www.discoverhongkong.com,11/ 2019). This laser show is done by 44 buildings on the Hong Kong skyline over the peninsula and two islands over Hong Kong bay. The laser show was a sight to behold. The Orion was at sea for a night then our next port was Ha Long City home of Ha Long Bay.
Once we made port in Ha Long Bay. We had a great half day boat tour of Ha Long Bay. Ha Long Bay was one of the most spectacular natural jewels of this vacation. This area was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994 (Wikipedia, 11/2019). Though the maze of tall islands in jade blue seas was spectacular. There was some concern environmentally speaking. There was no tropical sea fish swimming around and reports to have a catch, fisherman has to travel far out in the ocean. On the flip side though Ha Long Bay has one of the most aggressive anti littering policies I have seen. The Vietnamese at Ha Long Bay have a zero littering tolerance policy and only a select few are allowed to carry plastic bottles into Ha Long Bay. This policy is solid progress toward the preservation and restoration of this world heritage site.
The second half of the day, my family and I hired a cab to go to a local Pho Restaurant for lunch and to shop at local markets. Most of these Pho restaurants had a collection of mid to large aquariums filled with live saltwater fish and invertebrates from the local ocean. The Pho shop my family chooses to have lunch at had some aquatic highlights such as a 400 gallon aquarium with 5-6 mid-sized groupers (24 inches each) of an unidentified species and a 60 gallon aquarium with a large cuttlefish. It became apparent where all the bays aquatic life went. I had ideas how to keep and sustainably manage the local fishery, instead of just going further out to sea. Some sustain fisheries management practices include practices such as bag limits, slot limits or zero limits for certain species should be made. These practices along with aquaculture were some of the ideas racing through my mind to manage and conserve these oceans fisheries.
After lunch we drove to the local market looking for a book or two about this spectacular area of Vietnam. The markets that were supposed to have books about Vietnam and Ha Long Bay however they did not produce any books. However they did produce the vacations first aquarium shops. There were two aquarium shops. The first and the biggest aquarium shop had about 10 aquariums. They sold mostly fancy goldfish and koi. Then in a 55 gallon aquarium on one of the back shelves there was a 24 inch Silver Arowana (Osteoglossum bicirrhosum). The Arowana was in green water and looked in not that great health. This troubled me a bit as Arowanas are my #1 order Osteoglossiformes and #1 family Osteoglossidae of aquarium fish. The second aquarium shop sold mostly an unknown species of feeder fish, fancy goldfish, and koi. The Orion had one cruising day at sea.
The Orion’s next port was Da Nang Vietnam. There are daily tour showed our tour group the city including China Beech and female Buddha located on the neighboring hill. There the Buddhist concept of nature with development was alive. As seen around the female Buddha and Buddhist neighboring golden temples there was a species of Macaque apparently (Macaca arctoides) permanently living at this site. Later that day our tour group went the main city there I found another aquarium store. There was not much there and I found mostly fancy goldfish and koi for sale. The Orion had two days at sea to the next port of Ho Chi Man city or AKA Saigon on the Mekong River.
The next port for the Orion after a couple days at sea was Ho Chi Man City or Saigon located on the Mekong River in the Mekong River Delta. The first day in Saigon our group went to another Buddhist temple. This temple had a manmade pond with a fountain in the middle of it. This pond was filled with a large group of an unidentified catfish species with all the individuals measuring ~24-36 inches. The tour guide informed our group that these catfish were used for a very special Buddhist ceremony. That during this ceremony when these catfish are released into the river, they turn into dragons. While looking at the catfish in this two to three thousand gallon pond I noticed that there was an unidentified snakehead species cohabitating with the catfish. This plus with a couple other species again was an example of the Buddhist belief of man coexistence with wildlife.
The next day in Saigon we had a boat tour on the MeKong River Delta. There Chris and I got a good look of the MeKong River and Vietnamese business on the river. This river has almost every conceivable type of ship on it, from dugout canoes, barges, cruise ships, and large cargo ships. While going through the Mekong canals Chris and I had a good look at how the Vietnamese used Water Hyacinths (Pontederia crassipes) to control bank erosion (personal communication with tour guide, 11/2019) and everyday business on the river.
After a good long morning out and about it was time for our tour group to stop for lunch at a restaurant located on the banks of the Mekong. While at this restaurant in Saigon located just off of the Mekong River. This restaurant had some small channels and ponds in between the outside table areas. While looking into the one of the channels I spotted what appeared to be some sort of bag or trash. Then the bag started moving. The bag turned out to be a Giant Gourami (Osphronemus goramy). I looked around this waterway and found 10-12 adults Giant Gourami that were between 16-20 inches long. These Giant Gourami were not alone. I found two other species of aquarium fish in these channels as well. I found multiple individuals of Blue Gourami (Trichopodus trichopterus) and one large three foot Pangasian Catfish (Pangasianodon hypophthalmus).
Then I sat down to have a spring roll lunch with a beverage. To my surprise, I was served fried Giant Gourami to be made into spring rolls. To my knowledge these Giant Gourami are an aquaculture fish in the area around Saigon (personal communication with tour guide, 11/2019) and most likely throughout the Giant Gourami species native range. The Giant Gourami were being fed the leftovers from departed restaurant guests.
The Orion stayed one more day in Ho Chi Man City/Saigon, a day at sea, a couple days in port in Cambodia, a day at sea and then to Bangkok Thailand. While at sea I could not help notice the amount of litter in the ocean. There was a lot of litter as far out as the main cruising lane for the Orion. This was a lot of litter compared to other cruises I have gone on such as the Panama Canal, Mediterranean Sea, and Patagonian Cruises. While watching this I kept recalling policies in Ha Long Bay and how strict policies such as policies made there were the type or were similar policies necessary to clean up these great seas I was cruising on for my Asian Thanksgiving vacation. Cambodia was the least developed and educated out of all the countries my family went to and by far had the most problems. The Cambodians were selling gasoline for their automobiles, out of two liter soda bottles, stacked up on shelves, selling the bottles out of closets. Cambodia, a country similar to the Asian oceans, seemed to require progress the most with regards to some mutual interests (clean up trash) and development to similar issues with neighboring Asian countries (personal observation, 11/2019).
The last complete day of the vacation was on the USA’s holiday that happened in Bangkok, Thailand. In Bangkok, Thailand my family has got family and a new family. My family decided to have the entire day as a family day and acquaint ourselves with our new family. After a while everybody alerts to the detail that I am a huge aquarium guru of sorts. The family decided to search the Bangkok markets to look for exotic Aquarium and Reptile shops. The family looked for two hours in 90 degree Fahrenheit and 85% humidity weather. I found one Arowana Pro Shop and two Discus Pro Shops. These two species from the families Osteoglossidae and Cihlidae are aqua culture species in Asia (Chua and Goh, 1999; Chua and Goh, 2000; Wattley, 1991). The Arowana Pro Shop had everything from Silver Arowana, Jardini Arowana, Red Tail Golden, X Back Golden, Super and Chilli Red Asian Arowana. The shop although small was a sight to behold and redeeming for the aquarium shop’s Silver Arowana in Ho Long City. This shop had a strict no photo policy. The two Discus Pro Shop’s were both grade A++. The Discus were large, very robust and healthy, looked as though they had been cherry-picked from the breeders facilities and healthy socially. I got to photo document the Discus Pro Shops somewhat. On the cab ride out of the market I spotted 5-6 more Arowana Pro Shops.
There were a couple places that I wanted to explore more and pro shops I wanted to visit that I didn’t. However those I shall save for another vacation and next exploration of the other side of the Pacific. I met new family, made new friends, reached a couple milestones in regards to my aquarium hobby/aquaculture, and seen the prospects for progress in this region of the world. I look forward to the next time I have the opportunity to return, explore and experience this part and other parts of Asia.
The Asian Arowana, Chua, Julia Goh, William, 1999, Dragon Fish Industries
The Millennium Dragon, Chua, Julia Goh, William, 2000, Dragon Fish Industries
Hong Kong Tourism Board, www.discoverhongkong.com, 11/2019
Personal Communication, Viking Orion Cruise, 11/14-29/2019
Discus For The Perfectionist, pg 121, Wattley, Jack, 1991, T.F.H. Publications, Inc.
Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H%E1%BA%A1_Long_Bay, 12/2019