Vietnam - more than just Rambo

An exciting country

To be quite honest, when I first turned my attention to Vietnam I didn't really know much about it. I imagined something from Vietnam war films like Apocalypse Now and of course Rambo. A Vietnamese man told me that there are still regions where partisans are in hiding and don’t know that the war has been over for 44 years. Sounds like an interesting place!

Unlike the partisans still in hiding, most people consider Vietnam a safe country where you can roam around and look for fish to your heart's content. There are some well-maintained roads, but from there on, the only way into untouched nature is along dirt tracks. Small mopeds are the ideal means of transport - at least for intrepid and adaptable minds. It's not right before left, but whoever gets there first has the right of way. Or something like that. At large intersections, this is always quite an experience!

Coral reefs and waterfalls

The town of Nha Trang, which has an airport and is served by flights from Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) is an ideal starting point for nature lovers. Around the island of Vinh Nguyen, seawater lovers can enjoy the snorkelling. Beautiful and healthy coral reefs full of interesting inhabitants line the island. You simply have to say "Ba Ho Waterfall" to a taxi driver and after half an hour's drive you’ll arrive at a very interesting freshwater area with multiple biotopes. Nature is not "untouched" anywhere, which is annoyingly obvious from the plastic bags and cans lying around, but this is a problem you will find even in extremely remote regions. Our aforementioned partisans may be the only people this hasn’t yet reached, but I doubt even that. The wind blows thin carrier bags everywhere and they get stuck on bushes and trees. A terrible sight in the midst of otherwise incredibly beautiful nature.

The Ba Ho Waterfalls habitat

Waterfalls are often not directly accessible by car, so you have to walk alongside the river. At any time, armed with your diving goggles and snorkel, you can step into the 28 °C warm water to see what species of fish and invertebrates are there. When climbing over the rocks towards the waterfall, be careful you don’t end your holiday in Nha Trang hospital. The hospital’s good, but it’s not on our plan. The river, on the other hand, with its very clear water is indescribably beautiful and due to its high water temperatures allows you to spend a lot of time in the water without cooling off. The most common species in the current are barbels and danionins, but the loaches and gobies are even more beautiful. 

You can really find a lot to do and spend a long time at a river like this. If you want some exercise you can leave the water and climb over the stones towards the waterfall. With an air temperature of 30-35 °C and 70 % humidity, you’ll very soon long for the water again. The real Olympians can climb around the first waterfall and get to a second and even a third before the river flows on a plateau towards the falls. 

Waterfalls are often nature’s species barriers. Fish can fall down the waterfall, but never go back up. This makes it more likely you’ll find a greater variation of species above a waterfall than below one. It is also always worth taking a close look at the extreme biotopes, e.g. the habitat directly below the falling water masses. Some fish species are only to be found there because they have evolved to fit these extremes precisely. We found loaches (Annamia normani) grazing algae on the stones. Two metres away from the swirling water at the bottom of the waterfall we found a completely different species.

Regions rich in currents

The whole subject of currents is very interesting for aquarists like us. Just look at how many fish in the wild actively seek out regions with strong currents! We measured the current at various locations during the JBL expedition to Vietnam and then compared it with the current in the aquarium. The result was surprising: a water pump with a capacity of 2000 l/h generates a flow speed of 2.16 km/h at a distance of 10-30 cm. At a distance of 80 cm, however, it is practically no longer measurable. In the rivers, we measured speeds between 1.4 and 11 km/h. One of our participants has been breeding barbels for many years. But one species never wanted to spawn. After his return, inspired by the observations of the barbels in the current, he increased the current in the aquarium and shortly afterwards had offspring!

Once you’ve survived the climb in one piece, if you’re still feeling fit, you should definitely climb into the river where it’s calmer and has a clearly visible lower flow velocity. The animal composition is completely different here. With a bit of luck you’ll see large snakeheads, but - unfortunately - the underwater visibility decreases along with the flow velocity. When the visibility gets too bad it’s still worth taking a look underwater at the undergrowth in the shore area. This is where shrimps, snails and small danionins live. Wearing diving goggles you’ll need to approach them to within a few centimetres and while this doesn't really work with fish, these invertebrates are fortunately too slow to flee. 

The Ba Ho waterfalls are just one example of a Vietnamese habitat. You can always turn off a main road, follow a small path and look for a stream or river. There aren’t any crocodiles and it gives the locals a laugh to see us stepping into bodies of water all over the place. Vietnam is definitely worth a trip!

Travel tips

There are direct flights to Ho Chi Minh City. The cheapest are usually with Air China (from €500). The domestic flight to Nha Trang costs around €100. The cost of living is much cheaper than in Germany. Many hotels have been built in Nha Trang, so you have a wide choice in all price ranges. The best time to travel, with the least rainfall, is from February to April, with daytime temperatures around 30 °C. The sea has a water temperature of 29 °C. German citizens do not need a visa - they can therefore book today and enter tomorrow for up to 15 days. Your passport needs to be valid for at least 6 months beyond the travel period and still contain at least 5 empty pages. Vaccination recommendations may only be given by tropical institutes or tropical doctors on the basis of current information. But malaria prophylaxis, tetanus, hepatitis A and B and polio are always advisable. Scuba divers should take Malarone as a malaria prophylaxis rather than other drugs. Cash can be exchanged directly at the airport, although local exchange offices offer better rates. Right-hand traffic prevails.

© 24.04.2022
Heiko Blessin
Heiko Blessin
Dipl.-Biologe

Tauchen, Fotografie, Aquaristik, Haie, Motorrad

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