Ghost Ships of West Lake, Hanoi: Echoes of the Past on Tranquil Waters
Amid the serene waters of West Lake, Tay Ho nestled in the heart of Hanoi, lies a haunting mystery that has intrigued both locals and visitors alike. The “Ghost Ships” of West Lake, remnants of a bygone era, cast an enigmatic spell over this picturesque landscape. In this blog post, we embark on a journey to uncover the history, purpose, and eventual disappearance of these evocative vessels.
All photographs ©LavonneBosman shot on Canon 5D, Canon 50mm f1.4 prime lens
While living in Hanoi, Vietnam I would often go cycling around the lake early morning or afternoon. I’d often marvel at these old boats, ever reminding me of the fact that I find myself in Asia. Some of them proved extremely dilapidated but there were two in particular that added a sort of romance to the often misty (or rather smoggy) lake sunset. One day in 2021 I happened upon this scene where they first started taking them apart.
It was only in 2022 during one fiery sunset when I stumbled upon them taking apart another two of the ships. I hurried home to grab my camera and cycle back to take the following pictures.
The Origin and Arrival of the Ghost ships:
The ghost ships of West Lake, also known as “cá tần” in Vietnamese, found their way to the tranquil waters in the mid-20th century. These boats, resembling traditional wooden junk boats, were once a common sight on the lake, dotting its expanse with their unique charm. Their history traces back to a time when they served as recreational boats for the elite, offering leisurely cruises amidst the breathtaking scenery of West Lake.
The Purpose and Evolution:
Originally used for leisurely pursuits, these ghost ships transformed with the shifting tides of time. They gradually evolved into floating restaurants, becoming not only vessels of relaxation but also culinary experiences. With the passage of years, they became an integral part of the lake’s identity, offering tourists and locals a unique dining experience on tranquil waters.
Fading Relevance and Abandonment:
As Hanoi modernized and preferences shifted, the relevance of these ghost ships began to fade. The rise of contemporary dining establishments and changing recreational trends led to a decline in patronage. The once-thriving floating restaurants found themselves outpaced by newer offerings on land. This decline in usage marked the beginning of the end for these iconic vessels.
The Removal of the Ghost ships
The decision to remove the ghost ships was a complex one, woven with considerations of preserving the lake’s aesthetics, environmental concerns, and the need to adapt to evolving cultural dynamics. Their dilapidated state, coupled with the challenges of maintaining them, eventually led to the authorities’ decision to remove these ghost ships from the waters of West Lake.
The End of an Era:
In recent years, the ghost ships that once defined the West Lake experience have gradually disappeared from the horizon. While their absence leaves behind a poignant void, their legacy lives on in the memories of those who experienced their unique charm. The removal of the ghost ships signifies a poignant farewell to a chapter of Hanoi’s history, marking the city’s ever-changing landscape.
The ghost ships of West Lake, Hanoi, carried stories of opulent leisure and shared moments, echoing the past while navigating the waters of change. These enigmatic vessels, once a symbol of recreation and respite, have now become whispers in the wind. As we bid adieu to these floating specters, we’re reminded that history is not solely etched in monuments; it resides in the collective memories and narratives of those who experienced it.
You can find the Westlake Ghost ships travel art prints in my Etsy shop
An article written by Glen Macdonald, featuring my photos also appeared in the Vietnam Times
You can see more of my Travel photos of Vietnam
I’m also happy to announce My blog now features on Feedspot‘s top 100 travel photography blogs https://blog.feedspot.com/travel_photography_blogs/