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January 21, 2022, 6:58 pm

A stream of myths

(17:05:51 PM 25/04/2015)
( - After a two-hour ride from the centre of Thanh Hoa Province, 150 km south of Hanoi, I finally reached its principal tourist attraction, Cam Luong fish stream, lying at the foot of Truong Sinh Mountain in Luong Ngoc Village.

 A stream of myths

Along the way, I listened to the story town streets gave way to landscapes of fragrant corn fields and fresh country air.


Cam Luong fish stream welcomed us with a bamboo gate topped with a thatched roof. Immediately behind the gate lies the crystal clear water of the stream, but the fish often congregate further down under the red bridge leading to the snake god temple.


The stream, which is surrounded by limestone mountains, is a little over 100 metres in length and 3-4 metres wide. A myriad of fish in a assortment of strange colours swim in chaotic circles, their bodies glowing in the sunlight, making for an arresting site. A stream guard told me that the fish here normally weigh between two and eight kilograms, with the occasional ‘queen fish’ weighing up to 30 kilograms.


The fish, which are similar in biology to both minnows and carp and have the scientific name of Spinibarbichthys Denticulatus, can be found in Laos, northern Vietnam and southern China. They are worryingly close to extinction and are listed in Vietnam’s Red Book of endangered species. They have a dark back, red lips and fins, red-spotted tails and silver scales that glisten.


Whenever a lead falls into the water, they swim to the surface, causing quite a scene. Local resident Ha Thi Sau told me that despite the high density, the fish never eat each other. Their diet consists of fallen leaves and water foliage as well as spinach thrown to them by the stream guards. The water is clean and smells fresh and Sau said that the locals use the water not only for bathing and washing, but also cooking.


Local people refer to this rare species as ‘god fish’ and believe that its existence in Cam Luong stream will bring prosperity to the local community. Ding Trong Tam, who has been living near the stream for over 80 years, tells me that the origin of the sacred fish begins with the legend of the snake god.


A long time ago, there were two poor married farmers in the ancient Luong Ngoc Village, which lay at the foot of Truong Sinh mountain. As their land was stricken by severe droughts and crop failure, the wife often went to the stream to cry and pray. One day, while catching snails and crabs in Cam Luong stream, she accidentally touched a strange egg. Believing it to be rotten, she didn’t give it much thought. That day, she did not catch any snails or crabs, only the strange egg.


The woman took the egg home and told her husband about her poor catch that day. The same day, the egg hatched and a silver white snake appeared. Her husband took it back to the stream to release it. That night, the snake returned home and slithered into the couple’s bed to sleep.


At first they were scared but soon the snake became their treasured pet. They cared for it as they would a child. Since the snake had first appeared, the weather had been mild and the crops had flourished. The Muong people became prosperous and happy and they loved the snake so much and regarded it so highly that they called it the ‘snake boy’.


Then one night, a thunderous storm shook the village. The following morning, the local people found the snake’s body on the bank of the stream. They built a temple where its body lay so they could worship it. On that day, thousands of strange fish appeared in the stream as if to guard the temple, and have remained there ever since.


To this day local residents believe that the species is scared and no one dares kill or eat any of the fish. One resident told me a story of a poor couple from a neighbouring village. Facing starvation, the husband caught a ‘god fish’ to bring home to eat. While cooking the fish it suddenly vanished, leaving the couple with a cooking pot full of water. Fearing what they had done, the couple brought votives to a temple close to the stream to ask for forgiveness.


Another story is told of a young couple from Thanh Hoa who came some years to visit the god fish stream. Out of curiosity, they caught and killed a fish. On the way back home, the couple were involved in a fatal car accident. The old man recounting this added that, although the story has never been testified, the local residents all believe that the fish are scared and must be protected.


Leaving the fish stream my head was swimming with questions, but I knew for certain that I would never harm any of these fish. Whether the myth holds any truth or not, the fish stream has certainly protected the villagers by providing them with jobs and income through its status as one of Thanh Hoa’s prime tourist attractions. Knowledge of this deepens the villagers’ love and respect for this strange and beautiful stream.


Averie Nguyen / Timeout

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