Khanh Phan

Experience the drama and local color of Tam Tien Sea Market in Quang Nam province

Visitors love Quang Nam thanks to its endless beaches and Hoi An’s Ancient Town, which is full of dazzling lanterns and diverse cultural activities. The locals’ daily lives are also fascinating and worth exploring. Join me and explore the fish market on Tam Tien Beach.

A local photographer introduced me to this market. Since then, I have made it an annual tradition to visit Quang Nam every April or May and make a stop at Tam Tien Sea Market.

About 15km from the city of Tam Ky in the direction of Tam Thanh Beach, a small trail leads to the local market of Tam Tien in Nui Thanh district. This market has been here for 15 years, attracting mainly locals and still untouched by touristification. People start to trade at dawn, with the action over by 9 or 10 am. Notably, the market only opens in the summer when local fishing boats go out in droves.

Seen from above, the market looks even more vibrant

Venturing along the small trail leading to the beach in the dark, local women with flashlights strapped to their heads rode motorbikes with two huge baskets behind them. They were heading to the market before dawn, since fishermen return to shore between 3 to 4 am, carrying the fish they’ve caught since setting sail the previous afternoon.

Merchants and the fishermen’s family members started gathering in hopes of getting their hands on the freshest haul. Positioned along a low-lying stretch of sand, the market used to only sell raw seafood but now offers breakfast dishes, veggies, and delicacies made from fresh seafood like fish cakes and squid patties. As usual, I had a glass of hot soy milk and a peculiar local snack consisting of glutinous rice cakes with peanuts sandwiched between crunchy rice crepes.

Above the pitch-black horizon, I saw the flashing lights of fishermen’s headlamps moving up and down as their boats rolled in the distance. Back on shore, I could hear the locals calling out to one another in a thick dialect, the howling wind, waves crashing against the boats, and burly men’s running footsteps. There was a sense of urgency and excitement.

I activated my flycam to take aerial shots of the bustling market. Shoppers were everywhere, surrounded by all kinds of bamboo baskets, plastic bowls, and pails with tapered yokes. Female traders dashed back and forth to keep track of their stock. As faint rays of sunlight started peeking through the dark, the place grew more lively. Men paddled hurriedly to dock their coracles and transport load after load of fish. Their forceful steps set the tiny boats swaying against the waves as they hopped onto land. The sun gradually appeared in all its glory as giant ball of fire rising above the horizon. From that direction, fleets of fishing boats slowly approached land, and heaps of freshly caught seafood were carried into the market. Female porters,  fishermen, and merchants all joined in unloading and sorting out the goods. Feelings of joy filled my heart as I watched them bargain in this bustling setting.

The action starts well before dawn

You can find working people of all ages at this market, from young adults to experienced middle-aged women. Quarrels sometimes erupt as people fight over the “hottest” catches, just like in any other market. Nevertheless, everyone involved always gets over it quickly and goes back to business as usual. Under the light of a new day, the whole market brightens, from the radiant colors of the plastic bowls, to the floral prints on the women’s clothes, and the shining smiles of fishermen who are happy to be home.

After snapping some good shots, I put away my photography equipment and started shopping for some fresh shrimp, fish, and squid, as well as the most authentic-tasting fish cakes and squid patties. The Tam Tien Sea Market is truly a seafood paradise with a plethora of surprisingly cheap deals. The chance to bring home some fresh seafood during a work trip, enjoy the refreshing briny smell of the sea, and experience the locals’ exciting way of life always inspires me to return to Tam Tien.