While we were in Vinh Long, we took a tour of the Mekong Delta to Cai Be floating market and along the waterways and estuaries that are so common in this area. I noticed, as we boarded the boat and started the “cruise,” that the boats all had eyes painted on the prows. From the big boats hauling rice to the small skiffs tied to docks along the river, almost every boat was adorned with a similar pair of large, oval eyes.
According to our guide, Wei, the eyes were originally painted on the boats to scare away the crocodiles that lurked along the banks. As the threat of crocodiles receded, it was said that the eyes helped guide the boats, looking ahead for dangers or obstacles.
I love the story behind this tradition. It reminds me of the myth of Jason and the Argonauts, whose ship also had a pair of eyes painted on the prow, guiding them through the Aegean Sea to the Golden Fleece. While the two cultures are very different, it’s interesting to see the similarities across the disparities.
As we traveled north, I continued to see boats looking back at me on the river. While the shape and color and design of the eyes differed, the custom continued through Hue.