Two years ago Tam Thanh was just like any other seaside village. While nearby Hoi An overflowed with tourists and the economy there boomed, Tam Thanh remained quiet and poor. No one on their cross-country motorbike trip would have stopped in the minuscule hamlet. But today, thanks to a joint Vietnamese-Korean collaboration, this once sleepy fishing village has transformed into a full-fledged tourist destination. In 2016 a program – backed by the Korean Community Art Exchange Program and the Vietnamese Peoples Committee of Quang Nam province – was established with the aim of creating ‘art for a better community.‘ Paintings would bring in tourists. More than a dozen artists of both Korean and Vietnamese descent spent two weeks in this tight-knit community painting over 100 murals across walls, fences, and facades.
Tam Thanh is home to 20 or 30 very close families. They’ve survived off the sea for generations and have in large part missed out on the economic transformation taking place in Saigon, Hanoi, or nearby Hoi An. The location was chosen based both on their background and on the physical make-up of the village itself. The buildings are clustered tightly together and provide an ambling sort of canvas.
The murals are intended to portray the family, nature, and culture that infuses this village with energy. Their vivid colours now go from home to home all along the narrow streets. The colourful alleyways entice travellers to wander deeper into this strange new world.
Tourism has flourished and on some days more than 1,000 visitors flock to the striking canvasses of Tam Thanh. The success of the initiative has also started a larger conversation across Vietnam about the power of art and how it can and should be harnessed for good, no matter of one’s socioeconomic status.
The murals of Tam Thanh have brought such a surge of interest that a community tourism project has been launched. A communal arts village will open and a nearly two-mile seaside walkway decorated with colourful Vietnamese coracles will open soon. For those looking to stay the night, a homestay has even opened up.
The response from Tam Thanh’s murals has been so overwhelmingly positive that a second mural village has appeared on Vietnam’s central coast. Not far away, An Binh islet has recently been repainted in striking blues and greens. The 18 murals preach conservation and protection of the sea and Vietnam’s natural habitats. It was sponsored by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the Ly Son Marine Protected Area.