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Jayavarman’s Captain Mr. Chinh or: A man needs to do what a man needs to do!

“When I was a child, I always cherished the moments spent in the ship’s wheelhouse, observing the graceful movement of the vessel guided skillfully by the captain. An insatiable desire and dream grew within me to one day become the captain of a ship of my own.” These were the heartfelt opening words from a recent interview we conducted with Mr. Chinh, the esteemed captain steering the luxurious cruise ‘Jayavarman’ along the majestic Mekong River between Vietnam and Cambodia.

When we envision a cruise, we often picture the captain standing behind a grand wooden wheel, skillfully navigating the ship while peering through a telescope to survey the vast expanse of ocean or river. However, the reality of a captain’s role transcends mere navigation; they bear the weighty responsibility of ensuring the safety and well-being of all souls aboard the vessel. This immense accountability underscores the profound character required of those who choose such a noble profession, whether in maritime or commercial aviation.

Traveling from Saigon down to the Mekong River port of My Tho, where Mr. Chinh docks the ‘Jayavarman’ every other Saturday, we sought to uncover the intriguing stories of this remarkable individual. In the presence of Captain Chinh, one immediately senses his deep understanding of the term ‘responsibility’ within the context of his daily duties. Let us delve into the captivating narrative of Captain Chinh and the extraordinary journey that shaped his path to becoming the esteemed navigator of Heritage Line’s ‘Jayavarman’.

Growing up in the Mekong River Delta placed the seed for a marine career

Captain Chinh hails from the vibrant heart of the Mekong Delta, a distinctive region in Southern Vietnam located approximately 80 kilometers from Saigon. Known for its intricate network of waterways teeming with a variety of vessels—from fisher boats to container ships—the delta is a place of constant motion and vitality, deeply ingrained in the fabric of daily life. Growing up amidst the rhythmic ebb and flow of the delta’s waters, Captain Chinh’s childhood and character were profoundly shaped by its dynamic environment. When asked about the impact of the delta on his professional journey, Mr. Chinh reflects, “The Mekong delta is a realm of contrasts. The ceaseless flow of mighty waters, the pulsating rhythm dictated by the tides, the bustling activity of ships and boats—all of it embodies a pure energy that animates the lives of delta dwellers. Yet, amidst this bustling energy, there exists a serene tranquillity, whether gazing upon the tranquil rice fields at dusk or watching water hyacinths drift peacefully by (PS: he chuckled, as he recalls the nuisance they pose to ship propellers). I believe these two extremes have instilled in me a sense of balance and resilience.”

Guided by his father, a seasoned fisherman, Captain Chinh developed a profound affinity for life on the water from an early age. At the tender age of 14, he eagerly joined his father aboard fishing vessels, eagerly assisting with the day-to-day operations. Despite initial concerns from his mother regarding his safety as the family’s only son, destiny had already set its course for Captain Chinh. “That’s where my real journey began,” Mr. Chinh chuckles, “when a friend introduced me to Heritage Line.”

Becoming a sailor to sail the wide world – aka Vietnam’s & Cambodia’s Mekong River

Embracing the opportunity to pursue his dream of one day captaining a ship, Mr. Chinh joined the company in 2010 as a sailor, setting sail on the Mekong between Vietnam and Cambodia aboard the esteemed vessel, Jayavarman. Reflecting on his early days, Mr. Chinh shares, “I relished the manual and technical aspects of the job, but what truly resonated with me was the chance to interact with international guests. Despite my limited English proficiency, simple gestures like ‘Hello’ and ‘Can I help?’ forged connections. Seeing guests return from onshore excursions with smiles of satisfaction was deeply fulfilling. The bonds formed with guests from around the world became an integral part of my daily routine.”

Years of dedicated service, shared experiences, and camaraderie with colleagues saw Mr. Chinh steadily ascend the ranks, eventually assuming the role of bosun (head of the sailor team) in 2014. Mastering the intricacies of the ship and leading fellow sailors, he seized numerous opportunities to learn from and exchange insights with the captain. Through diligence and dedication, Mr. Chinh realized that dreams can indeed materialize into reality.

Becoming the captain of the luxury RV (river vessel) “Jayavarman”

“It’s no simple feat to become a ship captain,” Mr. Chinh remarked thoughtfully. “The journey begins as a second mate, also known as a chief mate or first mate. Embracing this role was a pivotal step towards realizing my dream, thanks to the invaluable training provided by the former captain. It was during this time that I gained firsthand experience at the helm, maneuvering 1,500 tons of steel through diverse river and weather conditions under his expert guidance. I owe a debt of gratitude to him for imparting his wealth of knowledge, not only about the ship but also the intricacies of the river itself. His mentorship was instrumental in shaping my journey.”

With the acquisition of essential marine certifications, my diligence bore fruit as I was officially promoted to chief mate in early 2020. However, just as my career was gaining momentum, the onset of the global pandemic in March 2020 brought the tourism industry to a standstill. Jayavarman, like many other vessels, was forced into a prolonged hiatus for nearly three years. As I bid farewell to Jayavarman’s gangway in April 2020, it seemed as though my dreams had been dashed. Yet, a son of the Delta never surrenders. “Reflecting on this period, the pandemic provided me with an opportunity for personal growth,” he reflected. While the industry lay dormant, I seized the chance to further my career aspirations. During this hiatus, I pursued additional courses and certifications in marine transportation, culminating in the attainment of my captain’s license. Transitioning to a role as captain on a container ship in the Mekong Delta marked a new chapter in my journey, reaffirming my unwavering commitment to my lifelong dream.”

Returning home to the “father” of Heritage Line luxury ship collection – A family Affair

In April 2022, Vietnam’s decision to reopen its borders brought a glimmer of hope. However, it wasn’t until 20 months later that Heritage Line could finally relaunch Jayavarman. For Heritage Line, the choice of Mr. Chinh as the new leader and captain of Jayavarman was unquestionable. Mr. Chinh expressed his disbelief, saying, “Wearing this uniform and welcoming guests from around the world aboard every week is simply unbelievable.”

Mr. John Nguyen, founder and owner of Heritage Line, expressed pride in the company’s family-like culture. “We are a family,” he said. “I am proud that we have individuals like Captain Chinh with us, showing commitment and dedication.” As a privately-owned company, Heritage Line values certain principles that bind them together like a family. “We don’t just perform our duties; we bring passion to what we love to do, and we hope our guests can sense it. That’s what makes Heritage Line unique.”

We extend our heartfelt wishes to Captain Chinh for many more years aboard the Jayavarman as it navigates the Mighty Mekong River between Vietnam and Cambodia.


More stories about Heritage Line and its passionate people: Get to know another beacon that makes a Heritage Line cruise unique. Our resident tour guide and another family member, Mr Tri knows the Mekong Delta like no one else: https://heritage-line.com/magazine/resident-guide-mekong-cruise/