Tektites in Vietnam
This wasn’t really a trip to find tektites, it was my honeymoon to a country that, by chance, happened to contain tektites.
Tere and I had our civil wedding on August 8th, 2008 and our church wedding on February 7th, 2009. Tere is a Filipina and works as a systems analyst (computer programming for banks). With her mathematics ability and my geological ability I think we’ll breed ideal tektite researchers….although Tere thinks they’ll be fashion designers.
ABOVE: Tere and I. You can see more images of the wedding by clicking on the photo!
Our first stop was Hanoi, which is the capital of Vietnam and is in the North. We spent 4 nights in Hanoi. I asked around about tektites and typically people did not know what they were or made comments such as ‘not found here’ or ‘very rare here’. In the History Museum I found my first few specimens and these were around $5-10 for very small and average specimens. I could not establish where these came from (other than Vietnam) and I did not make a purchase.
ABOVE: Ha Long Bay - Steeply inclined limestone strata.
Next we went to Ha Long Bay. This was beautiful and I really recommend it, but no tektites to be found. The area comprised steeply inclined (est. 40-45 deg) limestone strata. Clearly not an impact site, but nice all the same. On the way back, between Hanoi and Ha Long Bay we stopped at a shop where the guide had told us we would find tektites. The smaller specimens were priced at $8 to about $25 each. This was a relatively high price, but not extortionate. There was one large broken donut priced at $300 and a huge complete, but slightly water worn donut priced at $1500. I estimated this huge one to be around 500g and at that size I wanted it!! I thought $700-800 was a reasonable price, but after calls to the boss it went to $1200 and then to $1000, which is what I paid. I took a bit of a gamble on this one as there were no scales. My hope was that it was over 500g. I was told that these tektites came from Da Lat. A similar specimen weighing 511.2g (on non-scientific scales) recently went on ebay for $450, but was only made available to collectors in the United States. That one was from an unknown South Vietnam locality. I have also learnt of a 705.8g specimen reportedly from the north of Vietnam, north of Hanoi, described as a "flat dumbbell"-like dish. Povenmire, 2003 states that the largest tektite from Thailand (splashform) is 456g, but has no information on Vietnamese tektites. Michael Blood has a 3255.6g Indochinite (Click here for images), but the specimen has no symmetrical form and I wouldn't consider it a splashform - it looks like a worn Muong Nong-type and these can be found much larger than this. I've just been informed of a 1200g genuine splashform Indochinite (no locality details) belonging to John Cabassi - you can see it at Meteorite Times Tektite of the Month Feb 2009. Also new news - Erland D. Jensen informs me of an 850g splashform in Vietnam, which he believes is the largest from Vietnam. Erland also included an image of a 700g splashform (I think from the same shop in Ho Chi Minh City as I visited, judging from the background - perhaps this shop got the papers from Erland). If you have a large splashform indochinite please let me know! firstname.lastname@example.org
ABOVE: My large 497.2g Vietnamese tektite, reportedly from Da Lat. Note the U-groove running across the ?posterior surface. This was formed due to etching of an ancient crack.
Once back in Hanoi I saw a mineral shop, which I later visited and found no tektites, but with the help of our guide we were able to establish that her boss did have some tektites. We drove a few kilometers to a back street shop selling pictures. A sack of low grade tektites was produced – maybe 15 plus kilos. There was nothing worth buying, but I selected around one kilo to purchase. The guy selling told me these came from Yen Bai, north of Hanoi. This is the second time I have heard this place mentioned. This suggests that Yen Bai is either a genuine tektite locality or the middle man is the same. I asked for higher quality and after about 15 minutes a lady turned up on a motorbike with two large donut shaped tektites and one elliptical donut. I was told these also came from Yen Bai, but their preservation was totally different to the other material and I have strong doubts over this. The rounded donuts were under 400g. I think one was around 380g and the other around 350g. The asking price was $500 each. The elliptical donut was around 400g or just under and the asking price was $250. I attempted to do a deal on the tektites, but he wanted to sell them together and the best price was $1200 for the 3 larger ones. He wasn't the boss and I think he was afraid to sell them too cheaply, consequently no deal could be reached. For the 1 kilo of low grade smaller tektites the price was $150. I offered $450 for all the tektites (big and small) and was willing to go up to around $750. There was no negotiation though – the price was set at $1200 plus $150. I left without making a deal. Whilst large tektites are rare, I would not consider these exceptional, just unusual, and thus the price has to be much lower.
ABOVE: Low grade tektites reportedly from Yen Bai, north of Hanoi, priced at around $150 a kilo !!!! My $30/kilo offer fell on deaf ears.
I found one more shop near the Opera House in Hanoi that sold tektites. The lady selling did not speak English so we could not communicate where they came from, beyond ‘the sky’. The specimens were typical average splash forms and the asking price was about $4 to $9 for smaller specimens and about $12 for larger specimens, maybe around 80 grams in size. The price did not go down, amazingly it kept going up so I left without making a deal.
In Hue, the middle of Vietnam we looked at all the local ‘antique’ and jewelry shops. No tektites were found.
In Hoi An, again in the middle of Vietnam, we looked at many ‘antique’ and jewelry shops and again not a trace of tektite was found! In our hotel, Swiss-Belhotel there was a small mineral shop. Here we found some average splashform tektites and a couple of carved tektites. The prices were very high – about $50 to $65 for a very average roughly 100g piece. I would value these at $5-10. The carved tektites, which I would value at $35-50 were $110-120. We could not establish the locality (other than Vietnam) from which these were derived.
ABOVE: Average grade tektites from a mineral shop in the Swiss-Belhotel. Note the polished tektites in the background of the bottom photo. I didn't buy any as the price was astronomical.
Ho Chi Minh City is located in the south of Vietnam and was formerly called Saigon. This was a beautiful city: a bit like Paris, but with prettier girls (ouch!). We didn’t have a great deal of time in this city, but I quickly cruised the markets and shops. Our guide did not know what a tektite was and could not help us with regards where we might find them. In District 1, where all the posh hotels are located, we came across a shop with numerous average specimens. The shop girl produced a few papers – Stauffer P. H. 1978, Jensen E. D. 2004 and Nininger H. H. and Huss G. I. 1967. I was told that these tektites came from Dalat. Dalat is a highland area around 3-4 hours drive from Ho Chi Minh City. It is a famous tektite locality and I fully intend to visit soon! The guide suggested that they may be expensive in this shop as this was an expensive part of town. Indeed they were - The specimens of around 20g were $5 and those up to around 100g were $20-25. I bartered these to $15, but still felt inclined to buy only a few of the more contorted specimens. Whilst this set of tektites appeared unrepresentative and my selection was clearly unrepresentative, it was notable that the proportion of tear drop forms was much much higher when compared to Philippinites. This is explained by lower temperatures of the tektite forming melt. Lower temperatures resulted in higher viscosities. Higher viscosities favor teardrop shapes, whilst lower viscosities form spheres – see Chapman D. R. 1964a (http://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/19650076625_1965076625.pdf), pages 23-24 for a better explanation.
ABOVE: Tektites reportedly from Dalat, purchased in Ho Chi Minh City. The flattened and distorted shapes formed as the molten tektite re-entered the denser layers of the atmosphere and was 'splatted'
My experience in Vietnam was great and I wish to return soon in order to collect some higher quality specimens and also some cheaper representative samples from close to the source. In general, the Vietnamese people were not familiar with tektites, perhaps (surprisingly) suggesting a rarity in most areas. Also I was informed that only around 15% of Vietnamese attend university as the skills are not required in a country largely dependent on agriculture. This is a real shame as it will limit future research.
I still remain convinced that the source crater must lie in the Bay of Tonkin, somewhere between Vietnam and Hainan Island, China. I think Ma P., Aggrey K., Tonzola C. et al. 2004 pretty much hit the spot! These waters have been disputed by Vietnam and China. Oil reserves are found in the Bay of Tonkin. I am convinced that a 40 km (+/-) diameter crater (Glass, B. P. 2003) must exist here and I bet it has been seen on confidential oil industry geophysical data. When will the source crater be revealed!
ABOVE: Another shot of my 497.2g Vietnamese splashform. I think the concave side is the anterior, this would be typical, but the specimen is a little waterworn so we can't see any confirmation from bald spots (which occur on the anterior).