During our stay in Hoi An I decided to take part in a tour. Now, some people are not big fans of these, believing the tours to be too “touristy” but to them I say, unfortunately, you are a tourist and pretending you are above such a tour is silly. The tours give travellers an opportunity to see the real culture behind a place and allows you to meet some truly wonderful people. I for one am pro-tour.
After some light research, we chose the Wet Rice tour and booked through the Essence Hotel and Spa. Now at 1 Million VND this isn’t the cheapest option but converted to pounds thats only 30GBP, nothing for the sheer amount of things you will see and do.
The tour starts with a pick up service and short ride to the outer parts of Hoi An. Our tour had just the two of us as we booked at an odd time. This made the tour so personal and so much better. The bus stops after 20 minutes and partakers are lead to a set of bicycles by the tour guide. Our tour guide was called Sing, a short and very friendly Vietnamese man with perfect English. He was surprisingly funny, making some really honest observations on society, the world and Vietnamese Culture.
Once on the bikes, we cycled to a few different places. First stop was a duck farm where we were introduced to a local duck farmer and shown how he makes a living rearing thousand of ducks for the market. The process was rather well done, with event the slightest details being explained to us. The duck farmers take really good care of the $1 ducks, with their belief being; Lose 1 duck, Lose 10, Lose 10 Ducks, Lose 100.
Next up was the Cemetery, where Sing explained the Vietnamese burial traditions. We saw expensive and grandiose tombs designed for elders and tiny blocks housing the deceased young. Sing told us that the cemetery belonged to one village, while the other village had their own on another plot of land.
After the cemetery we rode through a market to a rice factory. Now, when I heard the words “factory” I imagined a huge modern warehouse, loads of people, hustle and bustle. What I saw was the antithesis of this. There were three people in the small warehouse. The owner of the factory, a small lady, worked tirelessly to load buckets of husked rice into her machines for sorting. Her son took the fresh bags of picked rice to load into another machine used for separating the rice from any contaminants; nails, rocks etc. In a corner stood the son’s wife, holding a small child. They welcomed us and, with Sing’s translation, explained how their work takes place. It was intense to see how something I eat almost every day is prepared and how much work it really takes.
As we stood there, three different people arrived on motorbikes to drop off 50 kilo bags of picked rice. This rice was picked solely for the customers family, and would provide for them for weeks. As each person arrived, they gave us suspicious looks but ultimately answered any questions and after a few moments would try to talk to us in broken English. We learnt that for 50 kilos of rice, the owners of the factory charge 2.50USD. Such a tiny amount for such a large portion yet this micro economic transaction keeps everyone fed and keeps the factory running. Furthermore, the factory does not tolerate waste and when the rice and the husks are separated, the husk is used to make paper or timber or can be used as fuel for heat and cooking.
After the factory, we were taken to the farm where we met some children in a day care centre. The centre consisted of a room, with 12 children and one adult and nothing else. The children rushed to the windows and reached out, wanting to speak to us, touch us and show us their clothes or a book they had managed to get hold of. Seeing this kind of environment was a total 180 from the fairly rich and privileged children I teach in Hong Kong.
Next we were introduced to the farmers. From the second we were introduced, I could tell that the farmers were just happy. They offered us water and some snacks and then gave us clothes to change into for the farming. Once we were ready, the farmer lead over the water buffalo. When I was first asked to jump on, I was a little taken aback, I was so eager to ride it but once it was stood in front of me I didn’t know quite how to go about the situation. I took a deep breath and threw myself on the thing. It was amazing! Truly, staying on was a little difficult but riding a buffalo around a rice paddy was surreal and possibly the best part of the trip. After we had ridden, came the farming.
For this, we were shown step by step how to farm rice. We lead the buffalo around the fields and ploughed the mud, we prepared the wetlands for rice planting and then we planted and cut rice. Once that was done we were shown how to prep the rice without the big machines. The farmers were so happy and tried as hard as possible to make sure we had a great time.
Once that was done, the farmers invited us to cook with them. We spent half an hour cooking and they taught us how to make a special Vietnamese pancake. Then we were lead to their home where they prepare a total feast for us. The food they served was truly divine and only served to further my love of Vietnamese cuisine.
While we ate, we chatted to Sing. He said that the people in Vietnam are so happy because they are simply thankful for everything they have. When they get to meet new people. they are happy to just show their way of life. Truly, I found this inspiring.
The tour lasts around 6 hours with pickup at 8am. If you are visiting Hoi An and you don’t do the Wet Rice tour then I am telling you, you have missed out on a huge part of Vietnamese culture. Link below for bookings!