Riding an indigenous BMW

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A foreign tourist walks a water buffalo through a paddy field in Cam Thanh Commune, Hoi An Town / PHOTOS COURTESY OF JACK TRAN'S HOI AN ECO-TOUR COMPANY

In December 2011, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg created a buzz in both local and international media outlets with a photo showing him riding a buffalo in Vietnam's famous resort town of Sa Pa.

He was reported to have hired nine buffalos from a local family so he and his friends could ride them around, but the tour was shortened as curious people swarmed around, wanting to take their photos.

While the young American billionaire's brief buffalo ride drew a great deal of public attention, it was far from an exhilarating experience, especially when compared to what foreign tourists can get with a buffalo tour that was recently launched in the world famous Hoi An Town, the central province of Quang Nam.

Jack Tran's Hoi An Eco-Tour Company launched the tour more than two months ago, taking tourists around Cam Thanh Commune on a three-kilometer-plus route in a bamboo cart pulled by a water buffalo. A local farmer drives the cart.

During the trip, tourists can enjoy the pure air of the Vietnamese countryside as they take photos of simple and airy landscapes including paddy fields, houses with bamboo-thatched roofs, and small, rough walking paths.

They also spend time with a local farming family who, via the interpretation of an English-speaking tour guide, helps them learn about a typical farming life in Vietnam; about water buffaloes the animal that plays a key role in such life; and about rice which Vietnamese traditionally hold dear.

Finally, tourists are treated to an authentic rice meal. They can have some hands-on experience by engaging directly in several activities including feeding the buffaloes with grass.

"The buffalo ride was fun he was very friendly and enjoyed a scratch under eye! Just like a big dog, only with massive horns," Alex Medved, who attended the tour last month, wrote in his review on the world popular traveling website TripAdvisor.

The animal has gained so much love from foreign tourists that it has been dubbed the BMW of Vietnam, a kind of pun on its name and the world famous car manufacturer.

It was not the first time Jack Tran's Hoi An Eco-tour Company has used water buffaloes in their tours.

In many other tours, tourists ride on buffaloes through wet rice fields, and even do plowing and harrowing in muddy fields with the animal's assistance.

They also learn to work like a real local farmer, wear farmer's clothes and non la (conical hats): grow and harvest rice, pluck grains off ears using a machine, filter rice grains using large and flat baskets, separate husks from grains, cook rice in bamboo tubes and use rice milk to make pancakes.

Such tours have gathered high praise on TripAdvisor.


In an interview with the VnExpress online newspaper, Pham Ho, a 51-year-old farmer in Cam Thanh, said it takes as many as four years to train a buffalo before it can safely interact with foreign tourists.

"It is not easy to find a good buffalo. It is also not simple to teach the animal how to follow orders and come in contact with strangers, especially tourists who often wear perfume which easily scares it away," he said.

But this investment of time and effort does pay off



Address: Block 4, Phuoc Hai Fishing Village, Cua Dai District, Hoi An Town, Quang Nam Province

Tel: (510) 392 8900

Fax: (510) 392 8901

Email: jacktran@hoianecotour.com.vn

Website: www.hoianecotour.com.vn  

Le Viet Nhien, another farmer aged 50, said he is contracted for more than 20 tours a month and paid VND150,000-200,000 each, adding he spends part of money on feeding his buffalos.

The income has helped him and other farmers continue farming and rearing cattle in a situation where many farming households have sold their animals to slaughterhouses as well as rice fields to resort developers, discouraged by the low earnings and the job's hardship.

"I feel happy to see how many foreign children are excited and love playing with the buffaloes. I feel like I am returning to my childhood days when I spent a whole afternoon riding the buffalo to paddy fields, playing flute, and bathing in river," Nhien said.

Tran Van Khoa, director of Jack Tran's Hoi An Eco-Tour Company, told the newspaper that his company is paying local farmers extra to train more buffaloes for the increasingly popular tours, and to take better care of the animal so that they are not abused.

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