There is nothing, at first sight, that sets Tra Que Village apart from others.
The scenes are the same. Farmers in conical hats hard at work in their fields, friendly and hospitable to strangers, and so on.
Then you sniff the air, and there is a difference. There is a sweet aroma that is either missing or not as strong in other places.
For centuries, Tra Que's greenery has had this special quality, villagers will tell you proudly.
The fragrance of Tra Que vegetables and herbs has spiced up everyday meals for people in Hoi An Town since time immemorial, adding a special touch to traditional dishes like cao lầu, mì Quảng and bánh xèo.
Located by the banks of the De Vong River, the village is now home to nearly 200 households that cultivate vegetables on a total area of 40 hectares.
Old timers will tell you that Tra Que has been famous for its vast vegetable gardens for about 400 years. The first villagers here were all fishermen, but they soon discovered that the land here was perfect for growing vegetables.
With the long history of vegetable cultivation, the farmers' skills and experience have been producing some of the country's most celebrated greens, which have in fact been awarded their own trademark. On August 13, 2009, the Intellectual Property Office of Vietnam gave a certificate recognizing Tra Que vegetables as a brand name for the Cam Ha Agricultural Collective, which represented 131 households in Tra Que Village.
All one has to do is walk around the village. Green, small edible plants sprout everywhere, and that special fragrance stays with you.
When we get talking with the farmers, we learn that it takes a lot of hard work to develop the green thumbs they have.
"We have to learn how to till the land, sow the seeds and then how to nurture the plants," said Manh Hung, an old farmer, as he wiped his sweaty face.
"These works may be easy for farmers in other places but more difficult for us here because we do not use chemical boosters and fertilizers."
That's the reason why Tra Que vegetables are being chosen by not only Hoi An residents but also families and supermarkets from neighboring areas like Da Nang City, Duy Xuyen and Hoa Vang districts.
Safety is only the first reason, though. It is the distinctive flavor of vegetables here that wins a loyal following, the villagers assert, backed by their constantly growing clientele.
"Our land here is enriched by the alluvium of the De Vong River," one farmer said as he worked on his large onion garden.
"We fertilize it with algae from a nearby lagoon. That may be why our herbs are so green and tasty."
Among more than 20 kinds of vegetables and herbs grown here are cabbage, colza or rape, celery, kohlrabi and basil. The last mentioned is the most famous product in Tra Que. Similar to basil and mint, Tra Que savory is very popular in many restaurants and hotels in Hoi An because of its special fragrance.
As a unique recognition of the local farmers' skills, people here call them "artists". Thanks to their special products, the village has become an attractive destination for tourists, particularly foreigners. It has been a highlight for visitors to Hoi An since the first tour to the village was opened in 2004 by Hoi An Travel Company.
From Hoi An, visitors can choose a one-day or half-day tour to Tra Que, which gives them a chance to discover and experience the daily life of farmers by trying their hands at actual farming. Visitors can participate in all the activities like tilling the land, sowing the seeds, watering, fertilizing, harvesting and so on.
Visitors to the village are welcomed at two guest-houses before being taken to the gardens by local farmers. If they stay for a whole day, lunch will be served at the guest house with local specialties. Later, visitors can relax with a medical herbs foot massage before saying goodbye to the farmers.
"I really enjoyed the work though I'd never worked on a farm before," said an Irish visitor who joined a full-day tour with us. "Besides learning about the life of farmers in Vietnam, I can relax and get exercise at the same time".
With a steady income from both farming and tourism, residents' living standards have improved significantly, and visitors benefit from the added pleasure of being guests of hard-working, happy people.
HOW TO GET THERE
If you are already staying in Hoi An, you can easily get to the village by yourself on a bike or motorbike.
You can also book a half-day or full day tour at Hoi An Travels, No.10 Tran Hung Dao Street, Hoi An. Tel: (0510) 3 910 444.