Catching fish, riding buffalo, plowing on the fields in Hoi An countryside, Vietnam


Tourists to Hoi An are taught to control the buffalo with a very distinguished language of the farmers. And to everybody’s amazement, the buffaloes become incredibly obedient. All the secret lies in the process of choosing a good-tempered buffalo and then taming it for tourism purposes.

Crossing halfway around the world to…ride water buffalo

In the afternoon, the smoothly sandy road in Thien Dang rice paddy leading to Tra Que vegetable village is congested with packs of high-spirited tourists. Some are posing photos, the others are recording video clip, and many of them eagerly yell at the buffaloes wading in the pond with tourists on their back. Meanwhile, other buffaloes are pulling a cart filled with “blue-eye blonde-hair” tourists from all over the world, gracefully strolling through shiny golden rice fields. Coming to Hoi An, travellers have a variety of choices beside visiting the ancient town, relaxing in high standard sea resorts or world class golf resorts or enjoying tasty local seafood. Tour agency can also provide you a one-day tour to become a true farmer with planting vegetable, catching fish, plowing on the fields, and especially riding a buffalo around Hoi An countryside! These activities never fail to strongly impress any tourist.

Photo above: Mrs. Carlene Penkett (Canadian) with her husband and sons are over excited with the ‘buffalo-riding’ tour in Hoi An.

Mrs. Carlene Penkett (40 years old, Canadian, staff of the United Nations on environmental protection) decided to take a tour to Vietnam with her husband and 2 sons Cole Penkett (11 years old) and James Penkett (7 years old), with a view to trying riding a buffalo. According ti Mrs. Carlene Penkett, her family was having a vacation in Hong Kong while she read a piece of information about a special tour in Vietnam which allows tourists to be a true farmer, leisurely riding the buffaloes on immense rice paddy. Accordingly, she decided to shorten her current tour in Hong Kong and take a flight to Hoi An. ‘I hope my children can gain more experience with the daily life, and the unique lifestyle in Hoi An meets every requirement I have got. I strongly advocate such environmentally-friendly tourism that nourishes the love for the nature and other animals’, shared Mrs. Carlene Penkett. Mrs. Carlene’s husband – Mr. Paul Penkett (currently working for a large bank in Canada, whose headquarter is in Hong Kong), claimed that he had enjoyed unforgettable moments becoming a real farmer in Hoi An. This experience is really remarkable compared to his usual business in luxurious buildings or extravagant accommodation. ‘I love those mild buffaloes, and also the farmers owning them. They are truly sincere and rustic. Everything is so lovely’, Paul said with a wide smile.

Hoi An is now a familiar destination with international tourists. However, the ‘riding a buffalo’ experience has only become popular for the recent 3 years. Despite its newly introduction, it has always been of great interest on tourism networks. On the Tripadvisor Profile of ‘Jack Tran Hoi An Eco-Tour’, there are thousands of comments from international tourists about their wonderful experience with the buffaloes. Malanne, an account on this network, wrote: ‘That was the most beautiful day in our lives. We came here to become a real farmer with the buffaloes. This destination in Hoi An was the highlight of my trip to Vietnam with my family. It only took us a couple of hours and 20 USD for each person, which was all you need for a perfect experience. We learned how to ride as well as control a buffalo. At the end of the day, we all knew how to give orders to a buffalo so that it will be amazingly obedient.’

Teach the ‘buffalo language’ to tourists

The first thing you need to successfully ride a buffalo is to master in ‘buffalo language’. In such way, you can manipulate a buffalo, giving orders to it to move forward or backward, turn left or turn right, or stop. Mr. Le Viet Nhien (Cam Chau District, Hoi An City) is the owner of 14 buffaloes which are now used for tourism purposes. He said that the tourists need to memorize the ‘oral command’ to successfully control the buffalo. He further explained: ‘Since it was still a calf, the buffalo was taught to obey its owner’s words. When you say ‘dờ’ /zә/, it will stop walking immediately. If you want it to turn left, say ‘dí’ /’zi/, or ‘quá’ /’kwa/ when you want to turn right. Of course, you will also need to reinforce your oral command by moving the rope (which is connected to the nose of the buffalo) toward the direction you want.’ Before the tourist climbs to the back of the buffalo, Mr. Nhien will instruct them with the help of a skillful translator.

The buffaloes of Mr. Nhien are named after the chessmen, including ‘castle buffalo’, ‘bishop buffalo’, ‘knight buffalo’, etc. The most difficult challenge in this business is not correctly feeding them, but to make them obedient in a constant good manner. Otherwise, it can easily get mad and butt their horns towards people. Mr. Nhien told that these buffaloes should be trained to plow on the field before using them in tourist service. The plowing work will acquaint them with ‘oral commands’ from their rider so that they can recognize and follow your words. ‘If you provide them with sufficient food and water, they will become lazy and spoiled, just like humans, because they don’t have any motive to work hard. You should put them into hardship in order to teach them to obey.’ – Mr. Nhien shared his experience. Also according to him, the next challenging task is to correctly select a suitable breed. He said that the breed of animals is similar to the physiognomy of human. That is the reason why the local people here share that: ‘If you buy a buffalo, look at its breed. If you marry a girl, look at her family.’ He smiled and said: ‘I am not very sure about how to choose a good wife, maybe they just say it for fun. But that sentence is totally correct in the case of buffaloes. A good buffalo majorly depends on its breed.’

Mr. Nhien tends to choose strong and good-tempered buffaloes which can be recognized by the hair swirls on their body. It will be best to choose those with a swirl on their forehead, between the horns. Those with a swirl around their tail will be discarded. A good buffalo can also be recognized by its ears next to its horn and its hind legs not bunched together. In short, Mr. Nhien summarized his experience in choosing a good buffalo as follows: “Those with swirl on head, sell it. Those with swirl on forehead, raise it. Those with swirl around tail, butcher it.” Besides, one of his most concerns is that the male buffaloes do not get on well with perfume and other smell characterized by Western tourists. Thus, before using them for tourism, these buffaloes need to get acquainted with this by letting them smell old clothes. ‘Another dangerous problem is a male buffalo trying to impress a female buffalo. To win the female buffalo, the male will gallop and then gore another male, which will definitely blow the person on its back away. For this reason, we need to separate the male buffaloes away from the female ones.”, Mr. Nhien further discusses the key secrets.

This special ‘buffalo riding’ tour in Hoi An conveys the image of the traditional water rice culture in Vietnam. At present in Hoi An, there are about 7 to 8 packs of buffaloes serving tourism purposes. Everything about this emergent service looks really promising. According to Mr. Ho Tan Cuong, Vice Director of the Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, the exploitation of this unique tourism service is extremely effective in Hoi An. The symbol of a friendly buffalo will become a major attraction to international tourists. And this is also the opportunity to further develop other tourism products.

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