You’ll never waste a grain of rice again
In Vietnam, you don’t ask your friends if they had dinner yet. You ask “Bạn ăn cơm chưa?” Which translates to “Have you eaten rice yet? ”Growing up in a Vietnamese family, we ate everything with rice.
Every dish on the table is eaten with rice. Got an empty bowl? Add more rice.
Rice is a food staple for more than 1 billion people around the world, particularly in Asia, Latin America, and parts of Africa. Today, Vietnam is one of the largest exporters of rice.
Rice cultivation is deeply rooted in the Vietnamese psyche. That’s no wonder we’ve seen the picturesque images of Vietnam’s rice paddies — lush, verdant green fields, perhaps layered terraces and perhaps a 4ft woman in a conical hat standing in the middle of the rice field. Well, that’s highly likely a Vietnamese farmer making a living out of rice farming.
Ever wondered how or what it takes to make rice without agricultural machinery? It’s hard, labor intensive and you need a good pair of headphones to last you the whole day.
I went on an agricultural farm tour recommended by a friend, to learn how a small-scale Vietnamese farm grows rice by the Red River delta, halfway from Hanoi to Ha long bay.
Mr. Hung the owner of the Viet Farm Trip also our driver shared his company’s mission to expose travelers to the traditional Vietnamese culture and encourage them to engage with the countryside local people.
Our translator and farm instructor for the day Miss Xuan had us dressed in traditional farming clothes. Ridiculous as these farming clothes looked on me, it serves as comfortable wear and prep you for the ruggedness of what farming entails, giving you the feeling of what it’s like to be a farmer.
We had only a rudimentary idea of what we in for. After a meet and greet with the tour guide Miss Xuan, her family and two lovely Danish girls in our tour group at the Viet Farm Homestay, we were introduced to their water buffalo waiting for us in the rice paddy field.
Under a beating of morning heat, the buffalo didn’t exactly smell good. Miss Xuan hopped on the buffalo like a pro cowboy, while we wondered whether to give it a try. As soon as our tour guide asked who would volunteer to ride it first, the two girls looked away leaving me saying a perfunctory yes.
The first thing I noticed sitting on the buffalo was how coarse and warm it felt. There was no saddle. Just its back to rest my hands on. I think the only thing I was worried about was falling into the pit or muddy water.
Ploughing with Water Buffalo
After a few rounds of ploughing the paddy field drenched in sweat, my wish for a tractor still did not come true.
It looked like a piece of cake. Well, it did when one of the farmers ploughed with the water buffalo. It simply looked as if he was walking a dog.
I practically leapt into the mud and got stuck straight in (pun intended). The water buffalo started walking slowly and then left me behind on a number of occasions. Hadn’t I let go of the wooden plough, or I’d fall right in.
Wading through knee-high thick mush whilst holding the plough in position and keeping up with a big tamed animal isn’t the simplest of tasks.
The other farmer even laughed after I complained the buffalo was going too quick. Lucky for me I managed to stay upright and having seen the other travelers who were too chicken to do it just watching, I felt rather smug. Definitely the most fun part of the day!
A plough is a tool is to turn over the upper layer of the soil, bringing fresh nutrients to the surface.
Before there was agricultural machinery, oxen and water buffalos were traditionally used for ploughing and water as primary requirements to start planting crops and vegetables.
Many farmers spread manure from cattle and swine onto their fields. This manure is rich in nitrogen which is essential for plant growth.
Planting Rice seedlings
Submerged knee-deep into the wet paddy field, I felt pleased planting rice seedlings for the very first time.
While seeing my rice seedlings stand inches from each other, the farmer tells me that they spend more than 8 hours doing this in the heat! Imagine the back problems I’ll have doing this for more than 2 hrs!
In Vietnam, many rice fields are manually transplanted without the help of machinery. Rice seeds are planted closely together in a flooded paddy and grow into seedlings that will be transplanted in other rice fields.
Miss Xuan explained that the seeds had been moved from a seed bed into the damp field. The seeds are thus in the transplanting stage, which is extremely labor intensive. She spaced the seeds apart by hand to maximize the yield. The seed, therefore, must reproduce and ripen before they are harvested. Because this job is super labor intensive, sometimes dozens of people will be working throughout the rice field at one time for long periods.
Scooping water was by the easiest task of all.
After a few hours of farming, we were rewarded by a delicious home cooked lunch. The rice, fish, and vegetables are all grown locally and the meal was probably the most authentic one I’ve ever had! After lunch, we cycled around the nearby villages and went paddling in a bamboo boat. We unfortunately didn’t get the chance to go fishing.
A visit to local school where school girls greeted us with screams of excitment and a mini dance performance.
It was a challenge having to keep my balance with this oar on top of my bike! It dropped so many times, I lost count!
Mingling with locals is always a great way to learn more about the local culture.
Ca Temple, an old temple which marked the beginning of the Independence of Vietnam when the Tang Dynasty ended in year 907.
For the entire day, Miss Xuan was very helpful. She effectively translated what the farmers and the locals were saying during our interactions in the villages.
I found this Viet Farm Tour rather eye-opening, physically challenging, immensely educational and has given me a new appreciation for rural agricultural life and rice farming.
While the life of a rice farmer is laborious and challenging, the work for these people is fulfilling. Rice is an integral part of Vietnam, thus the Vietnamese take pride in tending to the rice fields, and in cultivating a food so central to both Vietnamese cuisine and the economy.
I hope I have increased your appreciation for rice and the work of farmers. I also hope you take tours like these, tours that support the local community and really immerse you into the local culture where you observe and learn about the community’s cultural and social values.
If you liked this post, why not check out Good Morning Hanoi Tour .