|Balance beam: Villagers in Cam Thanh started the community-operated Eco-discovery tour in Hoi An. It's one of the newest tours offered around the city, which boasts more environmentally friendly options for tourists in suburban areas.
by Hoai Nam
Villages in farmland surrounding Hoi An are highly popular with environment-loving tourists. Visitors are greeted with a smile and offered an inside look at rural Viet Nam among the green paddy fields and vast forests of nipa palms.
The palms along the banks of the Thu Bon River are used for producing medicine, hats, alcohol, sugar, vinegar and even fuel.
The nipa forests and Cham Island have been recognised as world bio-reserves, and the forests protect the 2,000 Cam Thanh villagers from storms.
On a 10,000sq.m aquaculture farm in Cam Thanh Village at the mouth of Thu Bon River, Nguyen Tuan Lien has opened an eco-tour for weekend retreats and fishing.
Lien, 35, was born in Cam Thanh, but his family's traditional trades such as fishing and handicrafts have made way for tourism services as they are more lucrative with less risks. Lien started the Hoi An Eco Discovery Tour to offer short-stay tourists the chance to explore Hoi An and Cam Thanh in a day.
"It's a community service," Lien said.
40 villagers are employed to cycle guests around Hoi An, paddle coracle boats through the nipa forests, fish with them on Thu Bon River and cook for them on their farms.
|Do a little dance: A tour guide dances in a coracle. Visitors can watch funny dances performed on basket boats and play folk games during the Hoi An Eco-discovery tour. — VNS Photos Cong Thanh
"Villagers provide a history of the forest and explain local customs while they paddle through the nipa forests. Each of our 45 boats carries two tourists and a guide," Lien said.
Tours usually start with a cycling trip around Hoi An early in the morning. Le Duc Long, the tour manager, said tourists could enjoy a peaceful time at the UNESCO-recognised world heritage site.
The city promotes the use of bicycles in the city by banning motor vehicles from the Old Quarter for most of the day," Long said.
Long said Cam Thanh Village also offered visitors a chance to learn some farming and cooking skills.
"After visiting the old town, visitors take a 3km ride to Cam Thanh Village to change from road to river. Coracles docked at the village wharf are ready to explore the nipa forest," he said.
Village guides show visitors around the nipa forests and make hats from leaves for them.
"Tourists can also harvest snails, oysters and shrimp while walking along river banks when the tide is low," said tour guide Nguyen Cong Tai.
Tai, 30, who started fishing as a teenager, said he also taught visitors how to paddle the coracle boats.
He also demonstrated a wild dance using his feet to rotate the little vessel in tango, rock and ‘Gangnam' styles.
|Sea of food: Tourists experience rural life at a farm on the banks of the Thu Bon River through learning to fish and paddle coracles. They also enjoy fresh seafood.
"It's hard because you get dizzy after a few minutes. I perform for four minutes, but tourists like to play games and test their skills by dancing in a coracle," he said.
Tourists are also taught how to manouevre the coracles without a paddle, using their hands to rock the little craft.
Nguyen Thi Phuc joined a 20-member team to explore Hoi An and Cam Thanh Village. She was happy with the fishing lessons and games at the farm.
The lunch menu offered grilled chicken, fish, shrimp and clams. Farm "waiters" used the coracles to carry food across the water to huts scatted around the farm.
Lien said the dining huts were built around the farm and connected by bamboo bridges.
"It's a bit of a challenge for visitors to walk on a single bamboo pole and handrail. They have lunch in the huts they have helped to cook with the villagers," Lien said.
"Local food, including pan cakes, spring rolls, my quang (local noodles), maize soup and bean curd are always on the menu. Sometimes, visitors order food among the trees in the nipa forest so that they can have a relaxing and quiet time," he said.
Nguyen Van Dai, 56, head cook on the farm, said grilled oysters and chicken were the most popular dishes with visitors.
"Visitors love cooking crabs, clams and fish caught on the farm or in the nipa forest," Dai said.
A one-day tours costs about VND750,000 (US$35) per person. — VNS