Enjoying Ba Vi farm trip like true peasants in Vietnam
Le Diem THE HANOI TIMES Sun, Sep 6, 2020
Ba Vi Homestead in Ba Vi outskirt district.
A trip to a farm makes visitors eager to discover in a short holiday how real the rural life is.
Only more than an hour by car from the center of Hanoi, we reached Ba Vi Homestead in Ba Vi suburban district. Wearing a Non (conical hat) and walking on the village earthen road to the field, we started our farm trip like true peasants.
After some 15 minutes walking, we immersed ourselves in the vast green sea of rice, where we could enjoy the fresh air of the countryside. We began with the rice seed transplantation. Under the instruction from the homestead’s guide, we tried to insert the seedlings 2-3 cm deep in the soil and in straight rows with even space between plants. It’s good for early plant recovery and better tillering and makes it easier to weed or applying fertilizers, herbicides, or insecticides, and more importantly, getting the best plant spacing increases the yield by 25-40% over improper spacing and save money on inputs, labor, and materials, according to the guide.
The work seemed to be not difficult as we gradually got accustomed to it but we soon acknowledged the saying about the farmers’ work as ‘Selling the face to the earth and selling the back to the sky’.
After 30 minutes, our back started complaining. While taking a rest, we saw a foreigner uninterruptedly saying ‘Stop, stop’ to a buffalo pulling the plough nearby. But the animal didn’t understand English so it continued doing its work. After the guide came to help him to speak ‘buffalo language’ as ‘ho, ho’, he successfully stopped the animal before reluctantly amusing the audience around.
Crossing the paddy field, we got in a typical Northern traditional house with thatched roof and earthen wall. Traditional farming tools are displayed here such as hoes, fishing baskets, rakes, ploughs, among others.
We gathered around the bamboo rice-hulling mill and the grinder system (a mortar connects with a pedal to grind rice by foot), two popular farming tools in the North. We soon found out the work required a lot of energy that we all gasped after trying it. The process of producing rice must take plenty of sweat of farmers as described in the folk sentence ‘For each soft and fragrant grain of rice, countless sweat of farmers has dropped like rain’.
After participating in several stages of producing rice, we learnt how to make one of the most familiar rice products: Banh Cuon (steamed rice roll). After a very thin layer of batter is poured on to a fabric-covered pot, the most difficult step is to wait for the timing (usually less than a minute) to lift off an extremely thin crepe by a flat bamboo stick. If the time is not enough, the crepe can’t be produced and if it’s too much, the layer is burnt.
The bamboo stick is hard to control so that it’s easy to make the crepe into small pieces which can’t be used for rolling. After several failed attempts, finally we successfully made a thin rice crepe and rolled it with roasted ground pork and ear mushroom embalmed with pepper, and enjoyed with Vietnamese fish sauce dusted with fried onions. Banh Cuon looks alike but is special and different to dim sum.
Leaving the house, we went to a pond nearby. When we got there, a group of foreign visitors were leaving. One of them, a boy run to his mother sitting on the edge and proudly shows his mother the fish in his hands “Mom, look at it. It’s very big, right? It’s pity that you didn’t join us to know the great feeling at the moment you catch the fish!”
The boy makes us eager to paddle in the pond to hunt ‘fatty’ fishes. We divided into two teams to compete which could catch more fish. After the guide said ‘Start!’, we all tried to put our bamboo basket in the water as many times as possible for the hope of trapping many fishes. After half an hour, our basket was still empty and we started to lose our patience in the tiredness and ‘broken’ back. Then the guide gave us a trick to cheat smart fishes hidden from the choppy zone.
Therefore, we change from competitors into comrades to gather in one side of the pond and wait for the water to calm and to together wade to the other side and hunt the common prey. After another half an hour, our basket welcomes awaited guests in our excitement.
Our trophy is brought to a waiting haystack where fishes were grilled. While enjoying delicious fish caught and cooked by ourselves, we also caught postcard scene of a foreigner and his son bailing water from the ditch to the field using the traditional bamboo bailer, the view is quite peaceful. ‘It’s a very nice escape from the noise and bustle of Hanoi to be here in the green and pure of the wild life. Activities of these rice tours are very interesting so that my kids and I have fun time,’ said the father, Hamish Weir from the US.
Tourists participate in a series of activities in Ba Vi homestead.
After finishing our late lunch with the specialties of Ba Vi such as chicken, goat, fresh milk, among others, we visited Ba Trai, one of the nine tea villages in the locality. With a basket, we went to the vast tea hill and picked tea leaves and flushes. We were supposed to pick one or two of the newly growing leaves and the leaf bud on each stem. At this early stage of the bush’s life, the idea is to leave a couple new leaves on the stem unpicked, so some growing gets done. Then, after a week or two, you can go back and pick from that stem again.
Our leaves were then spread out on a baking sheet for the rest of the day to let them wilt. Then we rolled the wilted leaves firmly, one at a time, between fingers and thumbs, hard enough to feel the juices squeezed from the leaves. Then we spread out the needle-shaped rolled leaves on the baking sheet.
As we didn’t have enough time for waiting for the fermenting, a tea maker explained us the process aimed to let the leaves oxidize until all the green color is gone and the chlorophyll in the leaves is enzymatically broken down and its tannins are released or transformed.
After the fermenting, those tea leaves are dried in a pan or 250° oven for 20 to 25 minutes. The finished product is savored once we poured briskly boiling water into a teapot with our precious tablespoonful of tea leaves and let it steep for several minutes. When the tea was poured onto cups, a pure scent spread out. For each sip, our tongue could gradually taste the sweet after the typical bitterness of tea.
Waving goodbye to the farm, we drew up a plan for another trip returning here to visit livestock farms of dairy cow, goat, sheep, rabbit, and bee to act like domestic raisers, plant vegetables, and participate in traditional games of Muong ethnic minority people. These activities is included in the schedule of Ba Vi Homestead, which are much favored by parents and schools for children to learn about the rural life, according to our guide.
After two decades doing research at Ba Vi, Dr. Ngo Kieu Oanh from the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology recognized the potentiality of the agritourism in the region which had yet been exploited. Then she pioneered in building the agritourism model here with Ba Vi homestead with diversified tours to discover the country’s rural sites and doing farm works.
“After five years, the farm has welcomed a large number of visitors, including many foreigners. I’m very happy to contribute a part to the country’s agriculture development, including a very important part of agritourism imbued the national cultural characteristics,” she said.
Photos: Le Diem
THE HANOI TIMES Sun, Sep 6, 2020