Helen was a firecracker. The kind of person that you meet and immediately fall in serious like with! Her energy was infectious, despite the searing heat, and we didn’t stop laughing the whole day.
- Where? The Tra Que Water Wheel Experience, Hoi An
- What? Private Experiences 3 in 1 tour (just the two of us!)
- How much? $39 each.
We were flying by the seat of our pants on our trip up through Vietnam, and hadn’t planned anything in advance.Finding the Water Wheel experience on Tripadvisor, we thought it might be a fun way to spend an afternoon, but soon after booking we both fell ill (who gets a cold in such a hot, humid climate? I blame the air con.) and we very nearly cancelled. I am so glad we didn’t.
Helen came to pick us up from our hotel at 8am, earlier than usual for this tour, as the weather was due to be extraordinarily hot even for the season. After a guided tour around the food market, and the opportunity to pick up fresh fruits and vegetables for the day, we jumped on our bicycles and made the 5km trip to the village. I’m not known for my coordination, or balance, so Mr LW diligently followed behind the whole way to make sure I didn’t fall into a gutter or get taken out by a rogue moped! Much appreciated 🙂
We were welcomed into the village with a refreshing “frog spawn” drink and a wry smile, Helen has a wicked sense of humour and kept us on our toes all day with her sharp wit and sarcasm! It turned out to be Thai Basil seed, and it was pungent and floral and delicious! We were promptly decked out in traditional farmer attire- a conical hat, flipflops and a brown shirt to protect against the sun, already beating down at 9am- and Helen insisted that I tie mine in “modern farmer style” at the waist. I felt pretty snazzy- look out Vogue, I’m set for the next cover! 😉
Highlights included: grinding rice flour and making our own rice paper by spooning batter over wet, stretched muslin on an open fire, and the satisfaction of making a perfect one first time! We had a token go at “farming”, from trampling in seaweed to digging and transplanting spring onions; but we mostly just shared local songs and learned dance routines from Helen’s aunt, it’s not designed to be tourist labour! We, of course, ate like kings- from the spring rolls we were taught to make from those very rice papers to the final feast of papaya salad, fish in tomato sauce and local pancakes (fried and flipped by my very own hand!).
The moment that surpassed all expectation, however, and could quite possibly contend for one of the top moments of my life was when we were introduced to the family water buffalo. She had no name, as she was a working animal, but she had been working the land for Helen’s family for nearly thirty years- this tough old lady was older than me! I was invited to wait at a little concrete step and she duly meandered over and waited whilst I was (rather ungracefully) hoisted onto her broad, bristly back. Never in my life did I think I’d be riding a water buffalo, I’ve never even ridden a horse!
She was just so nonchalant about the whole thing, wandering around wherever she flipping well chose and stopping to chew on the grass every few steps, almost catapulting me clean over her (thankfully!) bowed horns. I was given some reins but I’m pretty sure they were just for effect, as a gentle tug on them had no effect whatsoever! I suppose compared to a plough even my relatively stocky frame was no trouble; she just plodded on doing her own thing. She was massive, but moved with a grace you would never expect. Do you think is plausible to keep a water buffalo as a pet in semi-rural Oxfordshire? Next door does have a pot bellied pig…
Tragically, we had to rush back to our hotel after the Water Wheel experience to catch a flight to Hanoi, but I would certainly have stayed to drink in the surroundings (and perhaps some more of that “frog spawn” concoction!) a little more. I can’t recommend the whole experience enough, if you’re in the area please do check it out!
Little Welsh x
Note: I’m not sure whether the buffalo ride is actually included in the tour; we may just have been lucky as there were only two of us. Of course, if you arrive in a large group it might not be fair to subject her to repeated rides for all. Something to bear in mind, but I’m sure you’ll get to at least say hello!