Hoi An is a magical little town located in the central coast of Vietnam. It seems to resemble a bit of an outdoor gallery painted by a yellow brush and sprinkled with all sorts of colors. With charming storefronts, teahouses and ancient architecture, all connected by a beautiful maze of alleyways decorated with lanterns, the town has captured many travelers’ hearts.
But not many are aware that Hoi An is also home to the oldest organic vegetable garden in Vietnam: Tra Que. Here, not only will you find rows and rows of neatly planted vegetables and herbs, cultivated using traditional methods, but also plenty of things to do – like doing some farming and fishing. It’s a lot more than too, and you can even take a cooking class and join the locals in celebrating the new year festival.
Hop on a bicycle and start pedaling around
The best way to get to Tra Que and to explore the area is on two wheels! There are many bicycle rental shops in Hoi An where you can get one for a day or half a day for as little as VND 25,000 (USD $1.00). Either that, or check with your hotel or hostel – many offer them for free.
Getting to Tra Que from the heart of town will take you about 20 minutes if you go through Hai Ba Trung road. After getting past the town area and a few busy intersections, the ride will be a breeze. The road will most likely be empty except for the occasional motorbike, car and a curious tourist like yourself on a bicycle. Your scenery will get more tranquil as you enter the countryside and you will pass by many paddy fields. The soft sun and the nice breeze will only add to your experience. Keep an eye out for peaceful buffalo grazing and extra points if you find the resting owners nearby.
For bicycle rentals you can contact Mr. Cuoc (79 Thai Phien, +84914080912) or Mrs. Yen (609 Hai Ba Trung, +84905397138). You can also hail a cab to Tra Que.
Tra Que Vegetable Village is responsible for the unique flavor of Hoi An
Tra Que has been around for 300 years, serving the residents of the region with fresh, organic and healthy greens. Located three kilometers northeast of Hoi An Ancient Town, with lush grassland, marvelous rice fields, and tranquil lakes, the village covers about 40 hectares and is home to about 200 local farming families. As you walk through, farmers will be going about their day – cultivating, growing and harvesting over 40 different kinds of plants such as lemongrass, morning glory, and coriander, with love and care. Many of these are common ingredients found in a wide array of dishes served throughout Vietnam.
What makes Tra Que extra special is that no chemicals are used in the farming process. Instead, natural fertilizers such as seaweed from the De Vong River that surrounds the village, are used, among other traditional methods. Thanks to the traditional practices of the farmers, Tra Que is known as the cleanest vegetable supporter for the region.
Learn some Vietnamese recipes to impress your friends and family back home
Learn how to prepare a variety of Vietnamese favorites including banh xeo (Vietnamese pancake) and more by joining a cooking class. Tra Que Water Wheel remains one of the most recommended for offering the best cooking class experiences in the region.
Most classes all have similar itineraries – first you will do a tour around the village, either by foot or by bicycle, and you will stop to collect your ingredients from various farmers. Here you can try your hand at planting some seeds or picking some ready-to-serve greens. This will also be your opportunity to snap some cool pictures as you water plants using traditional methods like the farmers do, with water buckets balanced gracefully across their shoulders on a bamboo pole. You may even end up visiting the Hoi An market to purchase further ingredients or stop by the fishermen at the De Vong River to fish for some shrimp or other types of seafood.
Once everything is collected, you will head back to the cooking school, which is often just an ordinary kitchen in a countryside home and get cooking. Your menu can include various dishes depending on the cooking class you choose. Joining a cooking class is not only an educational activity where you gain insight into the local culinary culture, but it is also extremely fun – you will be bonding with your group and making friends and memories to last a lifetime. Plus, when you head back home, you can invite your family and friends over for dinner, and impress them with your new skills.
There are plenty of tours around Tra Que village as well that combine all kinds of activities, making it easy for you to enjoy everything in one go. Check out the one offered by Hoi An Fun Bike Tours, or the one by Jack Tran Tours.
Watch the sunset over the river before a healthy dinner
Or go in the morning for the sunrise if you are an early bird. With the absence of buildings in the area, Tra Que is a very open space and is great for watching the sunrise or sunset. From down in the fields, the sun will look like a golden egg yolk surrounded by fluffy white clouds. The colors of the sky blend seamlessly with the green of the fields. As the sun goes down in the evening, signalling the end of the day, it gets reflected beautifully on the smooth river surface. A cherry on top of your already perfect day, and a spectacle you should not miss.
After the sun sets, head over to one of the few restaurants in the area to enjoy a meal. Check out either Baby Mustard or Mai Home Hoi An, known for their wholesome and delicious plant-based menus.
Visit Tra Que during Cau Bong festival
Cau Bong Festival is held on 7th of January of the Lunar calendar in Tra Que Village, to welcome in the new year. During this time, local people prepare offerings and pray for a year of good weather and a full harvest.
Every year, to kick off the festival, numerous competitions take place in Tra Que. The first is a vegetable growing competition and the hamlet deemed the best gets to celebrate with a big party. Next comes the tom huu making competition. Tom huu is a salad-like dish made with greens and shrimp – an ingredient Tra Que cannot do without in rituals, festivals and times of entertaining guests.
Shrimp symbolizes the friendship of the local people of this village and if you directly translate tom huu – it will mean shrimp friendship (huu is a part of bang huu meaning friendship). Once shrimp-making is done, farmers will then compete with one another on fertilizing their hamlets with seaweed. Cau Bong Festival also has a boat race on the De Vong, through many other riverside villages in Hoi An.
While Tra Que is a peaceful getaway during the year, during Cau Bong Festival, it attracts a lot more travelers and locals alike. You are welcome to join in on the festivities (it’s free to enter), hang out with the locals and cheer on during the competitions. There are also folk performances you can enjoy such as lion and dragon dancing. As there is a religious significance to the festival, you can also observe the locals performing their rituals. Please be mindful during this time. While you are able to go alone, it would be best to go with a local that could guide you through the festivities and explain its significance to you;only then would you understand what this festival means to the locals.
Tra Que village is a unique getaway for those seeking a moment of tranquility in their life. There are plenty of awesome accommodations in the area, so make sure you spend the night there. This way you will get the chance to wake up to the beautiful sunrise over the fields. Don’t stay less than two days, because there are many things to do, people to meet, and dishes to eat in the region. Plus, there is plenty of relaxing to done by the riverside, too.