A small village on a river near Hoi An that struggled to find prosperity in farming turned to tourism, and has begun to thrive.
Rock the boat: A large space for tourists exploring rural lifestyles in Triem Tay Village — VNA/VNS Photo Tran Le Lam
Situated at the end of the Thu Bon River opposite Hoi An, Triem Tay Village has many residents who still struggle to make a living growing vegetables.
Youngsters could earn more from jobs with good incomes at hotels and shops in Hoi An by crossing the river on the daily ferry. However, some villagers have begun using gardens and handicrafts to create a profit from tourism.
A group of 23 households joined a joint-stock co-operative to make tourism a way to earn a stable income for the agriculture-intensive rural village.
"The village has been given a real facelift. Most villagers had been struggling farming vegetables and defunct handicrafts, but they are now ready for a new trade," said Nguyen Yen - Director and CEO of the Triem Tay Community-based Tourism Co-operative. "The village has 23 households as shareholders for the co-operative with initial funds of VND2 million (US$95). We have tours in Hoi An, Kim Bong Carpentry Village and Thanh Ha Pottery Village."
He said tourism would bring villagers double the income they got from farming.
Quang Ngoc Muoi, 53, and his wife do not make much growing melons and raising livestock, but they could earn more from providing boat services and cooking for visitors.
"Both of us are shareholders at the co-operative," Muoi said. "We want to make a change in our lives. I'm in charge of carrying passengers from Hoi An to the village, while my wife cooks for tourists. Boat service for a group of 10 could bring me VND200,000 ($9.5) from a trip, and my wife can earn VND150,000 ($7) from cooking."
He said a hard working day on farm could only bring VND80,000 ($3.80).
When launching the tourism services early this year, villagers decorated the main road by growing green fences of tea bushes and colourful flowers instead of concrete walls.
"The idea was raised to set up an old scenery village," Yen said. "Villagers donated part of their land for road enlargement for tourism development. One village road has a green tree fence and violet flowers."
He said alleys in the village were named after flower and plant species.
The village covers 17ha, 30 per cent of which are vegetable farms. It produces 600 tonnes of melon in one crop. But unstable market prices over past years have meant poor fruit sales.
Sedge mat weaving, a major part of the community's culture, creates products that are only used by locals - others do not see them as convenient mattresses.
"We allocate a 5,000sq.m community garden to grow vegetables and aromatic herbs as a stop for tourists. Visitors can explore farming skills and experience rural work with farmers," said Yen. "A sand islet that emerged from a change in the river a long time ago creates a large space for tourists exploring rural lifestyles and night camping. The islet also makes a channel for tourists to fish, raft and paddle in bamboo boats."
Nguyen Thi Bien, 60, has been away from her weaving loom for the past several decades. Hand-made mats are too cheap and cannot compete with mass-produced mats.
"The trade has been revived since I joined the community-based tourism co-operative," she said. "My family was assigned to host the mat photo stop for visitors."
Bien said she could earn VND100,000 from a group of tourists exploring the history and practising handicrafts or buying souvenirs.
Duong Phu Toi, 55, retired from masonry due to illness. He now hosts a home-stay for tourists.
"I myself invested VND30 million in the business, with support from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to decorate my house," Toi said. "I also contributed my share for the establishment of the co-operative with hope for a better income in the future."
Phan Thi Thai Hoa, Head of a community-based tourism team in Dien Phuong Commune, said the village just started bringing in tourists six months ago and needs time to smooth out its services.
"We have called for investment in rubbish and waste water treatment, as well as planning livestock farms," she said, adding that environment played a key role in boosting tourism.
"The tourism project, which has received technical support from the ILO and UNESCO, has helped villagers raise awareness about developing tourism in a sustainable way."
Pham Vu Dung, manager of Rose Travel Service Company, said Triem Tay Village had a lot of potential for eco-tour services.
"We found that the village on the river bank of Thu Bon is very proper for our cruise tour," Dung said. "People here are very hospitable and friendly, and the nature of the village makes it a favourite for green tours."
Dung, however, warned that tourism services in Triem Tay should try to depart from the classic tours of Hoi An.
"The eco-tour service should not repeat farming tours in Tra Que vegetable village. The islet on the riverside could be a very nice place to host local activities for tourists and night campfires," Dung said. "More villagers' houses should be decorated, with sanitation standards, green spaces and more interesting entertainment for amazing night stays."
Dung said the village has to encourage residents to use renewable energy and biogas to make tours more environmentally friendly. In a similar vein, the village should offer free boat services to lure bicycle tourists from Hoi An and Thanh Ha.
In August, Hoi An decided to build the Cam Kim Bridge to connect the tourism hub with the Kim Bong Craft Village and boost eco-tourism.