Riding a Water Buffalo in Hoi An – Unique Activity for Village Experience

Water Buffalo Riding in Hoi An

Rachel Tran
Rachel Tran | Published: January 21, 2020

Among the famous tourist sites in Vietnam, Hoi An old town has always been one of the most significant places for foreign travelers to hang out and have fun.

Not only being attractive for its ancient, historic and poetic beauty, which represents perfectly the proud culture and history of the S-shaped country, but Hoi An also draws a large number of tourists also for its interesting and unique entertainment activities – one of them is riding a water buffalo in Hoi An. Water buffalo is a familiar animal for farmers in the countryside, and riding it will help visitors understand a lot more about the customs and daily life of Vietnam.

Why is the Water Buffalo the National Animal of Vietnam?

Water Buffalo is the National Animal of Vietnam

Buffalo is an animal of the Bovidae species, living mostly in Asian countries and has long become a familiar image of farm work and countryside life in Vietnam. Although not officially, for as long as one can remember, the buffalo has been considered as one of the national animals of the beautiful S-shaped country.

Buffalo is the friendly and indispensable animal of the Vietnamese, mostly in the countryside. Being known as the agriculture nation, farm work takes a specific and important role in the development of Vietnam. Throughout the years, the buffalo has proven itself to be useful and beneficial when it can pull plows in the rice fields, making the farming process become so much easier. When harvesting crops, buffalo is also a trustworthy supporter who helps carrying heavy products and loads for its owners. Traveling to the countryside of Vietnam, tourists will immediately see buffalos almost everywhere, helping farmers with their works or just simply standing on the side to keep them company. In a nation that rice being the main export product like Vietnam, buffalo is undoubtedly the most essential animal.

Some may wonder why hasn’t the buffalo been replaced by modern technologies, given the fact that science is getting more and more developed. The reason is that the Vietnam countryside has various fields with special topographic and different sizes, and machines will only be able to work in large fields and unable to work in small and narrow spaces. Not to mention, buying modern machines takes lots of money which Vietnamese farmers can’t actually afford. Buffalo is much cheaper than machines, can walk on every topographic, and pretty much an effective helper although its working process takes longer than machines.

Aside from its many abilities, buffalo can also provide meat and other parts of its body for various industries. Buffalo meat has been becoming more and more favored by a huge number of food lovers, while its skin and bones can be used to make jackets, helmets, shoes as well as other products and fashion items. The existence of the buffalo has brought certain economic benefits for Vietnam.

In Vietnamese culture, the buffalo represents hard-working, one of the most significant virtues of the Vietnamese people. A buffalo can work for a long period of time, no matter how sunny it is, or even under the rain and stormy weather. The same can be described for the Vietnamese, who are willing to work hard no matter the circumstances to earn great results and bring money, happiness and wealth for their families. Laborious, diligent and studious, those have been positive traits of the Vietnamese in such a long time, gaining respect and trust from international countries.

The buffalo has been appearing in many forms of art, such as paintings, poems, works of literature and folk songs. If you had taken a look at some Dong Ho paintings – a significant culture feature of Vietnam, you will soon realize that the buffalo was included in lots of artworks. In some Vietnamese poems as well as folk verses and proverbs, the buffalo was also mentioned from time to time. It is safe to say that the buffalo has been staying by the Vietnamese side since the beginning of building and developing the S-shaped country.

In the old days, a buffalo was also the symbol of richness, and wealthy families often hung buffalo bones on their doors as a sign of affluentness. Nowadays, there are many festivals being held about buffalos as well, such as the buffalo-stabbing festival, which aims to pray for rich crops and enormous wealth, and the buffalo-fighting festival, which shows the incredible strength of this seemingly kind animal. During the development of Vietnam, the buffalo has become such a familiar image in daily life, arts and spiritual culture.

Sometimes, the buffalo made itself appear in Vietnamese myths and history as well. The ancient believed that the West Lake (Ho Tay), which is a quite famous tourism attraction in Hanoi, was formed when a godly, golden buffalo stormed its feet to the ground. During wars when the Vietnamese had to fight against invaders, the buffalo played an important role, contributing to the victory of the S-shaped country by carrying and transporting supplies (food, weapons, medicines…) for the soldiers.

In conclusion, the buffalo has, and still be, an unreplaceable animal in many aspects of Vietnam, from economic, culture to history and spiritual beliefs. That is why many have considered it as the national animal of the S-shaped country, a significant feature of Vietnamese image and culture.

What is Riding a Water Buffalo in Hoi An Countryside Like?

Tourist ride a water buffalo in Vietnam
Photo: @moshichubby

To help international tourists understand more about the culture and daily life of Vietnam, riding a water buffalo has become an entertainment activity in Hoi An countryside. After only a short time, thousands of travelers from all over the world have stopped by Hoi An to experience the activity themselves with great enthusiasm and excitement.

The local people in Hoi An have done a wonderful job in raising and domesticating the buffalos, turning its natural instincts into something soft and lenient, so they can easily control and order the animal to do as they pleased. Therefore, tourists don’t have to worry about being injured or attacked by the buffalo, because the locals have gained such close-knit bond with the animal, preventing it from performing any kind of violent or dangerous acts.

In the middle of Tra Que village, Hoi An city, surrounded by the peaceful fields and refreshing air, tourists can freely enjoy the clean atmosphere, taking unique pictures while waiting for their turn to ride the buffalo. A buffalo can carry from one to three people at the same time, either waddling in the river or walking around the vast rice fields. Each buffalo will be carefully supervised by a local, to make sure that it follows the right paths or moves at the right pace. Among numerous entertainment activities in Hoi An, such as visiting the ancient town, trying local dishes or experiencing a day of the farmer, riding a buffalo in Hoi An has quickly earned the anticipation and love of foreign travelers.

Once done the paying and choosing the buffalo, and when the buffalo has steadied itself in the rice water field, tourists will be guided to sit on the buffalo properly. Then, the buffalo’s owner will slowly lead it deeper into the rice field. When the buffalo reaches a certain distance, they will let go of the animal, then slightly poke it to urge the animal to run faster, causing enthusiasm for the tourists. Sometimes, the buffalo will stop, which means it is sulking and wanting its owner to pet it and coax it to keep moving. This adorable reaction makes tourists love the buffalo of Vietnam even more. 

Most of us have gotten used to being surrounded by giant skyscrapers, busy roads and never-ending traffic, so coming to the peaceful countryside, interacting and playing with an animal will be a wonderful change. Not only giving tourists a chance to become close to nature, but the activity also processes a unique experience of refreshing both mental and physical health, staying away from modern technologies and busy city life. Many foreign tourists have shown their excitement and eagerness when trying to ride a buffalo – which is nearly impossible to do in their own country. 

Riding a water buffalo, tourists will have a one-of-a-kind and wonderful memory with a kind-hearted animal, as well as have a closer and clearer look at the Vietnamese culture and customs. For children, the activity can raise in them the morale of loving and caring for animals as well as natural life, giving them such a memorable experience and teach them the importance of protecting the environment. 

Although having to carry people, the buffalos in Hoi An are treated extremely nice. The locals do their best to take care of their needs, from feeding, bathing to resting. Therefore, riding water buffalos have been considered as a friendly and humanitarian form of activity, creating chances for humans to love and interact more with the animal in a safe and benevolent condition.

Tips on riding a water buffalo in Hoi An
Photo: @marchimar

Tips on Riding a Water Buffalo 

  • Listen to the buffalo owner’s instructions carefully. The owner understands their buffalo best, so to have a memorable and smooth buffalo riding experience, it is highly recommended for you to follow everything they say and not doing anything that is opposite.
  • Treat the buffalo with kindness and gentleness. The buffalos that are used for riding activity have been trained into a kind and quiet animal, so it is not used to any violent or loud actions. If you act harshly and recklessly, it may shock and frighten the animal, making it hard for the owner to control the buffalo. Try to approach and touch the buffalo with tenderness and care, and it will open up with you soon enough.
  • Sit still on the buffalo’s back. When riding the buffalo, it is best to sit properly and quietly. If you move and wriggle too much on the buffalo, it will cause distress for the animal, and it will likely make you fall off its back and create unhealthy injuries. If you can sit still, the owner will be able to guarantee your safety easier.
  • Wear shorts and proper clothes. One of the fun in the riding buffalo activity is that you will be carried through the water rice field, the buffalo will slowly waddle in the water while keeping you dry and safe on its back. However, in some circumstances, it is unavoidable to have your pants or shoes a bit wet. So if you want to keep your outfits safe and dry, try to wear something short, wear sandals instead of shoes, or simply take off your shoes before getting on the buffalo’s back.
  • Only ride the buffalo during the day. The buffalo riding activity is only carried under the daylight when the surroundings are clear and easy to see. It is simpler for the owner to control the buffalo, and it is also safer than riding the animal during the night. So if you are intending to participate in the activity, make sure to get to Hoi An early.
  • Don’t feed the buffalo on your own. If you want to interact with the buffalo by feeding it, ask its owner for permission as well as the suitable treats for the animal. The owner will gladly instruct you on how to feed the buffalo properly and give you something edible for it. Buffalos need to stay healthy in order to help its owner with working on farms and serving other international tourists, so if you accidentally feed it something it can’t digest, the buffalo may suffer from certain diseases and you will have to pay for its treatment, which is not convenient for your vacation at all. 

Despite having just been started for a few recent years, riding a water buffalo in Hoi An has quickly turned into one of the most famous and favored entertainment activities in Hoi An city, especially for international travelers. With the purpose of advertising the Vietnamese farming culture, as well as spreading the morale of loving, protecting and saving animals and the environment, riding water buffalos also received the support and participation of thousands of tourists, both domestic and foreign.

It will be such a waste if you leave Hoi An city without trying to ride the buffalo at least once. Not only gaining a memorable Hoi An village experience, but the activity will also trigger your affection towards the national animal of Vietnam while sparkling your desire to live cleaner, greener and closer to the environment around us.

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