It's harvest time in Vietnam and in every direction rice fields stretch like a sea of gold, an oil painting as a farmer in a conical hat tends to his water buffalo with its enormous upturned horns.
The buffalo, a prized possession for any rice farmer and the traditional symbol of the country, is known as the "BMW of Vietnam". It may not have a shiny duco or badges, yet the water buffalo is far more valuable than any European luxury car. With its strength, tough leather exterior and large hooves, it can transport goods and work in the deep mud found in paddy fields.
Late one hot afternoon we meet farmer Ho and his buffalo Sha. We're on a Jack Tran Tour learning about local life, organised through the Four Seasons Nam Hai, Hoi An, our base for exploring the fascinating ancient port town and surrounds. While the Nam Hai is a cocoon of impeccable luxury set on 35 acres of manicured grounds, its hand-picked tours and experiences allow guests to immerse themselves in the local culture.
The rice paddies, a cycle away from the resort (or by van if you're not up to it), may look bucolic but the reality is those that make a living from the land face a life of back-breaking work, according to our guide and translator Lily. The people we meet are poor even by Vietnamese standards. By opening their lives up to tourists, it enables Ho and fellow farmers Ahi and wife Nam to make a little extra income.
When it comes to rice farming little has changed in centuries and it's common to see men ploughing their fields with their dependable buffalos, and women bent over picking rice, which is predominantly done by hand. Ho demonstrates how they plough the paddy traditionally with a buffalo, leading Sha around a section of the field her hooves sinking into the think brown mud. One of our group even takes Sha for a test drive. Egged on by farmer Ho she stands on the back of this strong, resourceful and gentle animal.
Husband and wife Ahi and Nam then show us how to husk and dry the rice. It's a slow, laborious process and little machinery is used.
Afterwards we're instructed to take a seat at a table overlooking the rice fields. The couple serve us hot tea and cooked rice wrapped in banana leaf. The meal is simple and delicious. We leave humbled by their lives and generous hospitality.
Vietnam Airlines offers daily flights between Sydney and Melbourne and Ho Chi Minh with onward connections to Da Nang International Airport. See vietnamairlines.com
A one-bedroom villa at the Four Seasons Nam Hai, Hoi An costs from $US725 a night including breakfast (check for offers online). See fourseasons.com/hoian
The three-hour tour tailored for the Four Seasons Nam Hai, Hoi An and booked through concierge, costs $140 per person; half price for children 3-11 and free of charge for children under three. The tour departs at either 8.30am or 2pm and includes a bicycle ride through the rice paddies to the farm, English speaking guide and simple afternoon tea.
Sheriden Rhodes was a guest of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts and Vietnam Airlines.