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Vietnamese student’s farmstay business a magnet for Mekong Delta tourists

Friday, June 05, 2020, 11:17 GMT+7
Vietnamese student’s farmstay business a magnet for Mekong Delta tourists
Ho Ngoc Tram poses at Viet Mekong Farmstay, nestled in Tam Nong District, Dong Thap Province in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta. Photo: Thanh Nhon / Tuoi Tre

Ho Ngoc Tram, a third-year university student majoring in tourism, is the founder of an increasingly popular tourist retreat in the Mekong Delta’s Dong Thap Province.  

Tram, 23, is a junior in tourism culture at Dong Thap University and founder and CEO of Viet Mekong Farmstay, snugly nestled in Tam Nong District, around 500 meters from Tram Chim Town.

The farmstay, whose appeal lies in its utopian allure and idyllic pastoral views reminiscent of yesteryear’s lifestyle in Dong Thap Muoi — the Mekong Delta’s inland wetland — is gearing up to welcome back its visitors since Vietnam’s easing of coronavirus restrictions.

The retreat’s highlights include southern-style cottages, scenic lotus ponds, lush vegetable gardens and flower beds, paddy fields dotted with buffalo-drawn carriages, traditional pastry making, farming and fishing opportunities, and being treated to UNESCO-recognized ‘don ca tai tu’ traditional southern music and song performances as well as tales that have been passed on for generations.

“Weekenders come to my farm to become one with nature and escape from the hustle and bustle of city life while cherishing age-old values. We want to ensure a quality holiday for our guests, so we limit the number to about 30 or 40 each month,” Tram said, adding that her business is modeled on worthwhile traveling, local culture, and safe agriculture experiences.

While majoring in preschool pedagogy in college, Tram felt disoriented, knowing a job as a kindergarten teacher would not be for her.

She was not really sure where her passions lay until she met Dr. Nguyen Trong Minh, a lecturer from Dong Thap University who inspired her to forge her own path.

The young woman started afresh in tourism and took on jobs as a receptionist, food attendant, and room maid to gain hands-on experience in the industry.

She also joined entrepreneur clubs based in the province and began studying tourism models throughout the country.

Set on tapping into her hometown’s rich cultural values, she decided to open her own tourism facility and opted for a land plot in Tam Nong District thanks to its proximity to Tram Chim National Park and easy access for weekenders from Ho Chi Minh City and Can Tho City.

She funded the project with her own savings and sought out investors to cover the remaining costs. 

Launching the business was easier said than done. It was not long before she experienced her first failure.

Two foreign tourists indulge themselves in rustic delights at Viet Mekong Farmstay, nestled in Tam Nong District, Dong Thap Province in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, in this provided photo.

Two foreign tourists indulge themselves in rustic delights at Viet Mekong Farmstay, nestled in Tam Nong District, Dong Thap Province in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, in this provided photo.

Shortly after opening the farmstay, she found herself struggling to cope with acidic soil — the result of the prior owner’s abuse of chemicals and acidic fertilizers.

Despite her efforts to reinvigorate the soil, all of her crops died.  

“I was left daunted even though I had expected the path would be bumpy. It’s easy to give up, but it’s hard to find the courage to keep going,” Tram recalled of the early days.

She gave the business another shot, continually cleansing the soil of acidity. It was not until six months later when her efforts finally paid off, with lotuses budding and fish swimming in the fields.

“I hand-picked the construction materials to make sure they are environmentally friendly and to build up a green space and cozy ambience. All the organically grown foods here can be consumed on the spot,” the young CEO said, adding that she and her staff always stake out the best ingredients sourced from their own farm and create unique menus based off those ingredients while trying to maximize greens and cutting down on meat.

As tour operators began sending local vacationers and tourists from Japan and Europe to Tram’s farmstay on a regular basis, she began to rake in the cash and get the business off the ground.

The farm currently boasts a big hut capable of accommodating 50 guests and ten bungalows of around 20 guests each, with the owner keeping mosquitoes and snakes off the premises with lemongrass essential oil instead of chemical repellents.

Tram plans to alternate lotus, rice crops and raising fish during the flood season to offer tourists even more pastoral experiences.      

“Despite opportunities to work away from home, I chose to run my own business right in my hometown so that my community can benefit from my work. All I need to succeed is perseverance, passion, faith, and determination to pursue this dream,” Tram, who is taking classes to improve her leadership skills and English, shared at an exchange session with local students.

“Tram is such an aspiring young entrepreneur who readily takes on hurdles that come her way and is set on becoming a success story in Dong Thap, her homeland,” said Dr. Minh, Tram’s mentor since the earliest days.

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Ngoc Hanh - Thanh Nhon / Tuoi Tre News

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