Karma Waters is a tour company operating out of Hoi An,Vietnam. They run a vegan restaurant, give tours and arrange homestays with local people. All the food served at the homestays is vegan. Owners Nguyen Thi Bao Duyen and Paul D. Tarrant are deeply committed to responsible tourism. I came across their company in the course of my research for the 2012 edition of Vegetarian Asia: A Travel Guide. Duyen answered some of my questions about vegetarianism in Vietnam.
TLB: How did you become a vegan?
Duyen: First I became vegetarian for 5 years and then vegan just 5 years ago. So total is 10 years.
Let me introduce my vegan family to you: My husband was raised as a vegetarian, so he has been being vegetarian for more than 50 years and turned into vegan just 5 years ago. Our two daughters, one is 6 and one is 3.5, are raised as vegan too.
My story of becoming a vegan was a fish incident. Ten years ago I lived in China with my husband. One day for the first time I went shopping with my Chinese friends to buy some food and fish to cook at home. We chose a big size fish as we would like to steam it, then the fish seller got the big knife and hit three times on the fish’s head. That moment shocked me a lot, it was a painful and terrible feeling. I have felt like thunder was hitting on my head and when I looked at the fish’s face and she was suffering so just to die for human’s pleasure. I was carrying her home inside the plastic bag, just before I opened the door the fish shook a very big shake for a final time before she really died. At that moment I was so scared and threw the plastic bag on the ground. My friends then picked it up and couldn’t understand why I was so scared. That dinner was unforgettable dinner for me. My friends steamed the fish and the smell was so good but I couldn’t eat and just sat there to look at her eyes. I could feel her anger inside her eyes although it was just a dead fish. I felt that I was not a humanity to eat just a small fish who couldn’t protect herself and she didn’t harm me at all. Since then I understood the fish came to awaken me and tried to turn me back to vegetarian/ vegan way as that is human’s noble way. The next day I became vegetarian and today I am so thankful for what the fish had done and sacrificed her life for me.
TLB: How common is vegetarianism in Vietnam? Are there people who follow this diet all the time, or just on holy days?
Duyen: In Vietnam, only Buddhist nuns are vegan all the time. Buddhist practitioners/normal people only follow this vegetarian diet four holy days a month which are 1st, 14th, 15th and 31st.
TLB: Among vegetarians you know, why did they choose to go meatless (for example, health, religion, ethics, etcetera)?
Duyen: Among Vietnamese vegetarians I know they chose a vegan way as that is required in the special religion and ethics. Then they understood vegan is good for health and animals after being a vegan for a while. Buddhism and Christianity don’t require people to become vegan but some other religions do. For example, Cao Dai, Hindu, etc. But some of my friends who are foreigners they turned into vegetarian/vegan as it is for ethics not to harm animals and for health too.
TLB: Do you find homestays for Karma Waters travelers where the people they stay with are vegan? Or do they cook vegan just for the travelers?
Duyen: Some Karma Waters (KW) customers are vegan and that was how they found us on the internet. But some are not. However, anyone who comes on our homestays or tours with meals included, then they must be vegan. KW doesn’t care if they are happy or not as we don’t make money on animal’s death for our benefits. But most customers who came on our tours were very happy with our vegan food as KW trained the cook of our restaurant and homestays householder to cook vegan food.