The Isle of Phu Quoc

Our final day in Vietnam was spent on the island paradise of Phu Quoc.Island Temple-1

We arrived on the island around noon and spent the first few hours visiting some of the more commercial tourist attractions.

First was a winery, where myrtle berries were fermented to produce a sweet alcohol, best described as an acquired taste.

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Next came a pearl farm, where a slick-talking Australian man, walked us through the process of commercial pearl production.

Our third and final stop for the day was a fishing community, where we walked the streets and saw shops that resembled those of small towns from the mainland. Some local kids tried to sell me some starfish. I declined their outrageous asking price of 30,000 Vietnamese Dong ($1.36), and took a photo instead.


Finally, we arrived at our beachfront hotel where after wolfing down a rice-laden lunch, the whole gang proceeded to jump into the ocean as fast as humanly possible.

With the sun beginning to set, everybody toweled off, and jumped back on the bus, where our tour guide, Duan, or Tony as he instructed us to call him, took us out to sea for some late-night squid fishing.

A new appreciation was gained for our college educations, as we quickly realized we would have a hard time making a living as squid fisherman. No squid were caught by a student that night.

We arrived back on shore early, after some of our crew had some trouble finding their sea legs. The extra time gave us a chance to visit the local night market, where vendors of all sorts peddled their wares.

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Vietnam 2016-72Around midnight, the last of us wandered back to the hotel, and greeted our comfy beds adoringly, which after sleeping on hard cots for ten days felt amazing.

The next morning, we lounged on the beach till noon, then packed back up and hopped on the bus. The days stops included: a black pepper farm, a fish sauce factory (which smells similar to what I imagine rotting flesh smells like), a tour of the Phu Quoc Tiger Cages, where Northern Vietnamese POW’s were held and tortured throughout the Indochina wars and an awesome temple.

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Vietnam 2016-3-2Tower dude-1That evening we hopped on a plane and left for Ho Chi Minh City.

Despite the visit’s short duration, the stay was truly incredible.

phu quoc beach


Half way point.

We wrapped up last week week with high spirits and karaoke on Saturday nightSunday Night Can Tho-10Sunday Night Can Tho-4Sunday Night Can Tho-12Sunday Night Can Tho-3

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of this week will see the walton team going door to door conducting interviews with the local farmers of Hoa An.

Today is the second day and judging from the bus chatter, everybody’s ready to get the ball rolling.

Monday, we learned that most of the farmers in the area receive their inputs from the local agriculture company, which often provides the materials on credit, interest free, with the condition that the farmers pay it back once the crops have been harvested.

We’ve found that the farmers often attempt to create some sort of negotiating power by meeting and agreeing on a community-wide price before the collectors come to buy their crops.

The farmers have voiced concerns about climate change contributing to a lack of rain in the region, and their inability to diversify their crops due to lack of knowledge about products aside from rice.

We’re all hopeful to learn more about their issues, and contribute what we can to a greater understanding of smallholder agriculture.

Monday, we also went to a local market where we looked at the agriculture supply chain a few steps up stream from the farmers who grow the crops. It was a great experience. And some of us guys got called cute by the market vendors, the vast majority of which are women supporting their family. Market and Farmers-5Market and Farmers-4Market and Farmers-3Market and Farmers-2Market and Farmers-1


Will Purdy

Vietnam Thus Far

It’s been a busy few days here in Vietnam. We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, late at night on Jan. 3rd. The following morning our group went on a tour of the War Remnants Museum. The place sure doesn’t make you proud to be an American.

One of the more horrifying sights was a picture taken by the Associated Press of a six year-old girl that had been dissembowled by a U.S. Navy Seal. Our textbooks back home never mention that type of stuff.

After the museum tour our group of Walton and Fulbright students traveled 125 km to the City of Can Tho, where we’ll be stationed for the majority of our time in Vietnam.

The past few days have followed a relatively similar schedule: Wake up and eat breakfast, typically a banh mi followed by a morning debrief and departing for the Rural Development College of Hoa An village. We arrive at the college around 9 am and transition straight into our morning educational activities Lunch comes next proceeded by an afternoon activity focused on building relationships with the people who work and study in the region.

We return to Can Tho between four and five o’clock in the afternoon, with an hour or two to relax before dinner at 6pm. After supper, we’re released to mess around and complete any assignments that’ve been assigned for the day.

The first day at the Rural Development College we met the dean, Dr. Kahn, a happy looking man with a smile that radiates kindness. We listened as he presented an overview on the state of rice farming in the Mekong Delta. Dr. Kahn highlighted the inequity amongst actors in the rice value chain, pointing out that the average annual profit of a farmer in the MKD, roughly three-hundred dollars, is below the official poverty level in Vietnam.

Day two at the RDC saw our group trekking along the side of the road for a mile or two in order to reach the home of Mr. and Mrs. Phat, local farmers who are well respected in the area for their agricultural know-how and their involvement with the RDC’s agricultural extension services. That afternoon we met with students studying agricultural extension at the college to learn from their experiences in dealing with local farmers of the region. After dinner a group went to explore the busy streets of Can Tho, where they received a first-hand lesson in Vietnamese sidewalk crossing. Walking across six lanes of traffic with motorbikes swerving around you has a tendency to trigger a flight or fight instinct in people.

Our third day commuting back and forth to the RDC was marked by good times, and valuable information. A morning tour of the RDC’s farming research operations was followed by a protein-packed lunch and an afternoon meeting with the head of the local Woman’s union.

The Woman’s Union gives out micro-loans low interest rates, making it a valuable source of financing for many farming families in Vietnam.

That night, our cool PeaceWork guide Mai, got us pizza for dinner. Just about everyone ordered a large-something, with the intentions of saving some for later. Some of the guys were so hungry they even ordered two.


Thus far, the Mekong Delta has been an exciting place full of surprises and insights as to how people live in other parts of the world. Generally, the people seem happy. I hope to see more of this in the following days.


with peace,



Pre Departure.

Will Purdy here!

I’m a student at the University of Arkansas, hailing from the capitol of the Cherokee Nation, Tahlequah, OK. Currently, I’m pursuing majors in business management and journalism with a minor in marketing.

On Jan. 2nd, I’m going to the Mekong Delta region of southern Vietnam for thirteen days, as part of a student team from the Walton and Fullbright colleges at the UofA to build relationships with local farmers and the faculty at the regional development college in Hoa An village, which is a branch of the University of Can Tho. The city of Can Tho is the largest in the south, with a population of 1.2 million.

The project comes as a result of an ongoing initiative by the Vietnamese government to foster international partnerships, and stimulate enterprise across the country’s industries. The University of Arkansas was chosen for this region due to it’s similarity with the Arkansas Delta and the crops grown there, specifically rice.
Mekong mmm

Relationships are everything when it comes to business in Vietnam. Without trust there is no hope of facilitating enterprise. The purpose behind building these relationships is to foster mutual respect and a level of comfort between us and our Vietnamese colleagues, so that in future visits to the region the University of Arkansas can aid in the business side of agriculture development in the region. Once again though, before any of that can happen our friends across the Pacific must trust us, so they feel comfortable when discussing ideas and business proposals with us.

While the farmers around Hoa An are some of the best in the world at growing crops, they do not have a strong business back ground and are unable to operate as efficiently as they would like to. This is where we come in.

Led by the fearless professor Steven W. Kopp, our crack team of ace students, who’ve been preparing for this trip since October by reading up on Vietnam and the Mekong Delta, will spend the better part of two weeks watching, listening and bonding with individuals throughout the agriculture value chain in the region, so that we may provide fresh insights and suggestions for improvement in visits to come.

Why choose Vietnam?

Personally, this trip presents an opportunity to pursue my personal and professional interests in resource finance. I want to know more about how the farmers in Vietnam support their operations, and what they still lack in terms of resources to improve their operations.

Like many developing nations, Vietnamese agriculture is conducted primarily by smallholders, or “mom and pop” farms if you will, which operate on a hectare (about 2.5 acres) or less. The scale of these farms present a significant obstacle, as it’s harder to reach economies of scale through this model, than say, a large plantation. I plan on learning as much as I can about the aggregation points for these farmers, and how they work together communally to create successful operations.

Readers: buckle up and prepare yourself for two weeks of awesome posts about the unique and exciting Mekong Delta region of Vietnam.