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The last chariot drivers in Seven Mountains

An GiangChau Giac, 60 years old, still earns a few hundred thousand dong every day with a few pickaxes carrying rented goods for more than 30 years.

It was early morning, Mr. Chau Giac ate ​​a bowl of rice early, cut the grass with a scythe and an empty bag, then went to the stables to lead the horse. Seeing the master, the horse clapped its paws on the brick floor, shaking its head. A man living near Cam Mountain untied the rope, reached out and patted the horse’s back, then gave the command “hi hi”. A brown horse, about 10 years old, followed its owner.

Across the palm tree, he pulled lightly on the reins to the right, the horse obediently turned to the tree, stopping when he shouted “Hey”. Adding a little water mixed with bran to the aluminum basin under the old tree, he let the horse drink some water and then went to the bus station.

Mr. Chau Giac's horse grazed on grass while waiting for the delivery.  Photo: Ngoc Tai

Chau Giac’s horse grazes while waiting for cargo. Image: Ngoc Tai

From a few hundred horse-drawn carriages in the heyday, in Vinh Trung commune, Tinh Bien district, there were only about ten left, now the carriage station is just a vacant lot. Tied the reins to the roadside sewer cover, Mr. Giac did not forget to cut a bunch of grass for the horse to sip while waiting for the first ride. Stepping to the bar across the street, the old coachman sat cross-legged, ordering a cup of coffee for 5,000 VND.

The first trip he carried was two long corrugated iron sheets. Knowing how to carry too much, but he took a risk, prepared a few pleas if the traffic police “whispers”. Blending into the busy traffic, the three-decade-old charioteer carefully steered his horse to the side of the road. When he crossed the street, he was not in a hurry, waiting for the traffic to clear before he left.

Porter cum driver, Mr. Chau Giac earned the first 100,000 VND for the distance of about two kilometers, finished the job in 7 hours. Returning to the old shop, he finished his unfinished cup of coffee, looking out at the street for the second pick.

In Bay Nui, horse-drawn carriages originated from the Khmer people in the last century, which is the main means of transportation for people, especially on mountainous roads, which are difficult to travel. Along with the development, commercial roads, more and more personal cars, the profession of horse-drawn carriage gradually disappeared. Thought the “lucky” profession would die out, but about 10 years ago, tourist areas wanted to recreate this unique vehicle, looking to the That Son region to recruit horse tamers.

Mr. Giac applied for a job at a tourist area in Can Tho, provided accommodation and meals, and his salary was nearly 3 million VND. However, after only two years of work, he resigned and returned to his hometown to continue working as a hired horse driver. The elderly part has no land to cultivate, partly because he loves the job of driving a horse, so Mr. Giac does not want to change his job even though his income is meager: “Now whoever asks to carry anything will carry it, near and far, everything will be accepted. A few days later. hundred thousand, but there are days without any money,” Mr. Giac shared.

Carriage of horse-drawn carriages in the Seven Mountains region.  Photo: Ngoc Tai

Carriage of horse-drawn carriages in the Seven Mountains region. Image: Ngoc Tai

Happier than Mr. Giac, this morning Mr. Chau Can (46 years old) ran three trips in a row, pocketed 300,000 VND and then sipped his morning coffee. The two men’s colleagues also gathered at the shop, almost everyone opened the first shipment, the common goods were carrying firewood and straw to feed the cows.

Mr. Can has been in business for more than 5 years, bought this horse three years ago for 18 million VND. He only spent about a million dong more, building a wooden car body was able to enter the profession. “It’s only extreme when loading goods up and down, but driving is strong,” Mr. Can said.

Mr. Can’s horse is the only stallion in the commune, so every time a mare passes by, the “girls” greet them with a long neighing voice. Male horses are strong but quite aggressive, often difficult to control. “Sometimes when he sees a mare, he can’t do anything if he doesn’t want to go,” said Mr. Can.

In addition to carrying things, sometimes there is a wedding party where people hire horse-drawn carriages to carry the bride. The old horse-drawn carriage was washed and decorated with flowers to make it more eye-catching. In addition to the salary, the driver is also provided with a free wedding reception. Particularly on the occasion of Ba Chua Xu’s feast, tourists often “book” a horse-drawn carriage to go around and explore at a cost of 500,000 VND for a whole day.

Around 11 a.m., Mrs. Tran Thi My Phuong, the owner of the bar, began to collect the glass of water when the last carriage driver left the shop. “The men come back to take a break to cut grass for the horses to eat for lunch. Since Covid-19, they took a break for afternoon coffee because there were less customers than before, and I also lost an income,” she said with regret not only. The family’s income, but the image of a crowded carriage station is a good memory of many mountain people. Currently, there are about 10 cargo horses left here.

Horse carriages in the Bay Nui region often carry goods, with prices ranging from 100-150 thousand VND depending on the stage.  Photo: Ngoc Tai

Horse carriages in the Bay Nui region often carry goods, with prices ranging from 100-150 thousand VND depending on the stage. Image: Ngoc Tai

Horses in Bay Nui are quite small, but can carry 500-600 kg. In particular, they are quite flexible when going on rough and muddy roads where motorbikes give up. They usually eat two bags of grass per day, along with 5-6 kg of rice. Owners who love horses will have an extra late-night meal of chopped bananas.

According to the horse-drawn carriage drivers, in addition to the cost of buying rice, on average, every half a month will change the horse’s clogs, costing 100,000 VND. “Currently, horseshoes are made of rubber, the forge does not make iron clogs for sale, while the road is asphalt and in the heat of the sun, the horseshoes are damaged very quickly,” said Giac while driving the carriage home as the afternoon gradually let go.

That Son or Bay Nui is a mountainous land mixed with plains belonging to 4 districts and cities of An Giang: Chau Doc city, Tinh Bien, Tri Ton and Thoai Son districts. According to researchers, the That Son area has 37 mountains and hills, large and small, scattered with an average height of 50 to 710 m.

Seven mountains represent the whole region, including Cam mountain (Thien Cam Son), Tuong mountain (Lien Hoa Son), Dai mountain (Nao Long Son), Dai Nam Gieng mountain or small Dai mountain (Ngu Ho Son), Co mountain. To (Phung Hoang Son), Ket mountain (Anh Vu Son) and Nuoc mountain (Thuy Dai Son).

The last charioteers of the Seven Mountains

Ngoc Tai

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