Many people fear snakes but in Vinh Son Village, they make a living from them.
The locals here embrace a very unique and dangerous way to make a living. 16 square metres are for 100 snakes. A snake only needs a tiny, simple, brick ‘house’ of 40 centimeters to roll inside. People raising snakes have to cope with many dangers as well.
Just a 60km drive north of Hanoi along the No.2 National Road rests Vinh Son Village in Vinh Phuc Province. Unlike other Vietnamese villages, which are typically covered with rice farms and fruit gardens, Vinh Son Village is covered with snake caves. Snake caves are everywhere: in the farms, in the gardens, the yards, even next to the bed!
The locals here embrace a very unique and dangerous way to make a living: they raise poisonous snakes. Poisonous snakes are raised in many parts of Vietnam and Vinh Son is one of the three largest snake raising villages in the north. Trade was boosted when the Snake Reproduction Centre was built here in 1979. At that time, this centre provided baby snakes and raising techniques for the whole village. As the demand for snake products kept rising while the number of wild snakes was decreasing, the people of Vinh Son saw the value of this trade become more and more profitable, especially when it was officially permitted by the Government.
Nowadays, 750 of the total 1,200 households in Vinh Son Village are raising poisonous snakes. The village also has a 3,000-square-metre snake centre, several companies, and a collective, all of which have specialised areas for raising snakes. Other families raise snakes in their houses. In this village, it seems as if snakes are everywhere.
A snake only needs a tiny, simple, brick ‘house’ of 40 centimeters to roll inside. Each ‘house’ has a tiny wooden door which is always carefully closed. Baby snakes are kept together in one ‘house’. A four square-metre, 10cm-high space with some soils and an old blanket inside can be home to hundreds of these babies.
Vu Thi Nga raises snakes in this village. She has a 40 square-metre house by the main road, which is divided into 2 rooms. She uses a 20 square-metre room as a shop, selling construction materials. In the other room, 16 square metres are for her 100 snakes leaving only 4 square-metres for her and her husband to place a bed, right next to the snake caves.
Similarly, Nguyen Van Truyen’s family has a 100-square metre farm far away from their house for the snakes, yet they still build some caves in their yard and even a small space near their kitchen, all to house more snakes.
Later, following Vu Manh Hung to his snake farm with about 1,000 caves that are home to about 10,000 snakes, we were terrified to hear that underneath our feet were caves with small snakes and adult snakes.“What a pity you did not come here earlier to see such huge snakes weighing 4-5 kilograms each. Snakes cannot stand the cold winter weather and always spend the whole winter sleeping without eating anything, thus becoming extremely thin during this time. Therefore, before winter comes, we have to sell all the big snakes,” said Hung. He is one of three people who are raising snakes on the largest scale in Vinh Son. Hung has also just established Vinh Son Snake Trading Company, which trades many products made from snakes.
Every year, local people in Vinh Son successfully hatch and supply around 400,000 baby snakes. The village is also supplying 140 tonnes of snake meat, mostly copperhead, which is priced from VND 500,000-700,000 ($27 - $37)/kilogram. They supply restaurants in Hanoi, Quang Ninh Province, Ho Chi Minh City and even China.
Snake wine, snake glue and many other products made from snakes are bringing in profits for the locals. As such, the total revenues from snake raising in the village during 2009 was estimated to be around VND 20 billion ($1.08 million).
Snakes are also bringing hundreds of millions of Vietnam Dong to director Vu Manh Hung every year.
“I had been doing many types of work. I was a trader, a photographer, and so on but raising snakes has brought me the most success,” he explained. “Raising snakes is very easy. They eat fresh meat like chickens, mice, toads, etc which are easily available. We only have to feed them two or three times a week and they eat nothing during 3 months of winter. Snakes rarely get ill. Some common diseases are diarrhea, pneumonia, and hepatitis, which are easy to cure”.
People raising snakes have to cope with many dangers as well. “We cannot avoid being bitten by our snakes,” said Nguyen Van Ky, a snake raiser with 20 years of experience. He showed us his hands which were covered in scars. “Normally, they are quite pleasant and only attack people when being frightened. We have to understand their psychology in order to avoid their attack.”
In constant contact with these deadly creatures, the locals all keep first-aid medicine on hand to cure the minor bites. Serious cases must be rushed to hospitals. Despite the expertise of people raising snakes, four people have died from poisonous snake bites over the last ten years.
Despite these dangers, Vinh Son people are still living with snakes. And the poisonous creatures are still devoting themselves to the people here. Vinh Son has become a tourist destination attracting thousands of visitors every year to see and buy snakes.
On such an occasion as this Tet holiday, a decanter of snake wine can well serve as a precious present to give relatives or friends. Others products made from snakes like snake glue, snake meat, and objects made from snake skin are also very special.
Visitors to the village can easily find and try these products at local houses and shops. One of these is Dai Thanh shop. Here a decanter of snake wine is being sold from VND 250,000 – 10,000,000 ($13 - $540).