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Hoi An man turns tourists to farmers

2012-02-16 (GMT + 7)

Tran Van Khoa from Cua Dai District in the tourist town of Hoi An of the central province of Quang Nam has been taking tourists on his self-designed tours where they become farmers or fishermen and integrate into rural Vietnamese life.

Hoi-an-farmersIt is no longer a strange sight in Hoi An to see a group of foreigners wearing conical hat and farmer’s clothes in a paddy field to harvest rice. They use a reaping hoe to cut the plants, carry sheaves to local houses, pluck the rice off the stalks and pack them into sacks.

In the afternoon, Khoa takes tourists to a farmer’s 1000 square meter rice field where he shows them how to plough and plant.

Peter Rider, one of the participants, strained to carry a plow and follow a buffalo. However, after being shown some basic tips, Peter becomes more confident and he can hold the plow in one hand and a robe in the other to control the buffalo.

Other tourists roll up their pants above their knees, some men take off their shirts to work on the paddy. Within minutes, they all are spattered with mud but no one wants to give up the job.

“I am a real farmer, growing potatoes in England. However, I’ve never tried the traditional way of growing rice like they do in Vietnam. Farm work is indeed interesting,” said Rider.

After four hours, the tourists are satisfied as they see the paddy all ready for seeding. After a short break, they gather in a cottage to have lunch, which includes rural dishes cooked by local people and the tourists themselves.

“It’s great to participate in a Vietnamese farmer’s work. Although their life is difficult, they know how to overcome it and earn a living,” said Brett Daniel Allen, 45 years, from Australia.

Starting from scratch

Growing up in Phuoc Hai fishing village in Cua Dai Ward, Khoa failed college twice and went off sailing with his father. From his time fishing on Thu Bon River, Khoa realized that he needed more knowledge to help develop the trade village.

He learned English by himself and later passed an exam to study at the Da Nang College of foreign languages. After graduating in 2003, Khoa chose to return to his hometown and started his own business.

At that time, ecotourism was yet to develop in Hoi An. One time when he was with tourists around town, someone asked him to take the whole group to join fishermen in catching fish.
Gradually, Khoa came to understand tourists’ demands and decided to design tours for foreigners to explore the rural side of Hoi An.

In 2005, Khoa borrowed money from a bank and opened his own travel agency with the goal of introducing tours where tourist could become a fisherman or farmer. With a small amount of capital, Khoa rented two basket boats and a couple of small fishing boats from locals.

At first, only a few registered with the strange tours he offered. Not giving up, Khoa persuaded his family to mortgage houses and properties, took out more loans to invest in, and promoted his services. Besides English, he also took up French and Spanish in order to expand his market.

“Tourists come from different countries. If you don’t speak their language and understand their culture, it is hard to explain to them the cultural differences between Vietnam and their countries,” Khoa said.

Three years ago, a group of Finnish president Tarja Halonen visited Hoi An and booked a tour with Khoa. Having a chance to become a farmer and experience Vietnamese agriculture, the tour was one of the highlights during the Finnish president’s first trip to Hoi An.

“The trip was one of the best ways to understand the country, the people and especially the Old Town,” said Halonen at the end of her visit.

Currently, Khoa has 200-300 tourists cultivating rice or planting vegetables a year. The fishing tour also attracts thousands of others.

“I officially introduced the rice farming tour this year. Farmers who get involved with tourism can keep their professions while increasing their profit,” he said.

In the future, Khoa plans to introduce more ecotours that help protect the environment while connecting tourists with the local community.

Source: Tuoi tre

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