One of the activities we undertake in Hoi An is a half day bicycle ride around Hoi An through some of the country side, what I think is one of the highlights of the tour. As part of the ride we pass many of the traditional farming communities of Hoi An.
We then stop at a farmers house for a break and then head out onto the river in traditional corical boats where we are presented with palm leaves made into rings, hats and rings. We paddle through the palm trees and are offered the chance to have a paddle ourselves.
Once the corical ride is over we are back on the bicycles to go to a traditional farm where they grow many herbs and vegetables. At the garden we learn about the different herbs and gardening techniques and are then given the opportunity to plough and water the garden.
Finally we are given the opportunity to ride a water buffalo.
The water buffalo riding posses some very interesting questions around the idea of eco tourism. To give some perspective of why eco tourism is being embraced by these communities considering the following. A young water buffalo would cost around about $500USD and then needs to be trained, and once fully grown would cost $2,000USD. The water buffalo are used to plough fields and can do 500 square metres a day and work for around $40USD per day. There are two windows of opportunity per year for farmers to plough fields and these opportunities are around a week each time. From this income the farmer must meet the costs needed to maintain and care for the buffalo.
Eco tourism has provided the opportunity for farmers to offer tourists rides on their water buffalo for $1USD per ride. In our case ten people rode the water buffalo making the farmer $10USD in around half an hour. In comparison if the farmer was growing rice they would make 5,000 Dong (30 cents) per kilo for rice and each crop takes 4 months to grow.
The attraction for the farmers to offer these experiences from a financial perspective is easy enough to see, however the focus on eco tourism raises some interesting questions for the local community in terms of where they focus their efforts.