As part of our visit to Hoi An we undertake an eco tour which see the group undertake a bike ride through the very scenic Hoi An country side and this is followed by a corical ride with a visit to a fishing boat and lunch at a local farm.
The rise of eco tourism in the past 10 years has been significant in the area and played a major part in assisting farming communities. Our host of the comical tour Vu explained that about 10 years ago many farmers were struggling to maintain any form of income and Hoi An as a town supported them with the idea of eco tourism. So instead of boats being used exclusively for fishing they were now being used to take tourist into the water coconut plantations on tours.
Tourist are also given the opportunity to board a small local fishing boat where they are given the opportunity to have a go at casting a fishing net just like the locals do. This is done with plenty of photo opportunities and laughs as people struggle to complete the task.
As part of the tour the organisers also arrange for a conical show by one of the local fisherman.
The trip on the comical is a peaceful experience with just the sound of the paddle in the water and the corical moving down the water. That is until you hit the open water where other tour operators offering the same experience have taken the comical show to another level. Take a look at the video below in comparison to the previous version.
It is interesting in talking-to Tu that he is not happy with these new shows with the flashy performers and sound music. He explained that these tours are largely catering to the Korean market which appreciate this sort of experience, but it is seen as a negative by western tourist looking for a more authentic experience. Tu fears that the continued desire of some operators to appease the Korean market may come at the expense of the far larger Western market and may have a detrimental impact on eco tourism in the Hoi An area which would have a significant impact on the fish farmers.
After the corical ride we make our way to a local farm which has also supplemented its income by hosting tourists. This is a working garden specialising in herbs but now also takes tourists on tours of the gardens and provides lunch and a cooking show as well.
All of these activities have seen locals involved in agriculture move to sharing some or all of their traditional tasks with tourists for a much higher return than would be achieved through agriculture.
On the way to the farm the groups stops and students are given the opportunity to ride a water buffalo and without doubt this is the most polarising activity on the study tour that we undertake. In the past people have declined to take part in the activity for personal beliefs and even today and American girls rode past and told us that the activity was “not cool, not cool”.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion of this activity but I think at some point of the discussion you have to put yourself in the farmers shoes and consider the following. A young water buffalo would cost around about $500USD and then needs to be trained, and once fully grown and ready to work 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. This is not only true for this activity but all of those we have undertaken as part of the tour.
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.