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Tourists rough it on Hoi An farms


Tourists got down and dirty in Hoi An on one afternoon recently, digging fields planted with a special kind of Vietnamese basil and sampling the fruits of their labour afterwards.

The one-day farm excursion, begun by a local tourist agency in 2004, has become one of Hoi Anís most popularly requested tours.

"I discovered a lot about Viet Nam doing this," said tourist Deppe Kohler, who was one of 25 German tourists spending a day at a farm in Hoi Anís Tra Que village known for its basil or rau hung farms.

The aromatic plant in the mint family is cultivated chiefly for its leaves and is widely used in Vietnamese cooking.

Kohler and the other tourists worked on Mai Nhoís farm, turning over the land, digging furrows, and then planting seedings.

"I enjoyed the work although Iíve never worked on a farm before," Kohler said.

After the two hours of planting were over, the group toured the entire 870 sq.m- farm.

"The basil here is tasty," said tourist Margit Martin, smelling a leaf. "Supermarkets in Germany sell several kinds of Vietnamese basil, but they donít have as much flavour as this one."

According to veteran Hoi An farmer Cao Ngoc Day, the village soil, enriched by alluvium from the local De Vong River, and the traditional farming technology of Tra Que, help give rau hung its special fragrance.

"Farmers use neither manure nor chemical fertilisers, but a kind of algae found only in a lagoon in Tra Que to support plant growth," Day said.

Several German tourists remarked that farmers could become financially well-off if Tra Que exported the basil.

At the end of the day, tourists were offered special meals seasoned with Tra Que rau hung.

More than 200 households in Tra Que grow rau hung, which is sold to restaurants and hotels in Hoi An, Da Nang and Ha Noi.

Farmers like Nho and Day earn VND3 million (US$200) monthly from rau hung and another VNd3 million offering other services to tourists.

More than 800 foreign tourists joined the basil farm tour in 2005, and 292 have participated since the beginning of this year, Pham Vu Dung, deputy director of the Hoi An Tourism Company, said. ó VNS

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