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Eco-tours offer green dreams to visitors

Update: June, 25/2009 - 00:00

Eco-tours offer green dreams to visitors

(26-06-2009)

by Le Huong

First throw: A tourist tries to net fish at the Cua Dai Fishing Wharf. — VNS File Photos

Fish out of water: Tourists meet a local fishermen after a cruise at Cua Dai Fishing Wharf.
Turning Vietnamese: Two Western tourists do an impression of Vietnamese farmers at the Tra Que vegetable growing village.

Local residents offer tourism services and visitors turn into local fishermen – that’s the ethos on eco-tours initiated by 29-year-old Tran Van Khoa, who was born into a fisherman’s family and who used to work in Hoi An’s Victoria Hotel as a receptionist.

A coracle (type of small boat) drops into the sea. Khoa skilfully jumps aboard and explains to the tourists on the boat that local fishermen use coracles to catch fish and squid offshore.

He demonstrates how to guide it through the waves and receives a clap from five-year-old Ally Chris from Singapore.

Other members of the group are invited to try rowing the coracle. Many of them are lured by local fishing methods. Little Ally’s mother, Elliott, insists on trying to cast a net into the sea. She draws it back with only weeds, but she looks delighted, saying: "I have learnt how to net fish."

Every day, Khoa brings tourists to take cruises and try the coracles. They also visit Bay Mau coconut palm forest – where soldiers sheltered in their fight against the American invaders – and enjoy marine delicacies served by Khoa’s father.

Khoa also co-ordinates with the five-star Victoria Hotel to offer special eco-tours, on which tourists are encouraged to join clean-up activities in Bay Mau coconut palm forest.

"Eco-tourism associates with green, clean and beauty," Khoa said, "There is too much rubbish on rivers, along the beach and in the forest. All my customers are willing to join in a 15-minute clean-up and even on the other tours they pick up rubbish to put in bins on the boats." Within a day, the tourists experience farming techniques in Tra Que vegetable growing village and then ride bicycles to Cuu Dai beach and try fishing at Cua Dai Fishing Wharf.

"It’s an excellent way to see the countryside and the people," wrote Tarja Halonen, president of Finland, who took a tour in February last year, together with her husband and their bodyguard.

Khoa’s eco-tours result from his own initiative and his whole family and neighbours help. After graduating in English from Da Nang College, Khoa worked in the Victoria Hotel. He soon realised foreign tourists were interested in his fishing village and surrounding natural beauty.

So he started the tour business with VND100 million (US$5,627) capital. He designed his own itineraries, and he was the sole guide. His father and mother help gearing the boats and serving the food.

Now there are 10 guides speaking mainly English and French and around 30 fishermen provide and row coracles to serve big groups, earning up to VND3 million ($169) a month.

"The economic downturn has seriously affected tourism companies in Hoi An," Khoa said, "but our tourist numbers increased 30 per cent against the same time last year. This shows that more and more foreign tourists are interested in eco-tours."

Presently, his Hoi An Eco-tour Travel Agent Company serves 50-100 customers a week.

Soon he plans to seek travel agent partners, especially international companies operating in the UK, US, Australia and France.

Khoa intends to open tours to Cu Lao Cham Island, which has just been listed as one of the world’s biosphere preservation sites.

"Eco-tourism is successful, because it requires little investment while offering high economic effects.

"Our eco-tours are especially appreciated as Hoi An has beautiful scenery, historic relics and hard-working, warm-hearted people." — VNS

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