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JULY 17, 2000 VOL. 156 NO. 2

Illustration for TIME by Anne Yvonne Gilbert.

Finding Rustic Charm Down on the Farm

Old Macdonald had a farm, but he never marketed it as a tourist attraction. Too bad. All over the world, farms and ranches are turning the curiosity of city slickers into a profitable sideline. In Asia, which certainly doesn't lack for agriculture, agro-tourism is a relatively new phenomenon. But the region offers some interesting opportunities to go rustic.

One of them is in, of all places, crowded Hong Kong. Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden, tel. (852) 2488-1317, in the New Territories, an hour by public transport from Hong Kong island, focuses on conservation and devotes a portion of its 350 hectares to the organic production of local vegetables. Staff teach farmers ecologically sustainable methods, such as composting and forgoing pesticide sprays. Most farmers grow green vegetables such as choi sum and pak choi and raise cows, chickens and other livestock. The farm is a hit with local schoolchildren who visit to get a glimpse, for example, of a pig before it becomes pork. You can visit the farm's website at

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Malaysia has a government-sponsored homestay program that allows tourists to experience life in traditional villages. As of this month, visitors to Kampong Relau in Kedah state can stay in chalets or local village houses. This is a hands-on program, with guests picking their own vegetables and fishing for their dinner. Villagers give lessons in how to cook local curries as well as delicacies like dodol, a soft cake made from durian, coconut and glutinous rice. Tel. (604) 582-4122.

Yunnan province, in western China, is popular for its ethnic diversity: it is home to 26 distinct minority communities, including the Naxi, Bai and Hani. Travelers can stay in village homes and watch families farm. Oliver Huang, a spokesman for the Yunnan Provincial Tourism Administration, says part of the fun is seeing the tight-knit community at work. "All the ethnic groups have their own ways to amuse themselves while farming, like singing in the fields," he says. On the family-owned plots, farmers grow wheat, rice and assorted fruits and vegetables. Tel. (86871) 352-8230.

In Japan, Daioh Wasabi Farm in Nagano is one of the country's largest, covering 15 hectares. Wasabi—the base for the famously fiery green paste —is grown through beds of sand through which water constantly flows. The farm doesn't provide English-speaking guides, but if you hire your own interpreter, Japan Travel Bureau will organize a tour. Tel. (813) 5620-9500.

In Ayutthaya and Ang-Thong in central Thailand, tourists can visit rice fields and see traditional methods of fishing and mushroom-growing. In eastern and northern Thailand, fruit farming is popular, and visitors can pick mangoes, rambutans and durians. Contact the Tourism Association of Thailand at (661) 694-1222.

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