Selective Asia holidays aren't the only things keeping the Asian economy afloat! Agriculture is a huge part of it, to the extent that some regions have become synonymous with their produce - coffee from Java, tea from Ceylon.
The majority of the world's rice is grown in Asia, and many of our rural experiences are set in gorgeous agricultural landscapes, like the lush paddy fields of Vietnam, and glossy tea-covered mountainsides in Sri Lanka.
Farming can certainly make for a picturesque backdrop, but there's nothing like getting hands-on to truly comprehend the astonishing amount of energy that goes into getting your food on the table, so we've put together some experiences that will take you right back to the source.
Rice is one of the world's essential food staples. Certainly in Asia – where 90% of the world crop is grown – it forms an integral part of life, influencing customs and rituals, and eaten at virtually every meal. At the Living Lands Organic Farm, a community enterprise near Luang Prabang, you can learn about the rice harvest and cultivation process from a local farmer. It’s a fun day, as well as teaching you a thing or two - having tried your hand at the 14 painstaking steps that it takes to transform rice from grain to the finished edible product (including ploughing the field behind a water buffalo!), you’ll have a greater appreciation of the work that goes into such a seemingly simple cereal.
With over 2,000 kilometres of coastline, seafood unsurprisingly plays a large part in Vietnamese cuisine. What is surprising is that the majority of fish is still caught on a micro-scale, with individual fishermen taking to the sea on a daily basis to catch enough for the family table, before taking any extra to the local market to sell. In Hoi An, we can offer a fascinating insight into a fisherman’s life. You’ll visit a fishing village and learn about the traditional methods still used for catching fish, before heading onto the water in one of the region’s unique bamboo basket boats, where you can try your hand at mastering the technique for net throwing. SA’s Martin discovered that it’s not as easy as it looks, and good balance is essential!
Tea production is one of Sri Lanka’s largest industries, and the island is famous for growing some of the finest tea in the world. To discover what makes Sri Lankan tea so special, immerse yourself in the island’s southern-central region, around Nuwara Eliya, where rolling hills, carpeted in tea bushes, dominate the landscape. Our pick of the places to stay is Tea Trails, where everything revolves around tea, from tea-based spa treatments to tea-focused cuisine. The not-to-be-missed experience is a tour with the resident tea planter, who will guide your around the tea factory, helping you understand the conversion from leaf to cuppa. The tour ends, as you might expect, with a tasting session, allowing you to sample the different grades.
If you'd rather have a coffee, you should head to Indonesia, home of the most inexplicably expensive coffee in the world, Kopi Luwak (you may've heard of it - it's made from coffee beans digested and excreted by civet cats!). The Indonesian island of Java has been producing coffee since the 17th century, and its coffee has legendary status. You'll be guaranteed a decent cup (the freshest coffee you're likely to have sampled) at the MesaStila Resort, a 200 year old Dutch coffee estate in Central Java that still produces coffee. The whole process takes place on the plantation, from cherry to bean to cup, and an in-house guide will happily show you around. If your stay coincides with harvest season (July – September) you can help with picking of the coffee cherries, and observe the drying process first-hand.
Back on the rice theme (we said it was important!), an educational but wonderfully relaxing experience can be found at Khum Lanna in northern Thailand. This traditional Lanna retreat’s ‘Rice for Life’ concept means you leave with a comprehensive understanding of rice and its deep significance to Thai life. During your stay you’ll learn the history behind rice cultivation, the different varieties and how rice is (and was) harvested from the surrounding fields. You’ll also have the opportunity to try your hand at making Thailand’s well-known dish of sticky rice.
Also known as the ‘vegetable village’, Tra Que, on the outskirts of Hoi An, grows an impressive array of vegetables and herbs using traditional gardening methods. There's not a tractor in sight, and no assistance from chemical fertilisers - instead, algae from a nearby lagoon is used to encourage crop growth. As a way of supplementing their income, the villagers invite tourists to experience a day in the life of a farmer. It’s a hands-on morning that can involve collecting seaweed for fertiliser, watering crops, digging, hoeing and planting, but you’re rewarded with a traditional herbal foot soak and freshly prepared lunch of 'Tam Huu' spring rolls, the local speciality.
Find out more about our experiences in Asia, or if you're ready to start discussing your plans with our Destination Specialists you can give us a call on +44 (0) 1273 670 001 or get in touch.