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Give me a room where the buffalo roam

A ritzy Thai hotel with a decidedly rural bent

June 23, 1997
Web posted at: 5:42 p.m. EDT (2142 GMT)

CHIANG MAI, Thailand (CNN) -- At the Regent Mae Rim, a five-star hotel in northern Thailand, employee #94B2 and his wife work like horses, day in and day out. They're in food service, so to speak, and it's especially messy work. But they have a great benefits package -- free meals and baths twice a day with a personal butler.

Where the buffalo roam:
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The Regent Mae Rim in Chiang Mai is not your typical hotel -- not because some employees get such luxe treatment, but because of who those employees are. They're water buffalo that work the rice paddies at the resort, and they are the main attraction.

This is no rustic rural retreat. Rates for the rooms -- all suites with balcony views of the fields -- run $300 to $2,000 a night. U.S. First Lady Hillary Clinton stayed here during her visit to Thailand.

The hotel was built with the rice paddies as a central element. Besides rice, the main thing the fields produce is an illusion of the past -- most Thai farmers today use "iron buffalo" (tractors) instead of water buffalo to plow their fields.view of paddies And, at the hotel, rice plants are decoratively spaced to allow the sun's reflection to shine through. The setting is intended to provide the guests a soothing view.

"They're fascinated by it," said General Manager Michael Kemp of the guests' reactions. "There are not many people who have had the experience of being in a rice paddy and seeing it actually work. While it is not fully commercial, it gives them some idea how things go."

And they go pretty well. Each year, the hotel's farm yields more than 6,000 kilograms (13,200 pounds) of rice, which is donated to charity.

CNN Bangkok Bureau Chief Tom Mintier contributed to this report.

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