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Ethic villages target cultural tourism

Update: October, 10/2012 - 16:58


Tilling the land: Farming isn't easy on the Dong Van Rock Plateau but somehow families survive.
Traditional fare: A Dao woman in Nam Dam Village in Quan Ba makes food for foreign visitors to her homestay. — VNS Photos Thai Ha
Market day: Tay people buy and sell black pigs (lon cap nach) in Coc Pai Town in mountainous Xin Man District in Ha Giang. It's a small, tranquil place near the Chinese border.
Sculptured landscape: Stone walls surround Mong houses in Lung Cam Village on the Dong Van Rock Plateau. — VNSPhoto Truong Vi
by Thai Ha

Many know the northeastern area of Ha Giang for its beautiful mountain scenery. Now, local authorities have begun to promote another aspect of the province: the people.

With 22 ethnic groups spread out over 8,000 square km, each with its own culture, Ha Giang is an ideal location for visitors to experience minority village life.

Since 2006, the Ha Giang Provincial People's Committee has been investing in typical villages in all of its districts. Each district has at least two such villages.

From 2007-11, the province had 29 such villages developed, mainly those of the Dao and Tay (13 villages) and Mong (6 villages) as well as a few other ethnic groups.

The chosen places have to meet certain standards. Especially important is the requirement that rural roads must be covered by asphalt or concrete, or pavement to ensure convenient transportation to and from the village.

In addition, they must have basic infrastructure and a clean, green, beautiful environment. Cattle cages must be moved away from homes or surrounded by walls to ensure the environment is sanitary. Waste collection and treatment systems must be installed and houses must be built in ethnic traditional style. Furthermore, traditional handicrafts must be preserved to protect the unique culture.

Visiting the Ha Thanh and Tien Thang Community Cultural Villages of the Tay ethnic group only 6-7km from Ha Giang City, you can see traditional stilt houses among the green rice fields. Wandering along the path in the village and interacting with local ethnic people, visitors can experience the daily life.

You can't miss the friendly Tay women in indigo clothes, wearing silver jewellery around their wrists and ankles. You can also join in weaving and wooden furniture making with locals if you like. You will also have the opportunity to listen to folk songs played with a stringed musical instrument (gourd lute). The Tay often sing folk songs on special occasions, such as festivals, welcoming visitors or even when searching for lovers. For only VND150,000-300,000 ($7-15) per night, you can enjoy a homestay.

"On my recent visit to Ha Giang, I tried a homestay which allowed me to be immersed in nature, surrounded by mountains, rivers, streams and large rocks on the rice fields. I released all troubles from my mind. I was so overwhelmed with the beautiful landscape that I thought I was in a fairy land," Nguyen Minh Duc, a student from Ha Noi University of Technology, said.

"It is exciting to visit traditional ethnic markets such as Meo Vac, Dong Van, Quan Ba, and Xin Man where ethnic people including Mong, Tay, Dao, Nung and other ethnic groups sell local food and fruits as well as domestic animals. I am really interested in selling pigs or horses," Duc said.

"Many people do not actually sell their cows, dogs or pigs at the market; they just bring them there for show. However, there is a lot of livestock for sale, sometimes up to a thousand breeding animals. The cows stand patiently side by side, waiting to be sold to people from lowland areas. The ethnic people are well-known for taking very good care of their cattle," said Maryvonne Pinault, a French tourist.

She added, "Doing a homestay and discovering the community tourism based cultural villages in the mountainous northern region in Viet Nam is a new and sexy feeling."

In Nam Dam Village (Quan Ba District), Ly Dai Duyen – owner of one of 10 houses in the village offering homestay services – said that thanks to financial support from the province, he was able to upgrade his house, buying toilets and other necessary facilities like beds, cabinets, and mosquito nets, as well as redesigning his garden to create a pleasant environment for tourists. His family has also been trained in hospitality skills.

A representative of the Quan Ba People's Committee affirmed that Nam Dam Village has achieved 60 per cent of the common criteria of cultural tourism villages. It expects to welcome 2,000 tourists by 2015, including 1,000 overnight visitors, which would make it one of the main attractions on the tour to Dong Van Plateau.

In fact, the province holds two courses of tourism every year, aimed at training local residents about community cultural tourism. About 800 people have been trained so far. Tourism human resources workers often visit community-based tourism models in Mai Chau and Sa Pa in the mountainous northern provinces of Hoa Binh and Lao Cai, respectively.

Some villages such as Tha, Tien Thang (Ha Giang City), Tuy, Buc Ban, Nam Dam (Quan Ba District), Lung Cam (Dong Van District), and Coc Pai (Xin Man District) have welcomed thousands of visitors from across the country and abroad.

Traditional handicrafts such as flax weaving, bamboo and rattan knitting become souvenirs which are sold to tourists. People in the villages actively participate in tourism business. Thus, the lives of local residents have been significantly improved, which has contributed to restoring their culture and raising awareness of hygiene and environmental protection.

"Over the past few years, many cultural villages have been established, but their tourism business has not been run effectively. This is due to inconsistent selection and construction of the villages, limited construction funding, and scattered investment. Other reasons include unattractive services, poor infrastructure and sanitation, and duplicated tourism products," said Hoang Van Kien, deputy director of the Provincial Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

The plan sounds beautiful, but "when the local authorities implement it, they face many difficulties. The biggest challenges are capital and awareness of ethnic people", Kien said.

However, the local people's committee has extended financial support to help households and individuals participate. For example, the province gives a loan of VND100 million (US$4,800) to each household that registers to start the business, and VND50 million ($2,400) to a shop offering an ethnic group's cultural products. Besides, the province will also cover a loan interest rate within 2 years starting in October, although this initiative has not seen much progress.


Artisans: Ha Giang women make brocade products for sale at the market. — VNS Photo Thai Ha
Drawing on experiences from the past few years, the local tourism sector will build 11 more community cultural villages and improve 60 per cent of the existing villages by 2015. The goal is that by 2015 each district will have a standard cultural village, which meets criteria like having good roads and good facilities to serve tourists' needs, an ideal landscape and a green, clean, beautiful environment, as well as increased awareness among local people about how to promote tourism.

He added that in the general plan for the 2012-15 and 2015-20 periods, the Ha Giang authorities will deeply focus on the model's quality to improve and strengthen tourism services.

The municipal department just signed a contract with the University of Social Sciences and Humanities to run courses on tourism human resources to increase the number of qualified tour guides in the area. Next year, the province will hold two special courses on tourist transportation and tour guides.

The province will also improve its policies for attracting potential human resources staff, ethnic people and local residents as well as people who have strong foreign language skills.

At present, there are three tourism and travel enterprises in Ha Giang. The authorities have chosen a representative of tourism enterprises, issued financial support policies for better vehicles and supported bank loan interest rates.

Tourism service companies such as restaurants, hotels and entertainment businesses will also be improved and more closely monitored so they do not overcharge visitors.

According to a tour guide from Vido Tour Company, his company often takes foreigners to visit Ha Giang. They really like the homestay model and community-based tourism. However, he said, much should be done to improve the quality of services, namely food, hotels and entertainment in Ha Giang.

He said that to raise the tourism sector's profits, Ha Giang should focus attention on high-end visitors. Developing tourism services is an important thing. While making visitors spend their last penny is the goal of every travel service company, Kien confirmed that foreign visitors' spending in Ha Giang is considered to be low.


Tough terrain: Dong Van Rocky Highland is home to nearly 20 ethnic groups, with diverse cultures and traditions, cultivating rice along the basins of the Nho Que River and corn on the rocky mountain slopes. — VNSPhotos Truong Vi

According to the representative of the Viet Nam National Administration of Tourism's Travel Department, the provincial authorities need to focus on areas with potential for tourism such as the districts of Dong Van, Hoang Su Phi, Xin Man, Bac Me, Yen Minh, and Meo Vac. In particular, the municipal authorities should build a master plan for these destinations that promotes sustainable tourism development and minimise the negative effects of tourism activities on people and the environment.

The province should also create favourable conditions for tourism enterprises with clear mechanisms and policies to attract investment in the development of environmentally-friendly forms of tourism (Eco-tourism); focus on training tourism human resources, especially in community-based villages where tourists visit, on professional skills as well as measures to protect the environment and encourage local people to preserve their traditional culture and crafts.

This week, the province is expected to hold a conference on community cultural villages to boost this tourism type. — VNS

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