Last week Viet Nam News asked readers about their home-stay experiences and what Viet Nam could do to promote this type of tourism. Most said more should be done to popularise home-stays. Here are some of the responses:
Sumi Shimamoto, Japanese, Ha Noi
I stayed at a home-stay once in Bac Kan Province a year ago. My colleagues and I stayed in the home of a local family. The wife was from the Tay ethnic group, but she could spoke good Vietnamese with my colleagues. The husband even spoke a little English. We had meals and drank wine with the family. It was an interesting experience.
One day, I opened a bottle of beer and found a stone inside. Another time, the first spoon of yoghurt was mouldy. Both products were from supermarkets and had yet to reach their expiry date.
I threw them in the rubbish bin because I thought it would be too time-consuming and complicated to file a complaint. Statistics from the Viet Nam Standards and Consumer Rights Protection Association show that during 2011, only 550 complaints were lodged with local departments of industry and trade, although the vice president of the association said the figure was far from reality. According to an expert at the Viet Nam Institute of State and Law, enterprises selling low-quality or old goods tend to choose markets like Viet Nam where consumer awareness remains low. So, consumers are more exposed to the risk of buying fakes, low-quality goods or those that do not match the sales pitch. Apart from that, most provincial departments of industry and trade do not have a special department to look after complaints.
In your country, how are consumers protected or compensated if they buy bad products and services? What should Vietnamese authorities do to protect consumer rights and improve awareness about them?
Please reply by email to: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by fax to (84-4) 3 933 2311. Letters can be sent to The Editor, Viet Nam News, 11 Tran Hung Dao Street, Ha Noi. Replies must be received by Thursday morning, July 19.
Home-stays provide a great way to get to know the local ways of living. Since I love making new friends, I prefer staying in private homes rather than luxury hotels. I think more home-stay tours should be organised for foreign tourists who wish to find out more about regional cultures.
This would also benefit people in remote areas by offering them extra income. Local people should learn basic English to talk to foreign tourists and work as tour guides. But most important of all, tourists who wish for private accommodation should be active and curious. Only if they open their eyes will they observe and learn new things.
Mike Tran, American, Ha Noi
Several experiences have shown me that home-stay services in Viet Nam are often just "house-stays". We were provided with rooms and food, but there was little that could be called cross-cultural.
Our stays were quite separate from the local people's real lives. However, tourists can help transform this situation by going out of their way to learn more from local people and cultures. We can actively try to get close to them, observe their daily activities, ask them questions about their life and culture. I believe they love questions from tourists.
The problem is that since their objective is only to provide food and accommodation, most cannot speak much English, which will creates difficulties in communicating. I suggest visitors take a Vietnamese friend with them if they want to fully enjoy the trip.
Le Minh, Vietnamese, Austin, US
I had some home-stay experience when staying at Cu Lao Cham Island, Hoi An. This was extremely interesting. Both the host family and other local people were really friendly and attentive. They were knowledgeable tour guides and they knew every single spot on the island. So we just asked them what we were looking for and they designed a boat or walking tour around the island to suit our wishes.
We also ate with them. It was really nice because everything was home made and full of local flavours. The amenities were basic – a bed without mattress, a fan, and a shared bathroom with the family. But I don't think there is any need for improvement because this suits the quiet and isolated nature of the island.
Electricity there is only available from evening to midnight. In my opinion, the basic accommodation makes this experience more unique because people are sharing and living the same way as the locals.
Joy Belmonte, Filipino, Ha Noi
I lived in Malaysia for two years and travelled around the country often using home-stay services.
This type of accommodation is popular in Malaysia and is supported by the Government and tourist organisations.
I think it is a pity that home-stays are not strongly promoted in Viet Nam because the country has so many beautiful natural landscapes and enormous human resources. Viet Nam also has more than 50 ethnic groups with rich cultures and interesting histories.
It would be a waste not to promote home-stays to international tourists when you have all these advantages.
As an ardent traveller, I had some experience with home-stay when I visited Ha Giang and Sa Pa, where there are a concentration of ethnic people. I also stayed at a local house when I was in Hoi An and enjoyed the time there.
I was able to befriend the host family, whose address I still keep in case of a second trip. I think Viet Nam has good home-stay services, but they are scattered in different places and developed in isolation.
Perhaps there should be more associations or organisations to support this form of tourism and spread it throughout the country, just like it is in Malaysia.
Vu Ngoc Phuong, Vietnamese, Ha Noi
When I have free time, I often join other backpackers to go to mountainous areas in the north of Viet Nam. Most of the time, we cannot find a hotel or guest house so we stay at local houses.
On a trekking trip to Pu Luong Nature Reserve in north-western Thanh Hoa Province, we arrived in Nua village in Lung Cao Commune. All 13 members in my group lived in a stilt house with a family of three-generations.
There was only one toilet and one bathroom in the house, so we had to queue up. We slept in a big room next to the kitchen. While waiting for dinner, I had a short conversation with the host's son.
Our hosts were Muong tribal people. We have all lived in big cities and were very curious about their lives. The son told us about the role of the shaman (spiritual leader) in his village. The shaman held ceremonies for important events, such as the birth of a baby or the construction of a new house.
After every trip, I gain more knowledge of the cultures and people in the country. Home-stays are one of my greatest experiences. In my opinion, Viet Nam should promote them because it is the fastest way for foreign tourists to better understand the nation. — VNS