Ethnic Thai man inspires villagers to develop tourism to escape poverty

August 30, 2023 - 09:42
An ethnic Thai man in Mai Châu District of northern Hoà Bình Province was the first person who dared to destroy a mixed low-yield garden to develop a community tourism model.
Hà Văn Sêm (right) at his resort in Nà Chiềng Village of Nà Phòn Commune, Hoà Bình Province. — Photo

HOÀ BÌNH — An ethnic Thai man in Mai Châu District of northern Hoà Bình Province was the first person who dared to destroy a mixed low-yield garden to develop a community tourism model.

His success has inspired many ethnic Thai people to start up tourism business to improve their incomes.

He is Hà Văn Sêm, 64, living in Nà Chiềng Village of Nà Phòn Commune.

Two decades ago, whenever talking about Nà Chiềng Village of the Thái ethnic villages, people just mentioned the poverty and hardships of the ethnic minority.

Sêm was not willing to live in poverty in the beautiful village that was full of potential but not exploited.

He boldly took the lead in turning the identity and landscape of this place into a resort.

And after ten years, many Thai people have followed S↑m and have been able to improve their incomes in their own homeland.

"Whoever comes here is also enchanted by the climate of Mai Châu Valley, which is surrounded by high mountains with springs flowing all year round and the green, beautiful terraced fields at the foot of the mountain,” Sêm said proudly.

“These are the advantages that we are exploiting,” he told

Sêm’s resort is a lifelong passion that his family built.

The resort’s design style is inspired by simple, rustic stilt houses with a peaceful countryside character in the northwest mountains.

The resort’s bungalows are built of materials exploited from nature such as wood and leaves that make the resort become cozy but still exudes its own luxury and sophistication through the interior decoration as well as convenient services.

Up to now, the establishment has bungalows and one community stilt-style house.

The service staff are his children and he hires five more local workers. Talking about doing community tourism, Sêm is very enthusiastic.

“As a service worker, I always have to determine the motto of ‘always listen to the guests,’” Sêm said.

In the early days of opening the resort, Sêm also experienced many difficulties.

“Building up a resort is much easier than operate it because when it officially came into operation, many issues arose,” Sêm said.

“Visitors come from many different regions and countries with different needs. The waiters must provide proper services,” he said.

Sêm’s family members have learned from experience.

“In the very first days of operating the resort, my staff were not trained in receiving guests so the service was not at resort standard. Then I had to train them,” he said.

“Working in the service industry must be done professionally to survive. Visitors wanted to experience ethnic minority culture but still need standardised service," he said.

Every year, he earns more than VNĐ200 million (US$8,500) and creates regular jobs for five local workers with monthly salaries of VNĐ5-6 million ($220-260).

"In the past, my father never dreamed of earning billions of đồng. But now I can do it thanks to doing tourism. It is the result of tireless efforts of the whole family for many years in a row," Sêm said.

The miserable old days

Today’s life of Thái people has turned a new page because they know how to exploit the advantages of landscape and culture to do tourism.

Recalling the old difficult old days made Sêm shed tears.

“The life of Thai people before the 1990s was miserable. We always lived in poverty all year round. The land here is vast and sloping, which is suitable for planting cassava and corn. But the crops brought meagre productivity and value,” he said.

“It took two to three years to grow cassava in Nà Phòn Commune, while in other places it only took one year. So, most of the families here suffered severe food shortages between crops," he said.

Life was difficult. Sêm’s family has many brothers and sisters so all family spending had to be extremely thrifty.

After getting married, Sêm worked as an accountant for the commune’s office. But his salary was so small that it was only enough for a few pounds of rice a month for the family.

His family and the villagers had to live in poverty for many years.

At that time, a gold mining fever broke out in the commune. Young people dropped out of school and left work to flock to the forest to find luck.

Sêm also participated in going to the forest to find a chance to change his life.

During the years of operation of the gold mines, social evils such as gambling, prostitution and drug addiction occurred, making the village become desolate.

The life-changing dream of Sêm and many other people suddenly disappeared into smoke.

Gold was nowhere to be seen, everyone was in trouble. The gold mines closed but social evils still spread. Life that was already difficult became more difficult.

"Young people were used to earning money in the gold mines. So when they returned to the village, they did not do anything. Their parents felt bored. The Thái village at that time was so miserable,” Sêm said bitterly recalling the bad old days.

For many years, people lived in misery. They worked hard every day but poverty kept clinging to their families.

S↑m thought of all sorts of ways to escape from poverty from raising livestock to planting in the hope that life would be less poor, less miserable, but it was too difficult.

Then, in 2013, a tycoon from another locality wanted to rent Sêm’s hill to do tourism. That concept was completely foreign to the people of Nà Phòn.

“I wondered why they wanted to rent land where bamboo could not grow on,” he recalled.

As a person who understands the local culture, S↑m was invited by the investor to join the construction project management board of Mai Ch¬u Ecolodge Resort.

He was responsible of taking care of the logistics, contacting the local authorities and supplying meals for workers.

"I did not expect that was an opportunity for my family to change our lives. I received a relatively high salary and learned a lot from this work from setting up a resort to welcoming guests,” he said.

After a few years of working for the resort, S↑m thought to himself that his family also has land so why not build his own resort?

He used his savings to remodel the stilt house and build more bungalows for visitors.

He gradually completed a small and lovely resort on the very piece of land his father lived in misery.

From the initial sporadic groups of guests, his resort gradually became a familiar place for both Vietnamese and foreign tourists. Every night, his resort offers tourists Thái singing and dancing performances.

His whole family of more than a dozen people truly can make a living through tourism.

From Sêm’s model, up to now, the whole commune has 19 home-stays and two resorts.

Nà Phòn Commune is nearly two km from the district centre and still retains the original and rustic architectural and cultural features of the Thái, including cuisine, costumes and stilt houses.

Nà Phòn Commune, Lác Village of Chiềng Châu Commune and Poom Cọng Village of Mai Chau Township form a tourist triangle to attract tourists to Hoà Bình Province. — VNS