In Vietnam, Michelle and I worked with an organization called YESD, which aims to promote sustainable and responsible tourism. One project of theirs is to support and help guide the development of tourism in a province called Ha Giang, which is just beginning to become popular for tourists. In order to do this YESD has identified a small village of the ethnic minority Tay people outside of Ha Giang town, called Thon Tha village, where the inhabitants wanted to encourage tourism. The staff of YESD spent 3 months working with several members of the village and its leaders to assist in setting up homestays; they taught English and the basics of the business. There are only 5 homestays and a sharing program through which profits go into a fund which ensures benefits to the entire village.
Although Thon Tha is only about a 10 minute taxi ride outside of Ha Giang town, it is very much still a traditional village. The livelihood is based on agriculture and people’s lives are scheduled around and governed by the planting, tending and harvest of the rice crop. Homes are stilted with thatched roofs; in the whole village I believe there is only one building made of concrete. Each famity keeps water buffalo, ducks, chickens, cats (to keep the mice away from the drying bundles of rice) and most have a small pond adjacent to their home. We saw almost no 4-wheeled vehicles in the village (we saw only one, but I don’t believe its owner was from the village), though many families have a motorbike. It’s a beautiful village with many friendly people beaming smiles as we past and children yelled “Hello!!” in English from the backs of motorbikes as they rode by us.
After teaching English classes for YESD for 6 weeks and hearing a lot about the program in Thon Tha village, Michelle and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit the village and explore the entire province. We took a night sleeper bus from Hanoi and arrived in Ha Giang town around 4:30 AM on a rainy morning. After waiting until a more appropriate hour, we called the taxi, went to the village, and were dropped off in front of Mr. Thien’s homestay (Mr. Thien is the mayor/leader of the village). We were greeted by his lovely wife and brought warm green tea (which had an interesting vegetable-ish taste to it) and bowls of hearty breakfast ramen. After this we went upstairs to the guest accommodations and caught several hours of much needed sleep.
When we woke we shared lunch with the family and took a walk around the village. It’s a rather small village, surrounded by rice fields and full of ducks and water buffaloes (as mentioned above).
The rice harvest was recently finished, so we were also treated to homemade rice wine at almost every meal (with red corn steeped in it, so it looked like fruit punch). That night we spent time with the other guests, 4 Swedes, and met their guide/motorbike rental agent, a very personable Vietnamese guy named QT.
Michelle and I (and the 4 Swedes) stayed in Mr. Thien’s homestay and then departed on motorbikes rented from QT to explore the rest of Ha Giang province. We only spent those two nights with Mr. Thien, but we shared meals, laughs and so much more with Mr. Thien and his family and we all felt fortunate for the amazing experience. Michelle and I (and I’m sure the Swedes, as well) highly recommend a homestay in Thon Tha village; if you happen to be going to Vietnam and are looking for a unique and amazing experience consider booking a night or two through YESD! (Contact information can be found here: YESD)
Michelle, me, Mr Thien & his wife