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Transforming Communities in the Storied Highlands of Vietnam

When we think of mountains, we think of adventure, natural beauty, a pleasant climate and peace. It's only when we dig deeper, we begin to understand the lived realities and challenges that the communities here navigate on a day-to-day basis to survive in such harsh regions

Ms. Lo Thi Trang, a Muong woman born in 1994, owns a traditional stilt house in the Da Bia village, a remote hamlet in the mountainous Hao Binh Province of northern Vietnam. She was forced to move away from Da Bia, when she was still in high school, to pursue further studies, because of the lack of opportunities and facilities in her own village. After school, she took up a job at a technology company, but found the work unstable and the pay, unreliable. She was also concerned about the ailing health of her parents, and decided to move back to her village in 2016.

Trang (left) and her mother wear traditional costumes of Muong (Photo by Pham Vu Quynh Chi)

Da Bia is home to several indigenous cultures. However, lack of opportunities and income sources forced several youth to migrate from here and leave behind their home and culture. The village is known for its brocade art and beautiful landscapes, and is also home to the Sung and Muong communities. Ms. Trang's culture and traditions date back to several thousand years, and is rich in stories and folklore, which have been recognized by the Vietnam Federation of UNESCO Associations.

The traditional Muong Dance performed by the DaBian Community

Several communities like that of Ms. Trang's are forced to leave behind their traditions and homes in search of better economic opportunities. Therefore, the growth of gentler forms of tourism in such culturally and ecologically fragile regions has come as a boon to its residents. Tourism is a great binding force, which brings livelihood access to local communities, and provides recognition to the culture of the region. This helps in both conserving culture and enriching local values and traditions.

Da Bia, with the help of international NGOs, has slowly transformed into an eco-tourism village. When Ms. Trang came back to the village, she noticed that people were earning more, the village was cleaner, and the community had become environmentally conscious. Although she was thinking of becoming a teacher, she changed her mind and decided to join the Community Based Tourism project to enable several other community members to have a stable income and better opportunities.

As a coordinator of her village, Ms.Trang ensures that the benefits of tourism are shared equally among the residents. With 40 households in Da Bia, and at least one person in each household involved in the Community Based Tourism initiative, her job is hectic! Several local people of the community who had to leave their culture, family and home in search of stable economic opportunities have now returned to pursue a better life in their own backyard.

Ms.Trang says, "Because I am a local, I have an advantage when working with the community and guiding them in sustainable development. My own homestay has a great view with good ventilation. I have made several personal touches, such as the lamp covers and recycled pots of plants."

In January 2019, Ms. Trang had the honor of representing her village in Hanoi to receive the ASEAN Community-based Tourism Award. It was a recognition of the hard work, the entrepreneurial spirit and the commitment of Da Bia towards preserving their culture and heritage.

"We don't want to attract many tourists, but we want people who care about the community they're visiting. We want to make sure that our traditional values are preserved. I also want to study further in tourism, so that I can help my community even more." she said.

Ms. Trang in the 2019 ASEAN Tourism Award Ceremony in Hanoi (Photo by Dinh Thi Hao)

Across the world there are several mountain communities and many inspiring people like Ms. Trang, who are leveraging tourism as a force for holistic development. The Da Bia village has proven to be a successful model of community based tourism. More regions are in need of such community initiatives to uplift and empower local people by generating more dignified livelihood opportunities for them. Apart from increased incomes, tourism initiatives also hold out the promise of overall development of the communities by bringing reliable income and investments to develop education and healthcare infrastructure in a village.

Mountain Homestays has been working to bring out the stories of several such initiatives and the richness of the cultures they seek to preserve. We are building a platform for these communities to showcase their tourism potential and offerings to travelers from all over the globe. To explore charming community tourism initiatives in Vietnam, Cambodia, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, and in the Indian regions of Ladakh and Meghalaya, visit mountainhomestays.com.

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