Tourists generally like the idea of a “home-stay,” an accommodation option allowing tourists to stay with a local family. But many of them have been put off by how many people seem only interested in their wallets, rather than their person.
Tourists to northern Sapa town are often surrounded by local vendors
Tired of package tours and fixed itineraries, some travelers are looking at home-stays to spend time with a local family and experience their culture and way of life.
The home-stay is also an important source of income for some remote, poverty-ridden areas of Vietnam, such as northern mountainous Mai Chau District and Sapa, where tourists are attracted by the unique stilt-houses and rich cultural heritage.
Tourism has played an active part in poverty alleviation. In 2000, 68 percent of the households in the Sin Chai Village near Sapa were disadvantaged families but that figure has dropped significantly to 26 percent this year.
Up to one third of the 360 H’Mong ethnic people in Sapa’s Cat Cat Village in Lao Cai Province are working for local tourism businesses, their jobs range from tour guides, souvenir sellers, and brocade sellers to art performers.
The businesses bring them an average income doubling that of a typical farmer.
Some 130 kilometers from Hanoi, Mai Chau District residents, most of which are ethnic Thai minorities have seen their living standards improve thanks to the increased number of tourists spending nights at their homes or buying their handicrafts.
In 2008 alone, nearly 80,000 visitors spent their holidays in the mountainous destination.
Localized tourism has attracted 14,000 tourists and earned VND6 billion (US$ 336,417) so far this year, Vietnam News Agency reported.
But the flood of tourists and the financial profits they bring could be causing this remote town to lose its unique cultural values; transforming it into a typical tourism destination where everything is served up with the sole intent of making tourists spend more.
In many cases, the locals’ daily activities are in fact a mere fabrication of what used to be part of their ethnic ways of life.
“Nowadays in Mai Chau’s Lac Village in Hoa Binh Province, visitors have to pay for every little thing, from making a camp fire, seeing the locals perform pan-pipes or dancing,” Minh Duc, a visitor to the village said. “The female villagers have also lost the traditional essence of their previous generations. I no longer feel that I am exploring the ways of life of the people here like I used to.”
Ethnic minorities are losing touch to their roots as a result of the increased number of visitors from urban areas and outside the country flocking to their home for a change of environment.
Sapa’s signature love market which takes place every Saturday night when local single, young people would serenade each other to find partners is now a mere weekly show dedicated to tourists.
“When I asked people in Sapa about the love market, people asked me for money,” Glen, an Australian traveler, said. “I want to take a photo of the locals and they ask me for money again, people also followed me asking me to buy their products. I’m not happy about that.”