SAPA, Vietnam: Ethical Travel Guide

Paula Martinelli Travel, Vietnam Leave a Comment

Giving back

7 reasons why I recommend booking an independent homestay in Sapa

When planning your trip to Sapa, you have options to book through a travel agency or to book an independent homestay.

Here I list 7 reasons why I recommend booking your trek with a local lady in Sapa, and the benefits behind ethical tourism, and how it helps to give back to the local community. 

  1. I avoid organized tours where possible, since I believe it takes away the opportunity to live and experience the essence of the places I visit. The more I research, learn and interact with local people and immerse in the local culture, the more fulfilling my experience will be.
  1. Give back to the community – The best and most ethical way to go is to stay in homestay. Aside from an experience of a lifetime, you will be giving back to the community. The family will charge you a fair price, and this money helps the family to improve their houses and support their kids in school. The money goes direct to the family.
  1. Lack of ethical tour companies – During my research prior to my trip, I read that some of the local tour companies do not do a fair business with the ladies they hire to take tourists on the tour. While I was there, I confirmed that they charge the tourists full price, and only pay a very small commission (much less than half) to the ladies who do the work guiding tourist groups. If you hire the guides directly, the money will help clothe the children, buy supplies for their school, invest in their houses and go back into the community.
  2. The most economical option - To stay with a local family, and experience homestay is a cheaper option compared to the organized tour agencies and hotels.
  1. More authentic – If you are like me, and like to skip the touristy, crowded places this is the best option. The local ladies will take you to their villages and nearby villages and introduce you to their families, friends, local market, culture, etc.

6. Local guides discourage supporting kids working for tourism -  The ladies also have kids, and they are aware of bad practices around the local tourism. Never forget, don't give money to children or buy from them. The kids will offer you little hand-made souvenirs and they will follow you saying “buy from me” (commonly referred to as “zombie children”). Even if you get tempted to buy or give to the adorable kids, please don’t. This type of practice will encourage kids to stay away from school in order to try to make a few dollars instead. Kids should be in school, and if we don’t support this type of practice, they will have no reason to skip school. Don’t support “zombie children”!

7. About my guide Bau – She is a young lady, married with 3 beautiful children. Her sweet mom, “Momma Lily”, lives with them and helps to take care of the kids. Bau works very hard and is dedicated to providing a better life for herself and her family. During the summertime the family plants rice and during the low season she gives tours to provide the family income. Just like the majority of the women in Sapa, they are expected to work and help to take care and provide for the family. Bau's English is excellent. She learned to speak it by herself and working with tourists is how she practices and improves. She cannot read or write in English beyond a few basic phrases, but I gave her a Vietnamese/English dictionary and she has been practicing. Based on our conversations, she impressed me as not only a strong, intelligent woman, but also an entrepreneur. Her dream is to build a bigger house so she can accommodate her guests in more comfort, without losing the experience of a homestay. If you are interested in hiring Bau as your guide, please email me and I will be so happy to refer her. Bau and all the wonderful strong women in Sapa (and their families) deserve and need our support.

My guide Bau

If you are interested to hire Bau to be your guide, please contact me here 

The misty mountains in Sapa

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