In the past few years, Ha Giang and the surrounding area has become an increasingly popular destination for adventurous tourists. With its stunning scenery, mountains, rivers and rice terraces, it is sometimes referred to as the ‘Sa Pa of a decade ago’. Sa Pa has been subject to mass interest in the last years. An estimate of 4,3 million tourists have visited its province, Lao Cai, in 2018. The popularity of Sa Pa has unfortunately brought some disturbing consequences. Some examples of it are commercialization of traditional culture, environmental damage, and investors from the capital building hotels and restaurants. It all caused the local communities to see little return. Will Ha Giang follow the same path?
Luckily, tourism in Ha Giang is still in the becoming stages. How it develops from here depends on restrictions from local authorities, but maybe mostly on you, me and other travelers who have, or are planning to visit, Ha Giang. Tourism has the ability to generate income to local communities. Therefore, it can positively impact the lives of those who live there, if done correctly. This article will highlight some aspects on How to be a responsible tourist in Ha Giang.
Hotels vs Homestays
Staying in a luxurious hotel definitely has its benefits. However, such fancy accommodation is often built by outside investors who see a market in comfort seeking tourists. Homestays, on the other hand, are generally created by local people who have opened their home for tourists and provide accommodation in their own household.
Homestays often have the option of both private rooms and dorms. Usually, they offer the same standards as hostels, for the same cost. This is a great way to get to know the locals and get a true experience of the little towns along the Ha Giang loop. The homestays will also offer delicious homecooked food, often enjoyed together like a family. There, you’ll surely try the delightful homebrewed ‘happy water’ (the local spirits), too. And the best part about homestays is the the money you spend trickles down in the community you’re visiting.
You’ll find several homestays in each town along the Ha Giang loop. In any case, the QT Motorbike & Tours staff will happily advise you on where to stay upon arrival.
Interacting with the locals
Besides from staying at homestays, you will encounter locals along the road. They might be selling goods in the market or working in small shops and cafés. In their colorful traditional clothes, surrounded by breathtaking nature, the camera absolutely loves them. However, these people are not photo objects. Always ask politely before taking a picture or video. Interact and smile! If they ask for money, step away and ask to take a picture of someone else. We encourage villagers to maintain their traditional culture, not to commercialize it.
Giving treats and money
There’s a common misconception that by giving money or treats to people or children along the road, you’re helping them. This is not the case. By giving money away, you are encouraging begging. And if this become a common thing, and tourism increases, some families might find it more financially beneficial to send their children out to beg instead of sending them to school. This is not sustainable, and not something we’d like to encourage.
At homestays, shops, cafés and on the markets along the loop, the prices are set. Ha Giang is not an expensive place to visit, and the money spent will trickle down the villages’ economy and stay inside the local communities, which are relatively poor. Bargaining belongs in the big cities or touristy towns along the coast, not in Ha Giang.
Respecting your neighbor
As a traveler, you are on vacation, and probably want to let loose. Rowdy bar nights and karaoke is fun, and we all know that ‘happy water’ gets the best of us. However, most people in Ha Giang survive by cultivating the land. They are farmers who get up at 5 AM. Be mindful of this and keep the volume down after 10 PM. Besides, the morning hours are the best for driving. The lighting is beautiful and the weather is nice and cool. And I promise, you’ll get the chance to dance until the break of dawn when you return to Hanoi!
Protecting the natural environment
Along the loop, there are road stops where one can enjoy the beautiful scenery and have time for a snack and a drink. There is not a lot of litter along these stops and we would like to keep it that way. Dispose trash properly. Vietnam is not known for its public trashcans (they are basically non-existent, even in the cities) and in that case, bring your litter with you.
Along the roads you can see a lot of vegetation. And even if this might just seem like wild grown forests and jungle, this land might also be cultivated. Some of the plants that grow along the road are food for the cows and buffalos, which the farmers go out to gather. Therefore, do not step on vegetation and avoid cutting trees and branches.
Lastly, attempt to limit the energy use when visiting the towns along the way. Turn off the lights and air condition, and reduce hot water usage. Some of the villages in the mountains struggle with water shortage in the dry-season. So try to keep this is mind when visiting!
We hope that travelers will come to visit Ha Giang, and by following these tips, you, as a tourist, do what you can to ensure the positive development this magnificent place. Traveling feels best with a clean consciousness! And by traveling responsibly, local people and other tourists will continue to enjoy Ha Giang long after you have left.