Among the many ethnic minority groups in Vietnam’s Sapa region are the Red Dao and the Black Hmong. These communities, with their independent languages, belief systems and customs from the Vietnamese (Kinh) majority, face steep challenges in how to adapt to the growth of tourism in their region while retaining their traditional culture for future generations.
I’ve been involved with a project called CBT Vietnam since 2011. Designed to provide practical community-based tourism training to help villages in the Sapa region. The program’s main goals are to reduce poverty, improve local quality of life, and to help provide authentic cultural and nature-based experiences for visitors, through homestays and other projects.
Over the years our team has had the opportunity to build friendships and trust with the local guides and homestay owners in the villages of Ta Phin and Lao Chai. With each return visit, I find myself thinking less about how different life is here in these villages compared to back home, and more about our shared commonalities. There are universal goals and emotions that we each hold: earning a higher income to support your family; wishing your children to be successful in school; and entertaining guests with delicious food and drink.
The idea that these local ethnic minority groups are simply ‘exotic mountain people’ far removed from modern culture, puts barriers between building connections. Once you break down those barriers you can open yourself to building the kind of friendships and memories that make travel so rich and rewarding.
Always in search of projects that push the limits physically, creatively and experientially, Kyle Sandilands has shot and directed documentaries for clients including Discovery Channel and the CBC, and his travels have taken him filming everywhere from following bush pilots in the Canadian Arctic to trekking the Everest Base Camp trail in Nepal.