Two-week expeditions take tourists, who are willing to do without comforts, for a memorable experience to seldom-visited ethnic minority villages.
What to experience ?
For visitors willing to take that extra step to experience ethnic minority villages and immerse themselves in their culture, Haivenu veers away from the usual tourist routes and into the thick of Vietnam.
Among its tailor-made packages, Haivenu presents what it calls “Unusual Tours” that aren’t for “softies”. The adventurous trade in their beds for mats on the floor in communal rooms and swap conventional bathrooms for water-bucket showers and al fresco toilets that are holes in the ground. However, there is plenty of rice wine to smooth over the lack of comforts and an assortment of interesting local dishes to try along the way.
To really get your hands dirty, Haivenu offers a two-week Hiking and Helping tour. Adventurers can start with three days in the northeast mountains around Sapa, staying in villages, working in the fields, doing domestic chores and joining in traditional games. After a day off in Hanoi, the expedition moves 160 km south to Mai Chau and the entry to Pu Luong, a thickly forested valley wedged between limestone karsts. A sampan sails away from the somewhat commercialised Mai Chau, and then it is four days of hiking to small hamlets with different ethnic groups. After another breather in Hanoi, the journey ends with a more typical holiday in Hoi An and its nearby beach.
The Path Least Trodden is another two-week tour that can kick off with the Pu Luong leg before moving to the Central Highlands near Cambodia for six days with various ethnic minorities. The excursion stops in tiny villages like Pleiku, Kon Tum and Buon Ma Thuot and visits Bahnar rong houses and Jarai funeral houses adorned with humorous and risqué wooden carvings. Nights are spent in rong, stilt and long houses, while days go by with easy treks, a lake crossing in a dugout canoe and a raft trip down a lazy river. After a break in Ho Chi Minh City, the journey winds up on Con Dao Island, 140 km off the coast of southern Vietnam.
Shorter tours are also available for “softies”, but the more visitors are willing to walk away from modern comforts, the closer they’ll get to the various cultures. Each tour group is guided by a Personal Tour Operator who remains with the customers to the very end.
How does it help ?
Haivenu is a wholly-owned Vietnamese company, and apart from one foreign consultant, all Haivenu’s employees and guides are locals, who receive a good basic salary and enjoy a profit-sharing scheme. It also hires local freelance guides with experience and knowledge of cultural traditions, and who can explain the cultural heritage of the people and places visited.
The company unveiled its responsible tourism policy in 2004 after a series of workshops involving every member of staff. The result is assistance for several small environmental, cultural, conservation and poverty alleviation programmes.
Haivenu works with the Cat Bo Langur Project, which is committed to protecting the 59 known surviving langurs of this species on Cat Ba Island in Ha Long Bay. The company has also partnered with Flora and Fauna International (FFI) in two remote forested patches in the northern Vietnam’s mountains to protect populations of Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys and Cao Vit gibbons.
Haivenu is further assisting FFI in Mai Chau’s communal initiative started by villagers, who set up their own homestay arrangement, which became quite commercialised. The current project is focussing on sustainable development that conserves the environment and the local culture.
Over the years, the company has built strong links with craftspeople, artists, singers and musicians who are maintaining threatened traditions, and offers tourists the opportunity to meet them. It is also involved in a large-scale project aimed at building the capacity of poor farmers in remote areas of 14 provinces.
Wherever possible, Haivenu contracts indigenous suppliers and assists them in improving the quality of their services. It has introduced a scheme for young entrepreneurs with relevant skills to work on a contract basis while participating in Haivenu’s training programme. They then receive assistance in registering and setting up their own businesses, while continuing to be contracted by Haivenu.
Along with its range of tour ideas covering interests from heritage sites to veteran’s tours, a comprehensive database with the culture and traditions of Vietnam and the rest of Indochina is provided on Haivenu’s website. The site also provides information on the company’s responsible tourism policy and the projects in which it is engaged.
Mr Dong Minh Tuan, Deputy Director
12 Nguyen Trung Truc Street, Ba Dinh District
Tel: (84)  4 927 2917
Fax: (84)  4 927 2916
Marker indicates Hanoi not where Haivenu is exactly …