Mai Chau home-stay proves a hit

From a hard working woman tilling the land all her life, Tho is now the owner and manager of Minh Tho Homestay, a stilt house operation opened last December.

That was when the Centre for Community Health and Development (COHED) developed a programme to overcome rural poverty in the commune, using homestays as the main focus.

Homestay is a proven tourist activity throughout the world, but in Viet Nam, most people have done their own organising.

This, unfortunately, has led to often chaotic development with no specific development input from authorities.

As a result, the construction of infrastructures serving tourism had often been ugly and visually impaired the natural landscape, said Duong Minh Binh, who works with the Company for Community Development Tourism.

Many tourists flocked to Mai Chau District over the past 10 years, particularly to Lac Village. However, the rapid increase had led to a high degree of commercialisation and the gradual loss of native culture in the village, Binh said.

"My wife and I recently went back to Lac Village after the first visit a year ago, but we were a little bit sad at the changes," said French tourist Jean Puig, 70.

"Stilt houses are being built too close to each other to cram the visitors in. Local residents have now become determined businessmen."

Belatedly trying to come to grips with the problem, the Centre for Community Health and Development wants tourism experts to improve service quality without damaging the character of the village.

Located in mountains about 100km from Ha Noi, Mai Hich is home to Thai ethnic people.

"The first thing we have done is to increase the capacity for farmers to apply our techniques and seek financial support in the construction of classical houses that reflect local culture," said the head of the centre, Dao Thi Mai Hoa.

The core aim was to prevent developers from destroying the regional landscape, Hoa added.

Under a new programme, three stilt houses have been upgraded to serve about 45 guests a night. They are an interesting combination of old and new.

For instance, the bathroom has a shower and flush toilet but the bathroom door is made of bamboo and covered with brocade.

The homestay model not only offers local residents a higher income but has also been developing their thinking on just what visitors seek.

Owner of one of the three houses, Tho, was at first hesitant about tourism because the cost of the home upgrade was too high.

"VND80 million (nearly US$4,000) was a fortune for us, but I finally decided to invest knowing that poverty cannot be eliminated without taking some chances", said Tho.

The project is supported by all authorities because it fits in with national green growth and sustainable development. In addition, it contributes to the preservation of local ecology, according to the communal people's committee chairman Vi Van Tit.

So far, in just four months of implementation, about 100 foreign travellers have enjoyed the new homestay accommodation.

"The number is not such a big quantity as Mai Hich is still a new name on the tourism map, but we do believe in its future development," said Hoa.

In fact, the home-stay for Mai Hich for this holiday weekend has been fully booked