Sa Pa Local Offers COVID-Compliant Tour Experiences

With ingenuity, Sa Pa native Vu Thi Ngoc Huong still welcomes hundreds of visitors to this land amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Starting her day at dawn, the agile lady assists her family in preparing the ingredients for making Rom cake, a traditional cake of the Giay people, on the most significant holiday of the year. She then sets up the old iPhone on the gimbal and checks the transmission to ensure a seamless experience for tourists participating in the online tour “Giay cuisine – the biggest day of the year.”

Huong typically conducts 1-2 online tours per week, with the largest group consisting of up to 50 guests. She captivates visitors with her radiant smile, graceful speaking, and fluency in English. Visitors from far and wide eagerly observe each step of the sticky rice cake-making process while immersing themselves in the scenic village of the Giay ethnic minority during the traditional holiday.

Attracting hundreds of tourists

Huong has always cherished the desire to preserve and promote the culture of the Giay ethnic group. In August 2020, she created a YouTube channel called “Huong Giay Sa Pa” to share videos about culinary experiences, culture, and daily life within her family and the Giay community in Lao Cai. These videos include moon cake making, black sticky rice cake preparation, fish catching, and Giay folk tales, among others. Some of these videos have garnered over 20,000 views.

Encouraged by positive feedback from viewers and friends, Huong started to deepen her knowledge of ethnic culture and enhance her tourism skills. Every summer or Lunar New Year, she leads tours that introduce guests to Sa Pa’s lesser-known gems, as opposed to the more popular attractions. Even after graduating from Hanoi University in June 2021, she continued working as a freelance tour guide in Sa Pa.

Due to the impact of the pandemic, many tourists yearn to explore Sa Pa but are unable to travel there directly. This inspired Huong to learn how to conduct online tours using software such as Zoom and Google Meet. She organized her first online tour in mid-July, initially welcoming five guests. Over time, the number of participants gradually increased, sometimes reaching up to 50 people. To facilitate more interaction with locals, Huong continuously improves the tour guide script and aims to provide an even more engaging experience.

“This online application allows me to accommodate up to 100 visitors per tour, but I only accept a maximum of 50 guests to ensure I can interact well with each of them,” Huong explained.

She plans to offer more specialized experience tours according to guests’ preferences, both for groups and individuals. To enhance the quality of these tours, Huong has involved more relatives in the process and invested in additional supporting equipment.

Given the mountainous conditions and unpredictable weather in the area, the internet connection can sometimes be unstable, leading to intermittent sound or image disruptions during her online tours. Initially, Huong offered free tours, but she later began charging 50,000 VND/person for scheduled experience tours that she provides. Additionally, she occasionally livestreams free online tours on Facebook travel groups once a month.

Discovering a “familiar yet unfamiliar” Sa Pa

Even visitors who have been to Sa Pa before are often taken aback by the places Huong introduces during her tours. One particularly captivating experience is a unique hot spring tour, where visitors can learn about a place with unconventional scenery, climate, and the distinctive culture of the Tay ethnic people.

When guiding guests through tours of Sa Pa’s ancient rocks, Huong divides the experience into two parts. The first part provides general information about the history, location, shape, and the value of the drawings on the ancient rocks. The second part delves into the stories collected from elder members of the village behind the rock drawings, adding an element of intrigue for visitors. These tours can be physically demanding for Huong, as she walks on steep stone roads while delivering attentive presentations and interacting with viewers. However, it is the excitement and passion for her work that keeps her energized.

As someone who was born and raised in Sa Pa, Huong has witnessed the town’s transformation from a tranquil land to a modern tourist destination, with high-rise buildings, commercial centers, and five-star hotels mushrooming across the area.

While tourism undeniably provides job opportunities and income for the people of Sa Pa, including her fellow villagers, Huong believes that the rapid advancement of tourism has led to the loss of Sa Pa’s unique features. She aspires to uncover the hidden beauty of the area, inspire the locals to preserve its distinct identity, and develop sustainable tourism. Establishing a local community-based tourism business is also one of her goals for the future.

Cô gái băng rừng, lội suối, đón hàng trăm khách 'đến' Sa Pa giữa đại dịch

 

Exquisite Giay ethnic girl in traditional costume

Cô gái băng rừng, lội suối, đón hàng trăm khách 'đến' Sa Pa giữa đại dịch

Huong cherishes the desire to preserve and spread the culture of the Giay people.

Cô gái băng rừng, lội suối, đón hàng trăm khách 'đến' Sa Pa giữa đại dịch

Huong tries to find new and interesting details to share in the online tour.

Cô gái băng rừng, lội suối, đón hàng trăm khách 'đến' Sa Pa giữa đại dịch
Cô gái băng rừng, lội suối, đón hàng trăm khách 'đến' Sa Pa giữa đại dịch

Huong showcases the unspoiled beauty of the region to visitors.

Cô gái băng rừng, lội suối, đón hàng trăm khách 'đến' Sa Pa giữa đại dịch

Huong introduces visitors to Sa Pa’s ancient rocks.

Cô gái băng rừng, lội suối, đón hàng trăm khách 'đến' Sa Pa giữa đại dịch

Linh Trang – Anh Tuyet