Nearly 40 km from the district centre, Chieng Yen Commune has a population of more than 5,000 people, 93.76% of which are ethnic minorities. The main occupation of the local people is agricultural production combined with planting, protecting and developing forests, and raising cattle and poultry. Life is still difficult, but Chieng Yen has a lot of potential for tourism development.
The land is located in the tropical monsoon region, the climate is cool all year round with an average temperature of less than 20 degrees Celsius, quite similar to Sa Pa, Tam Dao or Da Lat. The steady rainfall in the area is suitable for the cultivation of fruit trees, medicinal plants, vegetables, spices and temperate plants.
The commune is also one of the prominent localities of Van Ho District, which is growing raw materials and supplying famous agricultural products, such as: peaches, plums, strawberries, and tea. Referring to Chieng Yen, visitors immediately remember the majestic Tat Nang Waterfall, hot springs in Phu Mau Village, and fish springs in Bot Village with a length of more than 3 km featuring many different species of fish. In addition, the cultural identity of the ethnic groups living together in the area creates traditional and diverse features in beliefs, customs, activities, and cuisine.
Chieng Yen culinary culture is also an important highlight with delicious dishes prepared by local people from stone snails, stream fish, pork, upland sticky rice, and wild vegetables. In the journey of discovery, visitors can also admire the pristine beauty of the old Chieng Yen Forest and the majestic Tat Nang Waterfall, or relax in hot mineral springs.
Tat Nang in Thai ethnic minority’s means "fairy". Originating from two streams, Ta Xam and Ta Piu, Tat Nang Waterfall is over 100metre high, divided into three floors, surrounded by lush trees. In 2016, Tat Nang Waterfall was ranked as a provincial scenic spot. Not far from the waterfall, the Chieng Yen hot mineral spring bends at the foot of Bo Ui Mountain and is an interesting experience destination. The hot water here has an average temperature of 35-40 degrees Celsius.
Despite the promising potential, the concept of tourism for people in Chieng Yen Commune is still quite strange. Due to unfavourable traffic, lack of facilities to serve tourists, and a lack of management and operation skills, the majority of homestays born just stop at services such as accommodation, sightseeing, enjoying ethnic cuisine, and cultural exchanges. Chieng Yen has not yet had typical tourist products and has not yet restored its many lost traditional cultural features.
Realising the great potential of the locality, Action on Poverty (AOP) Organisation in Vietnam has coordinated with the GREAT Project Management Board of Son La Province, the government and local organisations to implement the project "Promoting gender equality through community-based tourism development” in the period 2019-2022.
The Na Bai-Phu Mau community tourism site of Chieng Yen Commune is two of four community tourist sites in Son La supported for development under the project. The project has provided an amount of loan capital and technical support for households to upgrade their houses into homestays with necessary equipment to welcome tourists; promotion of tourist attractions; and capacity building training for households participating in community tourism in homestay management, culinary, guiding and welcoming skills.
The project also helps develop tourism services (walking tour, performing traditional arts, bicycle and motorbike rental, supplying local products), supporting the locality in building a community tourism brand, promoting tourism products on a reputable network, and connecting with professional travel and tourism companies.
In addition, the project also supports the community to establish and improve the capacity of cooperation groups and service groups to actively control the quality of tourism products, manage activities and cooperate with businesses; and provides capital and support for the establishment of self-managed financial groups to help women have financial management skills, and proactively source capital for household activities and investment in other livelihood development.
A representative of AOP said that, following two years of project implementation, by February 2022, Na Bai-Phu Mau community tourist site had achieved many results: 175 people have improved their livelihoods; 104 women have seen an increase in income from community tourism model; 14 service groups were established, of which seven are led by women; and 10 homestays have been suitably renovated to welcome guests, with high quality.
Overcoming the spontaneous tourism development, Van Ho District, and Chieng Yen Commune in particular, has mobilised and encouraged local people to conduct tourism on a large-scale and in a professional manner.
Chairman of the People’s Committee of Van Ho District Nguyen Hop Cuong shared that local authorities and committees have been implementing many solutions to develop tourism commensurate with its potential, step by step becoming an attractive tourist destination. Van Ho District strives for an average tourism growth rate of 10% per year. By 2025, the number of visitors to the district will reach more than 300,000, of which international visitors will reach about 20,000, while annual revenue of tourism and travel services will reach more than 250 billion VND.
The district is making efforts to attract big, conscientious, capable and experienced investors in tourism with the goal of changing people’s perception, as well as bringing into full play the potentials and strengths of tourism, especially in new places like Chieng Yen.