On my umbrella, a glowing rain came out as I cluttered crowds of tourists and their veneer veneer colors created a sudden contrast to the canary-colored walls. I drove out to the locals who walked on the rainy streets and went to the peaceful oasis of the domestic teahouse-social enterprise in Hoi An, Vietnam. The rain did not stop for a week, and the tearoom was my day off of chaos – a break from the cloudy days spent on the water rice fields and the dark, pregnant skies.
Within weeks, I landed in southern Vietnam with an unclear plan to move north for three months. Now my tenth year on the way has my travel style changed significantly. I do not already have careful travel plans, so I entered Vietnam with two vague goals: look for beautiful things and find beautiful stories that can inspire others to use the path as a force for the good.
The ancient city of Hoi An was a natural stop in search of beauty – the charming city probably does not exist anywhere in the world. I have a deep love for cities that many regard as unjustified. During the second year of my round, I went through Antigua, Guatemala and stayed for several weeks. I loved Luang Prabang, Laos so much that I returned with my niece so that it could dampen Laotian culture and beautiful French colonial architecture. AND Narrow Hoi An streets and 18th century wooden houses fascinated me. Each of these cities shares status as UNESCO World Heritage Site and that is certainly part of the spell – they are cities immersed in history and seemingly frozen in time.
But time goes forward and tourist towns offer unique opportunities for responsible travelers that can not be found in places where other places are located. Tourism dollars facilitate innovation. Peeling back the novelty of travel experience reveals fascinating ways of economic exchanges that support local economies and communities. And it is my passion to find ways to help passengers connect with causes and communities.
Prior to arriving in Hoi An, I moved almost a month after the Mekong Delta. Several travelers to Mekong in Vietnam are planning more than a day trip, so I was a lonely tourist cycle through rice fields and sipping coconuts bought from street vendors. In this situation, I knew my travel dollars were directly beneficial to the local economy because I placed each dong (Vietnamese currency) in the hands of the local. In addition to this cash changeover for inns and meals, lack of tourism meant that I had no opportunity to offer tourism dollars to support local social problems without funding.
Support for local businesses is sufficient in these situations, it is a concrete and sustainable way to tackle responsible tourism. But sustainable travel to more tourist sites offers alternatives – fascinating alternatives! I loved my time in Hoi An not only because it is a beautiful city but also because local people use tourism as the force of positive change in their community. Armed with information and curiosity, I am pleased to discover many ways Hoi An makes sustainable, responsible tourist law.
Title: Providing opportunities for people with disabilities
Reaching Out was the first of several Hoi An social businesses that I visited during my time in Hoi An, and this is the one I've visited most. The organization runs two businesses, art and craft boutiques and a traditional Vietnamese tearoom – both companies employ disabled people.
Although I am not one to buy many souvenirs, I found a beautifully crafted silver ring in the store and bought it as a Christmas / birthday gift for myself. Employees put gifts by hand into the office at the back of the store, so you can watch craftsmen weave posters and forging jewelery.
Kitchen tea, however, reflects from each other and has its best memories. The ancient city of Hoi An is best known for beautiful teak houses full of carved pillars and furniture embroidered with pearl mother. Just a block from the iconic Japanese city bridge, the tea house occupies a preserved building from the late 18th century. Hordes of pedestrianized traffic routes reject a quiet interior. Tea staff are all deaf and hearing impaired, and the tearoom goes through written notes, small wooden news server blocks, and when everyone else fails, women are able to make any charades you throw.
Both businesses provide people with disabilities the opportunity to learn skills and gain meaningful employment to fully integrate into their communities and lead an independent and fulfilling life. It's not just the beautiful mission you support, but the whole experience is well-worked. Although I was in Vietnam many weeks before arriving in Hoi An, I still sat behind the traditional Vietnamese tea service. The tea room has fixed it and gave me an unforgettable experience.
In areas with a strong language barrier, participation in the tourist experience raises the shadow on the cultural window – giving tourists a cultural path to interaction and learning. Rather than seemingly inappropriate, the tearoom experience gave the passenger a clear understanding of how to approach the aspects of culture that seemed to be distant or difficult to penetrate. When searching for these types of responsible tourism experiences, I can go through the label, satisfy my curiosity with the questions, and eventually support a good cause. For those, and for many other reasons, I have added to Hoy An added nuance and beauty.
STREETS International: Training of disadvantaged youth in the hospitality sector
My lunch at the STREETS Café in Hoi An was definitely my best meal in the city (and probably among my favorite dishes in Vietnam). Vietnam is not the easiest country for vegetarians and many local specialties can not be replicated without meat. Even though I read about it cao lầu (signature Hoi An bowl served with pork), STREETS was on my radar entirely due to his social mission, not food. So I was pleased to see the vegetarian cao lầu on the menu during my first visit, and twice as pleased that it tasted as good as it looked!
STREETS International operates a café as a social enterprise supporting its hospitality and culinary training program for street children and disadvantaged youth in Southeast Asia. Revenue from restaurants maintains a training program while providing students with practical experience – running almost every aspect, from cooking to serving.
STREETS became my regular pursuer, and I spent many afternoons with people – I watched from wide, sunny windows and asked my servers for honest questions about their long-term goals. They thanked me for hope that this training would change the course of her life. By learning hard skills, they can now contribute to their communities. They lived in such a tourist town, hospitality was their ticket to a better life and a future with real opportunities. Although our background could not be more different, I hope you will change the course of your life, resonating with me deeply. Supporting this café offered a view of the beautiful Hoi An vase – no city or community is excluded from the share of the difficulties and the STREETS servers offer an uplifting story about how the tourist dollar aggregate from responsible passengers creates sustainable changes for local communities.
Wider Area of Hoi An: Expanding funds to local communities
Hoi An suffers from the fate of many cities around the world: through tourism. The reasons why I loved the ancient city – historic, preserved streets that were inspired by centuries of history – were the same reasons why I avoided rain and traveled along Hoi An. Tourism is also influenced by my new home base in Barcelona – the popularity of the city has an enormous sustainability. There is no single solution to tourism, and governments around the world find new ways of preserving historic cities. Tourists who live at home are one easy solution. But then it's not even ideal! Mostly because they will not stay at home; tourists visit places regardless of their impact on sustainability. One solution is to divert part of the time of each passenger to the surrounding areas – to decompose the impact of those warm bodies that pass through ancient wooden houses.
Perfect weather never happened, so I put on a poncho and spent many days treading my leased bike on the ring roads that dived deep into the smaller tourist communities in the region. And it was all beautiful. The misty rain covered the rice field. The heavy sky was sitting on the horizon. School kids vogued for my camera. Every day I dared, I found beautiful cafes and restaurants and the fascinating slices of everyday life in Vietnam.
The weeks of uncomfortable rainfall eventually exhausted the capacity of local tanks that sank the river and flooded the ancient city of Hoi An.
The old houses contain hoists that lead to the rise of historic furniture to the second floor, and the locals have tried to protect everything. And as the floods suddenly appeared, the sun returned. Brilliant sunlight illuminates the rivers of brackish water now flowing through the streets. These were my last days in Hoi An, and the sun has highlighted many serious sustainability problems faced by this pretty small town with a history of the 15th century. Visiting social businesses and spreading my money around will not solve all these deeper problems, but my time at Hoi An has provided me with enough information to realize that this is a credible beginning.
Hoi An charmed me. He charmed me with his beauty but also with innovation – the local community faces demanding social issues and brings solutions.
The two companies that are profiling here are beautiful ways to keep the responsible passengers in Hoi An meaningfully. Over the years, I have moved most of the time away from direct volunteering. When I left my journey a decade ago, volunteering made sense – I was very engaging in the US and continued to make a contribution to the road. But the international volunteering industry is full of problems. Over time I have found alternative ways of directing my goals to come back and serve communities.
During my three months in Vietnam, I found countless Vietnamese social enterprises with similar stories of hope, similar goals that would create a change in their community. By the time I arrived in Vietnam, I was already tired for years on the way. My best friend loved deeply in Vietnam, so it was one place I tried to explore before finally creating a home base. Three months and more than a thousand kilometers later people, the country and the stories of Vietnam let me enchant.
Quick travel tips: Hoi An social enterprises
Reaching the Tea Room: 131 Trần Phú Street. Mon – Fri from 8:30 to 21:00 and Sat – Sun from 10:00 to 20:30.
Achieving art and crafts: 103 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street. Same clock as a tearoom.
STREETS Restaurant: 17 Le Loi Street. Everyday from 12:00 to 22:00.
9STREETS streets: 441A Hai Ba Trung. Daily from 7:00 to 18:00.
Cafe Jack's cat: Cuddle rescued fears at 12 Le Hong Phong. From 11:00 to 15:00, every day except Mon & Thur.
Show me Vietnam Travel Guide for advice on every place I stayed and ate, as well as an interactive map of all social enterprises in Vietnam.
This Travel Story (Little Delight … Tales of Responsible Travel in Hoi An, Vietnam) first appeared on Travel with little enemies
Blog, thank you for the trip. 🙂