“Sapa is a very special place, It kind of feels like a gateway into a different World.” – Tom, Volunteer Teacher for Sapa O'Chau
The hills of Sapa, in the far north of Vietnam, are spectacular, and draw tourists and travelers from around the world. They are also the home of the Hmong, Dao, Tay, Giay and Xa Pho people. They are known for having maintained a large part of their traditional, agriculture-based lifestyle, their distinctive clothing, marriage and funerary practises, and for making exquisite handicrafts.
Their hand embroidered clothing – distinctive for each group – can best be appreciated by visiting one of their homestays, where you can eat, joke, and sit with the women as they stitch by the lights of their headlamps.
There has been an explosion of tourism in Sapa over recent years. When you arrive in Sapa Town, the staging post for treks and adventures into the surrounding countryside, you'll notice the construction going on. The skyline of mountains and hills is punctuated by luxury hotels and half-built accommodation. The sheer scale of development and the influx of tourists has made many of the local communities feel exposed and vulnerable.
For the 2016 Travel Film Scholarship, World Nomads made a film with Sapa O’Chau, the first international and not-for-profit tour operator, founded and run by a woman (Shu Tan) from the Black Hmong minority.
Shu Tan has created an exemplary social enterprise, that brings travelers into these wonderful communities on terms that benefit local people. This includes an education program for their young people to train them as tour guides, with excellent social skills and English speaking ability.
Many of the Sapa O’Chau’s volunteer teachers are travelers – from overseas as well as Vietnam – who return out of love, and the opportunity to be part of the generous community.
Watch Josh Brown’s scholarship film (and read more about his experience) to see how the dream of Shu Tan came together, bringing travelers into the spectacular landscape to participate with locals, and communities – in a sustainable way.
We sit down with Travel Film Scholarship judge and professional filmmaker Brian Rapsey to discuss the lifestyle, industry and how he first started out.
Jigar Ganatra travels to Kerala, India, to learn about the work of Kabanitour, an organization helping tourism become a sustainable part of the economy.