Tan Hoa: rising from rural hardship to tourist excellence

By Tu Nguyen   October 31, 2023 | 02:00 am PT
Once an impoverished rural village, Tan Hoa in Quang Binh Province used to grapple with floods every year. But today it has been dubbed the "best tourism village in the world."

Tan Hoa in Minh Hoa District is around 75 km from the Son Doong Cave, which is the world's largest in Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park.

It was honored with the "Best Tourism Villages 2023" title by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) on Oct. 19, after an evaluation of 260 applications from 60 countries.

Its transformation began circa 2014 when it opened its doors to tourism, with a focus on exploring the Tu Lan Cave system.

Tu Lan is an enchanting cave system with six wet and dry caves known for their stalactites, stalagmites and unique features.

From 2013 to 2023, the village has welcomed approximately 63,000 visitors in total. In the past three years alone, the village has witnessed remarkable growth in visitor numbers, surging from fewer than 4,000 a year to over 9,000.

Một căn rural homestay ở Tân Hóa có những chiếc thùng gắn bên dưới giúp ngôi nhà tự nâng lên khi có lũ. Ảnh: Tú Nguyễn

A homestay in Tan Hoa rests on barrels that raise the house during flooding. Photo by VnExpress/Tu Nguyen

They have two lodging options: rural homestays and Tu Lan Lodge. There are 10 homestays that charge VND950,000-1.5 million (US$38-$61) a night during the peak season.

The homestays are uniformly blue, and have flowers and thatched roofs. Barrels at the base of these homes serve as floats during the flood season, ensuring the houses remain above water.

They offer around 30 square meters of space with a private bathroom, two beds and a small coffee table, all designed for simplicity but also comfort.

Visitors to Tan Hoa can also partake in thrilling morning adventures with all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), a popular activity among tourists alongside cave exploration.

Bên trong khu vực rừng lim du khách sẽ đi qua khi tham gia tour ATV.

During the ATV tour, visitors will traverse the ironwood forest area. Photo by VnExpress/Tu Nguyen

The starting point for these ATV tours is near the residence of Truong Xuan Do, a 73-year-old man renowned as the protector of the forest. The tour primarily covers the outer regions of the forest, staying on the edges and not venturing too deep into it.

In the pursuit of sustainable tourism, Oxalis, a local company, collaborates with the community to develop tourism. This collaboration has resulted in the establishment of 10 homestays, 70 porter jobs, 10 home-based dining options, and support for four food and vegetable suppliers.

As the tourism industry continues to solidify, Tan Hoa aims to transition to a community tourism cooperative model. Currently, the locals are in the early stages of adapting to tourism, with a primary focus on service-related work.

Làng Tân Hóa nhìn từ trên cao.

Tan Hoa Village viewed from the above. Photo courtesy of Oxalis

Nguyen Chau A, director of Oxalis, emphasizes a gradual approach to Tan Hoa's tourism development, emphasizing the avoidance of rapid growth. Initially, the community lacked tourism awareness, but the company has been patient in guiding them to understand this new concept.

Their initial efforts to hire experts for creating procedures and training the locals were not successful. Consequently, they chose to let the locals adapt and develop standardized practices slowly. This simplicity also extends to room furnishings in rural homestays and Tu Lan Lodge, as having fewer items helps avoid staff confusion.

The impact of tourism on Tan Hoa goes beyond economic development. It has transformed the traditional roles within the community, with men, who previously avoided cooking, now actively participating in meal preparation during tours.

Furthermore, tourism has contributed positively to the environment by reducing the harm caused by former loggers who have now found employment as porters. It has also opened up job opportunities for households offering food services, resulting in improved living standards for local families.

Tran Xuan Hung, the vice chairman of Tan Hoa Commune People's Committee, acknowledges that despite being acclaimed as the "Best Tourism Village 2023," there is room for improvement.

With around 3,000 residents, only a relatively small number of households are currently involved in tourism. Hung envisions that at least one-third of the villagers will participate in tourism in the future.

Tourism has breathed new life into Tan Hoa, not only by boosting the local economy but also by transforming the community's perspective on work and tourism. As more households aspire to engage in tourism, the village is on a path of progress, Hung said.

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