Before arriving in the central Vietnamese city of Hue, a number of people expressed their disappointment in it. Consequently, I didn’t arrive expecting much but in actual fact, I was pleasantly surprised thanks to a countryside tour with I Love Vietnam Tours. This is an all female motorbike touring company that is run by a group of young and passionate woman, who strongly believe in empowering woman through tourism.
From the get-go, Thao, Mint and Huong were friendly, enthusiastic and informative. We jumped on the back of their motorbikes and headed towards our first destination – trying salty coffee! Sounds odd but it was surprisingly good. We chatted, joked and slightly customized our trip, for which they were happy to accommodate.
Next up, we drove through endless rice paddies to reach the traditional Thuy Chanh Village, which is home to about 3000 households. Here, we visited a small museum dedicated to the traditional way of life in the village. The curator of the museum, an elderly lady dressed entirely in purple, showed us how people used to cultivate rice before machinery and how they still catch fish to this day. As the village is situated on the outskirts of Hue and my Vietnamese is limited, I wouldn’t have learnt as much as I did without the tour.
Our next destination was the Standing Lady Buddha, which stands at 14 meters high. After living in Thailand for 7 months, I thought I was quite informed about Buddhism but I learnt that Buddhism in Thailand differs from that in Vietnam. Luckily, I had Thao to explain all these new things I was seeing. For starters, as we were walking up the stairs towards the Buddha, I noticed people stopping every few steps. Thao explained that people place incense along the side of the stairs whilst praying. The importance of Buddhism in this area could be seen in the sheer number of incense stacked along the sides of the stairs.
As we reached the top of the stairs, Thao wasted no time in explaining the countless number of water bottles at the base of the Buddha attached to more burning incense. Once the incense finishes burning, people will drink the water in the hope of good fortune. None of this would have made sense without the explanations from Thao, Mint and Huong.
The following destination is one of the most beautiful pieces of architecture I have ever seen. Khai Dinh Tomb is the burial place of of the last Nguyen Dynasty emperor. Before he passed away, he raised the taxes by 30% just so that he could build this for himself. Needless to say, he wasn’t very liked. However, with a structure as beautiful as this, I’m sure the generated revenue will make up for it. From exterior to interior, this place is exquisite. The interior, where his remains lay, is a myriad of mosaics in every direction you look. The exterior is just as beautiful with lush rolling hills as a backdrop.
Unfortunately, darkness descended upon us but Thao, Mint and Houng didn’t end the tour. We completed the Vong Canh Hill and Tu Hieu Pagoda in darkness. Although we had limited visibility, the peacefulness made up for it.
I wouldn’t have been able to visit all of these destinations and learn everything I did without the girls from I Love Vietnam Tours. We enjoyed it so much that I booked myself into a cooking class with them the following day and did another tour in Hoi An!
Why Go Small and Local?
When visiting a foreign country, it’s important to remember that tourism can have a positive and negative impact on local communities, which depends on your decisions as a traveller. By choosing a local company, you’ll be injecting capital into the community that can be used to finance important aspects of life such as education. The woman working for I Love Vietnam Tours are mostly university students, and from my university experience, the extra money is always useful. Besides the extra income, the lady drivers are able to practice their already impressive English fluency, which will come in handy in their futures.
By choosing a small scale local tourism company such as I Love Vietnam Tours, you’ll have a more genuine, authentic and personal tour. Whilst touring, the women engaged in authentic conversations with us and took an interest in our personal lives. The tours were in no way scripted but explained to us with great passion, detail and authenticity. As a social enterprise, I Love Vietnam Tours gives a portion of their profits to charities in need, furthering the difference your decision could make.
Exploring Hue may require leaving the city center but it’s definitely worth it!