Sapa, Vietnam

Vietnam: The romance of parrots.

I just got back from a wonderful trip to northeast Vietnam where I was doing some volunteer work for an NGO. I didn’t help build a school (and if I did it would fall over in a week), but I was helping bring more tourists into the relatively untouched Northern Highlands. The NOGO is SNV, which is a non-profit organisation that was established in the Netherlands in 1965. They have been on the ground in developing countries for over 40 years, and now operate in 35 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Balkans. SNV has 900 advisors in the field who come from a variety of cultural and technical backgrounds. So what do they do? I’ll let them explain:

Our aim is to alleviate poverty by enabling those on the lowest incomes to be part of social and economic networks and so increase their income and employment opportunities. More than half of our work focuses on economic and private sector development. Alongside this, we contribute to improving people’s access to basic services like water and sanitation, energy and education. We achieve both by strengthening local organisations.

They are also heavily involved in helping developing nations promote and build tourism. Again, they explain it a lot better than me:

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), tourism is the primary source of earnings for 49 of the world’s least developed countries. SNV works in the field of sustainable tourism, as it can make a considerable difference in alleviating poverty. SNV focuses on all aspects of sustainability: economic, environmental, cultural, and institutional (good governance). SNV is currently promoting pro-poor sustainable tourism in 23 countries.

I started my trip in Hanoi and from there travelled by car up into the Northern Highlands. My job (along with marketing expert and fellow Aussie Judi from Noosa) was to get a good feel for the region then design four logos, write a bunch of taglines and whip up a couple of brochures and a website. Also along for the ride was Phil (another Aussie and the SNV Senior Tourism Advisor for Vietnam) and our driver Chung.

Our first stop was the somewhat touristy, but charming village of Moc Chau before stopping for lunch at the less charming, but very un-touristy village of Yen Chau. We had lunch in a local’s house that is also a home stay. As part of SNVs wide and varied program to help tourism in the region they advise locals on how to set up and run home stays. This one, like many in the region, was a stilted house with a large open-plan area for sleeping and eating. I wasn’t exactly sure what I ate for lunch. Here’s a photo. Can you recognise anything…

Lunch in Yen Chau, Vietnam

Actually, the food was delicious (although the five shots of strong rice wine may have killed a few taste buds along the way). Our host was incredibly friendly (hence all the shots), although he did look a little grumpy (or perhaps a little drunk) when we arrived…

Homestay in Yen Chau

Next it was the large and rather dusty town of Son La, which isn’t that exciting, but does have a lovely meeting room…

Flash meeting room - Son La, Vietnam

We gave a presentation there to government and tourism officials from the Son La region. We talked about things like Brand Personality which translates as Tính cách thương hiệu. The problem is that sometimes the translations can be a little misinterpreted. Phil used an example for ‘destination brand personality’ as the ‘romance of Paris’. Except the translator misheard him and told the gathered luminaries that ‘a good example is the romance of parrots’. They all looked rather puzzled until one asked the translator what lovemaking parrots had to do with promoting their region.

Parrots were soon forgotten when we were then whisked away to a formal dinner (well as formal as you can get when you sit on the floor, drink copious amounts of rice wine and eat smoked pig’s intestines), This was the spread before we sat down for our pig’s guts…

A feast in Son La

Following our dinner we were entertained by Phil standing up in front of everyone singing a Scottish ditty. I was also dragged up, although my rendition of  ’I Can’t Help Falling in Love’ sounded very strange because the keyboardist was playing a totally different song. We also got a local dance troupe that danced around for a while then dragged us all up to dance in a big circle and drink from a communal wooden vat of rice wine…

Dancers - Son La, Vietnam

The next morning we hit the road early for the long drive to Sapa through stunning countryside that looked something like this…

Somewhere in Son la

The SNV crew in Vietnam

On the way to Sapa we had another presentation in Lai Chau, which I dubbed ‘Kookytown’. The small provincial outpost of a town of Lai Chau (formerly Tam Duong) was recently made the capital of the region and gigantic (and very empty) government buildings were built. As well as empty four-lane highways, massive hotels and a lake. It looked just like Canberra…

Canberra (sorry I mean Lai Chau, Vietnam

Lai Chau

We had a couple of days in Sapa, where our biggest presentation to the heads of each eight provinces was held at the ‘Light Club Disco’. And rather aptly halfway through the meeting loud music began blasting from the street so we couldn’t hear a thing. The scenery in Sapa was lovely, though…

Sapa, Vietnam

That’s the rather spectacular view from my hotel room!

After Sapa we headed back to Hanoi where we worked out of an ad/design agency for a couple of days. We managed to get all the work done in time and, I have to say, it all looked really good. I’ll show you when it’s all finished. I was really happy with our ‘taglines’ as well. My favourite was the one we did for Sapa: ‘Find yourself in the clouds’. We do have some stiff competition, though. I don’t understand Vietnamese, but I love this local ad for KFC (although the Colonel does look a bit strange)….

KFC ad in Vietnam?

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