Hoang Su Phi District in Ha Giang Province is one of Vietnam’s most remote areas and remains untouched by mass tourism. The breathtaking landscape is dominated by mountains with rice terraces and is home to 11 different ethnic minorities. The hilly terrain and countless narrow dirt trails that have connected villages for generations make Hoang Su Phi ideal for mountain biking.
The inaugural Hoang Su Phi Mountain Bike Challenge held from May 18 to May 21 was the first adventure tour of its kind in the region. Organised by the NGOs Helvetas Vietnam and its offshoot Centre for Rural Economy Development (CRED), the aim was to launch a new era of responsible tourism activities in the region as well as create direct benefits for poor local communities.
People in Hoang Su Phi are among the poorest in Vietnam which is reflected in the average household income of just VND11,500 (US$0.50) a day. The ethnic minorities are the poorest people in the district.
The trip was set up as a community-based tourism initiative. This type of tourism is managed and owned locally, and offers tourists the chance to get an authentic cultural experience as well as directly supporting the poor.
The NGOs preselected 22 participants from eight countries to join the tour which was designed to be suitable for both beginners and more experienced bikers. Daily biking distances ranged from 20km to 30km, mostly on dirt tracks with some sections on sealed roads. On the third day riders competed against each other in a race.
Participants slept in homestays where they ate local food sourced from nearby farms, and had encounters with local people dressed in the clothing of their respective ethnic minority group.
The cultural highlight was a Red Dzao Ceremony. A shaman spoke to ancestral spirits through the sacrificial offering of a chicken and a fire dance, an old cultural practice of the tribe.
Participants of the biking tour were able to support local communities in various ways. The tour fee was donated to a local community fund in the villages where tourists stayed overnight. On the second day participants helped villagers to build a concrete road which will improve accessibility for both locals and tourists.