I was inspired and fascinated by use-it.be, a website that we used when I was traveling to Brussels. And I thought I could do the same for Vietnam.
When my foreign friends ask “hey i’m going to ho chi minh city. Any places to visit/see/eat?”. I usually go like “Cool! Of course I know a lot. There’s this street restaurant that sells really cheap Vietnamese food you must try. Ehhhh but how do I tell you, it’s a bit hard to get there”. And it repeats over and over again, from friends to friends.
The true image of Vietnam, the places me and my friensd hang out are not commonly known to the tourists. For many reasons: It’s hard to get there (sometimes you have to go into a small street to reach – hẻm), people there don’t speak English well. So the memory of Vietnam I have in mind is not the Vietnam most travelers would experience.
I imagine a little guide for young travelers to Vietnam. The guide can be download and printed out on some A4 papers.
The guide would have a little cartoonized walkable map of District 1 – where most travelers will probably end up staying around. On the map it pinpoints places that we – the local – usually hang out for food, coffee or shopping. Place like “Street coffee besides Notre-Dame Saigon” (cafe bệt nhà thờ Đức Bà) is a perfect example of these.For each place we could print a little note talking about its uniqueness, some expectations and tips to truly enjoy it. Sometimes a little history would really add the touch.
The guide would be revised updated every 3 or 6 months, according to the feedback others make. It’s important to note that the places suggested in the localguid would come from our own experiences, rather than allowing local business to pay a fee to be listed there.
Then there is the website, the website would initially host the local guide, take the feedback on the guide, and provide some other practical information like transportation and accommodations.
Also, we must understand that one’s experience in a new place is not necessary about the sights or the food it offers, but the new local people s/he meets everyday. The website will have some kind of a system that allow a traveler to find a local volunteer to reach and take him/her around. These volunteers are most likely young students who want to meet new people from different places and practise English. We could even partner with the people from CouchSurfing Vietnam to work something out.
Then there’s the Q&As section (something like stackoverflow), people can go in and ask specific questions related to Vietnam travel, we’ll have our local team/volunteers to answer them.
We can expand the idea to other cities as well, we can lend our resources, branding and experiences to local people at each city, helping them building their own version of VietnamLocal in their city.
In the short term, it’s hard to find a way to fund the project. However the cost involved wouldn’t be that much, either. We can just seek donation from the travelers. I’m sure if they have a good time in Vietnam, they are willing to fork out a buck or two.
In the long term, we could open our own hostels that focus on young travelers. It won’t be the typical hostel where people use to stay overnight. It’s a place for travelers meet each other. Activities like party, wine tasting, food tasting could be carried out frequently.
We could also operate our own paid history tour among interesting historic places.
Ultimately, the purpose is to help young travelers a better experiences with Vietnam through the exposure to local people, food and sights.