For the dictionary, going off the beaten track means innovating, exploring a new approach. Not easy to answer this question. You only need to read a few questions on the travel forums to realize that a large part of travelers aspires to “go off the beaten track in order to make authentic encounters”. Except that in reality, most of these same travelers will leave for a relatively short stay and will go to see all the classic cultural circuits – unmissable tours in Vietnam ”of the Upper Tonkin region in particular or Vietnam in general. So, myth or reality? Some tips and advice …
First of all, it must be said that leaving for the first time for a trip outside the Western countries, it necessarily looks like a real adventure and somewhere it is. We find ourselves in a cultural environment very different from his with a lot of things to discover and learn. Which will satisfy most travelers. After all, getting off the beaten track isn’t necessarily an obsessive goal in and of itself, it can just be a 2-3 day side step, when traveling to more touristy areas.
Next, let’s say that if a Vietnam trip off the beaten track may be suitable for all types of travelers, it is especially aimed at those who already know the destination and want to experience it differently.
And then there are all those who want to travel differently, those who have fallen in love with a destination and want to live a different experience there, in explorer mode, a bit like a childhood dream. These too require off-piste! Because traveling off the beaten track means traveling in your own way. It is to discover the most remote places of a country, places that only locals and a few initiates know. It means meeting the local population, immersing yourself in their traditions, taking the means of transport used by the locals, etc. Not to mention the culinary discoveries, exceptional moments of sharing and discussion.
For some, it is also becoming aware that the massive influx of tourists has a significant impact on populations. And not that positive. And that it is then necessary to travel differently.
Finally, it means being less passive in your journey. For example, it will very often be necessary to stammer out a few key phrases in the language of the country, in this case Vietnamese. It’s certainly more complicated than communicating in French or English, but what a pleasure when you start to get by! And if that doesn’t work, body language very often does wonders with the added bonus of some shared giggles.
So… Is it possible to reconcile all these aspirations during a trip to Vietnam , can we travel outside the tourist flow?
The answer is: yes, but …
Yes, Vietnam is still women in áo dai, peasant women in nón là, rice fields as far as the eye can see, calm and serenity… But Vietnam has changed, Vietnam is changing. It is developing with frenzy, has become a little westernized and above all, tourism is exploding, often in an anarchic manner, causing some icons of the country to lose some of their charm. Yes, Halong Bay is a fabulous and completely magical site. But visiting it off the beaten track becomes very difficult, without being impossible.
Yes, the ethnic minorities who live in the rice terraces around Sapa are the direct and very living testimony of Vietnam’s multiculturality. But this postcard image attracted a lot of people. Sapa is now a Mecca of Vietnamese tourism where the local women, always in traditional costume, canvass you in English (more or less) perfect to take you on a hike, following an identical route for all tourists, in a very beautiful but where we follow each other in single file for at the end of the day, sleeping in guesthouses that no longer have much of the typical, in a village which now has its spa, that’s saying it all! And yet … A few strides away, there are hardly any tourists …
How to take advantage of the bush paths?
Your first instinct will probably be to search the net in search of the circuit of your dreams. A plethora of more or less serious sites will offer you to visit Vietnam. Not to discover it, not to live it, not to meet its peoples. It is also advisable not to blindly trust the posts of travel blogs, either too enthusiastic and misleading photos or on the contrary totally negative, disillusioned version 2.0. If they have the merit of the freshness of the experience, they do not have the professionalism of those who make regular scouting trips to unearth new finds, unusual accommodation and intimate stops. For the most famous bloggers, their objectivity can be a topic of discussion during the long winter evenings …
We must keep in mind that moving away from marked paths cannot be improvised, that a minimum of anticipation and logistical preparation is necessary. In short, it requires real professional work upstream. So do not hesitate to use the services of a local travel agency , specialist in Vietnam, made up of a team of real enthusiasts, not just salespeople. These professionals favor knowledge of the land and people, the passion for travel and the enthusiasm to pass on their love for the Country, or even their region. They will take the time to explore every nook and cranny of your dream destination (if they don’t already know them).
During their on-site training, they will have tested potentially interesting activities and can guarantee you a stay that meets your expectations. In the case of Sapa that we mentioned above, there is a small neighboring village, known to a local guide who will be happy to show you around it. You might find the valley a little less beautiful, but you will truly experience a deeply authentic human experience that will totally fill you up. This is only possible thanks to a local guide, recruited by a local agency which has woven its network locally.