Growing up, I was lucky to have parents who not only loved to travel but who loved to travel off the beaten track. We would hike for days through remote landscapes, visit lesser-known destinations and stay in small locally-run guesthouses. Now I’m not going to lie, as a kid I wasn’t such a fan of this. Lying in my tent, praying a bear wasn’t about to rip into me, I would dream about the big shiny international hotels we passed in cities. I didn’t want to stay in a shack my parents thought had ‘character’, I wanted the generic interior, soft bed and tiled bathroom of a nice hotel room. However, a funny thing happened when I started traveling independently, I stayed in those I-could-be-anywhere-hotels, and I hated it. They were generic, boring and I never felt I actually connected to the place I was visiting. So, despite becoming scarily similar to my mother, I now spend hours planning holidays; seeking small, locally-run, guest-houses that embrace the local community, culture and environment.
When I first moved to Hanoi over a year ago, I found very few of these establishments. Sure there were small hotels run by local people, but few were consciously embracing the principals of responsible and sustainable travel. Although there are organisations working hard to increase the market in Vietnam, they seem few and far between. Developing sustainable tourism businesses takes time and these initiatives are still in their infant stages. Or so I thought until I met Pete and learned about the Tet Lifestyle Collection.
On a grey Hanoi morning, with rain streaming out of the sky, I arrived, a little soggy, at Tet Décor Café on Dang Thai Mai Street in Hanoi’s Tay Ho district. Snagging a table near the floor-to-ceiling windows, I settled in to watch the red, orange and white koi drift lazily through the courtyard pond. Admiring the Hmong textiles draped over wooden tables and walls lined with various handicrafts, I was joined by Pete Wilkes, founder and manager of the Tet Lifestyle Collection, the umbrella company to which the café belongs. Although I was there to interview him about the Collection’s newest venture, Backyard Bia Hoi, we settled into an easy conversation about Hanoi, travel and why he decided to move to Vietnam and start a travel company rooted in community development and responsible tourism.
“To me, responsible tourism is about traveling with generosity,” says Pete, “and we want to make it easy for people to give back to the community they are visiting.” Pete and his team hope to not only give visitors a unique experience but also create a community within the organisation and build spaces where people feel they can connect.
Relaxing into the colourful cushions handmade by the women that attend the Collection’s regular life-skills and handicraft workshops, I decided to stay on for lunch. Whiling away a pleasant hour, happily enjoying my avocado and mushroom on toast, I paid extra attention to the food on my plate. All meals at Collection properties are made with ingredients that have either been sourced locally or grown on their 65-hectare farm in Soc Son, 40 minutes from Hanoi. The Fragrant Path farm will soon be opening its doors to regular overnight visitors who will have the opportunity to enjoy a weekend of northern Vietnam’s peace and tranquility, while hiking in the hills and feasting on the farm grown produce. My parents will be visiting for Christmas and I immediately knew that this was just the ‘character-filled’ type of place they would enjoy. With eight properties in the north and plans to expand nation-wide, it seemed that the Tet Lifestyle Collection is exactly what I was looking for.