Joining forces to save Kalawa Forest

Three friends from Kalimantan Tour Destinations share their journey towards their dream of ecotourism in Central Kalimantan’s rainforest…

LOGO_Inspiring Stories from Destinations_2012-page-001It was the beginning of 2008 and we were at last open for business!  The three of us shared a dream to develop and promote ecotourism to protect the important areas of rainforest in Central Kalimantan whilst improving the livelihoods of local communities. Our vision was a simple one, to enable our guests to experience the natural environment and the Dayak communities in a eco-friendly way.

Developing our vision took patience and perseverance; we developed a business plan that was chosen In September 2006 as a winner in the Business in Development Challenge sponsored by the Netherlands government.  This provided KTD with €6,000 prize money, important advice from a number of entrepreneurs, a network of contacts and a business plan that was able to attract additional investment from our own private funds.

Rehabilitation of a boat began in 2006 with a team of local boat builders, the demands of creating a boat with comfortable cabins, electricity, flushing toilets and flowing water proved to be too challenging. We suspended work on the boat and searched for a qualified boat designer and architect. By the end of 2006 we had found a British boat builder who was teaching boat building at the Surabaya Technical University and a local carpenter, who was contracted to complete the redesign.

pitcher plantIn 2007, we chose the occasion of Central Kalimantan’s 50-year anniversary celebrations to name our boat and the Rahai’i Pangun was formally named in a Dayak Kaharingan ceremony. We wanted our boat to have a Dayak name that would resonate with local people so we approached Bapak Lewis, an elder of the Dayak Kaharingan religion for advice, who proposed the name ‘Rahai’i Pangun’. Rahai’i Pangun literally translates into English as ‘big development’ and was the name of the boat of a former prince (bandar) who sailed to China and other countries bringing many great treasures to Kalimantan from his travels. Bapak Lewis hoped that the new Rahai’i Pangun would also bring prosperity to the villages she visits.

Final work on the boat was completed and the Rahai’i Pangun was moved from Kereng Bangkirai on the Sebangau River, where she was remodelled and constructed, travelling out to sea and back up the Kahayan River for a final fit out ready to start operating.

In February 2008 the Rahai’i Pangun was launched by the Governor of Central Kalimantan, Bpk. A.Teras Narang, and embarked on her first overnight maiden voyage.

We worked with the community to establish self-managed community entrepreneur groups to work with providing host services to visitors.  This helped to create alternative incomes and support the life and growth of the local culture. We also worked closely with our local stakeholders to share our learning (government, private sector, NGOs and communities) to promote ecotourism as a way of protecting the environment and creating alternative livelihoods.

Our eco-tourism business was taking off and we were invited to share our experiences, our capacity building approach to build boats paid off as we renovated our second boat the Spirit of Kalimantan and built another boat the Ruhui Rahayu, and two more boats were built by the government by the boat builder we had trained, in two different districts.

Kalwa Forest

G0030298This Forest known as Kalawa has an area of about 7,025 hectares and is under serious threat from oil palm interests and seasonal fires. Within the villages that have rights to the forest, the communities are split into different interest groups. Some want to log it before it is lost to forest fires. A palm oil company trying to gain rights to the land surrounding the forest is creating a further threat of encroachment. Some welcomed the oil palm and others were firmly against it.

We partnered up with local NGO YCI Yayasan Cakrawala Indonesia and a local adventure company Jurang Batu to work together with the villagers in developing a plan. An initial survey was carried out with the villagers to survey the forest, the team came across orangutan nests, evidence of the honey bear and interesting bird life but the forest was already under severe threat with many trees marked for felling.

The villages had plenty to interest the traveller, a long house and sandungs or bone houses used as a part of an elaborate ritual for the dead to be released to travel to the next world. The earliest missionaries came into Kalimantan and the twin graves of a husband and wife demonstrated how in those early days the missionaries risked losing their heads.

Buntoi chosen as a REDD+ (Reducing Emissions through Avoiding Deforestation and Devastation) demonstration village will shortly celebrate the opening of The Climate Communication Centre for  information and learning on environmental conservation and enhancement.

IMG_0303v2We facilitated a 3 day workshop to raise the awareness of the participants about the potential of managing their forest in a sustainable way and the consequences of the loss of the forest to their way of life.  The workshop had been a great success with the different factions united under a shared vision  to become an example of conservation and sustainability and to attract outsiders to share learning in the continuing challenge of climate change by regaining their  cultural wisdom that once kept the balance between the need to sustain their lives and the forest life.

In September the villagers will have their first guests, a group of six from Switzerland providing them with a real experience to try out their planned itineraries. This is a first step on a long road and we aim to keep building on this enthusiasm by continuing to work with them on implementing their plans and attracting tourists to be part of their challenge in saving a small bit of forest that means so much for these 4 villages.

The Dusun – from family retreat to nature resort

LOGO_Inspiring Stories from Destinations_2012-page-001It began as a simple retreat from the city for a family. In 1984, Helen put an ad in the Malay Mail to purchase a rural lot. Walking through a rubber smallholding in Negeri Sembilan, she looked out to the Mantin hills and fell in love…

All the rubber trees were removed and durian seedlings were planted by Helen, David and their five children. Lovingly developed over the years, the family always referred to their home as the Dusun, or the Orchard. When it became apparent that others love the Dusun as much as they did, Helen and David decided to turn it into a nature resort in 2009.

So being environmentally friendly and socially fair was never a business decision, it has always been the way in which they nurture our land and environment. It has always been the way we treat our neighbours and friends.

IMG_0238The Dusun honours sustainable development in farming and building, which has created a beautiful and healthy environment. Starting with two houses, the Dusun expanded one house at a time to only five houses. Each house is unique, studying the use of different locally found materials and building techniques. All houses are placed to catch the winds that come down the valley and up the little hill. Ventilation and placement of doors, windows, carvings and fans ensure comfort without the use of air-conditioning.

Committed to supporting the local community, the family has maintained a good relationship with their neighbours. The business only hires from nearby kampungs, and are careful about staff hours and pay fair wages that increase with increasing skill, responsibility or time with us. Employees can benefit from support with official matters like banking and EPF etc. There are also interest free loans available for motorbikes and computers.

Our staff are like our family – we trust them, respect them and do what we can to build their confidence.

IMG_0454Despite a small team, purchases impact the community too. As much as possible purchases are made in the local kampong; most of the food shopping is from the wet market and cleaning detergents are from other responsible businesses.

Activities are designed to raise awareness of Malaysia’s beautiful natural heritage and support local traditions, communities and NGOs. The jungle is guided by a neighbor who has been a hunter gatherer all his life, and all proceeds are kept by the guide. Guests can also enjoy a Bird Discovery Walk, whose proceeds go to Bird Conservation Council at Malaysian Nature Society. on the Dusun is surprising to some, but it is designed for those who enjoy fresh air, lush greenery, jungle views, lingering meals with loved ones, peaceful strolls and the wonderfully uncoordinated orchestra of the birds, crickets and frogs.

Call for Inspiring Stories 2013

Do you want your responsible tourism story heard at Asia’s biggest business-to-business travel trade show?

Well, we want to hear from you! LOGO_Inspiring Stories from Destinations_2012-page-001

Every year, we invite inspirational tourism businesses and projects from across Asia to submit their inspiring story. Have you empowered local people? Saved a rare wildlife species? Protected an area’s cultural heritage? All through the power of using tourism as a force for good? Get in touch.

Inspiring Stories from Destinations is an annual competition providing an international platform for tourism players to get their story heard at ITB Asia. We seek exciting stories from organisations and individuals who have found in themselves a passion to make a difference in the travel industry and leave a legacy for the next generation.

Check out our 2011 and 2012 Inspiring Stories.

What we’re looking for?

The selection of successful stories is based on the authenticity of the story, creative and innovative elements and the power to inspire others towards making responsible tourism a reality. (Terms below)

What’s in it for you?

  • Top 3 Winners will receive complimentary tickets to ITB Asia and 5 minutes each to share their story on the Responsible Tourism stage to an audience of likeminded tourism professionals and potential customers
  • Top 10 Winners will have their story published on the Wild Asia website
  • Top 10 Winners will benefit from international PR via our array of travel media partners

How to enter

Submit your stories in any of the following form:

  • In words; no more than 1,500 words
  • Video; no more than 5 minutes
  • Slideshow; no more than 20 slides
  • Podcast; no more than 5 minutes

Email your entries to by 30th August, 2013 (Friday). Please title your email “RT Stories for RT Event at ITB Asia 2013″ and include your Name, Email, Organization and Destination in your email. Successful applicants will be notified via email by 13th September, 2013.

Mulberry Learning CentreKecapiPlayersBeyond Unique Escapes (3)factory man





Inspiring Stories is part of the annual Responsible Tourism networking events that started in 2009. Organised and supported by ITB Asia, Wild AsiaThe Blue Yonder Associates and The Green Circuit, this annual event hopes to bring together sustainable tourism practitioners to share, engage, learn and be inspired to make a difference.

Terms & Conditions

  • Previous winners of Inspiring Stories (Top 3 or Top 10) cannot apply
  • 2013 Finalists of the Wild Asia Responsible Tourism Awards cannot apply
  • Past Winners of the Wild Asia Responsible Tourism Awards cannot apply
  • Businesses or projects that are part of The Blue Yonder Associates or The Green Circuit cannot apply
  • Business or project must be based in Asia
  • Free entry to ITB Asia for Top 3 Winners on the day of the Inspiring Stories event (TBC) only (travel to and from Singapore or accommodation to attend the event is not included)
  • Stories are judged by a panel of responsible tourism experts and their decision is final
  • Applicants acknowledge that the Top 10 Winners of Inspiring Stories 2013 will have their story, images, (presentation of Top 3) published on the Wild Asia website

Inspiring Stories from Destinations 2012

This is our second year running the “Inspiring Stories from Destinations” competition and annually we’ve been WOWed by amazing individuals and organizations who have found in themselves a passion to make a difference in the travel industry and leave a legacy for the next generation. It is our privilege to share with you the Top 3 Inspiring Stories and 7 other incredible efforts in Asia.

[message type="custom" width="100%" start_color="#9DAAC7" end_color="#9DAAC7" border="#BBBBBB" color="#333333"]We’re convinced that there are many other inspiring efforts out there. Contact us if you wish to submit your story or nominate someone or an organization. Entries open approximately 1st August 2013. Stay tuned! [/message]

Meanwhile, enjoy the read below:

Top 3 Inspiring Stories

More Inspiring Stories

Beyond Unique Escapes

Beyond Unique Escapes is a tours and travel business located in Siem Reap Cambodia.  Officially starting in 2009, Beyond is a partnership between a Cambodian couple and an Australian couple, all of whom are committed to running responsible tours in Cambodia.  Our business model is designed to ensure all tours give back to Cambodia, directly benefit local people and respectfully promote Cambodia’s people and culture.  We recognized early on that many visitors come, visit the amazing temples and see the tourist town of Siem Reap, but rarely visited any other attractions and their tourist dollar did not benefit many local people.  While we provide the usual temple tours, Beyond has created a number of other tours and attractions for people to visit that highlight more of Cambodia’s amazing people and culture, and allow more local people to benefit from tourism.

Beyond’s history is part of our success story.  Initially we (the Australian couple – Fiona and Anthony) ran a guesthouse and many of the programs Beyond runs started here almost 8 years ago.  We always looked to recruit people with the right attitude and provide them with the opportunity to train with us, and learn and develop.   At this time we recruited a young and enthusiastic woman to wash dishes. She spoke very little English but over the years pushed herself to learn new skills and move throughout the business.  Today she and her husband are co owners of Beyond. Srey Leak is now fluent in English, has traveled to Indonesia to present Cambodian Cooking in a leading restaurant, and is often found leading one of our Cambodian Cooking Classes (which also visits a local family and provides them with a day’s rice).  Srey Leak is a great example of how far local people can go when they work hard and are given opportunities to learn and develop. Excitingly Srey Leak and her husband continue to drive this as our standard business practice and both of them work extremely hard to give back to their community and their staff.

All of our teams are trained on responsible tourism practices, child safe behaviors and environmental issues.

At a high level there are a number of things Beyond Unique Escapes do to run our business responsibly.  Our regular small group tours are all capped at 8 people to minimize our impact on the environment and places we visit.  All of our teams are trained on responsible tourism practices, child safe behaviors and environmental issues.  We have established an NGO called HUSK to formalize all of the work within the two key villages that we support, and provide transparency of this work.  Wherever possible our tours engage with regional local guides involved in community programs that work to support local people and the environment.  Beyond has a number of tours that directly contribute to local people and communities, and in addition to this, 5% of all profits are donated to our NGO HUSK  which works with vulnerable families in two key villages in Siem Reap province.

Our Day in a Life Tour is one example of how we deliver responsible business practices.  This small group tour runs three times per week to a rural village around 18km from Siem Reap town.  Each tour works with a local host family, all of whom are vulnerable families with no regular income and living in extremely poor conditions.  For hosting the tour the family directly receives some daily income, materials for works at their house and lunch.  For every participant on the tour, Beyond pays a larger amount to our NGO HUSK which works in the village providing community projects at a village level.  Customers who participate on this tour have an opportunity to spend time interacting with their host family and learning about life in a typical Cambodian village.  They undertake work at their host families house, (as an example this might be repairing thatch roof or wall panels, helping provide and plant vegetable seeds or fruit trees) according to the families situation and needs.  We think most importantly this tour connects tourists to Cambodia with local people outside of the tourist centre of Siem Reap and allows villagers to benefit from tourism.  The tour runs year round which greatly assists the village when there is no farming work available and families struggle to find enough to eat.

Another example of our small group tours is the Treak Village Walk and Talk tour.  This is a guided tour through a local village, giving tourists the opportunity to lean about local culture and customs and meet with local families in a respectful way.  Beyond gives 50% of the tour fee to HUSK for village projects.  This includes things like the provision of water filters, water wells, soil for roadways, rubbish collection & other village projects.

Beyond runs a large number of tour programs with school groups from around the word.  Our school group programs all connect in with HUSK our NGO and each group works with a specific village project.  Recently this has included building an extension to a medical centre and our new Kompheim Village community centre.  These buildings have been built all using old plastic water bottles filled with clean plastic waste collected and stuffed into the bottles by villagers. Our two Eco Block classrooms are now used to provide English lessons through our NGO, to village children three times per week.   These programs provide a platform for environmental education for the visiting students, and provide a base to begin providing training to village families who are mostly unaware of the issues of dumping or burning waste.

This year HUSK and Beyond worked with students to develop a mico-business to support women within the village.  This program has provided three women with the opportunity to be trained in sewing and following this in creating Softies (soft toys).  This program has enabled these women to provide their families with regular income.  This has meant the families can eat three meals per day, buy medicine when sick and shift from owing money to being in a cash positive situation for the first time. Making Softies is completely flexible, women can work around their children and families needs, work from home or come into our Community site when they want to.  We are currently in the process of building a Workshop at our Kompheim Village Community Site  (currently we have shared sewing machines set up at the back of our classrooms) where the women can come and use the sewing machines to create the Softies which are currently sold in Siem Reap, Australia and Hong Kong.

We are committed to continuing to provide tours that highlight Cambodia and her amazing people and wherever possible connect visitors with the real Cambodia.  This is a country that is moving well beyond its tragic and horrific past, a place where people given the right opportunities can thrive.  Our goal is to keep seeking opportunities to enable local people and communities to benefit from the growing numbers of tourists coming to Cambodia.  We recognize that responsible tourism is a partnership between both tour operators and tourists and we hope to help educate visitors on responsible practices. As a tour operator we take our role in this very seriously. We are strongly opposed to the promotion of things like ‘sex tourism’ and other anti social practices, and are team are trained on how to politely refuse such requests.   We have found over and over again that once visitors have an opportunity to spend time with local people and take the time to learn about life here, that the amazing spirit of people here becomes their enduring memory of Cambodia.

A Story from the Countryside of Vietnam – The Hieu Liem Community

My full is name Nguyen Dinh Hieu, I come from Vietnam. I was born in the northern part of Vietnam then my family moved to Ho Chi Minh City when I was 3 years old in 1986. Although at that time we faced lots of difficulties we overcame every obstacle. My parents sacrificed their life, my siblings dropped out of school early to find a job so that we have money for my studying. I have a story about Community Tourism – Homestay at my village for share with people – Hieu Liem Village, situated in the valley of greens.

I graduated from Ho Chi Minh City University of Social Sciences & Humanities majoring in political science but I have interest as well as many opportunities in tourism which gave me chances to travel and broaden my knowledge a lot. Many young people choose to stay in big and modern cities such as Ho Chi Minh city and Ha Noi after finishing their studies with the hope that they can have a good job and better life than those in their hometowns which are poor lands. I was quite confused and worried after graduating and thought a lot about my future and my responsibility. I was brought up with the education that being a man in the family, besides earning for living, I should have great sense of responsibility in taking care of my parents and worshiping our ancestors just like many other men in oriental traditions. If I stay in the city and find a job, I cannot fulfil my responsibility of being a son in the family, but if I come back to my hometown, it would be hard to find a good job let alone follow my dreams. Finally I decided to come back home with strong determination as I know that the first step is always the hardest. I applied for a job as a tour guide in Dong Nai Culture and Nature Reserve so that I have money to live while chasing my dream of working in tourism field.

I know that ‘giving them fish is not as good as giving them a fishing rod’…

When I was a student, I enthusiastically joined volunteer programs in my university’s student union with the aim to help the poor and community. Even during the time I worked in the city, I together with my friends went from places to places to raise funds then bought rice, food and other useful things for the poverty-stricken and fragile people to cover their everyday needs. They are extremely grateful to us and appreciated us for what we did for them but it could not last for a long time, they used everything in a short period of time. After that they did not know what to do but wait for another help which can get them out of starving and poverty. I know that ‘giving them fish is not as good as giving them a fishing rod‘, therefore I think I should help them with something more sustainable and long lasting such as offering them a suitable work that they can do to earn for a living so that they do not have to depend on others.

The poor and people who have their lives depending much on nature are the ones that cause lots of damage to nature and ecological environment. They destroy the forest, cut down trees to have land for farming. The last Rhinoceros sondaicus in Vietnam is now extinct, the number of Asian elephants is decreasing dramatically because of being killed and poisoned by people, gayals, primates, deer, and countless other kinds of animal are on the verge of extinction. The flora is also under threat of being destroyed.

I designed programs that help tourists experience the life and culture of native people through living and working with them.

From what I have seen, I thought day by day and talked to myself that I had to do something to improve the situation and help the community as well. I talked to my boss about my idea but I just received a cursory agreement without any support, there are even some people who did not want me to develop my plan and prevented me. As a result I decided to do it myself. After a long time carrying out surveys and considering I made up my mind to establish a Club about Homestay Tourism. This club is considered as the first club on sustainable tourism which is environmentally friendly and responsible with nature in Dong Nai province, Vietnam. The success of the club and project will not only promote the local economics, help local residents to have higher and stable income but also help to avoid deforestation, poaching of wildlife, illegal logging, rapid exhaustion of Dong Nai river’s aquatic creatures, and countless negative effects on the environment.

I designed programs that help tourists experience the life and culture of native people through living and working with them. Besides our club have many meaningful activities such as cycling for the environment, campaign about reducing the number of plastic bags, planting trees. Especially we have programs about biking, trekking, discovering the rainforest, adventure including sport games, learning living skills. It is the simplicity, hospitality and the friendliness between local people and tourists that will bring them together as a family. Tourists will get unforgettable memories and precious relaxing moments of their busy life while natives can have some small amount of money covering for their everyday needs without doing any harm to the environment and animals.

In order to have the project as today I went through countless obstacles 5 years ago. Because it is too new to the local government, local presidents and even my family, no one supported me. They said that I was crazy, risky, ambiguous, that this project was almost unfeasible in such a poor land. I spent a great deal of time talking and sharing with everyone. Time flew, they gradually understood me and what I am doing since there were some tourists came and stay with my family. This proved that my story was listened to attentively, and it spread to Wild Asia which gives me a chance to tell my story to all friends around the world. I was extremely happy and had considerable encouragement more than ever thanks to this program.

There are times when I wanted to give up because I was also exhausted. I did loads of work alone. In the morning I worked at Dong Nai Culture and Nature Reserve, went into the forest and guided tourists when they wanted to camp overnight. In the evening I went home, stayed up late to design programs, find partners and sponsors, send emails to tourism companies. I was stressed for a very long time. Luckily I have my family by my side whenever I need them, especially my mother and my sister. They are very good cooks with traditional Vietnamese cuisines. Tourists or partners who come to visit our places are all impressed by their dishes and felt extremely relaxing living in the tranquil and peaceful countryside. I believe that in the future if my project develops, we can motivate local economics through selling fresh, nutritious food and specialties produced by native farmers.

Hieu Liem Community Tourism is considered as the first club on tourism connected with responsibility of the environment protection. We have local people and friends who are very nurturing and they are now open to the idea of doing something beneficial for the community. Besides providing tourists with traditional homestay program and environmental friendly activities, we sincerely want to involve tourists from everywhere in our country together with foreign friends from all over the world in our environment and animal protection campaign.

The negative impacts on the forests have caused the rapid exhaustion of the earth’s natural resources bringing about problems about pollution, forest fires, extinction of animals, climate change, global warming. These consequences directly affect the place where people are living and themselves also, all nation and all over the world, change our green earth into a dangerous place. All those things urged us to do something to improve the environment and get local people into our activities. Hieu Liem Community Tourism was established with the aim of giving tourists interesting first hand experiences by living with local residents near Dong Nai river.

Finally, I hope that my story impacts the thoughts of people so that everyone will have better habits of living responsibly with the environment. I am not a talented scientist who can invent something great enough to change the world but with my experience and enthusiasm of youth I chose sustainable community economics development with environment protection. I have great desire to have a chance to share my story in ITB Asia this year. I believe that there will be more and more friends, tourism partners, activists for the environment, sponsors and tourists all over the world listen to my story. To conclude I just want to say that please give me an opportunity in order that I could have more inspiration, motivation, encouragement to continue to write the next parts for my story.

For more info, visit

Jetwing Sri Lanka

Top 3 Winner of the 2012 ‘Inspiring Stories from Destinations’ Competition
The slides below was presented by Mr. Ishanth Gunawardene at the Responsible Tourism Forum at ITB Asia 2012.


Central Kalimantan Responsible Orangutan River Cruise

Kalimantan Tour Destinations aims to bring Responsible Tourism to Central Kalimantan as a way of conserving the environment and supplementing income for the local people. As a part of our Responsible Tourism Policy, for 5 years we have been working together with the locals to map the tourism potential of the villages along our cruise route. We also work with them to develop their own small tourist businesses, for example as guides, traditional music and dancing performance groups, canoe hires, fishing trips, collecting traditional medicines in the jungle, and making handicrafts.

Through our work we are campaigning to raise the awareness of local people and our guests on different environmental issues. We also collaborate with local NGO’s conservation programs, such as one operated by the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOSF). Besides raising awareness, to show our support of the work done by BOSF to protect orangutans, the native Indonesian flag ship species, under threat due to shrinking habitat, we adopted an infant orangutan that we helped to rescue from the river bank in March 2011. This infant from the distance looked like a proboscis monkey that our guests had been hoping to see during the trip. When we were closer, we found that it was a weak, hungry and frightened female infant orangutan who had been separated from its mother for days. Rescuing the baby orangutan was not the work of us alone. Understanding and supporting BOSF regulations to not approach or touch orangutans, we reported the infant orangutan to BOS technicians. They have been working over 10 years in the area rescuing and rehabilitating orangutans.

We have a policy to go local. We buy all our food ingredients at traditional markets  for the food served on board. We also commit to employ local people, to train and prepare them for the different working fields. For example our cook Redi, who is from a village called Tangkiling, helped his father on a motorised canoe as driver and engine man before working with us. He joined us firstly as a cook assistant for our former cook, who had been a gardener, and gradually learnt how to prepare the special food designed for our cruises. He has been working with us for 3 years now and his food has been praised by our guests as a gourmet experience in Indonesia.

We believe in starting small and growing, and putting words into real action. As a part of our community development work to raise awareness on health and environmental understanding in the villages, together with the villagers we have a social project to improve waste management in Katimpun. This village stretches 1km along the banks of the Rungan River, and is one of the villages where we stop for our guests to meet the villagers.

The villagers play a very crucial role in this project by learning how to treat and recycle garbage.

In our program, the villagers are encouraged to understand why it is important to manage waste and not to pollute the river. This project will involve collaboration with the local government in the village, village elders, the project volunteers and guests who forwarded feedback, ideas and funds. The village leader and elders help to organize meetings and training schedules with the people. Meetings are held to socialize why such an effort is important. The villagers play a very crucial role in this project by learning how to treat and recycle garbage. KTD helps at the outset by buying appropriate garbage bins to bring a positive supporting impact.
Another project initiated by KTD related to health improvement and sustainable environment, is to build a toilet and mandi (bathing Indonesian style) for the longhouse in a village in the north Rungan River region. Traditionally people who live on the banks of the river have always used the river as toilet and mandi. The human waste goes straight to the river, causing pollution. As many local people still use the river to bathe, brush their teeth, wash dishes and for swimming, the possibility to be affected by the polluted water is high.

Nowadays longhouses are still considered as the centre of village activities related to village meetings, cultural rituals, etc. Longhouses are the places where people in the village gather. This place provides a good opportunity for us to socialize the plan to set up an example of healthier lifestyle. Many people do not understand why good sanitation is so important. There are some public toilets in the villages but nobody uses them very much. One reason why they are not very popular is that the locals were often not being involved in planning or building the toilets. They are built by outsiders who have their own ideas about what the people would want to do and assume they understand why it is important to use these. As a result most of the toilets are build in the places where access to it is not efficient for villagers and it is much more convinient to go to the floating toilets behind their houses.

KTD approach is to involve the locals, not only to improve their understanding but also to encourage sense of belonging. We believe this kind of facility will only be sustainable if the locals think that it belongs to them and they will take care of it. As a sample in the longhouse, the toilet can be adapted to other houses. Our cruises and tours are designed for guests to communicate directly with the local villagers. We provide English speaking guides who will be the “bridge” between our guests and the locals to communicate and this hopefully will promote cross cultural understanding.

KTD believes that as our business grows, our contribution to the villages we visit and to the local environment where we operate, should also increase. To conserve the unique environment here and improve services and opportunities for local villagers is part of our commitment as a responsible business to work to improve our performance and the experience of our guests.

Vietnam Bike Tours

Vietnam Bike Tours is the product of a man’s vision to showcase his country – Vietnam – to the world, not through words or pictures, but through offering authentic experiences to eco-friendly travellers who want to see and understand the country, to support and give back to the local communities they visit. His vision is to offer them a chance to become immersed in the country from the saddle of a bicycle, the ultimate carbon-neutral way to get up close to a culture, by pedalling back roads and trails less-travelled in Vietnam and Indochina’s lush countryside and leaving nothing behind but fond memories and but tyre tracks in the dirt.

From a small office in the downtown area of Ho Chi Minh City, an intrepid young Vietnamese Ngo Trong Huy, together with his wife Kim Anh, has managed to make this vision a reality by launching the local tour operator Vietnam Bike Tours (VNBT) in 2010. Through VNBT, Huy showcases the serene beauty of the Vietnamese countryside to health- and eco-conscious tourists looking for a more sustainable way of immersing themselves in the country, from the cool northern mountains along the Chinese border to the balmy southern coast and everywhere in between. VNBT offer an array of personal services to their cycling guests, from designing tailor-made itineraries and organising visas, to local community homestays and orphanage visits.

The local tour operator now employs full-time local Vietnamese staffs, as well as bicycle guides in Vietnam and other operation offices of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and hosts around a thousand clients a year. VNBT’s guides are specially selected for their knowledge of the local history, culture and weather patterns, their English communication skills and enthusiasm for sustainable and responsible tourism. The guides are all experienced bike men and adventure aficionados, who are also trained in first-aid and bicycle mechanics. This has empowered them with the confidence and skills to give them a competitive advantage in the freelance tour guide industry. Take a glimpse at any of the numerous testimonials online and it is palpably apparent what a positive impact they leave on their customers in terms of being flexible and sensitive to the clients’ needs and level of cycling experience, and providing invaluable local insight into the complex Vietnamese culture and the diverse local fauna and flora.

A number of VNBT’s guides are also wildlife enthusiasts and their knowledge of the local animals and plants are astounding. In a country where wildlife conservation has never been number one on the agenda and wild animals are sadly more often found on the dinner plate than in their natural surroundings, these guides break the mould. For instance, a forest trail ride through Cuc Phuong National Park – Vietnam’s oldest and largest reserve – is narrated by our passionate and knowledgeable guide and includes a stop at the Endangered Primate Rescue Centre where visitors can learn about the admirable work being accomplished with the rescued langurs, macaques, lorises and gibbons. Then they jump back in the saddle for a canopied, tree-lined pedal through the forest, while your guide answers any questions about the wildlife that guests may have.

The Cham are an ethnic minority in Vietnam – remnants of the ancient Champa people – who still uphold their long-standing traditions…

As a local family-owned company, VNBT is also dedicated to supporting the smaller communities of the poorer countryside areas. In a country where around 15% of the population live below the poverty line (concentrated in rural areas), these journeys provide precious support to the rural regions. Cycling trips often include stop-offs at local schools and charities, providing much needed materials, food, resources and financial assistance to those less-privileged. An example of this is a typical cycling trip in the Mekong Delta, which stops off at a local Cham village near Chau Doc. The Cham are an ethnic minority in Vietnam – remnants of the ancient Champa people – who still uphold their long-standing traditions such as weaving and singing, and also their unique brand of Islam and VNBT guests can visit one of the local mosques and get a chance to teach some of the Cham children. Visits such as these also allow unique access to local ethnic cultures which most tourists would not have the opportunity to experience and, if they choose to do so, ensure that their donations reach their intended destinations, which is difficult to ensure when donating from abroad or through intermediaries.

On cycling trips, VNBT also make use of local products and services as much as possible. These include frequenting locally-owned and managed restaurants, hotels and other businesses, and using local transportation services such as boats and ferries. All fruit and water brought on tour is local and the reusing and recycling of water bottles are encouraged. Biking itineraries also sometimes include market visits so tourists can experience the truly exotic sights, sounds and smells of a Vietnamese market. For example, before an afternoon of cycling in the Mekong Delta, jump in a local rowboat for a morning visit to the teeming floating markets of Cai Rang in the rural provincial capital of Can Tho, where tourists can purchase local tropical fruit and souvenirs and also get a glimpse what life along the meandering Mekong is like for these villagers.

Supporting the local community is also evidenced by visits to cottage-industries, ranging from traditional food crafts such as tofu-making in Vinh Long, to the pottery artisans of Bat Trang and the traditional folk wood cut painting masters of Dong Ho. All of these visits allow travellers to glimpse age-old techniques in action and make small but significant contributions towards ensuring these traditional skills and products are conserved and continue to thrive in a developing country where the lure of mass-production and mechanisation is all too appealing.

VNBT also urges their customers to use homestay or locally-owned accommodation wherever possible. On a cycle through the misty Hoang Lien mountains of northern Vietnam, which are dotted with various ethnic hill tribe villages, tourists can get the opportunity to stay overnight in one of the traditional hill tribe stilt-house accommodations in Tam Duong village. This is but one of many examples of similar options available which provide significant financial support for the local region, and of course, give VNBT guests invaluable insights into their customs and everyday way of life.  Where possible, VNBT also choose the most environmentally-friendly accommodation, such as the Topas Ecolodge in Sapa, who are committed to working with minority communities, sustainable environmental development and living, as well as combating waste and pollution in the area.

As bicycle tour operators, VNBT understand the importance of leaving as small a footprint as possible wherever you visit, and strictly follow the mantra of ‘leave nothing but positive memories and tracks in the dirt’.  The operator strives to maintaining and preserving local ecosystems and leaving them the way we found them. We take all our waste with us in the support vehicle and pick up what we find along the way. As a registered member of the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, VNBT have pledged their responsibility to ensuring the sustainability of the local environment and communities in any ways possible. Bicycles are of course also carbon-free and any trip using pedal power offsets the use of an alternative petrol-guzzling and CO²-producing vehicle. VNBT also choose suppliers that match their environmental values and their bike suppliers, Trek, also believe in the power of human-powered transportation in the fight against climate change, urban congestion and rising global obesity levels.

From the initial contact when the guide picks up the guests at the airport, through the cycling experience and to the often sad-to-say-goodbye drop-off for the flight back home, VNBT try to ensure guests experience Vietnam in a unique way. VNBT have established itself as a sustainable and responsible leader in the local tour operating industry and Huy’s vision of showcasing Vietnam’s hidden charms and rich culture is truly underway.

Chi Phat Community Based Tourism: From Poaching to Changing Lives

Top 3 Winner of the 2012 ‘Inspiring Stories from Destinations’ Competition

“I stopped illegal activities when they arrived” says Prom Heoung in perfect English. His dark eyes lit up slowly and his prominent cheekbones reveal a bright smile. Proud of his English and of what he could do for his community, like over 150 other villagers, Hoeung has traded poaching and slash and burn for tourism since the Community Based Eco-Tourism (CBET) project was launched here five years ago.

In the heart of Cambodian’s Southern Cardamom Mountains, small wooden houses sprinkle the banks of Piphot River, where coconut trees bend over the clear water. Welcome to Chi Phat, at the edge of a dirt road eroded by the heavy rains. All around, the emerald forest melts into the sky.  Hoeung lives in this picture postcard scenery with 550 other families. A quiet and peaceful place today, Chi Phat used to be a busy area for wildlife traffickers and loggers. Heoung was one of them after the late 1970s left the village with nothing but a two decade long civil war heritage; no education, poverty and only the will to survive.  He was illegally setting more forest land on fire for slash and burn farming every year and hunting in the forest to feed his family.

Situated in Southwest Cambodia, the Cardamom Mountain Range is the second largest continuous forest in South East Asia and one of the last seven remaining elephant corridors and large predator in the region.  Covering just six percent of Cambodia, the Cardamoms’ continuous forest cover of nearly five million acres includes a vast rainforest ecosystem with 16 different vegetation types and home to 16 globally endangered species.  Economic development in the area stalled for decades due to conflict, abuse of resources and communities by business and political interests, and the area’s economic isolation. The region is also vulnerable to climate change and shifting rain cycles.

Hoeung remembers the late 1980s when big logging concessions were exploited, with Chi Phat as a target. Cambodians came from all over the country to cut the rosewood and hunt wildlife from the surrounding rainforest. These illegal activities were much more profitable than any other farming activity: one cubic meter of rosewood would bring around 5000 US dollars to a home. Tiger skin, elephant tusks, bear paws, pangolins and other expensive wildlife trophies could also easily be traded.  At its peak, a thousand of families were living in Chi Phat, supplying to the needs of a rich elite living in Phnom Penh or even China.

But for the past decade, people have been forbidden by law to pursue these activities.  Knowing he could face serious time in jail if caught, Hoeung had to find other activities for him and his family to survive. US-based NGO Wildlife Alliance has been working with the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) since 2000 to assist in strengthening protected areas, promote good governance in forest conservation, help manage state forests, counter wildlife and timber trafficking, and develop sustainable alternative livelihoods. Wildlife Alliance set up a law enforcement program to protect the area with patrols by military police and Forestry Administration officers. In partnership with the Cambodian Forestry Administration, Wildlife Alliance established a care program at Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center for rescued wildlife and a rehabilitation center in Koh Kong to release wildlife into this protected natural area.  Wildlife Alliance employed local villagers to replant the forest with native trees at its nursery in Chi Phat. Actively engaging local communities to not only be involved but to take ownership of protecting their natural heritage is a fundamental component to the long-term conservation of the Cardamom Mountains.

In 2007, in collaboration with the community of Chi Phat, Wildlife Alliance launched a Community-Based Ecotourism Project.  The aim of the CBET Project is to provide a better and more sustainable means of income for local communities.  It gives villagers the opportunity to increase their livelihoods by protecting the forest rather than destroying it.  The hunters can now earn more money from trekking with visitors from all around the world, showing the very wildlife they were hunting now roaming freely in lush jungle.

When the CBET project started in 2007, Hoeung decided to join and became a guide to lead adventurous tourists into the jungle; Hoeung knows every footprint, tree, sound that the rainforest can offer, the quickest ways to go jump from the five waterfalls around Chi Phat, as well as the best wildlife viewing areas. For two years, he studied English and saw the beauty of the jungle that he previously only considered as a mean of survival. The CBET gave a new life to the surroundings; trees are being replanted and an Angkorian archeological site has been uncovered revealing a six hundred year history in this remote part of the largest continuous forest in Cambodia.

The CBET project was set on a participatory basis.  This methodology ensures the inclusion of stakeholders in project development. And it is the inclusion of stakeholders that is key to the successful outcomes of this project; decisions made about the project by community members are much more likely to be adhered to by community members, paving the way to long term success. A Management Committee, comprised of elected members of the community centralizes all the tourism activities in the village and in the forest.  Everyone can join and earn from tourism.  Families are now joining the project by setting up guesthouses and homestays to accommodate tourists. Poachers became guides or forest cooks amazing tourists in the forest, boat drivers leading them to rare bird species as the sun rises and fishing for lobster with them at night and motor drivers bringing them back to the rest of their journey. Villagers are able to keep accounting records, answer emails, book activities and coordinate all the tours.  The CBET Project follows a fair benefit sharing system.  All activities are set on a rotating basis so that every member enjoys the same chance of benefiting from tourism. With technical and financial support of Wildlife Alliance, Chi Phat now has 13 guesthouses, 10 homestays and 160 kilometers of trails for trekking and mountain biking.  Chi Phat has a range of 20 Mountain bikes and 8 kayaks, a fleet at motorboats and row boats and a wide variety of pristine outdoor activities.

“I want to preserve [the forest] for the next generation.”

In 2009, Heoung became the chief of the project and is now in charge of giving a direction to it and ensure that the community and the local authorities can work together to promote the place and also preserve it. He can count on ten villagers patrolling in the forest to look for snares and traps and ensure the forest can be fully enjoyed by the tourists coming to visit the surroundings.  “I want to preserve for the next generation” tells Heoung to journalists writing about Chi Phat. After 5 years, Chi Phat has become the most successful CBET Project in Cambodia and one of the most successful in Southeast Asia.  It has over 150 members from the community and brings indirect income to another 30 families.  To date Chi Phat has welcomed over 5,400 domestic and international visitors generating over US$205,000 income into the community.

The natural wonders of the Cardamoms, and the protection and development efforts of Wildlife Alliance and the community of Chi Phat, makes Koh Kong province Cambodia’s second destination—the place that no international tourist will want to miss after seeing the temples of Angkor.

Recognized by the Lonely Planet travel guide as one of the top ten ecotourism destinations in the world, your visit will directly help Chi Phat commune to save this pristine jungle!

View the slides presented at ITB Asia’s Responsible Tourism Forum 2012.