A Triip Into Vietnam’s Hottest Travel Startup

The first time I had heard of Triip.me was from the Wall Street Journal. It was also my first time reading about a Vietnamese startup on a global publication.

The company’s concept was coincidentally what I had had in mind for a while: Localizing the travel experiences by outsourcing tour making to local guides. I knew first hand how amazing this could be: I had previously spent a transformative week in the rural Yunnan province of China where my English-speaking tour guide took our group to stay at her eco-hostel, work on the farm with local farmers, eat local food, explore towns on foot and by van, ride horses, kayak on a shallow lake, bungee-jump and employ our limited Chinese to teach village school’s children music and arts. The trip opened my eyes: Not only did it allow me to go through all these new experiences that I would otherwise have not taken, but it also pointed me toward a new way of traveling: living like a local.

Since I was on a semester off from school, instinctively I reached out to the co-founder of Triip, Hai Ho, to request an internship. My emails went unnoticed after the first round of correspondence, but I made sure to reengage a month later. Fast forward three months, I have just completed the internship, and here are a few things I would like to share about the service and my experience working with the startup.

I) The user experience

Shortly after I was offered the position, I traveled to Ha Noi before starting work. Though I had a few friends there to go out with, I thought to myself: “Since I am starting work at Triip next week, why not use their service?” So I went online and searched for tours in Hanoi and found the “Hanoi Free full day tour” as well as the “Hanoi Food tour” by Hanoi eBuddies. Both tours were free.

The founder of the group, Dom, contacted me soon after for my contact details and offered to pick me up at my hotel. A few hours later, my tour guide came and showed me around the Old Quarter. Unfortunately, I had had food with my friends before she came, so we instead talked about our different cultures, of my experiences living in the States and southern Viet Nam, and hers living in the northern capital. I had never realized there were such big cultural differences between the two regions of Vietnam before.

I also found out that she came from 30 minutes away to give me a personalized free tour.

The next day, another guide, Hien, from Hanoi eBudies came to my hotel for the full day tour. She was incredible: Hien came from nearly an hour away that morning, and it was her first tour after quite some time. We barged through the Hanoi traffic and scorching heat to visit the Hoa Lo museum, then strolled through the Temple of Literature, got the famous Trang Tien ice cream, stopped to try the famous Egg Coffee and ended our tour at the Hoan Kiem Lake. All the while, both of us exchanged stories of our respective lives. Hien told me that the purpose of the tour is to practice English and make friends.

The dedication and passion of Hanoi eBuddies impressed me. Even for a free tour, they showed extreme enthusiasm and perfect professionalism.

Image source: Hanoi eBuddies’ Facebook Fanpage

I decided to try the service again in Perth, Australia when I found the “Experience the 360 degree Perth views” tour offered by a mother of two and nature enthusiast Liz for $25. After meeting me at the train station, she drove me to Bold Park, which has the best nature scene I have seen.

Our tour consisted of tracking the trail and watching the sunset at the park. However, even though the trip was nice, I still felt like something missing. Perhaps it was because Hanoi eBuddies had exceeded my expectation before, so I was expecting something more this time. Nevertheless, I recognized my bias and gave Liz 5 stars since it was also her first try.

Liz, I and her daughter on our walk

I have also just taken a trip to Hong Kong, where I went on the tour “A walk into the crowd and history, to be a local HKer” with Colin, a Hong Kong native who was so knowledgeable about the city’s history and confident on his first try that his impression made me question my review standard. From now on, I promise to only give out 5 stars if my future hosts surpass my expectation like he did. To be more specific about the tour, I have included my review below:

“Colin’s tour is not only well-done; it exceeded my expectation. Despite having been to Hong Kong three times and love the contemporary Hong Kong pop culture very much, I had not learned about the local history until this tour. Colin was an excellent guide as he waited patiently for half an hour for me to arrive without any complaint, and his sheer knowledge about Hong Kong history is impressive. He will tell you why Kowloon has the name as it is, and where some seemingly meaningless areas’ names such as Tiu Keng Leng come from. A man seemingly in his 50s, Colin knows all the events and history in the past few decades.

As a former backpacker, I often tried to do everything on my own. By throwing myself into the streets, I thought I was being a local. This, I found out, was true to a certain extent but not completely, simply because there are hidden histories and favorites only a local would know. Think about it: When you visit a restaurant and see the menu, how do you know which one to choose? If you ask the server for recommendation, he or she might point at one of the most expensive meals which is beneficial for the restaurant but might not be the same for you. It is the same thing with this tour. You can walk to all the locations, and some of them have English available, but you can only see what is in front of you. You don’t know the stories and thus can’t appreciate them the same way a local does.

Follow Colin as he takes you to the Flower market, the Bird street, the various “Tong Lou,” or old Chinese buildings, the arts centers and the traditional market street. Listen and ask questions. Pay attention to all the various wonderful scenes that amazing Hong Kong has to offer in this part of town. Try street food (which Colin often offers to pay; he actually even bought me lunch though I’m not sure if it was actually covered in the tour package — just goes to show how wonderful of a host he is). If you love to learn about Hong Kong history and current issues as much as I do, you’ll love this tour.

Note: The SCAD only opens on the third Sunday of the month, so we couldn’t visit it last time. However, Colin could still take you there, or if there is time, he’s willing to show you a historical tomb.”

My guide Colin and I

II) Perspective a tour creator

Ma is the creator of the “With local youth in Ha Giang Highland.” It did not take long for me to realize I wanted to book the tour just by looking at the description (though at this point, Ma has turned down my request to customize his tour). Guests are be able to sit on the back of a motorbike to cover around 100 kilometers per day in Ha Giang toward the northernmost area of Viet Nam with an English-speaking tour guide who belongs to an ethnic minority.

Ma’s trip has a bigger meaning beyond merely traveling. Educated in Switzerland for a Master in Education Management, he returned to Viet Nam to gather and train disadvantaged youth in this area to become local experts according to their talents, inviting international volunteers to come and give English lessons for free. In fact, he told me that his tour was so popular across platforms that Ma even had to ignore some of the requests.

Last week, I managed to get a hold of Ma and speak with him via Skype. The conversation is translated from Vietnamese.

Q: What is your organization doing exactly?

A: We are all local people from Ha Giang who decided to open a training program for youth who have dropped out of school to become young experts. We teach them Responsible and Sustainable Tourism. Another tour that we have is “Heritage Tea Trail” where we combine tourism and business together.

Q: How did you train them?

A: Volunteers come to the youth’s houses and bring them to outside of Ha Giang to live together. Here, we let the international volunteers teach them English, and we (the Vietnamese volunteers) teach them Sustainable Tourism according to the European Union’s curriculum.

Q: How has the experience been for you so far?

A: Though we have just put up the tour on Triip recently, our organization have been doing this trip since 2007 and recruiting international volunteers since. We welcome 200 volunteers annually.

Q: What makes your tour unique?

A: Because our tour guides are local, they will take you to places that only the local know. For example, Lung Tao village looks like a scene straight out of Tibet and Tay Con Linh Mountain is a sacred mountain for the La Chi tribe. However, it is hard to research this information just by using Google in English.

Here, we also emphasize safety and money saving for the guests.

Q: Any unpleasant memory on your tour?

A: Yes. During one night, an international volunteer suddenly screamed very loudly, so we brought him to the nearest clinic where he was diagnosed with kidney stone and given an injection. The next day, however, he and his friends were not happy about our decision and said that we should have asked for his consent before the injection. Two weeks later, however, he had to fly to Thailand for treatment and was again diagnosed with kidney stone there.

Q: Your favorite moment?

A: We take guests from Switzerland to see Na Hang at Tuyen Quang — often named the Ha Long Bay on the mountain and they liked it very much. We also showed them how to survive in the nature. We taught them about nutrition values of natural products we came across.

Ma’s team (Image source: Triip.me)

III) The internship

To be honest, I did not expect much from a Vietnamese company. My prior experiences in other professional settings in Ho Chi Minh City left much to be desired.

But Triip turned out to be much more international. Ho especially prides the company on being a Singaporean one. In the Southeast Asia entrepreneurship world, the word “Singapore” is nearly synonymous with high professionalism and standards, better law protection and investment opportunities. Consequently, a lot of regional startups register there, as in the case of Triip. When I came, there were two more interns from France and Singapore. Vietnamese, English, or Vietlish are used interchangeably in the office.

As such, the company’s most emphasized value is “happiness,” something I have not heard from other companies in Viet Nam. The co-founders provide their staffs with room and a home-cooked lunch every day as well as outings and team bonding activities, such as swimming sessions on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. There is also a naughty cat living in the house.

The perk of working for a startup allows me to learn from other members. At Triip, though I am officially responsible for strategy planning, I have learned about SEO and website making from Tung, Instagram tricks from Tri, how to run an organization and actual tour guiding from the Saigon Lovers’ team and the passion of running a startup from both co-founders.

The downside? Not much. I had heard that in the startup environment, people have to work around the clock. Though sometimes the staff communicated at night and on the weekends, I did not lose much sleep because of the company.

Some members of the Saigon Lovers’ team

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The concept of Triip is not new, but its work is necessary. In the context of Viet Nam where only 4% of foreign tourists want to return, the country desperately needs innovation. Even though there are many things the government should do, people like Hai Ho and Ha Lam (co-founder of Triip) prefer to not wait and take matters into their own hands. Crowdsourcing the tour- making process is a very smart concept because it increases the diversity as well as quality of tours and is easily repeatable across the globe. Call me biased, and it is true. I am a Vietnamese and I am glad to see a Viet Nam’s startup goes global after all.

List of tours mentioned in the article:

1) “Hanoi Free Full Day Tour” by Hanoi eBuddies.

2) “Hanoi Street Food Tour” by Hanoi eBuddies (the last time I went, it was free, but now comes with a $20 price tag to support their club).

3) “Experience the 360° Perth view” by Liz.

4) “A walk into the crowd and history, to be a local HKer” by Colin.

5) “With Local Youth in Ha Giang high land” by Ma.

6) Saigon Lovers’ tours in Ho Chi Minh City.