My trip to Soc Son province with Bloom Microventures is one of those things that just happened – I was looking around TripAdvisor for tours around the city. Yes, I know, tours. Me. The trouble with Vietnam is that there is very little public transport. Or rather, there is, but at a local level, there is a good chance that people will not allow a tourist to use it – an experience I made in Hanoi when trying to use the public buses. As a tourist in Vietnam, they expect you to pay. More than in neighbouring countries, but still only a fraction of what you'd pay in the west, so it's ok I guess.
Anyway, if you want to explore the countryside, you basically have three options: 1) Rent a motorbike – but even if you can ride one, maps are scarce, and not in English at any rate. 2) Rent a personal driver/taxi/motorcycle driver – expensive, and not the safest way to travel if you're on your own and at the mercy of the driver who can dump you in the middle of nowhere if he chooses. 3) Go on a tour. Cheap and easy. And surprisingly, in Vietnam, I took half a dozen of them and all were very interesting and didn't make me feel like I was tourist cattle being ushered around (well, 90% of the time).
So, the 4th best result for tours in Hanoi on TripAdvisor are BloomMicroventures' Microfinance Tours. If you aren't familiar with microfinance, it's a concept where organisations give small loans to people in developing countries to invest in their businesses. Because of the way finance and banking works, if you already have a house, car and a load of debt, it's easier to get another loan then if you live in a hut in the middle of nowhere, even if you only need $100 to invest. This is where microloans kick in. The most famous of such websites is Kiva, which has done extensive online marketing in the last couple of months.
Bloom Microventures was started by a group of students from the UK, was meant to be run in Central America, but through a couple of random events, they ended up working in Vietnam, lending money to women below the poverty line (that means less than $20 a month in Vietnam!) in Soc Son Province, a little north of Hanoi. They combine the concept of microfinance with tourism, letting small groups of people visit those benefiting from your money.
For my tour, we were picked up at the amazing Opera House in Hanoi in the morning. The group was a British family living in Hong Kong, four American ladies and me – and unlike Thailand, all of them had amazing things to tell and amazing projects or life stories! Vietnam seems to attract interesting people. The same goes for the Bloom team, with two Vietnamese girls who just started working there having their first tour that day.
We went for a walk in the countryside, went fishing with bamboo rods (well, some did...) had an amazing homecooked lunch (no place does tofu like Vietnam! Not even Japan), and went to visit the ladies...
To be continued, to not freak you out with a shitload of text ;)