Nature has given Quang Binh a wonder of the world but there was not the means to exploit this advantage and bring revenue to the locality”. The number of guests staying overnight was too low and with only small hotels in the area, room capacity was inadequate. I decided that we needed a product to keep visitors longer.
The narrowest part of the country, Quang Binh is blessed with a wealth of natural resources yet stymied by a lack of development. But it had the ideal person to change all that. Originally from a poor farming community in Phong Nha, Mr Chau A is the epitome of a poor boy made good. He went to Ha Noi in 1992 to study at the College of Tourism but still found time to work as a tour guide.
He says: “I worked for several travel agencies to gain experience, improve my English and have extra income to cover my expenses. I spoke good English and after graduation, I went to work for a number of big travel agencies. I branched out to become a senior auditor at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and then a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) specialist for Nike Viet Nam. I then established OneStep Viet Nam, my own company specializing in social auditing and sustainable development in Viet Nam and Southeast Asia.”
All this made him perfectly qualified to know what was needed. And, as a local, he had the feeling for the place as well. He takes up the story: “In 2011 after a year of research and calculating all the possibilities, I returned to Phong Nha and set up a limited liability company Chua Me Dat (Oxalis Adventure). There, with the help of local people, I could create a new adventure tourism product to attract tourists and create jobs for the locals themselves.
“I had gained quite a bit of knowledge from many years of working and travelling around the world and I was pleased to be able to put it to good use in my own locality. It badly needed help but I think the Oxalis products we have created are providing great experiences for both travelers who love adventure and for the staff of my company”.
“Oxalis is now synonymous with the adventure tour explorations of the famous Son Doong caves. More than 25 support staffs, security experts and tour guides take visitors deep into the jungle to explore Son Doong as well as the En caves, and also stop at Doong village. Trekking into the world’s largest cave is an adventure unlike any other”.
“From 2019, all tours will have great photo opportunities with the help of new equipment. The darkest part of the cave will be illuminated to enable visitors to take pictures but the focus will still be on the adventure. The Tu Lan tour offers an even bigger challenge with climbs over a huge rock and steep hills, and swimming through unique underground caves.”
Mr Chau A is justifiably proud of having set up such a company out of a disaster and says: “I believe that Oxalis has brought positive results to local people living in Phong Nha and ethnic minorities in Doong village. Today, Oxalis has set up a team of nearly 500 professionals who are no longer looking for a stable job to support their family. The forest environment is also preserved indirectly from the fact that Oxalis employees have a stable source of income, which reduces illegal logging or hunting in the national forest.”
Many family businesses have opened in Phong Nha such as homestays, restaurants, hotels, travel services, dining and leisure all of which are a result of the establishment of Oxalis. The company also takes the lead in charity work, building communities through the Oxalis Foundation’s activities. Set up in 2014, the foundation has seen the quality of life improve significantly. It has also seen the creation of a community for mutual development with good relationships between people and businesses.
Says Mr Chau A: “I am very happy to see the positive impact of Oxalis on the Phong Nha area in general and on the quality of life of people in particular. Our future goal is not only continuing to grow the company but also develop the tourism industry in our province, making Phong Nha become a center of adventure tourism in Asia”.
“We have had success in attracting international and domestic film crews to this part of the world. Many shows have amazed the world such as Good Morning America’s (on ABC News) live broadcasts from En and Son Doong caves. We have also assisted the National Geographic team in taking 360 degrees pictures as part of their filming in Son Doong cave among others.”
And to think, all of this was underwater when the idea was born.