Hoang Tuan Vu, commonly known as Kar, seems to be the only trekking tour guide in the central highlands of Viet Nam. But to this 32-year-old man, a resident of Ea Kar District in the central province of Dak Lak, the profession is not only a way to earn a living. It helps him to demonstrate his love for forests, and inspire others to join hands to preserve the lungs of earth.
|Living off the land: Tourists cook soup with edible wild plants. – Photos: Huynh Thuy/VNS|
Kar feels completely at home in the forest.
“I have spent more time in the forest than at home, that’s why I look different,” he says, smiling.
At the young age of 32, Kar, whose real name is Hoang Tuan Vu, stands out in a crowd with his sunburnt curly hair and dark skin and sturdy physique.
Kar might be the only trekking tour guide in the Central Highlands region, but this is more than a job for him. His work is an expression of his love for forests, and he wants to inspire others to join hands and preserve them.
Kar was born in the central province of Ha Tinh. He moved to live in Ea Kar District in the Central Highlands province of Dak Lak when he was six after his parents sought new career opportunities there. The peaceful life, surrounded by vast forests and mountains, nurtured his passionate love for the forest.
After graduating from high school, he decided to study tourism at Duy Tan University so that he could realise his dream of travelling to different places.
|All I need: Kar and his backpack with everything he needs to survive in the forest.|
As a student, Kar visited many places in Viet Nam, including Da Nang, Quang Nam, Quang Ngai, Hue, and Quang Binh.
Everywhere he went, the natural beauty of the place and lifestyles of locals impressed him, and he realized the great tourism potential they had.
When Kar graduated in 2009, he received work offers from various travel agents, but he quit after several months, finding the working environment restrictive and not suited to his passion for travelling.
He returned home and continued to wander through the forests in the Central Highlands that gave him peace.
At first, his trips were a personal exploration, enriching his understanding of the forests, their topography, flora and fauna and the ethnic cultures.
When he saw that trekking was becoming popular in the country, he wanted to develop it in his hometown. Undeterred by the lack of support for his idea, he went trekking through all the forests from north to south on his own, studying and designing tours to turn his idea into reality.
Kar’s trekking backpack typically contains rice, instant noodles, dried fish, a lighter, a knife, a fishing rod, pans, hammock and a mini camera. It takes between three and seven days to trek through a forest. Mosquitoes, leeches and snakes are frequent companions.
Kar’s most memorable trek was one through forests from Dak Lak to Nha Trang in August, 2014. It was the rainy season. The forest was so dense that he could not find the way out. He was resigned to stopping and spending the night in the forest, sleeping in a hammock. The rain did not let up and the wild animals kept roaring fiercely. Cold and afraid, Kar could not sleep a wink.
The next morning, he decided to follow the stream, and it was the right choice. The stream led him to the source of the Cai River.
Spreading love for forest
Over four years, Kar explored and found many beautiful paths suitable for trekking. He also gained valuable experience and skills about surviving in the forest from local people. He learnt which fruits and leaves were edible, how to prevent and treat malaria with wild plants and how to deal with sprains and other injuries.
|On a rainy day: Kar (first from left) with a group of tourists during a trek.|
Using this invaluable experience and the things he learnt in the university, he became a forest guide, offering tours few others could match.
Among the special experiences of being with Kar is the things he cooks with wild edible plants or animals, like a wild banana salad and grilled fish. With him, people understand directly the value of the forest for human’s survival.
He also introduces the cultures and customs of locals, fostering connections between different peoples.
Kar’s trekking tours have gradually attracted huge numbers of people. His schedule is tight all year round, and the peak time is the dry season, lasting from April to October.
One of the tours that impressed Kar most was in early 2016 when he guided 29 employees of a construction company from HCM City, all of them women. He said not one complained or was late. They were keen on experiencing firsthand the peace of living in a forest, being able to hear the birds sing, drink clear water from the streams and eat wild vegetables.
“The scenery that came in front of my eyes after every step was overwhelming,” said Nguyen Thach, after returning from a trekking tour in the Central Highland with Kar.
“I was most impressed with the beauty of the streams that we saw on the way, each with its unique charm and dangers.
“The journey was not smooth. In some places, we had to hack our way through. Our hands were scratched by the thorns of wild trees, and the leeches kept sticking to us.
“But our tour guide, Kar, was experienced and skillfully helped us overcome difficult situations.”
Kar is also impressed by foreign tourists. They don’t bother much about taking selfies. Instead, they listen attentively to him talking about the forest, even though his English is not very fluent. They always ask about strange plants or animals that they see and take notes, carefully.
This attitude has “encouraged me to constantly enrich my knowledge”, Kar said.
Kar instructs tourists in basic survival skills, like setting fire, seeking food, recognising weather conditions, identifying directions and avoiding wild beasts.
“The forest is a part of me,” Kar said, adding that he feels great pain on seeing it being destroyed by humans. “Beautiful evergreen forests, the shelter of many precious species, have been devastated and turned into bare mountains,” he said.
“By pursuing trekking as a profession and bringing people close to nature, I hope to contribute a part of my life to the preservation of forests.”
|Camaraderie: Tourists enjoy a night in the forest during a trekking tour.|