KOTO finds a better way

KOTO restaurant in Hanoi VietnamMacca Sherifi, gapyear.com travel editor, recently travelled in Vietnam with Intrepid. He enjoyed many great experiences, but there was a special local meal that left a lasting impression…

“KOTO is a beautiful Hanoi restaurant that has been around since 2000. Offering some of the best cuisine in the city, you’ll leave the restaurant with a warm fuzzy feeling that’s got nothing to do with the food.

KOTO stands for ‘know one, teach one’ and it’s a part of a new movement of responsible travel. These days, people not only want to travel and to experience new things, but they want to do it in a responsible and conscientious manner. That means pumping money back into the local economy and being environmentally friendly.

One company that takes pride in its responsible tourism policy is Intrepid Travel – they’ve built up a reputation of positively enhancing people’s lives and they really do care about the countries that they run tours in. After all, their tagline is “real life experiences” and that’s why they use local tour guides, to get you to places you wouldn’t see if you were backpacking or travelling independently.

As Intrepid says, responsible travel is “about the attitude you take and the choices you make when travelling – to respect and benefit local people, their cultures, economy and the environment.”

KOTO is a part of Intrepid’s responsible travel movement and the restaurant describes itself as a social enterprise that provides positive change to the lives of disadvantage youths. However, KOTO stands for so much more than that.

It’s a restaurant that’s run by orphans; children and teenagers who needed a helping hand in life. In KOTO, not only have they got the foundations for a brighter future but they’re also contributing to society. Children and teenagers are taken in and trained as waiters and chefs, giving them not only the skills for the work place, but the skills to succeed in life.

KOTO was founded in the late 1990s by Jimmy Pham, a Vietnamese-Australian and former Intrepid Group Leader. He said: “I knew the youth needed skills and jobs to earn a living to have a better life and from this KOTO was born.”

While in Hanoi, he struck up a friendship with a group of young people living and working on the streets. Wanting to make a difference, he gave them as much money as he could afford. However, he knew this was only a short-term fix to the problem.

Wanting to give more, Jimmy left his job in the tourism industry and opened up a sandwich shop to provide jobs for young people. All of a sudden a concept was born and Jimmy started teaching people how to cook and wait.

With a huge demand for jobs, Jimmy realised he needed to expand, so with the help of Australian chef Tracey Lister and a AU$70,000 loan from his family, KOTO was opened and a new way of life had begun in Hanoi.

Today, KOTO recruits up to 30 street or disadvantaged teenagers aged 16-22 every six months. KOTO taps into a wide network of sources to identify the kids and the trainee recruitment process usually takes up to three months depending on the number of applications received.

If you’re ever in Hanoi, KOTO can’t come recommended enough and the number of celebrities and foreign dignitaries who have visited the restaurant is extensive. Not only are you contributing to a better way of life for many of these youths, but you’ll also get a cracking meal out of it too!”

The Intrepid Foundation – travellers making a difference
Help support many great organisations via the Intrepid Foundation, plus find out how your donation can be matched* by Intrepid Travel!

* Donations will be matched by Intrepid Travel up to AU$5000 (or equivalent) per donor and a total of AU$400,000 each financial year.

Photo: KOTO by Macca Sherifi

About the author

Sue Elliot - Like many of us, Sue contracted a serious travel bug at an early age. She's visited over 90 countries in search of a cure, but her wanderlust just seems to get worse. Thankfully at Intrepid Travel she's amongst people who understand the affliction and since 1998 Sue has enjoyed being our blog and newsletter editor. Here you'll find helpful travel advice and inspiring tales from Sue and other Intrepid travellers.

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