With 11 years of tourism under his belt, Intrepid leader San Tao understands you can’t fight change – you have to change with it.
There’s an art to crossing the street in Hanoi.
If you’re waiting for a break in the current of motorbikes and mopeds – some lugging towering bags of ice, crates of eggs or even live fish – you’re doing it wrong. No, you must simply walk confidently into the stream, and the city will accommodate you, opening a pocket of safety in the traffic so you can get where you’re going.
And it’s this act – adapting to change and finding the signal in the noise – that makes San Tao, an Intrepid leader of 11 years, so very good at his job. For him, tourism isn’t about checking popular landmarks off a list. Quite the opposite. He’s always searching for the local secret down the alleyway, the unexpected dish at the humble market stall that somehow delivers an entire sense of place on the plate.
At university, San studied a mix of psychology, history, and hospitality. This multidisciplinary approach shapes the way he showcases Hanoi to his travellers, and by extension, the world.
‘Tourism is blooming now,’ he says, against the rise and fall of cicadas, signalling the advent of summer, and with it, the blossoming of purple crape-myrtle flowers. ‘In five years, this place will change. And we’ll find another route to go.’
San’s thoughtful approach to tourism reflects the question at the heart of Intrepid: how can people ensure travelling to the places they love doesn’t change precisely what they love about it?
‘It’s a global company that supports local people,’ he says, pointing to Vun Art, an initiative that empowers those with disabilities in Vietnam by providing job training and employment opportunities.
Spurring global travel while preserving local culture may sound like a contradiction – but Hanoi is a place of powerful contradictions. French cafés sit nestled alongside 1500-year-old pagodas adorned with lotus flower statues. Memorials to the Vietnam War are in dialogue with street art inspired by the Italian graffiti movement.
For San, trying to boil all of these influences down isn’t the point. Because Hanoi isn’t one thing; it’s everything.
The real challenge is in trying to form genuine connections with his travellers, especially if they’ve only signed up for a single food tour.
So, what’s the fastest way to get to know someone? “Beer is good for people to open their hearts, to share everything,” he says with a laugh.
From crossing the globe to crossing the street, we’ll cheers to that.
Get to know Vietnam with San over a cold beer. Check out Intrepid’s small group adventures here.