Meet the tech entrepreneur helping travellers see the world through locals’ eyes

Meet the tech entrepreneur helping travellers see the world through locals’ eyes

The Travel Guru — Through travel website, Ha Lam is changing the way we explore by letting locals show tourists around their city.

Some entrepreneurs get a thunderclap – a shining moment when they discover the idea they want to devote their lives to. That didn’t happen for Ha Lam. Instead of a blinding moment of clarity, she was struck with the growing realisation that her stable corporate job, as a senior manager at a jewellery company, wasn’t going to satisfy her. “My heart wasn’t in it,” she says. “I wanted to do something for myself.”


Ha started thinking. Back when she was a student in Ho Chi Minh City, she wanted to practise her English; despite studying for six years, she became frustrated at not being able to speak it well enough. She and a friend decided to do something about it. “We’d guide tourists for free, and improve our English,” she says. “It was also a way for us to promote the beauty of our city.”

The venture was such a success that it became one of travel site TripAdvisor’s top things to do in the city. “The relationships were the best thing,” says Ha. “It was easy to make friends, and keep them. I loved doing it. I loved meeting people from different countries with different stories and different lifestyles.”


As she sat at her desk in her company’s corporate offices, she recalled those free tours – and how good it felt to help people create memories. What if she could make that her job?

Ideas and actions are different things entirely, but Ha took a deep breath, and jumped right in. “I quit my job and sold my house soon after we started,” she says. “It was difficult because I have two kids, but life’s too short. We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. I wanted to work on my passion and value every moment in my life.”

Ha Lam Photo 6 by Justin Mott

Ha linked up with co-founder Ho Hai and in 2013 they founded Two years later, it’s one of the most talked-about businesses in Asia. is, at its heart, an incredibly simple idea. Locals can sign up to provide bespoke tours, which travellers can book online. The site has over 600 fully-vetted locals, offering itineraries ranging from rafting in Perak to a photography walk in Cho Lon. It gives people real experiences beyond the tourist traps and that’s something Ha is passionate about sharing. “We believe that travel makes the best memories,” she says, “and that people can use those memories to overcome challenges in life. The people we work with, who offer the trips, they have their own stories, too. They can offer a different perspective.”

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Initially, started out as an app, but Ha and her co-founders quickly discovered that this alone was a dead-end. “We realised that in the travel industry, and with people who travel, they don’t necessarily use a smartphone with GPS,” she says. “We had to shut the app down and move to a web platform. But when we first launched the website, the number of local people we had on it grew really fast.”

They later released a second app, entitled WikiTriip, which built on the success of the website. But it’s making connections between people of different cultures that keeps Ha excited and motivated to keep pushing on. “We don’t just travel for the beauty of the city or hotel we stay in,” she says. “The people you meet are the most important thing.”

This article originally appeared in How To Make It On Your Own, a handbook for inspired doers from Huck’s 50th Issue Special.

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