by Daniel Jun, Greenheart Travel Volunteer in Vietnam
My time here in Vietnam is quickly coming to an end. Only 3 weeks left, which I know will fly by like the past 3 months since I first arrived on January 1. If the saying “time flies when you’re having fun” is true, then I must be having the time of my life. In reality, my experience is not constantly mind blowing-ly amazing, but it sure has been awesome. I have become incredibly comfortable here and have developed a regular routine with my work and leisure time. I have made great friends, both native and foreign, and have created memorable memories, including those that I personally don’t remember but Facebook does. And, I’ve always had something to do and was never bored. Whether it was working late on some proposal or having a night out in town, or leading my weekly English club or simply staying up and chatting, I was always occupied. Of course there have been some hardships, such as adjusting to the commute and the inevitable drama that crops up with new and different types of people living together in close quarters (especially when they are pre-university teens, which is the majority of my housemates), but nothing that I couldn’t handle, especially since I already have experience traveling abroad and I’m a post-university 23 year old graduate (seriously dodged a bullet there; haven’t been involved in any of the drama).
With the end of my time, I have been doing more and more traveling outside of Hanoi. Two weekends ago, I spent two days at Ha Long Bay for $100. This past weekend, I spent two days at An Lac commune, Bac Giang province, for another two days for $30. And in all honesty, I thought it was more beautiful than Ha Long Bay; but then again, we did have perfect sun-shining weather.
An Lac commune is one of the project sites that CSDS works with. It is located in the Son Dong District, which is one of the 62 poorest districts in Vietnam (of a total 679 districts). The main project aims to establish the Khe Ro Nature Reserve (in An Lac) as a successful community-based eco tourism site. Other, smaller projects involve improving hygiene and sanitation in the community and teaching the rural children about nutrition and health. The past weekend, two groups went up to An Lac: one group entirely of foreigners for the ecotourism, and another entirely of Vietnamese university students to teach the rural children. As a foreigner who works for CSDS, I had the opportunity to join in on activities with both groups, kind of like a special VIP pass.
On the first day, most of my time was spent with the eco tourism group. After 4 hours of driving to An Lac from Hanoi, an additional 1 hour was spent on trekking to a waterfall. Around the waterfall was a small pool where we all went swimming. And it was spectacular. The sun was shining and the weather was warm, and the water was cool and especially refreshing after our one hour trek. In the evening, the local villagers held a cultural performance where they played the instrument đàn tính and sang traditional songs. Us foreigners also had a chance to do a small performance by singing (more likely butchering) the popular song “Nhu Co Bac Ho.” Afterword, a giant campfire was held, with a proper fire of at least 20ft high, and games were played with the local kids. At midnight, the foreigners went to their homestays to sleep in beds while I had the luxury of sleeping on the floor in a classroom with the Vietnamese university students that I’ll be joining for activities in the coming early morning.
The next day, I helped the university students teach their lesson on nutrition and health to the local children. Since I obviously didn’t know any Vietnamese, I was given the very important tasks of handing out sweets to the children who answered correctly and taking pictures of the lesson, both of which I excelled in. I was a bit more productive in the arts and crafts session when we made pinwheels with the children. After all the lessons, I went trekking again but with the university students and to a different lake. The weather was again picture perfect.