Vietnam

In April, 2012, Go Beyond founder, Chris, met the founders of two local NGOs in Vietnam, Helping Hand Saigon and Hands On Saigon.
 
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Photo from the Hands On Saigon website.

From Chris:

Vietnam is an exciting choice for volunteer travel, with many opportunities awaiting those who venture forth to this beautiful country.

 
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My first unforgettable trip to Vietnam was in In April, 2012.

Arriving in HCMC (Ho Chi Min City, formerly Saigon) on a flight from Hong Kong, the first stop was the famous Pham Ngu Lao (pronounced “fam new lau”) area, a kind of backpackers’ haven in Saigon.

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First impressions – motorcycles everywhere, literally, along with a few new and beautiful looking taxis. The people were friendly and prices reasonable, but … make sure you always bargain! The tree-lined streets of Old Saigon in Ho Chi Minh City still maintain their French colonial architecture and charm. The local currency, Dong, takes getting used to as 1 Dong is worth incredibly little - our train tickets to Da Nang were over a million Dong apiece.

After a short meeting with the “Hands on Saigon” team, it was time to board an overnight sleeper train bound for Da Nang in Central Vietnam. This area which includes the picturesque town of Hoi An is one of the highly recommended destinations in Vietnam, and after visiting it I feel it is a must-see location for a volunteer-cultural trip to Vietnam.

A google search of Da Nang and nearby Hoi An shows this is a very historical area, where the French initially began to colonize Vietnam as explained in the wikipedia article on the area.

 
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View outside of Vietnam’s beautiful coastline

The sleeper train was very much like those in China, and quite comfortable, and full of fellow-travellers from the world over, many having just travelled to Laos or Cambodia. The train actually took 26 hours rather than the scheduled 17 hours as a section of track was flooded due to a typhoon which had just passed through the south of the country. There were several stops along the way where passengers could get off to buy food, and there were great opportunities to learn some simple Vietnamese phrases from other local passengers, and the dining car provided a good view of the scenery as we followed the coast for awhile.

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On reaching Da Nang it was only a short drive to Hoi An, which is an absolute paradise. Recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, Hoi An Ancient Town is an exceptionally well-preserved example of a South-East Asian trading port dating from the 15th to the 19th century. Its buildings and its street plan reflect the influences, both indigenous and foreign, that have combined to produce this unique heritage site.

 

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As if the amazing town of Hoi An itself isn’t enough, there’s a beautiful beach only ten minutes away which is a swimmer’s paradise. Getting to the beach is simple on a rented bike or motor-scooter and along the way there is abundant scenery as the road follows the river.

MEETING WITH JODIE & KJELL

Once back in Ho Chi Min City, there was an opportunity to meet with Kjell and Jodie, both founders of their respective local NGOs.

Jodie welcomed us to join their activities which are predominantly held on the weekend. Her passion and zeal in volunteering and caring for others is plainly evident in her and in Helping Hand’s website, highlighting the activities of Helping Hands approximately 100 volunteers.

Meeting with Kjell provided a chance to focus on water projects and to swap notes with him. Helping Hand Saigon provides both rainwater harvesting solutions to needy villages, as well as irrigation systems to farmers.

From the Hands on Saigon website:

In the poor rural district of Can Gio in the Saigon River delta, most families only have access to the polluted, brackish water of the Saigon River. Hands-On Saigon works with locals to complete the arduous process involved in building and installing cement tanks, enabling clean rainwater harvesting from rooftops.

THE CONCLUSION

Vietnam is a wonderfully rewarding volunteer destination, full of opportunities to make a difference and to enjoy the wonderful culture and people – hope to see you there!