Monday, 23 September 2013

Vietnam 2011.

Two years ago today I embarked on one of the most amazing experiences of my life. The company Antipodeans gave 12 students and 2 teachers from my school, the opportunity to venture to Vietnam. The great thing about Antipodeans was they allow you to plan your entire trip, according to how you would like to spend you two weeks. Also when you arrive to your destination, all of the accommodation, restaurants and navigation must be organised by the students, with the assistance of the teachers and guide. However, the most exciting part of the entire trip was that each group must complete a project within a remote village in the country. I had never been to a third world country and these two weeks were about to open my eyes to the rest of the world.

We arrived bright and early at the airport, eagerly waiting to board our plane to Vietnam. The plane trip was a long and uncomfortable nine hours. However it was well worth it, for when we arrived in Vietnam, it was like we were in a completely different world. We began our journey in Hanoi, which is in North of Vietnam. When we arrived there was 100% humidity and the temperature was at least 35°C. I have lived in Australia my entire life, but I still found this heat to be extreme.

My task for the remainder of the day, along with two of my fellow adventurers, was to plan and book where we would spend the evening. However, we had no idea where to start looking and we had a budget of $9 per person. We spent hours wondering around Hanoi, trying to find somewhere reasonable to stay, when we stumbled upon a small hotel. We saw that there was free Wi-Fi and breakfast was included, so we decided to take a look. When we were shown the rooms, we found that there was a single room, with six bunk beds. This was perfect for all 12 students! We then found a room upstairs for our teachers and guide and decided to book it for the evening. This is when the language barrier really became an issue. I had never been in a situation before where I was unable to easily communicate with another human in my native tongue. This for me was a massive adjustment I had to make.

The next morning, after doing a little more exploring around Hanoi, it was time to take a trip West and travel to the remote village of Moi. During the six-hour bus trip we saw exquisite scenery of the Vietnamese countryside, a side of the country we had not yet experienced. We arrived into Moi late that night, going to bed soon as we arrived. The next morning we were given a tour around the village, being shown what our project would be. We would be building, along with the assistance of some of the local villagers, a toilet block for the small kindergarten.

We spent five days in Moi Village and in this time we got to know some of the local people and really experience life as a poor Vietnamese citizen. I can honestly say that these people were amazing, and the second that we came into their homes; they treated us like old friends. The community connection was so strong and prominent. I had never been this disconnected from the Western world before, as even trying to charge our cameras was a huge task. Many visitors to Vietnam never get to experience this side of the country. But having this time away, even though it sounds cheesy, made me think about the simplicity of their lives and how happy it made them. When that toilet block was completed, everyone was so grateful, that they had a huge party the night before we left. There was singing, dancing and a lot of eating.

However my favourite part of Moi Village was the kindergarten. Whenever we would have a lunch break, all of the children from the school came running out to play. The first day when we started taking photos of them, they couldn’t believe that they were seeing themselves on this tiny screen. I have never before seen anyone get so excited over a picture of themselves, it was adorable. Once they had got the hang of photos however, they all wanted to be captured.

The final stage of our rural adventure was a three-day trek through the countryside of Vietnam. This is when we really got to take a step back and really take in all the beauty that Vietnam had to offer. We walked through rice fields and farms, waving to locals along the way.

Our next stop was heading to the Eastern coast where we would spend a night upon a boat in Halong Bay. This has to be one of the most beautiful places that I have, and probably will ever see. We spent all afternoon canoeing around the islands, looking around the islands and exploring through caves. That evening, before our beautifully cooked fresh seafood feast, we all when up to the top deck of our boat to enjoy the sunset. We then thought it would be a fun idea to jump from the roof of our 10 metre high boat’s roof down into the bay.

The next morning we caught an over night train down south to the tourist capital of Vietnam, Hoi An. This city was insane. It has a well-known culture for clothes and shoes making, and everything is so incredibly cheap. We spent four days in this city and it is where I spent majority of the money I had bought.

Vietnam would have to be the most culturally different countries that I have ever been too, and I was not expecting to see such a vast difference between it and Australia. However, after this once in a lifetime experience that I had, I can honestly say that this would have to be one of my favourite locations in the world. As well as the beautiful cities, I could not get over the welcoming nature of all of the locals, no matter where we went. If anyone ever has the opportunity to have an experience similar to this, I urge you to grab onto it with both hands.