Expedition to Vietnam 2019
On 16th July 2019, 16 students and two staff embarked on a two week long expedition to Vietnam. This trip was the culmination of 14 months of planning, preparation and fund-raising. As with all these trips we had three main focuses: a trek, a community project and some time to enjoy the sights of Vietnam.
The ethos of the trip is to give each student an adventure and to develop skills in leadership, responsibility, adaptability, self-knowledge and ability to work in a team. These trips belong to the students and they make most of the decisions and arrangements for accommodation, transport, food, budgeting etc. The students take it in turns to be the leader for the team and to take responsibility for other aspects of team activities e.g. the budget. The staff members are there in an advisory and pastoral role and to oversee health and safety.
Treks – The trek was based in the Pu Long Nature Reserve. The scenery was stunning, and took the students through some very remote Vietnamese villages. The treks were challenging as the temperatures were in the high 30/ low 40s every day and initially the students struggled with the heat and humidity. However we decided to get up early and trek only in the mornings so we missed the heat of the day. Each night we stayed in a different traditional Vietnamese longhouse, and had time to discover the local village in the late afternoon. On the final day of the trek we climbed over 500m to the village where we were going to do our project work. The ascent was particularly challenging, but the students felt a huge sense of achievement as we walked in to our project village.
Project Phase – The project village was very small, with only 40 families living there. They were ‘white’ Thai people who had been displaced to this area of Vietnam following civil unrest in Thailand, several generations ago. This was an amazing chance for the students to become really engaged with the local community.
The extended family we stayed with were very friendly and the grandfather was very keen to explain local cultures and teach us Vietnamese. The day started at 5.45am, when the tannoy in the middle of the village would blare out with rousing military sounding anthems, this would be followed by ‘news’ of the day and then at 6.15am all the villagers would go to work, mainly in the fields. The tannoy in the morning reminded us that Vietnam is still a communist country.
Our project was to lay a concrete path leading out of the village. Heavy rains mean that the mud paths around the village quickly become very muddy, slippery and impassable. The students managed and oversaw the entire project themselves, liaising with the locals who were helping us. As there was no road access through the village and the aggregate for the path had been dropped off at one end, and this needed to be moved some half a mile to the other end of the village where the path was being built. The students participated keenly in this demanding physical work, pushing small carts of aggregate and concrete, uphill to the construction site and were amazed what they could achieve when they worked as a team.
Whilst staying at the project site village, we were able to really immerse ourselves in the Vietnamese culture and language. The variety of food offered to us was amazing, although the subsistence type existence of the locals, where chickens and ducks which were walking around the house in the morning, were then being served for dinner, did reinforce the connection to our food which we many of us have lost in our modern day lives. The village was very tranquil, serene and stunningly beautiful and it gave us all the chance and time to reflect.
On the final day we said our fond farewell to the villagers and walked out of the village to the main road to meet our coach. This took us over two hours and reinforced how remote the village we had been staying in was.
Explore - The final part of our expedition was the ‘explore phase’ where we saw the Vietnam that most tourists would see. This included a visit to Ha Long Bay, including a boat journey amongst the limestone karsts and visiting huge cave systems inside some of the karsts. We had a night in Ha Long Bay city and witnessed the massive development of the city sea front, to cope with the thousands of tourists that flock to Ha Long Bay every day. Our final day was in Hanoi, where the students saw a traditional water puppet play and enjoyed a final meal and of course shopping!
For this trip we continued to use ‘True Adventure’. They provided us with excellent support before the trip and were able to offer us backup whilst we were in country.
Overall the expedition was very successful and well organised. Most of the students seemed to have thoroughly enjoyed their experience and have gained enormously from it. They have developed their ability to be flexible, to lead and work as a team. Their self-knowledge, understanding of another culture and empathy with people has grown immensely. It is a privilege to see how the students’ confidence and independence grows over the expedition. This was a genuinely amazing experience, which has left the students and staff with lifelong memories!
Mrs Brunsdon + Mrs Dunlop