In December 2017, during a very short summer term break, I went to Hue, Vietnam for a community service project to fulfil my university’s 80 hours’ community service requirement. Our mission was to construct a wall fence around a kindergarten and teach the kindergarten children basic English.
Located in the central area of Vietnam, Hue is known for its 19th-century citadel with thick walls surrounding it. We took a 3-hour flight to Ho Chin Minh and another hour domestic flight to Hue.
This trip was supposed to be a community service and not a relaxation trip so I expected the accommodation to be really run down as we didn’t pay much either. However, throughout the 2 weeks in Hue, we stayed at Thang Long Hotel, or I would call it a motel. I thought it was pretty comfortable. I even expected to bring a sleeping bag and thought that we would be staying in camps where it is filled with empty rooms without beds.
We touched down late at night and went to our hotel for a first traditional Vietnamese cooked meal and many of us realised that the wooden chopsticks they used reeked of a stench which was quite uncomfortable, but I guess looking back at it, it was something worth remembering. Being in an entirely unaccustomed environment with a different culture was, in fact, new and refreshing.
Thanks to @gwanyfarny for the photos.
We spent two weeks taking shifts to build a concrete wall around the perimeter of the school, cooking and teaching, which were all something I have never really done any of them in my life. It was so fulfilling to try them the first time.
Started our first day meeting the kids then embarking on the construction on muddy wet fields, with our feet plodding on every heavy step. My shoes couldn’t even last me through one out of the three days we had to do construction. Partially it was my fault, having to bring the already worn-out shoes to do construction. The sole came out within the first day, and subsequently, I bought plastic tape and wrapped it around my whole shoe in an attempt to secure the sole.
After both of my New Balance sneakers sole fell out, I tried to look for a covered shoe to buy so that I have something presentable to wear for the closing ceremony. We went to the most fashionable places in Hue, but even Adidas only stocks size up to US10. In the end, I found US11 Vans Old Skool Classic Low, which I already own a pair in size US12. Even though it was a bit tight and much pricier than the price I bought my original pair for, I had to buy it.
Over at Hue, Vietnam, we went exploring the city’s famous places like the Imperial City and also the abandoned waterpark – Ho Thuy Tien, built in 2004 but didn’t manage to complete the construction due to a shortage of investments. The waterpark is located around 30 minutes from the city and getting a cab into the area would be the most ideal option as the driver would stay and fetch you back to the hotel like ours did. It only cost us around 360k+ Vietnamese dong (SGD$20) for a two-way trip.
With the Vietnamese volunteers outside the Citadel
It was a rainy day when we went to the abandoned water park, the entire walkway towards the dragon figure was flooded and that definitely says what happened to my shoes. As eerie the entire walk around the park was, it felt like one of those adventures the kids go to in the children books. “I felt like a kid again haha”.
During our days serving at the kindergarten, we had a standard Bun Bo Hue for breakfast which costs (20,000 Vietnamese dongs) and we would take a bus to the kindergarten every morning, period. Almost every day, there would be primary school kids who study beside the kindergarten, running over to the kindergarten to talk to us. Many of the time, I look at them and wished they would have a great future one day, chase their dreams and don’t stop. The different lives we live, comparing the kids of the same age in Singapore, how privileged we are being born and raised in a comfortable city, the whole idea of it left a huge impact in me.
I hope these two weeks they spent with us thought them a thing or two, like they did to us, culturally. I only wish they were inspired to study hard and be a successful individual when they grow up. Although we do not teach them, I can only imagine how disappointed they will be when we leave. The times they waved goodbye to us behind the bus, when our bus leaves for the hotel after spending a day at the kindergarten.
After ending our service, a new journey begins. We left Hue for Danang. A scenic city which only takes 30 minutes to Hoi An.
Couldn’t recall when was the last time I took a vintage train to anywhere. From Hue, we took a 2-hour ride to Danang. The ride was so scenic, especially because I sat on the left, while it was on the mountain, I could see the little cascades and the sea from my vantage point. We only had a short two days to spend at Danang. As we arrived in the afternoon, we spent the remaining hours walking around town, going to factory outlets and Vicom shopping mall in Danang.
Following day, we chartered a bus to the Marble Mountains, one of the popular tourist attraction in Danang.
Walking up the marble mountains
When I finally reached the top of the mountain after climbing into a cave and squirming out the tiny cave exit like a rat, I had to hurriedly take a few shots because the skies were getting dark. Within moments it started to drizzle and we knew it was going to be very dangerous as the rocks there were very steep and slippery. Which is why I panic and fled to the bottom of the mountain before I slip and die. But really, the view from the peak is fascinating.
The 36-storey sky bar in Danang can be found at Novotel Hotel. We immersed in the chill vibes at the windy bar and also had the view of Danang city to ourselves.
With a day left in Danang, our adventure continued. That one day felt like three because I did so many activities and had so much fun. We took the same chartered bus to Hoi An, which only lasted 20 minutes.
Hoi An, is a town of lanterns. There’s just one unforgettable moment to remember and will never forget, and that is riding a motorbike in Hoi An. (The fact that I actually tried maneuvering it myself) I just rode for two rounds, and that adrenaline pump was satisfying. It only cost 18,000 Vietnamese dongs for a bike. We travelled around the town in our rented bikes and explore the randomest places just by navigating on Google Maps. (Biking moments on my Instagram Highlights) // Shoutout to Larry my driver.
We rode into this residential area and spotted a make-shift gym so we decide the drop by to play (There’s me looking at the gym). There was a visually-impaired old man walking by the guiding line and we had to move our bikes so we do not cause him to trip, which we almost did, and we died laughing because I placed my camera on the bike for a group photo and the bike was in his way. I remembered shortly after this shot as we continued, we rode into a puddle of mud which had dents and we nearly flew out of the bike, but that was crazy… crazy fun.
The traffic in Vietnam is crazy and Hoi An is no exception, even locals come to have fun. Hoi An’s ancient town’s road closes from 3pm onwards till the next day. God knows what we were actually thinking (because we were supposed to park the bikes at the area outside of the ancient town and walk into it) but we decided to ignore the time restraints and rode it everywhere, through and past the town. And guess what, when we tried to return the bike at the rental shop which was due at 8pm, many of the roads were restricted and we had to find alternative ways around back to the rental shop, but thankfully we did in the end, by going a big round around the perimeter of the ancient town in the congested traffic.
HO CHIN MINH
Arrived in Ho Chin Minh by plane and stayed at Boss Hotel 3. I recalled during the journey to our hotel, it was the first time I witnessed a GrabBike, it is something like an Uber but using a bike instead. It was a pity I didn’t get to try it out. We went shopping at Benh Thanh Market, which is a popular place for shopping, you can find a variety of imitation goods there. I would recommend anyone to shop there because the shop owners are very rude. If you ever try to bargain, be ready to get insulted. I best buy, or rather the only buy for me at Benh Thanh Market was a The North Face travel bag for only 15,000 Vietnamese dongs, but we managed to get another one for my friend at 13,000 Vietnamese dongs at another shop. I find the joy in bargaining because it is enjoyable and at the same time challenging, but only if the storekeepers are nice enough to entertain us. Two of the famous places in HCM is the Central Post Office and Norte Dame Cathedral which are adjacent to one another. It is also a beautiful place to take photos.
Disagree with me but HCM is a pretty boring place, every shop sells pretty much the same items, but you can really get knock-off Adidas, Under Armour, Nike and many other branded apparels at a very cheap price. Nonetheless, we got bored really quick, but the variety of cuisines and food there is overwhelming, compared to the other parts of Vietnam. Every single meal including breakfast was absolutely satisfying — think frog noodles, Australian beef burgers and English breakfasts with bacon. We specifically went researching for those eateries online.
I am truly thankful for the buddies I had along with this trip and the fun adventurers especially the motorcycle rides. This was one of the longest trips I had, besides my usual South Korea trips. The enjoyment from this trip came from various aspects and from meeting people from different walks of life. Hopefully, we will be able to travel again, doing more crazy things together. Till then.