Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Volunteering in Vietnam: Our Last Week!

Our final week in Vietnam was jam-packed with activities! After a week of riding around on a moped following the helmet of others we decided it was time to venture out onto the Hanoi streets on our own. We decided to take it easy for our first alone trip and we headed for the quieter roads around west lake. We had a lovely afternoon riding around and stoping for lemon ice tea, and more to the point, our confidence driving the moped grew.

So, over the next week, with our new found driving/dodging abilities,we ventured out to visit several places that took our fancy.

Our first stop was the Vietnam Military History Museum. We wandered around looking at the different exhibitions, dates ranging from the 1600's to modern day. One of the larger exhibitions, which we found particularly interesting, was about what we call the 'Vietnam War', but they call 'the American War'. It was very interesting to see how the Vietnamese Government portrayed the events that happened between 1954-75!

Another place we visited was the Hoa Lo Prison. The Hỏa Lò Prison was a prison used by the French colonists in Vietnam for political prisoners, and later by North Vietnam for prisoners of war during the Vietnam War. It was sarcastically known to American prisoners of war as the "Hanoi Hilton". Again it was interesting to see the differences in Vietnamese accounts of how the prisoners were treated during their time there.

Our final weekend in Vietnam was spent in style, we decided to spend a bit of our cash on an organised cruise around Ha long bay, one of the 7 natural wonders of the world!

We did look into making the trip a bit cheaper by doing it on our own. However at the end of day it was nice to have all of our transportation and accommodation sorted! And the best bit... We would we sleeping on the boat!

The cruise turned out to be everything we hoped for,and more! Having booked and paid for the 'backpacker' tour, we were surprised to find that when we turned up we had been bumped up to the 'luxury' tour! Apparently the backpacker one was fully booked!! 

Our luxury boat pulled away from main land Vietnam and we started off on our adventure to see the sights of Ha long bay! Our first stop was 'Surprising Cave'. A cave that went deep into the side of one of the famous islands of Ha Long Bay. The cave found its name when it was officially discovered in the 90's by tourists who squeezed through a tight corridor to find an impressively (surprisingly) sized room leading to even more impressively sized rooms. It was very interesting to wander around and I hope the pictures do the size of the cave justice.

We spent the next few days around Ha long bay kayaking (only once though as all the kayaks were quite dilapidated and most had holes in!!), eating freshly caught sea food and just chilling out on the beaches of all of the different islands. Actually the weather was so hot (40 degrees) that we spent most of our time in the sea. Luckily our room on the boat had air con! We also managed to fit in a few jumps off the roof of the junk boat (three stories high)!!!

One of the last things that was organised for us to do was visit a pearl farm (this was only on the 'luxury' itinerary as they expected you to buy something at the end)! It was interesting to see how pearls are formed naturally and how they can be engineered by the farm. We also learnt how a pearl becomes a different colour naturally and, again, how you can engineer a pearl to be the colour of your choosing. It was also interesting to see the thousands and thousands of clams in nets, and to estimate how much money laid just inches away under the surface of the water. Apparently though, pearl farming isn't as lucrative as it seems. Only one clam out of ten successfully takes to the sediment inserted to turn it into a pearl. Nightmare. 

During the tour of the farm we even got to choose a clam to cut open (from the matured net) to see for ourself if we hit the jack pot! Unfortunately you didn't get to keep your prize if you did! 

Both Alec and I picked a clam with a pearl inside! However not many other people did! We were lucky, but we pushed the luck we did have when we tried to convince the farmers of 'finders, keepers'! They were having none of it!

Returning on the Sunday evening from our trip we were told that the students had organised a leaving party for us! We had just enough time to pack our backpacks ready for the early morning flight to Bangkok (ready for our week of sun, sea and sand) before 15 or so of them arrived to take us out! We went out for dinner at the local stall and had the famous Bun Bo Nam Bo, our FAVOURITE meal in Vietnam! Then we rounded it off with few Iced chocolates down the road in the local coffee shop! All in all it was a lovely way to say goodbye! 

Goodbye Vietnam, goodbye students, but most of all, goodbye new friends. 

We expect our next blog will be our last :(, however we will be summing up the last six months in style and hope to provide you with a last ditch attempt of entertainment.