Ancient Villages, Volunteering and Homestay – The many sides of Vietnam

Day 1 - Hanoi Arrival
The group is welcomed at the airport in Hanoi and driven to the hotel in the city center. Hanoi is Vietnam’s capital and is described by almost all who go there as ‘an old-fashioned city.’ Old-fashioned in style, it is a city of lakes, parks, trees, villas, mansions, and an area called the Old French Quarter where crumbling houses are crammed into narrow alleyways that are still named after the goods that were traded there – Silk Street, Gold Street, even Fried Fish Street!

Hanoi has sidewalk cafes, pavement barbers, wide tree-lined bicycle-filled boulevards, and elegant colonial French mansions. There is the grandeur and solemnity of Ho Chi Minh’s monumental Mausoleum, the incongruous rustic simplicity of the house in which ‘Uncle Ho’ lived out his final years, the barely concealed misery of the Hoa Lo Prison, the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ where so many prisoners of war were incarcerated, the religious pride that constructed the beautiful temple of Literature compound – it’s all here in Hanoi, a microcosm of the Vietnamese culture. (D)

Day 2Hanoi
We start the day by a gentle walk across Hanoi’s old quarter. Busy narrow streets, shops everywhere, noise, crazy traffic, street sellers and craftsmen working on the sidewalk.  The walk ends in front of the cathedral, a privileged spot for local teenagers to chat over a lemon tea or a fresh fruit juice. We then drive to a much quieter place, the temple of literature, first university of Hanoi. After visiting this jewel of architecture, we head to KOTO restaurant. This place also serves as a training center for disadvantaged kids of the capital. After lunch, we walk North across the Ho Chi Minh complex and hop on an electric cart. The ride takes us all around the West Lake on a small road bordered with coffees, restaurants and residential villas for about an hour and a half. It is a very pleasant journey, with nice views on the lake and the city. We visit a pagoda en-route and witness fishermen at work. After that we head back to the hotel, time for refreshing and then we gather on the terrace for a drink and a short Vietnamese lesson. We end the day by the water puppet show and dinner. (B, L, D)

Day 3Duong Lam ancient village – Muong community
Today we take a 1.30 hour drive to Duong Lam, an ancient village of the Red River Delta region. Over centuries, houses there have been carefully preserved. It is a surprising place, loaded with tradition and exoticism. We visit a temple, a pagoda and few homes around. We have lunch in one of them.

After lunch, we head to the South, about 2 hours driving on the Ho Chi Minh Road before we reach the Western edge of Cuc Phuong national park. We enter the park walking on a small road and arrive in a nice village made of houses on stilts and inhabited by a Muong community. We are welcomed by our hosts, settle in the wooden houses and take the time to go for a stroll around the village. The Mường is the third largest of Vietnam’s 53 minority groups, with an estimated population of 1.2 million. The Muong people inhabit the mountainous region of northern Vietnam, concentrated in Hoa Binh Province and the mountainous districts of Thanh Hoa Province. They are most closely related to the Vietnamese ethnic. While the Muong are believed to be related to the Vietnamese, some ethnologists theorize the Muong remained in the mountains and developed independently while the Vietnamese moved to the low country and became influenced by Chinese culture resulting from the 111 BC invasion by Chinese Han Emperor Wu Ti. The Muong and the Thai have had a mutual influence on each other’s culture, so today the Muong are ethnically and linguistically close to the Vietnamese, but culturally and socially similar to the Thai.

After some free time around, we gather in the main house to plan the activity of the following day. We all have dinner together with the locals. Accommodation is simple but correct. Houses are equipped with mattresses, sheets, blankets, pillows and mosquito nets. (B, L, D)

Day 4Community Service in Muong community
We spend the day working to improve either the environmental context or the local infrastructures. The goal is to bring a positive change in the livelihood of the community and to let something tangible after we left. At the end of the afternoon, we get ready for a small dinner party together with the locals. Something real has been achieved and it deserves to be celebrated. We spend the night with the locals. (B, L, D)

Day 5Tam Coc (“Inland Halong Bay”)
After breakfast, we get back to our vehicle and hit the road to the “inland Halong bay” region. It is a short drive of about 1h30. We start the afternoon with a boat trip in the middle of the limestone rocks that make the character of the region. We have lunch and then we hop on bikes for a leisure cycling on small winding roads. Easy level, about 30 kilometers, we have the whole afternoon. The ride ends in Hoa Lu, an imperial capital that still features imperial temples. We make a quick visit and then drive to the small town of Tam Coc. We have dinner in town and stay overnight in a charming place that reconstitutes an ancient village of the Red River Delta. (B, L, D)

Day 6Halong Bay cruise
We depart early to be in time at the pier in Halong. We board the boat around noon and start cruising the bay while the lunch is served.  In the afternoon, we enjoy some cruising time for relaxation until we reach a nice remote spot. Here we get the kayaks in the water and start our fun expedition. After kayaking, we reach the anchorage area, the ones who want can jump off from the boat and swim for a while. Dinner and overnight on board. (B, L, D)

Day 7Halong Bay – Hanoi
The breakfast is served while the boat starts its motion. We get closer to one of the biggest floating village of the bay. We hop on small sampan to go for a visit to the “floating communities”. This is theopportunity to witness and understand how people there organize their very particular daily life. We then get back on boat to cruise back to the pier. We disembark about 11am and drive back to the hotel in Hanoi. Expected arrival time is about 4pm. Time at the hotel to refresh and rest a bit. Cooking class in the afternoon and dinner will be following. (B, L, D)

Day 8Hanoi
All good things come to an end. Time to catch our flight back home.

 

 

Starting price
10 – 15 students + 1 chaperone: $ 1 390 / student
16 – 20 students + 1 chaperone: $ 1 340 / student
21 – 25 students + 1 chaperone: $ 1 290 / student
(Price depends on the time travelling e.g. Christmas and New Years period are peak season)

Price includes:
All the transfers mentioned in the program with van or boat, accommodation in a economic hotels or homestay, all the meals as mentioned in the program (B, L, D), drinking water during the tour, private cruise in Halong, all the activities mentioned in the program with entrance fees, a Students Journey guide

Price does not include:
International flights, beverages and meals not specified, phone calls and personal expenses, travel insurance, Visa to enter Vietnam (at this time US$ 57.00 / Pers.), Community service project fees such as cement, paint, brushes or shovels (in our experience around US$ 25.00 / Pers.), all other services stated as optional or not explicitly stated as included.


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