Hope everyone enjoyed the first weekend of 2020! So if you haven't caught the last few posts, I just wrapped up my first Travel Japan series about a little more than a week ago. I decided to take a short break before starting my new Travel series, which will take us through our first voluntourism experience in Vietnam back in May 2016!
I think 2016 was one of our most adventurous years. We travelled to so many different countries, doing different things and participating in various programmes. The first of which, was a program called Words on Wheels organised by the Singapore International Foundation (SIF).
The Words on Wheels (WOW) programme is a mobile library project that aims to improve access to books and IT training and inculcate reading and self-learning habits for children in rural communities across Asia. SIF sends teams of Singapore volunteers to cities like Yogyakarta and Ho Chi Minh every month to organise classroom activities and coach the children in reading, learning English and picking up IT skills.
It was the end of our second year of university, and I wanted to do something meaningful during our summer break; and I found this program online. Our university (NUS) organised voluntouring programs as well, but I didn't trust student-run volunteer projects since they're always disorganised and kinda crappy (according to my peers). So we opted for a more professional program conducted by a trusted organisation like SIF.
Before we zoom back in time, I know about the controversial nature of voluntourism, and that our impact is very limited at best. Some cynics might even say we're wasting our time and it's better to just donate instead; but there's a whole other bag of worms when it comes to donating, what with embezzlement and stuff. I mean there are always gonna be problems when it comes to humanitarian efforts, but at least we tried something. We just wanted to experience a new country and do something good at the same time, so please don't hate.
Anyway, a month before the actual trip, we had a briefing where we met the other volunteers as well as the SIF representative and tour guide who were gonna be going with us. In total there were about 12 volunteers, so we split into 2 teams. And each team was to take charge of teaching 2 classes, so we had to come up with a lesson plan. We were grouped with this married couple and another guy around our age. 10 days before the trip, we met up to come up with a lesson plan.
We knew of our limited impact, so we tried to make our class fun by planning to teach the kids some songs, and play some games, since it'd be difficult to hold their attention for regular classes anyway.
18 May 2016. Wednesday.
Our flight was booked by SIF and it was fairly early in the morning, so we decided to have breakfast at the airport, aka Mcbreakfast! 😋
Our flight was around 9-ish, so we hung around the airport for a while. We went to see the sunflower garden, which was not a very good idea in the morning sun when it's really hot and bright!
We saw this cool motion tracker thing on the way to our gate!
And we got to sit on the burger throne!
Coincidentally, my favourite fitness influencer, Cassey Ho from Blogilates came to Singapore just 10 days after we took this picture, and she took one at this exact spot too!
Our flight to Ho Chi Minh was about 2 hours, so we barely had time to finish our in-flight meal. I think by the time we cleared immigration it was around noon.
We waited for the rest of our team to show up before heading to our hotel in a van.
It took about an hour or so to drive to the hotel we were gonna be staying - GK Central Hotel. It's a 3-star hotel, and it's actually pretty nice. I didn't take a picture of our room unfortunately, but it was cozy, clean and comfortable.
By the time we settled down it was around 2pm, and we had do some final preparations for our classes the next day, so we met up in Vincent and Dawn's room (the married couple) to discuss. We planned a game involving flipcharts where the kids had to identify body parts, and I was in charge of drawing the flipcharts! I was still new to drawing, and I wasn't used to drawing so large, but I think it came out pretty good actually. The rest of the team was really impressed, at least.
Anyway, after we finished prepping, we went out together as a group to a nearby cafe, where we had some cake and coffee.
We're not coffee drinkers, but Vincent is, and he wanted to try the famous Vietnamese drip coffee.
I'll probably write more about this special coffee in a tasteem post some day, but basically, this is made using dark roast Vietnamese-grown coffee with a small metal Vietnamese drip filter (phin cà phê). After the hot water is added, the drip filter releases drops of hot coffee slowly into a cup. This finished cup of hot coffee is then quickly poured into a glass full of ice making the finished Vietnamese iced coffee.
After that, we met up with the rest of the group at the nearby marketplace for dinner.
I believe it's called Ben Thanh Market, and it's a great place to buy local handicrafts, branded goods, Vietnamese art and other souvenirs. Here, you’ll find eating stalls inside the market where you can get a taste of hawker-style Vietnamese cuisine or simply cool off with a cold drink. At night, restaurants around the perimeter of the market open their doors creating a vibrant street side scene filling the air with the scents of wok-fried noodles, barbecued fish and meats.
We bought different dishes from the stalls outside the market to share.
including these bowls of beef noodles; one that was really spicy!
and this omelette-like dish
We also bought a churro for dessert. I'm not a big fan of churros, but this one was interesting, albeit plain.
It was cool hanging out with Vincent and Dawn. They are really nice people, and they even said that we reminded them of a younger version of themselves since they also met at the same university (NUS). 😅
The other volunteers were really nice too.
After dinner, we walked around inside the market for a little bit before we couldn't take the heat anymore and retreated to our hotel. 😅
It was a fun day exploring a little bit of Ho Chi Minh, and getting to know the other volunteers, but we needed our rest for a whole day of teaching the next day so we retired early.
Stay tuned for the next post, where we go about teaching 2 classes and explore more of Ho Chi Minh; this time with a local friend of ours!
Thanks for reading!
To find out more about me, check out my intro post here!
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