Phuong* ran away from home when he was 10 years old. He was born in the far north of Vietnam. His mother lives in China and his father sold him to an extended family member when he was just 7 years old. His adopted family treated him badly, and insisted that he work on the streets instead of going to school. Phuong ran away to Hanoi.
Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation staff met him in late 2011 at the local market. Sadly, they’ve been unable to locate a family member willing or able to take care of him. So now Phuong is living at Blue Dragon’s shelter in Hanoi where he’s being supported to go back to school. He’s a really happy, friendly kid and loves going to school every day.
Enjoying a delicious local meal is one thing, but knowing that where you have chosen to dine also makes a real difference to disadvantaged youth gives you even greater satisfaction. Many Intrepid travellers know the dining delights of KOTO in Hanoi and now Ho Chi Minh City. KOTO was established in 1999 to support deserving young people and Helen Cunningham explains why it’s one of her most memorable meals whilst on holiday in Asia…
“If you’re a people person, then some of the best travelling discoveries you can make come from meeting the locals at your holiday destination. For a down to earth, realistic and sometimes colourful experience, I thoroughly enjoy the knowledge, company and stories that the locals are willing to share. Having travelled through many Asian countries, I love to get away from the regular, most visited tourist spots and sample local cuisine, culture and art, and in return the locals are excited to share their lifestyle with me.
Trying to learn enough of the local language to help you get around can really be a challenge for your comfort zone. What’s more unnerving than being warned that a slight mispronunciation can be the difference between saying “thank you” and swearing profusely? But locals really appreciate visitors making an attempt to use their language and will often help with a little coaching, as John Kirk discovered in Vietnam…
“Our group had some time to chill out in Nha Trang, so I decided to hire a bike and explore the surrounding countryside. It was a fantastic way to take in the local sights, but being a scorching hot day I took a break under the shade of a large tree next to the railway line to Ho Chi Minh City. Nearby was a railway crossing attendant’s hut. Its occupant was having a blissful siesta, obviously not expecting either trains or guests, as he had shed most of his uniform in the heat!
From Vietnam’s culture and cuisine to its incredible history and idyllic landscapes, Val Wex discovered that this fascinating country has a way of energising weary of travellers…
“After three months overseas, by the time we were on the plane to Kuala Lumpur on our way to Hanoi I honestly felt sorry that we were doing the Vietnam trip, as I wanted to come home. But as is often the case, when you don’t want to do something it turns out being the best thing ever.
Many Intrepid travellers have been introduced to the dining delights of KOTO Hanoi. Now such culinary pleasures, while supporting deserving young people, can also be had in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC)!
Established in 1999, KOTO has grown from a small sandwich shop in Hanoi to an internationally accredited hospitality program. In January 2010, KOTO was able to replicate its successful Hanoi model with the opening of KOTO Saigon training centre and has recently celebrated the opening of a restaurant in HCMC. Same great service from trainees who prepare and serve the food. Plus a menu that celebrates local ingredients and utilises the international culinary techniques the trainees are learning, resulting in an array of innovative fusion dishes.
How do you gauge the value and enjoyment of your holiday? At Intrepid we have ‘passenger feedback ratings’ so you can get an idea of how much previous travellers enjoyed each trip, but recently Yaffa Gould and her group came up with a unique rating system while they feasted their way around Asia, and we think could take off…
“We recently completed Intrepid’s Best of Vietnam & Cambodia – 18 Days. Our Vietnam holiday was wonderful for its scenery, its people and hearing the recent history first hand. Individual area guides shared with us their personal stories: for example at the Killing Fields, our guide, only five years old during Pol Pot’s reign of terror, told of working as a scarecrow in the rice fields for 12 hours a day.
When passing through Hanoi’s Noi Bai airport, you may notice posters of animals, including a bizarre-looking scaly anteater. The animal in question, a pangolin (te te in Vietnamese), is one of six species featured in the “Don’t Buy Trouble” anti-wildlife trafficking campaign in Vietnam.
This unusual looking creature is covered in protective scales that are reminiscent of an artichoke and feeds on ants and termites. Pangolins are found throughout Southeast Asia, with two species native to Vietnam, but sadly they are heavily threatened by habitat loss and excessive hunting.
There’s so much to see in Hanoi that you’d be struggling to do it all in 24-hours without the help of a local. Then in addition there are the outlying provinces that also have so much to offer, as Casey Wallen discovered on her Citadels, Karsts & Cycle Urban Adventure…
“I’d not actually heard much about the province of Ninh Binh before, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to go there. After leaving behind hectic Hanoi we hopped on bikes to wind our way along the narrow roads through the stunning valleys of the karsts. This was a wonderful highlight. We saw duck farms, buffalo having mud baths, plenty more gorgeous scenery, but there were no other tourists in sight. We rode through several small villages where the kids were happy to say “hi” or high-five us as we cycled past – what fun!
There’s no doubt cycling gives you a chance to meet the locals in ways that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.
Handle-bar height gives you the best view of Vietnam and as Jo Gilbert discovered, once you rise to the challenge of the roads for the first time, you’ll be freewheeling all the way!
On any given day, at almost any hour, on Hanoi sidewalks you’ll see people perched on small plastic stools, solving the worries of the world and sipping their much-loved coffee. Tony Huddy wondered what was the attraction, until he took that first mouthful and discovered coffee heaven…
“Now don’t get me wrong, the food in Vietnam is nothing short of sensational. Everything here tastes good, even the pigs intestines. But there is something better than the food in Vietnam – the Vietnamese coffee!