In April 2011 a group of Eleven Girl Guides, Scouts, Leaders and supporters from Yass NSW toured Vietnam. Over the last three years the Yass Combined Unit (Guides and Venturers) has been very active in planning and preparing for international projects and explorations. This trip was the second international trip for the unit during this time. The first trip was a project in Niue, South Pacific in January 2010.
The start of this exciting adventure started in 2004. It was during the Honiara Project, coordinated by Scouts ACT, involving 45 Venturers, Rovers, Leaders and Supporters. It was on this project that I met Brett Farquharson, Venturer Leader, Yass Combined Unit. This friendship was firmed up over the next two years as we were both involved with the Solomon Island Exchange in 2005 and the SI06 project in 2006.
In 2007 we conducted a presentation for the Yass Combined Unit about the why of international trips. From this presentation the Yass Combined Unit started holding monthly meetings for the purpose of planning and preparing international trips. Over the first six months the group workshopped, discussed and agreed to a set of common objectives for a trip. In this time the group also researched about twenty locations around the world to consider for a trip.
In the first case Niue was voted as the location for the first trip, with Vietnam a close second. Until the beginning of 2010 all the effort was placed in the planning and preparation of the Niue Project. On return from Niue the group decided to follow up with another international trip, this time to Vietnam and hence the planning and preparing commenced (or was it continued).
Both the Niue project and the Vietnam trip were Youth Lead. This means that the young people involved with the trip conducted the planning, preparation and implementation of the projects. The young people had guidance from allocated Leaders in support of their roles. The Youth Leadership Model meant that the team leader and all other key positions were held by young people. The aim of this model for leadership is to contributed significantly to the development of the young people involved with the trips.
A big difference with the Vietnam trip is that it was decided to be an exploration, rather than a community service type project. The Solomon Islands trips and the Niue Trip were all trips with significant community service projects a part of them. The two reasons for not doing a community service project were:
• It was preferred to explore the whole country from North to South, this limited time available in any one spot to complete a community service type project.
• The bureaucratic red tape for a community service project imposed by the Vietnamese government would be prohibitive.
Once all the planning and preparations were completed it was time for that exciting, early morning start. The trip started with a bus ride from Yass to Sydney Airport. I was lucky enough to get picked up from Goulburn on the way through. Though all of us were in a haze due to the early start; you have all seen teenagers in the morning; there was a sense of excitement in the air. By the time we arrived at Sydney Airport we were all very chatty.
We flew over to Hanoi via Ho Chi Minh City. On arrival at Ho Chi Minh City we cleared the formalities and headed outside for the transfer bus to the domestic terminal. On stepping outside the two things that hit each member of the team was the warm weather and haze of smog. The haze was nearly everywhere we went in Vietnam. Waiting about thirty minutes to hop on the transfer bus, we were off to the domestic terminal. The bus pulled up about 500 metres later and we got off at the domestic terminal. Yes, we did wait 30 mins to travel 400 metres on a bus. The reason we travelled 500 metres was that the driver missed the bus stop.
On arrival in Hanoi we went to our hotel and had a free day the next day. On the free day we had a walk around the city and yes some of us got lost. Hanoi was the capital of the former North Vietnam and since they won the war (I know that everyone actually loses in War) they are now the capital of Vietnam. Aside from the many museums and temples (pagodas) we also went to see the world famous water puppets show, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the markets, the first university in Vietnam and Hoa Lo Prison. Hoa Lo Prison was a ruthless prison in colonial times and was used during the Vietnam War (or the American War as the Vietnamese call it) for holding prisoners of war (POW).
While based in Hanoi we also did a day trip day to Halong Bay. Halong Bay is a pictureous part of Vietnam that has many islands. We went out on a boat to tour some of the bay and see a floating village. On the boat we had a feast including fresh seafood. The bay is so big that as you go further out there is a floating school, as it is too far for the children to come into land each day.
We left Hanoi to fly to Hue, the old imperial capital of Vietnam. After a seven hour flight delay we finally arrived in Hue. We did the tour around the city including the old imperial palace, markets, temples and monastery. At the imperial palace we even got to ride an elephants. From Hue we made our way down by bus to Hoian and Danang. On this bus ride we stopped at a beach and at what was the border between North and South Vietnam.
Hoian and Danong are tourist cities in central Vietnam. There is a large amount of resort construction down the coast from Danong to Hoian. Hoian is also famous for it’s textiles. In central Vietnam we visited the markets, museums, temples, the tailors, Hoian’s old town and Marble Mountain. Marble Mountain is a few hills that are full of marble. A marble statute industry has built up around these hills. There is also a temple and caves on one of the hills.
With all our tailored clothes from Hoian we head to Danong railway station. Our next stop is Ho Chi Minh City (formally Saigon) and we travelled there on the overnight train from Danong. We got three sleeper cabins with four beds each. Leaving in the afternoon we watched the rice paddies as we passed by on the train. The cabins were simple and a little hot due to a problem with the air conditioning in our carriage. Arriving in Ho Chi Ming City on the Sunday morning we headed to our hotel to get ready to go to the Scouts.
A special part of the Vietnam Trip was to visit the Vietnamese Scouts. In Vietnam the Scouts Association is not recognised by the Vietnamese Government. This means that Scouts have no way to own land or any scout halls. The result is that scouts (all sections) meet on a Sunday morning in local parks around town. Scout groups only exist in the southern part of Vietnam, primarily in Ho Chi Minh City. We made contact with the Scout group in Ho Chi Minh City through the Vietnamese Scouts in Australia
We sent a few days in Ho Chi Minh City without a planned tour. This gave time for the group to relax a little and was a welcome break from the hectic tour schedule. We did get out and see some of the museums, temples, the reunification place (the former palace for the South Vietnam President), a video arcade, massages (including facials, pedicures and manicures) and the water park.
We did two day trips while based in Ho Chi Minh City. The first was to the Mekong Delta. The tour included a boat ride, great food, canoe trip up a river, fresh honey, playing with snakes and a tour of a lolly factory. The second tour was to the Cu Chi tunnels. These tunnels were used by the Viet Cong during the war and the tunnels were amazingly small.
After our time in Ho Chi Minh City it was time to head onto our last designation, Vung Tau. We caught the ferry to Vung Tau. Yes was travelled in Vietnam by boat, taxi, bus, train and air, just about every way we could. Vung Tau is close to Nui Dat where the Australian’s established a base during the war. We did a tour of the city which included a cable car ride up to the top of the biggest hill. At the top was a fun park and we all went on the alpine coaster.
The second day involved a tour to Nui Dat, the site of the former Australian base, Long Hai Hill, an orphanage and kindergarten that were support by the Australia Vietnam Veterans Reconstruction Group (AVVRG). Long Hai Hill was the site of a former stronghold for the Viet Cong. The Viet Cong held out on the hill despite several attempts to remove them by using the natural terrain and caves for protection.
Our final full day in Vietnam was ANZAC Day. We attended the moving dawn service at Long Tan along with a large crowd of Australians and New Zealanders. After the service we headed back to Vung Tau for breakfast and a relaxing day. Yes there was some two up played, after all it was ANZAC Day.
The next day the bus picked us up from the hotel and we headed back to Ho Chi Minh City. On the way we stopped for lunch and visit another museum. It seems that there are museums everywhere in Vietnam showing their rich history. From Ho Chi Minh City we flew back to Sydney on an overnight flight. On arrival there was enough time to have breakfast and a shower before catching the bus back to Canberra.
One of the most exciting things about being involved in trips using the youth leadership model in scouting is to see the growth of the youth members. As mentioned earlier this was the second trip that I have been involved with the Yass Combined Unit. Over the last three to three and half years it is clear to see the growth of all the youth members involved in one or both of the trips
So what is next? The Yass Combined Unit is already starting to look at the next adventure. It may even be a domestic one…. Stay tuned. For myself, I sense my next adventure is just around the corner. However hopefully on reading this article you to will think about what you and your unit can do. A trip such as this Vietnam Trip builds experiences that the young people will take with them for the rest of their lives. What is it that you can do with you troop, unit or crew?
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