This trip all started as part of the Vietnam Exploration with the Yass Combined Unit (A unit of Venturers and Guides). After being involved with several Scouting Projects over the last eight or so years, one of the recommendations that come out the wash up is for the leadership team to gain more experience with the project and locality. The aim of this Recon trip was to achieve this. The team leader, Holly, along with one of my daughters, Angela, and myself headed to Ho Chi Minh City (HCM City).
We originally planned to also visit Vung Tau, however plans changed. The trip lasted less than a week and we achieved our aim. Though the main trip ended up being an exploration of North and South Vietnam, this Recon trip was able to provide experience, contacts and a plan for the follow on main trip with the group.
Our trip started very early on a Saturday morning. Angela was up at 01:00 am and by 01:20am we were on the road to Yass to pick up Holly. After the very early morning drive to Sydney we boarded our flight to HCM City, via Hong Kong. The planes came with power points on every seat. (Yes, this was in economy too). We arrive Saturday night in HCM City and were very tired. Due to the Scouts meeting on Sunday we had organised to meet with some of the Scout Leaders on the Saturday night.
The hotel was in District 1 of the HCM City and close to most things we wanted to see and do. There were plenty of small restaurants around. The hotel was recommended to us by the Vietnamese Scouts in Melbourne and is run by a leader involved Scouts in Vietnam. In the hotel there were also some turtles in a pond inside. Angela spent much time each day playing with them.
On arrival at the hotel we were advised that the Scout Leaders would meet with us in the morning before the Scouts meeting. This was a welcome relief to us, as we were tired and wanted to go to bed. We obviously miss understood the message because just as I was getting ready for bed the phone rang to advise us that our guests had arrived. I quickly called the girls room and in five minutes we were downstairs. Off to the Highlands Coffee on the corner we went. Through our discussion Holly and myself were falling asleep, but Angela was wide awake, keeping our guests entertained.
In HCM City there is a wide variety of food available. They cater to the Western Diet and of course have their local Vietnamese dishes. We had a variety of different types of food. We all tried the local dishes and some of us were more adventurous than others. Okay, I was the adventurous one; however we all did try various local dishes. The drinks are very nice, especially the fruit juices, and they decorate them very nicely.
The food in HCM City is very cheap. Eating at the local touristy type restaurants, which we did, set us back about $AUD3.00 per meal per person including a drink. The local soups are nice, just do not put too many chillies in them (Yes, I did was sweating profusely). In the mornings we mainly ate a western style breakfast. My favourites were the pancakes with fruit. Some come with mango, banana, pineapple or a combination. Yummy…….
So on the first full day in HCM City, the Sunday, we went to visit the Scouts at their Scouts meeting. The Scouts meet in a park; in fact there are various groups that meet at different parks around town. Scouts only exist in Southern Vietnam and are not officially recognised by the government. Because of this they do not have Scout Halls as we do in Australia. The Scouts meet in Sections as we do in Australia, Cubs, Scouts and Venturers. The Cubs and Scouts meet with boys and girls separately, while Venturers is mixed.
The Scouts were so welcoming. We visited each of the sections and shared a little with them about Scouts and Guides in Australia. They in returned shared about Scouting in Vietnam with us. While meeting with the scouts we also meet a Canadian Scout leader that was visiting his old Scout group in HCM City.
That afternoon and every afternoon the Venturers offered to take us out to see the city. They were very kind and sharing. Each afternoon after school and work they would come and pick us up on their motorcycles and took us touring. The places they took us include the reunification palace, HCM City Museum, the markets, on an evening cruise on the river and to a water park.
The visits to the reunification palace was not just educational for us, but also made Holly and myself look like experts when we returned with the main trip in April 2011 and showed the whole team around. We walked to the markets and instead of walking around the big roundabout we walked straight through it with the vehicles and all driving around us. What an experience….. Cars, motorbikes, buses, trucks and us in the middle of this multilane roundabout. But this does sum up a bit how you have to cross roads in Vietnam.
On the river cruise we enjoyed the company of the Venturers, while snacking, taking in the night views of HCM city and watching the entertainment. The entertainment was a lady that played with fire. She twirled fire, hula hoped the fire and ate fire among other things. It was an awesome show.
During the day we also did some touring around the city, mainly on foot. Okay sometimes we used a taxi. Some of the places we visited include the markets (for gifts for the people back home), toured the city, visited Notre Dame Cathedral, the shopping mall and the Hard Rock Café. We enjoyed the local foods and Highlands Coffee as we took in the sights. In the taxis they had entertainment units, little screens you can watch mini shows as you head to your destination. This was certainly a good way to beat getting frustrated in traffic.
Due to low income levels in Vietnam, most people do not own a car. So the streets and roads are full of motorbikes. They are everywhere. In fact on the two lane each way roads, one lane is reserved for motorbikes. Cars are not allowed into the right lane. In the mall there were two full floors of just motorbike parking.
While we were in HCM City Angela also had time to work on her Cub Scout badge work. She was able to do this with the support of Holly, who assessed her. Each day the two of them spent time working on a little more of her badge work. While in HCM City she made a PowerPoint presentation on Vietnam and the trip, which she presented to her Cub Pack on her return to Australia.
On the day of departure we met up with a representative of an inbound tour operator. Through this tour operator Holly was about to organise the main trip in April 2011. This proved to be very beneficial. The recon team put together a report to present to the whole team on our return. Holly presented this report to the team a week after our return.
In concluding the trip achieved the aims and was a lot of fun. Holly did an awesome job in reporting back to the team, she ensured the team was prepared for the main trip and she organised the tour with the inbound tour operator.
Photos from the Vietnam Recon are available here.
Videos from the Vietnam Recon are available here.