It was my first time embarking on an overseas volunteering trip. It was a personal milestone.
Inflight food was decent and considered appetising. Though we ate before this, we still managed to finish the food on the plane.
When we reached Ho Chi Minh airport, the airline staff informed us that our plane flew off earlier in the day, due to possible bad weather condition. We were stunned. Coming to think about it, we were informed via email just before we were about to fly off to Vietnam. We were at the Changi Airport gate already. However, the email does not highlight what is the change. The timing looks the same, and we realised it is the date which has changed. We were rescheduled for flight the next day. I think the airline could do better in their emailing instead of making us ‘spot the difference’.
So… we were going to spend a night in Ho Chi Minh. The airline staff checked us into Ramana Hotel, which is a 4-star hotel. Hotel is decent but the furnishing looks dated. Definitely not classy.
We had dinner at Cuc Gach Quan. There was this very calm and peaceful atmosphere in the restaurant. We went there because it is highly-rated on tripadvisor. We were pleased with the food. The best dish we had was the fish stewed in a claypot – tender with a pleasant taste. We also had lemongrass drink and it was quite an unique experience to drink from a veggie straw. You can click on this link http://www.cucgachquan.com.vn/en/a-vietnamese-family-moment/menu for the menu. There were four of us and we only paid around SGD 12 each. Definitely worth it.
Our next stop is Chill Skybar. I had been there last year during unit trip. I was pretty impressed when I first stepped into the bar because it felt high-end there in a city like Ho Chi Minh. The bar was bustling with people when I was there last year. Probably because we went on Saturday night. This time, we were there on Thursday night and it was only around 8 plus. The bar was rather empty.
We decided to play an escape room game after lunch, as there was nothing much to do. It was my first time and now I’m hooked on to this game. It is so much cheaper to play this overseas as compared to Singapore. We paid VND380 each for a game – supposed to guess the murderer and find the key to escape.
It felt really nice upon getting off the plane at Dalat. We were greeted by the cold weather. I didn’t really appreciate HCM much and was glad to finally reach Dalat. Somehow, feeling the chill weather made me feel that I was really overseas.
We had a driver who brought us from the airport to the Elephant village in Dalat. Most of the roads do not have street lamps so it was quite dark. The journey was bumpy as well and there were times whereby the car was almost at the edge of the cliff. Nearing the village, the road was so rocky that the driver had to go really slow.
We were then greeted by a local translator and he led us to the EcoLodge. The walk wasn’t very long but it was dark and the road could only be seen with the aid of torchlight. The steps that we climbed are rocks.
We had our dinner at the dining area. I guess it is because the place was built for ecotourim purpose, it was more comfortable than I thought. It was not exactly a village experience, if you get what I mean. Food was decent to me, but not up to standard for my friends who have exquisite taste.
After dinner, we went to a hut just next to the dining room for the bonfire. It was nice being away from the city and embracing the nature. The translator told us quite a bit about Vietnam. I am not someone who is interested in history but it was mind-boggling hearing a different perspective. I am not even sure whether this is appropriate to put it up online. The translator is an university undergraduate. He is saying that their citizens have no freedom. Not that we have much here but at least the citizens here vote though most of us probably care more about other aspects of life and I do want to acknowledge that our government is doing a good job. Anyway, the translator was saying the schools hide certain facts in history. However, he knows the truth because his grandfather always tell him details about the war. Although his grandfather is mentally unstable, the memories of the war is still vivid in his mind – the sound of gunfire, people crying… We are quite fortunate that we do not have to go through such painful experience.
The place where we slept was not as run-down as I thought. Each of us slept on a double bed and there is mosquito net to keep the insects away. The weather was cold so there is not a need for fans and aircon. Toilets are decent in that there are proper basin and toilet bowl.
This is Ms Suong and she is the teacher of the school. She is the one who will go down to the village to inform the children if there are classes. We can tell that she is genuinely happy receiving all the help from overseas.
We taught the children English, conducted singing and arts and crafts lesson. I was surprised that the kids know about gangnam style. They were singing “if you’re happy and you know it, gangnam style… gangnam style”.
Happy to see the smiles on the children’s faces. I was sitting with the younger group of girls and they were curious about the braces on my teeth. However, they don’t understand English and neither do I know how to speak the Vietnamese language. Couldn’t tell them why I am wearing braces.
We checked in to Du Parc Hotel in the late afternoon after leaving Elephant Village. It is only a 3-star hotel, unlike Ngoc Lan Hotel (rated 4 stars) which we had booked for our first night of stay in Dalat. Nevertheless, the lobby looks grand enough. The highlight is the lift, which has a manual door at every floor.
While we tried to teach the children all about life, the children taught us what life is all about…
Though the stay at Elephant Village was short, this meaningful trip gave us many fond memories. Will definitely like to stay longer next time to make a greater impact. (: