First impressions of Vietnam

You are thinking about volunteering abroad ? Read what Hanna learned on her trip to Saigon and what first experiences she collected in this new environment.

Hanna who was already featured in an Interview in April, now wrote her first guest blog entry for Volunteer World. She arrived in Saigon and now tells us about her first experiences in this new environment and her first impressions of Vietnam.

Flying to Saigon- easy, getting a taxi to district 1- super easy. Crossing the street to get to the other side- no way I will survive that! That’s what I thought when I arrived in Saigon for the first time. Hundreds of scooters fill up every street of this overcrowded, vibrant city.

They ride so close to each other that waiting for a gap is just a waste of time. There will never be a gap, not at six in the morning and not at two in the night. So you have to overcome your state of shock and throw yourself in there. Once you`re in, it`s not that bad. Just moving very slowly in front and behind rolling motorcycles making eye contact with every single one of them will keep you from being hit. After a few times it becomes easy and not scary at all and you adapt to the Vietnamese style.

First impressions

I came to Saigon with my brother Lukas a few days before the projects started so we had some time to spent in the city center. We did some sightseeing of course, had the most amazing street food and sat down on the backpackers` street to drink a few beers. You literally sit on the ground with lots of other people and someone will just hand you a beer for 30 cents.

I fell in love with the city instantly.

On Monday morning we were picked up by one of the staff members of the “Volunteers for Peace Vietnam” (VPV) and drove to the so-called Peace House where all of the volunteers are staying during their projects. First we met Finn from London who arrived a few days earlier and Eva from Bern who was just in between teaching classes. Bit by bit more volunteers returned from their project giving us a very warm welcome and asked a lot of questions. In return they provided us with all necessary information.

Living with locals

Later we moved into our rooms – Boys and girls separated-and I met my lovely roommate Camille from Belgium. We clicked instantly and went out with the others to get something to eat. Since the Peace House is in district 7, which is not touristic at all, it becomes a little bit harder to get the food you want. But for me it was just great to live in district 7 with the local people because it is so different from the touristic city center where people are used to foreigners.

To live in that area is the best and most authentic experience.

One of the girls from VPV, which are by the way all very friendly, helpful and funny made a small tour through the district on our first day. She showed us the bus station, the local market and the post office and a place I from then on visited every day; the smoothie place!

The second day was about getting to know the different projects and learning about the one you are going to work in. After that we drove with one of the VPV girls to our working place, to introduce ourselves and get to know everyone. Luckily my roommate Camille was in the same project as me. We worked in the “Leaf Pagoda” with orphans. If you can call it work to play and cuddle kids all day long. I liked the place from the first minute I saw it.

There is a beautiful Buddhist temple at the entrance and monks greeting you from everywhere, a very quiet and atmospheric place. A little path down you can hear the house of the children before even seeing it- not so quiet any more. The bulk of 15-20 little monsters seek for your attention and you don`t need any common language to go ahead and play with them. At around 16 o`clock we made our way back home.

Be spontaneous!

Shortly before we had left in the noon one of the volunteers named Gaëlle had told us that the next day will be off due to some public holiday in Vietnam. So she joked about flying to Bangkok for one night. At least everyone thought she was joking except me. To me it sounded like a very good idea and I said I´m in. That was the moment we fell in love! I just had to convince Lukas to come and that was the easiest part since he is also always in for the spontaneous. Unfortunately shortly after agreeing to fly in the evening Lukas and I had to take off to visit our projects.

We left our passports to the girl we just met and drove off.

So when I returned in the afternoon from my project I was not sure if I was going to fly to Bangkok three ours later or not. I was very excited and searched for Gaëlle and when I found her she just told me that everything worked out and I had to go pack my bag because we will go to the airport soon. So I quickly got a shower, hoped that Lukas would arrive soon and threw some stuff in my bag. Lukas arrived, we caught a taxi to the airport and by nine we had our first drink in Bangkok. We spent 24 amazing and exhausting hours in Thailand and returned to Saigon on Wednesday to be back at work on Thursday.

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