A Vietnam Journey: Traveling from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay
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A Vietnam Journey: Traveling from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay

Vietnam Country Manager Pannha En says the only way to reach the Hill Tribe villages in the remote regions of Vietnam is on foot. For about an hour, Rustic students on the Hanoi to Ha Long program trek through mountain terrain to reach the tribe’s commune where the teens stay for five nights.

Pannha says it is worth the walk. After traveling south from Hanoi, it is here where students will really see another way of life.

“In the village the people are really happy to see our group,” Pannha said. “I enjoy the views – the farm and the mountains – and interacting with the local Vietnamese people.”

For Pannha, the stay in this village is the best part of the program. The village has about 200 people who live in homes built on a hill. A number of the structures have bamboo walls and thatched roofs. During service projects, students help with needed infrastructure projects.

In past years, they built a pathway and bathroom for the school. They’ve also helped construct a water system. When they aren’t working on such projects, Rustic students often will take part in language exchanges where they can teach English while also learning a bit of the local language in return. The teens also can take a break by using a nearby waterfall to cool off.

While staying in the village homes, the students enjoy trying local foods. They also learn about the local culture, including seeing tribal dances during village ceremonies. It gives them a good taste of what life is like for at least one of the ethnic groups in Vietnam.

The Ethnic Groups and Historical Influences in Vietnam

Overall, there are about 54 ethnic groups in Vietnam, including millions of people. In the village area where the students work, there are a number of Muong people. They are considered the only surviving descendants of the early Vietnamese people.

The Muong have an agrarian society and grow rice on terraced land, along with raising livestock. They practice animism, which is the worshiping of ancestral and other spirits. Rustic students will learn about these ethnic groups and their culture during their time in Vietnam.

They’ll also step back in time to hear stories about ancient kingdoms. Students visit the beautiful Ninh Binh province, which once housed the capital of a 10th century kingdom.

Northeast of this area, they also learn about the Tran Dynasty that ruled the region around the city of Nam Dinh from 1225 to 1400. Students explore what was the native land of the Tran Kings, who oversaw a period that was considered the golden age of art and culture.

More recent history will also be on the agenda, as students delve into topics related to the Vietnam War. In Hanoi, they visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and learn about the life of the former Vietnamese Prime Minister. Likewise, they’ll see the POW prison where the late Senator John McCain and other Americans were held. Pannha says this is a great opportunity for the teens.

Copyright: © 2015 Rustic Pathways

“Students learn a lot in books, but often they never see it in real life,” Pannha said.

An Immersion into Regional Culture and Local Landscapes

These lessons will be taught amid the backdrop of stunning landscapes. This includes the Trang An Landscape Complex, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is an area peppered with limestone karst peaks. Students will ride bicycles through the area so they have plenty of time to explore. Along the way, they’ll see a bird park that is home to thousands of birds.

Rustic students pause from biking in the Trang An Complex Landscape.

Another scenic highlight is the time spent on Ha Long Bay. Students spend two days exploring this UNESCO World Heritage site, cruising on a Chinese junk boat and kayaking. They also visit Fire island where they’ll likely see birds, monkeys and antelope.

Overall, the bay has more than 1,600 islets, which are small limestone islands topped with jungle vegetation. Ha Long means descending dragon, which is a name based on a famous legend.

Ha Long Bay in Vietnam

According to the tale, the gods felt sorry for the Vietnamese when they had to fight off northern invaders, so they sent a mother dragon and her children to help. The dragons spat out jade and emeralds as a barrier.

Those jewels became the islets. The dragons were said to take human form to help expand the nation, leading to the belief that the Vietnamese have dragon origins.

Such tales are the basis of a rich storytelling tradition in Vietnam. This comes to life when students return to Hanoi to see a Vietnamese water puppet show. This type of performance dates back to the 11th century. As the name implies, the show takes place in a pool with the puppets supported by bamboo rods.

Water Puppet Show in Hanoi, Vietnam; Photo: Steven C. Price, Creative Commons License

After watching the show, the students will later enjoy other art forms. They try their hand at pottery and take in the rich architecture in Hanoi’s old quarter area, which is the historic region of the city.

Alumna Emma Sharp who traveled with Rustic to Vietnam in 2018 enjoyed these activities and seeing parts of the world she wouldn’t have otherwise seen on her own. Along the way, she says she learned many lessons.

“Not only was I shown a variety of amazing sights, I was also given the history and importance behind each place,” Sharp said. “This made my trip very meaningful and I am glad that I got to go on my trip.”

As Sharp notes, this Vietnam program is one that definitely gives students an opportunity to grow while learning – to understand the past while also seeing a different way of living in today’s world. Having these lessons come amid landscapes with stunning scenery certainly is a plus and makes this trip a journey worth remembering. For more details, please visit our program page.


About the Author

Mary Rogelstad

Content Writer