In the last week of Term One eighteen students from St Peter’s College departed on the Biannual Cultural tour of Vietnam. We were set to be away for 14 days travelling the length of the country from North to South. We started in the nations capital Hanoi, a city of around 7 million people. Immediately it is a culture shock as road rules and sanitation are far removed from little old Gore. The heat was also a little strange as most days it was sitting around the 30’s but often it got close to 40 degrees. We stayed in the old French quarter of Hanoi which is right in the heart of the city. We managed to hit a night market in the first few days and the students got a handle on the bartering system of economics employed here - Molly Hailles proved to be a tough negotiator. From Hanoi we travelled six hours in a bus to Sapa a place new to the tour and it was a great addition. High in the mountains people are ethnically different and they are even physically different appearing much shorter than the majority of the people. We wandered through a bamboo forest and terraced rice fields avoiding the odd water buffalo along the way.
From Sapa we moved onto Ha Long Bay and stayed a night on a Junk style yacht. It was a different pace than Hanoi and the students appreciated the slow down as it had been pretty hectic up to then. Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO world heritage site and its easy to see why.
After Ha Long Bay we took an internal flight to the middle of the country visiting Hue and Hoian both places with immense historic value and the ancient heart of Vietnam. Here we visited the Imperial palace and we toured the DMZ De-Militarized Zone. We were lucky enough to be guided by a local who lived through the conflict and told some interesting stories. He himself had blown his own toes off so he didn’t have to fight for the army which by all accounts was a death sentence at the time. Hoian also is in the middle of the country and it was a local public holiday while we were there, so it was shoulder to shoulder in the popular tourist location. That being said it is very beautiful there at night with it being lit up by traditional lanterns.
Another internal flight and we head down to Ho Chi Minh City. We are nearing the end of our tour, but we still managed a stay in the Mekong Delta a short trip on a boat up an enormous river and we are in a more traditional village. They gave us a cooking lesson and Ethan Mitchell proved his worth in the kitchen cooking Spring Rolls. One of our final activities was a tour of the Cu Chi Tunnel complex where Viet Cong soldiers lived under ground for the entirety of the war was . A tough life to say the least but living under ground was the only way they could survive as the Americans bombed the region relentlessly for over a decade. A sobering reality of life during wartime something these students have little comprehension of from Southland.
The last hurdle was the journey home and after some small mechanical issues had us turned around mid-air and returned to Hong Kong and “comfortable” night spent on the ground in the airport we were eventually bundled onto another plane and arrived home a little jaded but better off for the experience. A huge thankyou to my travel buddies Kathryn Pinckney, Jacqui Thompson and the never late for anything David Miller. Their support of the students and myself throughout the trip meant that things went very smoothly and without too much stress.
The students witnessed some of the realities of a world that is not as easy as ours and potentially they can share that knowledge with our community here at St Peters to make us appreciate what we have.
HELA Social Sciences