Another sleeper bus, anther zero sleep night. The bus from Hue to Hanoi took about 14 hours. Our bus driver decided he wanted to listen to music along the way, so he had the same music video on the TV screen repeating for literally the entire trip. This bus was also apparently a hop on hop off bus so we made about 15 additional stops which turned the lights on every time. By the end of the trip there were people sleeping up and down the hallways of the bus on the floor. Not a recommendation I would make but hey life could be worse and we made it there alive
After the long bus ride we slept a few hours and had a relaxing afternoon. At this point in the trip my hair was getting pretty long so I ventured out to get a haircut, which I knew would be risky due to the language barrier. I was very relieved that it turned out ok (thanks to the street recommendation from the legend Mr. Kevin Bui). Later we hit happy hour at the hostel bar and ventured onto a nearby street where many of the locals were hanging out. Who would have thought we could have so much fun with a group of people that didn’t speak a lick of English. Apparently we happened to join the party on arm wrestling night…
One of the most popular excursions in Hanoi is the castaway tour through Ha Long Bay. Unfortunately we were in the area during a monsoon out on the bay and all the tours were cancelled the whole week. Pretty disappointed I missed out on that but as I’ve learned there’s just so many different things to see and do that you simply can’t do them all. That means I’ll just have to take another trip back to Vietnam soon! So we ended up finding a gym during the rain. As you can probably imagine, the equipment was very old but it got the job done.
Today we met a guy named Mike who recently started a charity support organization. He invited us to come with him to one of the organizations he is involved with and it was one of the best experiences of the trip so far.
Mikes business model is to identify smaller local charities that don’t have as much national or international support. Once the charity or organization is identified they build programs around it to raise awareness, human capital and money. He then finds a local business partner to help administer them (in this case it is a few local hostels) and then aims to get both foreign travelers and Vietnamese locals involved. Two of Mikes rules are that 100% of money raised goes back to the charities and that he will never give money. He negotiates what each respective place needs and goes from there. Most of the time it will be only basics and essentials- food, medicine,school supplies etc.
The place we visited today was called Friendship Village. It was actually started by an American soldier and has been operating for 27 years. The focus is to support people who have been affected by Agent Orange (which I spoke a little about when I visited the war museum in Ho Chi Minh City). Agent Orange is a genetically mutating toxin and is one of the slowest degrading chemicals ever made by man. Birth defect rates here are more than 3x the worlds average, so as you can imagine there is much help needed to support this group of people. It is expected that Agent Orange will affect the surrounding area for the next 200 years or so.
The Village holds 180 residents. 120 children (5-18) and 60 soldiers. They stay for 2-5 years and come from every province in Vietnam. Children receive full education, great healthcare, vocational training for job skills, and most importantly a place to be happy. The war veterans are there for 30 days and go only for the healthcare but more realistically they get a vacation!
We got to hang out with some of the children and sit in on their classes. At the end we were able to chat with four Vietnamese soldiers who fought in the war for several years and it was one of the most humbling experiences of my life. They were asked all sorts of questions about life during the war, life after the war, and their feelings towards America and Americans that visit Vietnam. Their answers blew me away. All four vets had nothing but open hearted kind words to say. In their culture, they like to move forward from situations in the past. One vets response was, “I am happy that we can shake hands today and am looking forward to peace in the world as we move on.” Three out of the four vets had children that were affected by Agent Orange and each of them had passed away by the age of 5.
When I was in high school, I was never a history guy. I honestly thought that I would never hear about the Vietnam war again after I graduated. It’s funny how sometimes life comes full circle in the least expected ways.
Tonight is my last night in Vietnam. It’s been an unreal run with the UK boys but back to being solo tomorrow! I’ll head to an island in Thailand called Koh Samui tomorrow night and eventually make my way to the full moon party in Ko Pha Ngan. Vietnam has drastically exceeded my expectations and I will definitely be back to visit!