We have been to Bali, Thailand, and Vietnam - loved all three, but Vietnam is our favorite. The highlight of our trip to Thailand was a 4 hour hike through the jungle up to a Karen mountain tribe, stopping to swim in a waterfall. When we emerged from the jungle the first thing wesaw was a Karen woman, sitting on the ground outside her hut, weaving cloth, surrounded by water buffalo, chickens, pigs. Our guide was a "modern" Karen fellow. Our dinner was prepared by our guide while some of the Karen people hung out to listen to our English as we all sat around on the porch of our hut on stilts. We were provided sleeping mats in our communal hut (only 6 of us travellers-the hut could hold about 20) and we were awakened by the animals grunting and the roosters crowing. We hiked down the next day, encoutering children swimming in the waterfalls and a hunter out hunting for deer or monkey. By the afternoon we were back in our airconditioned hotel in Chaing Mai.On the river Kwai there are river boat/hotel rafts and the highlight there is to visit the village of the Burmese "mon" or "man" tribe - they are the service peopleand entertainment on the river rafts- they are raising their children in a traditional way, they use elephants in doing heavy labor. In Bali we hired a driver ($35.00 a day) that took us everywhere - the Balinese are such gentle, gracious people. I have always made our travel arrangements through the internet and have never encountered any problems, though I hear it is cheaper to wait until you are in Vietnam before booking with Vietnam Airlines. I think we paid $150 US to fly roundtrip between Saigon and Nha Trang. An we paid $150 US for a tour guide and driver in a clunky but air conditioned van to take us for 3 days into the Central Highlands and Dalat. You'll enjoy any of these countries - we travel extensively but Southeast Asia keeps drawing us back.
Thanks, everyone, for the wonderful information on Vietnam... My dad and mom are planning a trip out there soon, and I printed out all the comments and mailed it to them today (My 83 year old dad isn't the best with computers!). It's totally cool that we can print these comments and share them with others.
cruisinred - I contacted Ponheary, and unfortunately not only is she not available when we're in Cambodia, but the school is closed for the holidays. How disappointing! However, she has been very helpful and set us up with another guide. Of course, we will still donate to the school foundation to help them out.
I am wondering, however, what you recommend in terms of giving to the truly impoverished children you see on the streets of Siem Reap and also in Vietnam? I know from experience in India, China and Peru that many times anything you give to the children is just taken and sold by the parents. Sometimes I've brought a bunch of those little soap and toiletries we gather from the hotels and distribute them - unfortunately even those little items can cause fights among the children. Ponheary recommended giving food purchased in Cambodia and even offered to have a bunch of village children rounded up by the school principal to meet us so we can bring them lunch or something. That takes them away, however, from helping their parents in the rice paddies for the afternoon. It seems a little wrong to have them go to so much trouble for us. I want to give something, but not sure what or how or do you think Ponheary's suggestion is the best? What did you do in terms of giving and/or dealing with the hordes of needy children?
Sorry to hear that Ponheary will not be available to be your guide, but I'm sure the person she recommends will be good.
I was also going to recommend offering lunch, as Ponheary suggested. If you're able to do it, it would be nice to have a lunch/party that included some meat at lunch (the kids never get to eat meat) and also play some little games, etc. You could bring along some fun little toys (can be ordered online in bulk) and bubbles, etc. and really make a fun afternoon for the kids. I would love to come along if I could!
Re. giving to kids on the streets, etc. I didn't notice any hordes of kids, and those I met selling postcards and things were polite and well behaved. I had some snacks and sweets in my bag which I gave to the kids I met selling things at the temples. These were well received, but I only gave them outto individual kids orsmaller groups.
On my travels to developing countries, I've found that the best way to figure out what to bring to help the community is to contact a local organisation and see what they need -- sometimes it's not what you'd expect. The school should be able to help you out here.
In terms of giving out stuff to the kids, I'm a bit torn. On the one hand you want to help, and on the other some people feel that giving stuff away encourages kids to skip school in favour of begging from tourists. I normally give through a recognised charity such as the wheelchair programmed mentioned on this thread rather than giving to individuals, but this is a very personal choice. If you do give to individuals, do so subtly or you can get mobbed.
If you decide to give stuff out to the kids you meet, I'll pass on a plea from a dentist I once did a volunteer clinic with: please DON'T give out sweets! Dental hygiene is very poor and dental care non-existent in many developing countries. There are a lot of rather young adults with rotten (or very few) teeth which can result in lifelong problems with poor nutrition.
I've been off the forum for a bit moving, but back and glad to see this thread is still plodding away! I did hear again from Ponheary and we decided to go ahead and host a lunch for some children in Siem Reap - they are out of school and apparently food is scarce so she really feels that is the best way to help. After hearing from everyone I feel better about doing this, I think that is the best way to go as it is through a local person's advice and we will be purchasing the food locally. I'd love to bring some small individual toys or trinkets for the kids but I don't want to leave anything out. I'm sure as the trip approaches I can figure out all of the details.
claassenam- Hope your move went well. The lunch sounds like it will be a fun time for all! When we visited the school with Ponheary, I brought along some trinkets (notepads, inflatable globes, etc) that I bought online before the trip (all made in China of course, LOL). I gave the stuff to the head master to pass out. I've we'd had more time it would have been fun to pass out toys and play with the kids. But you're right...I wouldn't want anyone to be left out!
Remind me, what is your final itinerary? Can't wait to hear back about your trip.
How easy is it to get to Dalat? It sounds like you really enjoyed the Evason Hideaway in Nha Trang, and there are often some really good deals on stays at the Evason Hideaway in Dalat. My geography is rubbish and I don't want to buy a package and then discover that it will cost us the same amount as the package to get there...
Thanks for asking - I feel like I have the bulk of the trip planned, I just need to get my internal flights. Did you purchase yours beforehand or wait until you arrived in Vietnam? I've heard that flights are much cheaper when purchased in-country (and scheduling doesn't seem to be too much of a problem) so I'm considering waiting until we arrive to purchase all but our first flight tickets.
That said, here is the current itinerary:
- Arrive in HCMC, stay at Hotel Majestic
- fly to Cambodia, 3 nights at Hotel de la Paix, tour guide arranged by Ponheary and hosted lunch one day for a bunch of local children
- fly back to HCMC, begin 4 night bike tour of Mekong Delta
- fly to Hanoi, 2 nights at Sofitel Metropole Hotel
- 1 night on Ginger Junk boat on Halong Bay
- 1 night back at Sofitel Metropole in Hanoi
- fly to Nha Trang, 3 nights at Evason Hideaway
- back to HCMC for one more night before departure
What do you thnk? We could have really used a month in Vietnam to pack all of the sites in, but I'm hoping that this gives us a good, diverse overview of everything up and down the coast.....