I often tell myself that if in a given day I don't
learn anything new or do something useful, then I have wasted that day.
Before going on a trip with Peace Trees Viet Nam (PTVN), I didn't think that it
was possible to have so many different experiences while I was on vacation. I
was able to relax, travel, and chat with the locals, while also working to help
people who are in need and learn from them.
PTVN is not a travel company. It's a non-profit organisation. Through their tour
packages, the company allows Vietnamese and foreign travellers to learn more
about Viet Nam and work with social programmes.
The tour company allows travellers to assist in the removal of land mines and
unexploded ordnance (UXO) in central Viet Nam. Tourists will also be able to
work alongside locals to help create an infrastructure that will create a safe
and healthy future for residents of the central province of Quang Tri.
During my trip, I visited the Truong Son Cemetery in Gio Linh District that is
home to 15,000 graves of soldiers and civilians who died while fighting against
the US. After that we went to Vinh Moc tunnels in Vinh Linh District, which
housed an underground village built in the demilitarised zone dividing north and
south Viet Nam. Later, we went to Quang Tri Citadel where Vietnamese soldiers
fought a bloody 81-day battle. Finally we arrived at the historic Hien Luong
Bridge over the Ben Hai River, which served as the border between the two
regions between 1954 and 1975.
After visiting these destinations, I felt that I had learned a lot about the
bravery of the Vietnamese people and the soldiers who fought during the war.
However, I also felt that I understood the true cost of the war, which still
affects people today.
After the inspiring tour, the group visited and worked at a friendship village
that PTVN built for UXO and Agent Orange victims and impoverished poor children.
I will never forget playing with the children. The children at the centre were
overcome with joy as they played with the balloons and stickers that tourists
bought for them. While the children that live in the city where I am from may
not be that impressed with such gifts, the poor children here thoroughly enjoyed
Nguyen Thi Cuc lost her legs in an accident caused by a UXO. Now unable to work,
Cuc continues to live an active lifestyle and even won several medals during the
province's special olympics.
She has had a hard life, but now she looks relaxed and is able to teach courses
on how to properly prepare sunflower and pumpkin seeds.
"Vietnamese people love these snacks, especially during Tet (lunar new year)
or when they are receiving guests," she says. "I don't know why they are so
popular, perhaps because they are delicious and they make interesting noises
when you bite into their shells."
This type of trip is known as responsible travel, which encourages travellers to
participated in tour packages that are designed by companies to form responsible
relationships with local communities. This new approach to tourism can help
improve businesses incomes and create more jobs for people. The concept is new
to Viet Nam.
Le Nguyen Travel is one the first companies that has implemented this new
paradigm into their travel packages in Viet Nam. The company works with its
Canadian counterpart, Cegep Marie Victoria Company, to recruit Canadian tourists
to visit Hoi An. Participating travellers can stay up to one month in the area,
where they will live together with the locals and volunteer in social programmes.
The tourists are able to help with household chores, study Vietnamese, and learn
how to cook Vietnamese food. They can also help village elders and disabled
residents and teach English to orphans.
With this package, travellers can visit Tra Que Village, which is famous for its
vegetables, and Thanh Ha pottery village where they can learn how to make
"I stayed at a house in Hoi An and I shared warm moments with the family when we
cooked, ate and did house chores together," says K Paul, who went on the
package. "We really understood each other."
"We didn't use the air conditioner in order to save electricity and protect the
environment," Paul says. "Hoi An people are so nice and friendly and the life
here is peaceful."
According to Le Ho Phuoc Vinh, Le Nguyen Travel's director, the three key
components that play a central role in responsible travel are the local people,
the tour operator and the travellers.
There are two essential aspects that responsible tourism utilises –
environmental protection and socio-economic development. Both aspects are
crucial to creating responsible and sustainable services that will employ large
numbers of people without harming the environment.
A pilot project Responsible Travel in Viet Nam has been launched in co-operation
with the Netherlands Development Organisation (SNV) and will last until December
"Visitors are now becoming more aware and concerned about other matters relating
to tourism such as littering in public places and water and noise pollution,"
says Phil Harman, senior advisor of SNV in Viet Nam. "About 97 per cent of
tourists, when interviewed, said that they were willing to pay more for a
responsible travel holiday that is environmentally conscious and brings about
more benefits for needy local people."
Someone may think travelling is all about enjoying yourself, but for me its
about making a difference.
Before leaving Quang Tri, we spent the morning planting trees. Looking at the
saplings, I felt satisfied with my trip and I hope one day to come back and see
how much growth has taken place in the area.