Days 20-end

It is kind of bittersweet to think this trip is almost over with, just one more day to go. We have done so much, learned so much and grown so much. We have faced fears, tackled mountain paths, and formed bonds with each other and Vietnam. We crawled through tunnels and climbed mountains together. Slept in hotels that were an adventure and test of flexibility. We have all tried new foods, and some were good and some were not so great. We tried duran, and for that at least we all deserve a round of applause. We planted trees, cleaned up trash, and learned more this last month through firsthand experience about pollution, environmental justice, climate change, the wars in Vietnam, and global journalism.

On Friday we presented and lectured at VNU(Vietnam National University). Dr. Moore lectured on Environmental Issues and the media, Kylie on greenwashing, Brandon on hydroelectric dams and their environmental impacts, Ashley on water pollution and algae blooms, and finally myself, Michelle on deforestation, soil erosion, and rising water levels. Each one of us did a great job and with the support of our professor and classmates we survived and did UW proud.

When I got asked to do this blog near the start of the trip my intention was indeed to post every day, or at least more often. Due to our busy schedule that did not occur. I have purposely focused on the positives and while I am sure there are a few negatives about our trip, none of us would change it for the world. This trip taught us so very much on more than an academic scale. Dr.Moore has worked so very hard to get the trip running and keep it running and us safe that there is no way I can put into words the gratefulness that all of us feel. No one got ran over by a crazy motor biker as we examined air pollution in major city centers, nor did anyone drown in Ha Long Bay as we explored the effects of tourism on the natural environment, same can be said for NhaTrang.

It is difficult to think that it has been a month it feels both much longer and much shorter than that, we are ready to come home to our family and friends. I do however think that each and everyone of us will hold a love in our hearts for Vietnam and our fellow travellers. Thank you for reading and see you when our feet hit American soil in just a day or so.

Michelle Parker
Senior – UWT – Double Major – Communications and History

Days 19 and 20 Dalat to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) to Ca Mau

Two days of bus rides and more bus rides.

Day 19

so this morning we loaded up on the bus to transfer to Ho Chi Minh City, it was a wonderfully fun day. 10 hours or so driving time, so with stops for lunch, stretching, and a little sightseeing it ended up being closer to 11 or12. Hours of transit Time. Which was fine. Today we saw elephants and learned more about how tourism is changing the lives, and culture, of people throughout the whole of Vietnam. We saw the landscape change from mountains to marshes and flatter lands. As we move more south in the country the heat rises as does the humidity, some of us are missing the cooler weather at home and all of us will not miss the mosquitos of Vietnam. By the time we arrived in Ho Cho Minh we were exhausted and a bit grumpy after being cooped up on the bus for so very long, so we checked into the hotel and after resolving an issue or two with the rooms we slept knowing that in the morning we would hop on yet another bus for the next leg of our trip.

 

Day 20

Another day of bus riding. Today we got to meet up again with Ms. Thuy Binh and head off to Ca Mau. Today was spent in transit, more bus time, some excellent conversations and quiz time. Taking a quiz on a bus on a bumpy road is quite…..interesting and a challenge. Sleep time for in the morning it is time to head out into the Mekong Delta and see first hand the effects and links of wetlands erosion and climate change.

Day 18 – Meeting and Lectures with Dalat University

Another great day in the country of hot and damp weather, well actually Dalat is not that hot but it certainly is wet. It is the rainy season in the mountains and it does indeed make it a gamble on whether or not to bring your umbrella. Today was another day filled with well lots of insight into new views on the environment.

This morning we woke up to a lovely breakfast in our hotel before shuffling off to a lecture that most of us feared was going to be a boring experience. We were wrong. Today we listened to Le Quang Huy who is a lecturer on environmental issues at Dalat university. We also got to meet 12 of our Vietnamese counterparts from Dalat University, and like the students from the Vietnamese National University they were all very nice and welcoming.

In His lecture Professor Huy discussed a variety of issues that are facing this region of Vietnam. He started off by giving a brief history of the region including the fact that the Xuan Huong Lake in the center of Dalat is man made. He went on to discuss the economy of Dalat, issues relating to the environment included water pollution, deforestation, and their causes and potential solutions. We learned quite a bit about some of the projects him and his students have done to educate people about issues facing the environment including holding fashion shows with the outfits made from trash\ and planting trees.

After the lecture we got to visit Dalat’s waste water treatment plant and learn about how they manage to clean their waste water and pull solid waste from the water to make a natural fertilizer similar to our tagro. During our tour and the lecture we all asked a lot of questions and most of us felt like we hit pay dirt when it came to our video projects. Professor Huy was knowledgable but so were the students who joined us today.

After all that hard work, off to lunch we went then to the Valley of Love for some bonding time with the Dalat students before heading to the local market and then back to the hotel for dinner, meetings with Dr. Moore, and sleep. Tomorrow we head off bright and early to our next adventure and Ca Mau where we will meet up with Ms. Thuy Binh a nationally renown environmental journalist here in Vietnam.

We all would like to take a minute to thank and send well wishes and happiness to both Professor Huy and his students.

Day 16 and 17 – Snorkeling and Mountains

Another day and yet another adventure. This trip  has been a trip of firsts for many of us. Today we are still in Nha Trang and after having a wonderful day off to rest and relax after taking the night train from Hue to Nha Trang we are back in action and ready to learn more about the environment of Vietnam.

 

Day 16 - Snorkeling and Exploration

So this morning we to to take a quick bus ride to the harbor to load onto a boa to go off to Mun Island and snorkeling. Mun Island is a Marine Protected Area (MPA) which basically means that it is not subject to the same over-fishing problems as other parts of the coastline in Southeast Asia. The waters here look pristine and are a color that is hard to describe as no color does them justice. The vivid greens of the flora contrasted here and there with flowers are only shadowed by the beauty of the fish waiting under the surface. Before, during, and after our snorkeling adventure we learned more about the area and got to witness the effects first hand of Nature Based Tourism. NBT while it does indeed provide income for local people it also presents a problem in that the added traffic of tourist to pristine environments eventually degrades them, unless proper precautions are undertaken. The area of Nha Trang is a tourist hub with everything from amusement parks to shopping to entertain both domestic and international guests. Snorkeling is just one of many activities that can be arranged in the area, and our trip was great in that we got to learn not only about Marine conservation, but we got to see the natural wonder as it surrounded us.

 

Day 17 – Leaving Nha Trang (Ahh Parting is such sweet sorrow)

From the sunny, sandy, tourist filled beaches of Nha Trang our journey continues and this time with a stark contrast awaiting us. Today we head into the Mountains and to Dalat. Up to some high peeks we go to see pine trees for the first time in what seems like forever. The weather here is much different than anywhere else that we have yet to land our feet. It is actually kind of chilly, similar to home in the Autumn time. It is rainy and for the first time in Vietnam it is a cold rain. The scenery that surrounds us however more than makes up for the cooler climate and the rain. We drove up a road surrounded by rock face, waterfalls, and glorious trees eventually coming out at Langbian Peak. We loaded 5 or 6 to a jeep for the last bit of our travels upward and the view is simply amazing. (Pictures to come, the bandwidth here cannot handle picture uploads right now)

After our mountain journey it is off to our hotel in Dalat. Tonight we are staying at the Sammy hotel, it is the first 4 star hotel that many of us have stayed in and is certainly beautiful. We have an early morning and start of f with a lecture at Dalat university before going to visit waste treatment plants and learn about efforts in the area in regards to conservation, reducing pollution, and preservation of the natural wonders of Vietnam. It is now time for bed and I hope that in the morning when the thunderstorm has passed the bandwidth will improve for me to be able to post up some of the amazing photos of the last two days of our education and enriching adventure.

 

Ciao

Day 12-15 Hue to Nha Trang

Another couple of busy days. Arrived in Hue and have left already. It seems at times that we go through a whirlwind tour of each area and cram into every minute the most amount of fun and education. At times we can only scrap the surface of each issue and learn the basics before moving onto the next.

Day 12 – Arrival in Hue

Arrived in the early morning hours and immediately it was off to find food before taking a tour of the the Forbidden citadel. Hue was the seat of power in Viet Nam for almost 400 years through the Nguyen dynasty. The Forbidden citadel was the place where the emperor ruled from within its forbidding walls. Upon entering the Forbidden citadel you could be awed by the simple and yet complex beauty of the architecture. Our guide took us through our tour and discussed the efforts to conserve the history of the place through reconstruction efforts and the reasons why it is important to preserve the history of the country.

We then had lunch in a magnificent restaurant and received a demonstration of the creation of food art. We were awed and amazed by the process and effort it takes to create them. Our lunch was once again simply delicious and it helped to enable everyone to recharge and get ready for our next activity.

After lunch it was off to visit the tomb of Khai Dinh. The only tomb in the country to not have been looted during the various wars that have occurred in the last two hundred years. Up numerous stairs until you reach the top, each new level reveals a new wonder until the very top where the most magnificent room I have ever seen unfolds. Artwork everywhere, on the pillars, ceiling, and walls. Not much of the temple is not decorated and even that which is not filled with carvings and paintings provides a beauty in its simplicity. After our tour and some time for pictures it was off to our hotel for a brief rest and then off to dinner in Hue.

After dinner it was time for a boat ride and the opportunity to witness traditional Vietnamese music and dance. After the performance we had a bit of free time to go to the market or back to the hotel to relax.

While the majority of the group was off learning about preservation and reconstruction efforts two of our group (Alley and Laura) got to have a unique experience and visit the Centre of Orange Agent Victim. Here they got to visit with and interview people who were affected by the use of the chemical dubbed “Agent Orange” during the time of the conflict between America and Vietnam. They continued on the train to Da Nang and rejoined the main group in time for dinner.

Day 13 – Bikes, Hills, and Traditions.

Today we got up early and after breakfast we went off to the hills to bike along a highway. The hills were a bit much for some of us, but we all gave it a go and had some great times doing so, after biking we got to go swimming in a local pond complete with a waterfall. Then after lunch it was off to visit a ethnic tribe of people in the area and learn about their traditions and how they survive the increasingly globalized world. They have  rubber tree plantation that helps to bring in income to supplement the income they make through growing and selling food and tourism. After dinner with our hosts it was back to our hotel for a little bit of free time and relaxation.

 

Day 14 – Hue (much needed downtime)

Today we got a partial free day, which was sorely needed. Some of us used this time to go shopping and others to catch up with our schoolwork which we have fallen behind slightly on. It is hard to keep up a daily journal as well as attend each activity and we are all learning about the culture here like sponges. Most of us are attempting to learn basic phrases in Vietnamese which provides amusement to our tour guides and hotel staff. The language here is complex and confusing to us, it is a tonal language and a change in inflection can change a phrase from saying hello to asking for soup, or the difference between calling someone “friend” or “grandmother.” At 430 it was off for a early dinner before arriving at the train station where we took a test as we waited for our train.

Day 15 – Arrival in Nha Trang

Our train arrived a little bit late but we arrived safely. The trains in Vietnam are not as modern as Amtrak but they serve thier purpose well. We slept four to a room again and as hard as it is to sleep on a train it all worked out well. After having breakfast in Nha Trang it was off to the hotel and time for a change of attire and a free day. Each person did their own thing and I personally took the day to get caught up on some sleep and my journal. Most of the group ended up on the beach and got some sun. Tomorrow it is back to work for all of us and the chance to learn about marine ecology and Marine conservation efforts in the area.

A note about this blog.

I am attempting to keep up with what we are doing and due to time constraints I am posting the days at this point in batches when I have both the time to get on the internet as well as a reliable internet connection. A lot more happens on a daily basis then I can realistically can put into a blog post, however I can share the generalities of each day with those who read this. I try to leave out the boring bits and just hit the highlights.

Day 10 and 11

Had a great time the last couple of days.

Day 10 Hanoi to Cuc Phuong National Park

Today was simply amazing and awesome. I know that I keep saying that about this trip over and over. Today the crew got to see some of the conservation efforts for wildlife first hand! We got to trek through the jungle, and saw both the beauty and the dangers that lurk within.

We got up early, packed and ready to go. Loading onto our bus at 7am we left the city of Hanoi and headed out to the wilds of Vietnam. Our first stop was the Endangered Primate Reserve Centre where we got to tour the park under the helpful guidance of the primate handlers.

With a lecture from Liam Shepheard an animal keeper at the park the class learned about the founding of the park in 1993. It was founded to rescue animals who were being put in danger by hunting and trapping. It is a midway point for the rescued primates to eventually. Be reintroduced into the wild. When they are reintroduced the Centre provides education to the locals in the area the primates are released. Unfortunately the Centre does not have a full time veterinarian on staff and there are only 25 very hard working animal keepers.

After a great lunch at the national park we continue on our trek and up this mountain path we climbed. We were told it was an easy hike, it was not. However it was worth it. We got to see a 1000 year old tree, play with leeches, and get muddy. We saw first hand the damages that nature based tourism can cause. We also learned a lot about the flora and fauna native to the area. It was then off for dinner and a movie….minus the movie. Then it was time for a bit of sleep before heading out the next morning.

Day 11

We had a bit of time for cleaning up and the like last night, but it was an early morning.bags packed, we loaded into the bus for a trip to see a local pagoda. It was a nice jaunt up with some amazing architecture. Then it was off to visit a local village where we learned about traditional fishing, farming, and food preparation. We got to spend time with a lovely lady whose name in English translates to Grandmother Tea. She welcomed the whole group into her home and life, for at least a couple of hours and I think that each and everyone of us who got to meet this extraordinary woman can say that we are the better for it. She kissed and hugged every one of us and shared her love with a smile that simply does no more or less than melt the hearts of those around her. We got to learn, through her family story, a bit of the history of the area and a bit of the more rural cultural practices. It was hard to go onto the next thing. There is much that she can and hopefully will teach and share with the world.

After leaving Grandmother Tea’s village and home, it was off to a boat ride to tour the caves in the area and see how agriculture is affecting the local waterways. Dr. Moore ever the adventurous individual tried rowing a boat and learned it was much more difficult than it looked, however she did a great job. Others also tried and overall we all had a blast. We got to see monkeys in the wild during this tour, as well as a wealth of the bio diversity. Fish, birds, and bugs all living in a delicate balance that is threatened. The limestone caves of the area were great, but the crowning moment of the day was the pure joy on Amanda’s face when she got to see the monkeys on the hillsides. Then it was off to dinner and the night train to Hue.

Days 7, 8, and 9 – Hanoi to Cat Ba and back

The last three days have been filled with excitement, joy, and opportunity to learn about the environment of Halong Bay first hand. The views that filled out eyes ranged from majestic to saddening.

Day 7:

We set off today for Halong. We left the hotel this morning at 8am, loaded onto a bus to start the 4 hour drive to where we will load up onto our transfer ship to our cruise ship. Tightly packed into the bus we had a lengthy discussion about the ecology and environment of Halong. Dr. Moore read excerpts from an article titled Marine Lake ecology in Ha Long Bay (Vietnam). We had all read the article in preparation and so a discussion ensued. After arriving on the cruise ship we all paired off and got our rooms before going on deck to discuss the reading and have a quiz.

Shortly after the quiz it was time to transfer again, this time to see Sung Sot (The Surprising Cave). In the cave we learned not only how the magnificent rock has been sculpted naturally by years of water running along its surface but also some of the legends associated with the cave itself. There is one spot that is called “hell on earth” and as legend has it, just past the rough jagged edges of rock lies the way to Hades domain, the underworld. Then it was off for a visit to Titov Island and a rugged hike to the top of Karst there, about 500 feet above the water. Yes we got the fun time of going up a steep stairs and seeing a magnificent view of the bay, it brought the team together further, everyone encouraging everyone else as we push ourselves to the limit to see the interaction between humans, plants, and animals up close and personal.

After dinner it was time for further bonding within the group. Being in a foreign country has been stressful and educational and the team is pulling together magnificently. Some great friendships and partnerships have arisen.

Day 8

We awoke today to an beauty filled Halong Bay. After a quick bite to eat it was off to hop onto a transfer boat and pick up some kayaks. We paired off and went on a tour of the bay, landing on sandy beaches and learning more about the karsts that break the serene surface of the water. Yesterday we learned how karsts are formed and today we got to witness firsthand the magnificence beauty. Paddling around the bay we also got to witness firsthand the pollution that has started to threaten the wild beauty of this area. In one moment you are simply awed by the greenery and the next a Styrofoam cooler floats by, or a plastic bag. The waste does not come from the ships that cruise the area but are swept in by the tides from the ocean.

After we got done with our kayak tour we discussed the impact that tourism was having on the area as we transferred to the Ecolodge on Cat Ba Island. After a long day it was time for dinner and then a bit of time for solo reflection on all that we took in today.

Day 9 Back to Hanoi

Last night there was a huge storm. The buildings literally shook with the force of the winds and the rain sounded like a thousand buckets of water pouring contentiously down from the sky. Lightening arced and raced through the clouds and the whole world seemed to stop and cower before the fury of the storm, but we all survived intact and got up to take a shortened hike through the preserve, shortened due to the posisblity of dangerous mudslides due to the wild storm last night.

After the hike it was time for a traditional Vietnamese cooking class where we got to learn more about the culture and how to make some tasty spring rolls. We used traditional ingredients and had a bit of fun. Then it was time for a break, some solo reflection time, and reading for our next group assignment.

We got on the bus to take us to the ferry for a quick ride to the bus to take us back to Hanoi and what some of us have started to call our Vietnamese home the Lad Dolce Vita hotel. At dinner it is time for our next group activity and discussion, so over our meal we took a quiz and discussed the article Conservation costs: Nature-base tourism as development at Cuc Phuong National Park, Vietnam. After dinner we had a bit of down time, well kind of, most of us took the time to do some much needed laundry and rest up a bit. We leave tomorrow at 7am for Cuc Phuong National Park.

Pictures to come in the next post, due to the busy schedule we keep it is hard to post on a daily basis. I do apologize. I also had a request for the updated detailed itinerary and it is coming.

All of us here are missing our family, pets, and friends and while we are having fun and learning a lot about the environment, culture, and current issues here in Vietnam we can’t help but want to call home and talk to our loved ones every chance we can get.