Recon in North Vietnam
Trip Start Jan 08, 2004
167Trip End Ongoing
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One of my favourite jobs of recent times (along with working at Chakola) has been doing reconnaissance tasks for Antipodeans. Antipodeans is a reasonably new company and when they have wanted to develop new destinations for their school expeditions or for their volunteers, they have needed to have someone go to that destination and find out all the necessary information to plan and sell a trip. Costings, places to go, places to stay, possible volunteer projects, tour and trekking guides, liaison with local government and leaders, emergency planning information, etc all need to be researched and lots of pictures taken. There is usually a limited amount of time to do this and a limited budget, but somehow all that seems to get fitted in as well as a few interesting experiences also. I have been lucky enough to do this task a few times and have been meaning to write about some of my experiences. Thanks Col.
My first trip to Vietnam, in about 2002, was for the purpose of conducting such a reconnaissance. Antipodeans wanted school groups to travel to Vietnam and also they wanted volunteers to be placed for 3 months. On arrival in Hanoi I gave myself a couple of days to get to know the city and organise some other travel. One of the first people I met was a street kid, a beggar. He spoke good English and knew the city and the cheapest ways to get around it. Instead of giving him money I offered him the job of showing me around and I'd feed him for the next couple of days. This was a very good way of helping out and also finding out about local transport and eating areas and sites.
In Hanoi I also met an Australian called Anthony who was running a travel company. Anthony, a number of years ago had been diagnosed with a terminal illness. He was quite sick when he travelled to Vietnam for a holiday, but once there felt relaxed and happy. He never returned to Australia, leaving behind his stressful career and largely recovering from his illness whilst building himself a new life in Vietnam.
After a quick trip to Halong Bay I headed up to Sapa, in North Vietnam where I hoped to find a project or two and a place for the volunteers to stay. Out of the bus I immediately met Dong, a young Hmong girl who was quite aggressively trying to sell her wears. She was a pretty amazing young girl at 16 years of age who was later to be of great help encouraging many of the young hill tribe kids to attend the free English classes provided by the Antipodeans volunteers. I stayed in Sapa for a while, at Mountain View Hotel which was run by Ms Hong. She was a pretty amazing women herself who a while ago was the first female trekking guide in Sapa. She then ran Mountain View hotel and trekking trips into the fascinating surrounding hill tribes utilising only female guides. Whilst staying at Mountain View I helped the staff out waiting on tables and cleaning dishes and got to know them all. They were really nice, although the nicest, Mai, who was my trekking guide for a couple of days, was very nice indeed. She had the most beautiful dark eyes and was extremely compassionate to the hill tribe people; I have to admit I quickly fell in love with her; but as she was already engaged and I had limited time in Sapa, so that went no-where and only left me confused.
Anyway the reason I wanted to write about this Vietnam recce was because of another Australian man that I met. Early during my stay at Mountain View Hotel, whilst I was waiting on tables I noticed a distressed looking hill tribe woman with a baby looking through the front door's windows. She seemed to be trying to get my attention. I let her in and she showed me her baby, which was clearly sick. I got Ms Hong to help me to understand the woman and did what I could to help, which wasn't much. Ms Hong told me about an Australian man that provided a free medical clinic to help the hill tribe people. That information was passed on to the woman and I arranged to meet this man, who as it turned out was an interesting character and a great guy and unsung hero.
The guy in question was a plumber who had travelled to Sapa a few years ago. He had brought a minor med kit with him and whilst trekking had come across some sick hill tribe people. He felt pity for them and had helped them as best he could but then just found that more were coming to him wanting medical help. He did what he could and brought re-supplies of medical stores at the local chemist and continued to receive patients until he left. Back in Australia he did a first aid course, saved up, brought up medical supplies and headed back to Vietnam where he set up a little secret medical clinic to help the Hill Tribe people. It had to be secret as he wasn't a Doctor and the local Vietnamese government hadn't authorised him to do this. But there were people in need and unfortunately they were the poorest in what is a poor country, so they were missing out
The guy, I can't remember his name, kept doing this for a number of years, and one year he met an American Doctor who was travelling. The American also starting helping, and each would spend a number of months in Vietnam, one in Vietnam while the other was away. Eventually the American stopped and when I met the Australian he had decided to stop too. The trips were a massive financial drain on him and very tiring. But he had done a great thing for many years and never got any recognition as far as I know.