Vietnam Red: Our last blog entry

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The trip to Vietnam really helped to show me that everyone, everywhere face similar problems and issues. We share the same values of family, safety and security. All that is different is the cultural approaches in dealing with the issues people face


In Vietnam I learned about their amazing culture and ways of living especially in the village.  It has opened up my eyes to a whole new way of living for me.

Lucy Jackson

I once thought it was impossible to fall in love with a place but I stand corrected.  During this shared experience I made many new friends. I enjoyed the language, the landscape, the food and the loving nature of the Vietnamese people. It was truly amazing whether in Hanoi or the village, Ha Long Bay or Ho An, Hue or Ho Chi Minh. All had their own charm and excitement.


Before going to Vietnam I didn’t think that I would be able to communicate with the people, but I have found that using hand signals and facial expressions went a long way.

Lucy D

I thought Ha Long Bay would just be a fun activity as part of our Big Experience trip.  Instead I experienced a perfect moment in a beautiful and unique environment. Watching the sunset in Ha Long will stay with me for life.


This Big Experience has shown and taught me about Vietnam through experiencing the culture that I couldn’t have found out any other way.  By living with the people and travelling to many different parts, I learnt so much about the people, the food and their way of life.


I learned that the most important thing in life is being with people and caring about each other. You don’t need money or expensive products but strong bonds and relationships.


Before Vietnam I would never have gone abseiling.  I conquered my fears and would now do it again.


I used to think that Vietnam was just another Asian country, but now I think it is an amazing country full of eye-opening experiences and its own diverse culture.


Anyone can live happily anywhere so long as there are people.

Ben S

Before going to Vietnam I thought that the people would be unfriendly and hostile towards Australian people due to our involvement in the Vietnam war, but I found out they were friendly towards foreigners.


I used to think the Vietnamese would be unfriendly to westerners but actually they were very nice which was humbling.


After visiting the War Museum I was overwhelmed by the effect Asian Orange had on the people on both sides of the conflict. I have learned to accept what I have and be happy with what I’ve got as other people have it far worse.


Even if you can’t speak the language you can still communicate.  I now know that I would be able to travel the world and experience what I did in this trip.


I didn’t really know what to expect.  Going to different places, seeing all sorts of things has made me appreciate the people of Vietnam.  This is an experience I will never forget.


Vietnam has taught me more than I ever thought possible.  I have learned that I as a person am stronger than I thought that people in all corners of the globe share the same human spirit, so we can all understand each other.  The laughing and smiling faces across the country taught me that.


My first thoughts on Vietnam were that it was an impoverished society that counted on others for help.  In Vietnam I found the sense of community spirit overwhelming as a whole and I enjoyed every minute.


I felt Vietnam gave me a whole new perspective on how people live their lives and what they go through just to make a living and to feed their families.  Everyone seemed to be busy working from the young to the very old; from farming rice to selling goods.


Vietnam was another world, totally different from our suburban life but it’s only by diving headlong into another culture can you come to identify your place in life.  In Vietnam I met parts of myself that I haven’t seen before and I hope to know them better back home.


This trip will be something I will always remember.  My view on the word has changed and I am so grateful for what I have now, more than ever.


They have a great sense of neighbourhood love. When we were in the village; all of the neighbours came to help us build the house.


This trip to Vietnam has taught me so much about the culture and the people.  The people I have met on the trip both within our group and the Vietnamese community made it an excellent and rewarding experience.


Before this trip, Vietnam was just another Asian country, now it means so much more to me.  I have a much better understanding of the people, the countryside, the cities and the food.


In Vietnam I found that 20 thousand dong can go a long way.  They don’t have as much as we do but they are still happy.

Ben M

I used to think that people couldn’t live without luxuries.  I was wrong after I saw the way the people live in the village.


In Vietnam I learned how privileged I am education-wise compared to the greater majority of the Vietnamese people.


The Vietnam trip was the best experience of my life.  We learned about another culture and our group has become like one big family.


Vietnam used to be a war for me.  Now it is a paradise of culture, people and food.


It has opened my eyes to a new way of life, food, people and experiences that I appreciate.


Before Vietnam I only had taste for western culture.  After living in a remote Vietnamese village it has broadened my thinking on life and made me more mature as a person.  I am grateful for the opportunities I have in Australia.


Cambodia Day 16 – Sightseeing and a School visit

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Today we explored the city of Vientiane. Everyone was very tired, but managed to find some enthusiasm considering it was our last day. We saw the Golden Stupa and a beautiful temple, which had a massive reclining Buddha statue. Then we climbed the monument in the centre of the city which was made to resemble the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. There were lots of stairs leading to a fantastic viewing platform at the top, which had magnificent 360 degree views of the city. There were also market stalls set up within the monument itself, which was a bit of a shock to see.

The girls wearing traditional Laos skirts at the Golden Stupa

After our sightseeing, we headed to a local mall for lunch and another spot of shopping. There was a delicious French coffee shop with amazing brownies and pastries, and the food court offered a variety of local foods that smelled and tasted delicious!

The reclining Buddha

After lunch, we checked out of our hotel and headed to the Bor O High School, a 25 minute bus ride from the hotel. We were greeted with a line of students waving Laos and Australian flags, and welcoming smiles. Everyone (both the St Leonards and Laoation students) was very excited to meet each other, and when the donations of sports equipment and stationery were distributed, we began playing various games with each other – basketball, volleyball, Frisbee, etc. Sport became the easiest way to bond with our new friends. Then the Laoation students performed a traditional dance for us and then the music changed to the #1 pop song from Laos, and we started dancing as well. And then came the singing…yet another rendition of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, this time conducted by Josh. The Laoation students were laughing at us but we didn’t care!

Then it was time to head into the classrooms. We visited Year 5, 6 and 7 classes (the equivalent of Yrs 10-12) and sat with small groups of students. There were so many students in each room – more than 18 desks, each with 3 students sitting at them. We spoke to them and helped them practice their conversational English. Some of us were a bit shy at first, as were they, but we quickly warmed up and the chatting flowed easily after that. We went to about 7 classrooms and each time the students were welcoming and happy to have some native English speakers to talk to. Everyone left the school feeling all warm and fuzzy, happy to have made a difference and at having been able to engage with the local people.

Bor O High School

After the school, we headed back to the hotel to have some final reflection and relaxation time before we head to our final dinner and the airport. We will fly out at about 9:30pm local time (1:30am Melbourne time), so expect some tired travellers to arrive at school late tomorrow afternoon.

Our Big Experience has been amazing and it is really sad that our adventure has come to an end. We will all take home some incredible stories, wonderful memories, treasured friends and a few hundred or so souvenirs! See you all soon!!!!!!

Borneo day 16

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Savannah at the Selangor factory

at the selangor factory getting weighed
at the king’s palace

Today we did a tour of Kuala Lumpur. We started the morning at the Batu Caves.  We had to climb 272 steps to reach the entrance of the caves which were formed 400 million years ago. The caves are a sacred site for Hindus. The site is also home to the tallest statue of Murugan in the world at 42.7m. The caves themselves are 400m long and 100m high and are made from limestone. There were crowds of Indians visiting and worshipping.

After the caves we were taken on a tour of the Royal Selangor Pewter Factory. We were shown the 4 steps in making their pewter cups and were also lucky enough to make our own bowls in the “School of Hard Knocks”. Royal Selangor is considered the best quality pewter in the world. Afterwards we checked out the shop but it was pretty expensive.

For lunch we went to the Petronas towers, the tallest twin towers in the world at 452 metres. The food court was full.  There were lots of shops here on five levels.

At the batu caves

We were then taken to the current king’s palace. The kings in Malaysia change every 5 years. The next king will be the fourteenth and will be the first king to stay in the new palace which was the next stop on our tour.  Some of us had our photos taken with the guards.

After seeing the palaces we went to the National Monument (war memorial) and saw the old KL city centre and the new national mosque. There was a terrific thunderstorm while we were there.  After that we went to Jalan Petaling, Chinatown markets where we shopped for about an hour. There were lots of stalls and we had to bargain.

We went out for a buffet dinner at the Seri Melayu restaurant where all the boys in shorts were made to wear sarongs. It had a huge variety of food.  We also had a cultural performance put on for us.  After all this we went back to the hotel for bed and prepared for the Great Race tomorrow.

At the cultural show

Darragh George and Chris Chapman

Day 14 Ho Chi Minh City – the last leg of our Big Experience

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Max and Alaric

For most of the morning our time was spent at the Da Nang Airport waiting for our plane to arrive. Da Nang Airport was the busiest airport in the world during the American War as it is known here.

David told us that a plane would leave every 1 minute 11 seconds. The distance between Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City is about the same as the distance between Melbourne and Sydney. The flight took around 1 hour. Fortunately, we didn’t take the 16 hour train journey from Hue to Ho Chi Minh City.

After landing we made a short trip to our hotel and went off for lunch in the hot, muggy atmosphere. There are only two seasons in Ho Chi Minh City, the wet season from April to November and the dry season in all the other months.

Ho Chi Minh City was formerly known as Saigon; it was changed at the end of the American War in honour of the leader of North Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh (whose mausoleum we visited earlier in the trip).

We found that there were many differences between Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. In Hanoi, most people drink tea, as opposed to Ho Chi Minh City where there is more of a Coffee culture. Ho Chi Minh is significantly more modern than Hanoi, and is more multicultural with Chinese, Indian and Muslim influences. In Ho Chi Minh City, there are more cars than in Hanoi, the roads are wider and they have a separate section for bikes and cars and a more orderly system of parking and traffic control. It was more like crossing the road in a Western country. There are fewer push bikes as well.

After lunch, we were asked to help out with a blind school with their swimming program. We didn’t know what to expect. It was very confronting to start with but once we realised how much us being there meant to them, all those thoughts just disappeared.

After drying out, we returned to the hotel to check in and relax until a quick bit of shopping for last minute presents. Dinner tonight was an authentic South Vietnamese meal. Interestingly, the food was much spicier than in the North Vietnamese cuisine. We returned to the hotel to get some rest for the exciting day tomorrow when we will visit the Cu Chi tunnels and enjoy our last full day in Vietnam.

Day 13 Our Last Day in Hoi An

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Luca and Henry

Today we swam in the warm South China Sea. We were lucky because the conditions improved from yesterday and made swimming possible. However, a few of us got “dumped” by a couple of big ones.

It was a beautiful hot Hoi An day, not a cloud in the sky with a cool breeze off the water. At the beach we swam, caught some waves, sat on sun lounges under large palm umbrellas or played games on the beach.

In order to get to the beach we rode through the outskirts of Hoi An then out into the country side. We saw women working in the rice fields and a white crane sitting on a buffalo.

The buffalo didn’t seem to mind. There was a man on a motorbike that followed us on our 60 minute journey carrying his display of Ray Bans for sale. He was hopeful of selling some of his sunglasses. He had a wasted trip because no one purchased anything.

We had some free time in the afternoon to relax by the pool, pick up our tailoring or be pampered at the beauty salon. Most people are sad to leave Hoi An as it is our most preferred place so far in the trip. After the hard work of the village, the craziness of Hanoi and the poor weather of Hue it has been a relaxing change for everyone. The chilled setting of Hoi An it has become a favourite among the students.

We finished our last day in Hoi An  with a cooking class with a legendary  Vietnamese chef Trinh Diem Vy who has published many cooking books about the flavours and food of Hoi An. We were taught how to make enjoyed Vietnamese style chicken on a stick with various spices as well as spring rolls and green papaya salad.

We are in the process of packing because tomorrow morning we have an early flight bound for Ho Chi Minh City, our last stop.

Cambodia Day 13 – Bok Choy Lai Lai

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The day kick started with a mediocre, but okay (compared to the last hotel) breakfast. We headed off quite early in separate minivans to the local market. The market was devoid of tourists and full of exotic fresh food. Here, we began our Laoation cooking class. Our chef (called Mr Phat) showed us around the market and introduced us to new ingredients such as spicy tree root and banana flower. Compared to Cambodia, this market was relatively quiet with no one trying to sell us any wares. After the market tour, we made our way to a nearby resort where we would take our cooking class. We were fitted with a chef’s hat and apron and began our culinary careers.

Lauren and Shona cooking sweet and sour fish

The first course was a water cress soup, easily prepared and made. This was a nice light dish and a prelude for what was to come. Our next dish was more adventures – a Green papaya salad with an array of local ingredients including local olive and tiny eggplant. Many of the chef’s instructions got lost in translation and the salads were far from perfect. Most of the group didn’t finish eating this dish.

By this time, we had noticed that many of the Laoation dishes had sugar in them and that most of the sauces were made up of a complicated assortment of ingredients. We made chicken curry next and it was an instant hit. Then we made sweet and sour fish, which was marvellous. To end our banquet, we had sticky rice with fresh mango. The rice was cooked in coconut milk and sugar, and topped with mango. It was very filling and deliciously sweet.

With full stomachs, we hobbled to the vans and headed for the Kouangxi Waterfall. This waterfall was situated on a tall mountain only reachable by a long, winding road. Although the trip was long, the benefits were well worth the wait. There was a bear resuce centre at the bottom of the trail and we were able to see a group of rescued Sun and Moon bears (also called Asiatic black bears). These bears were rescued from poachers, zoos and those looking to use their bile for traditional medicine. We then climbed leisurely up trail, enjoying the moderate temperature so different from the hot humidity of Cambodia.

Kouangxi Waterfall

The waterfall was large, majestic and powerful. Few words can be used to describe the intensity of it. We took some incredible photos and then headed back down the trail to have a swim. It was so refreshing and left us all happy and joyous – but the water was freezing!!!! Hopefully the pictures will speak a thousand words.

Swimming in the icy waters

Back at the hotel, we had a break before departing once again for a night market. We split up into smaller groups and had dinner. The market itself was bright and colourful, with a hundred delights and wonders. We finished off the night on a high note and can’t wait for tomorrow when we ride elephants and see the sights in Luang Prabang.

By Charlotte and George

(PS. The title of this blog post is a tribute to the girls in our group who have been saying “bok choy lai lai” to various people in Luang Prabang for the last two days, instead of “khawp jai lai lai” which means “thank you very much”!)

Borneo day 8. A message from the Jungle

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our meals are sedap! which means yummy.

In the morning we left Sepilok Jungle Resort and travelled
two hours to Kinabatangan. We stopped by at the town on the way to look around
and buy a snack and leech socks. Our destination was the Tungog Eco camp that
is a cooperative run by the orang sungai
(river people) of Kinabatangan.  When we arrived at the reception area we were
introduced to our guides and briefed about what we were going to be doing. Then
we had a yummy lunch and after that travelled along the river by boat for 10-15
minutes to the Eco Camp. When we arrived we got assigned our rooms. The guys
were all in a big dorm beside the main kitchen and reception area and the girls
are in rooms of two or three along a path in the forest. The rooms are little
bungalows.  The rooms are triangular
shaped on stilts a few metres above the ground with a small deck. We had a
little bit of time to relax and then we met up for a river cruise to spot the
local wildlife.  It is really beautiful
here and the music of the jungle is so relaxing. We saw four different species
of monkeys plus a few birds and a big lizard in a tree. After we got back we
had dinner and went on a night walk. The walk went off the trail and through
puddles of mud. We spotted a few small fluffy birds and a lot of little eyes poking
through the trees. After that we were all very tired so we went straight to
bed. We all had a great day.

Julia Langdon and Sarah Reinhard

crazy banana icy poles were popuar

off for a river adventure

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