Vietnam through the eyes of a volunteer - Clarissa

I’m not much of a story writer so I decided to share my photos with you all instead. Sarah (my volunteer partner) and I are having a great time! The other weekend we went to Ho Chi Minh City to check out the Cu Chi tunnels with some other gappers from the south – fun! It’s hard to believe we’ve been at our placement for nearly a month, time flies!

Yeeha! After an exhaustive week learning how to teach English, we have graduated! This photo is of all of us volunteers with our certificates at the end of our last day. I think everyone was happy to have made it; for most of us it was the first time we had ever learnt how to teach or taught a real lesson. A great course though, full of great memories.

You’d be crazy to ride a motorbike in Vietnam! Motorbikes are the main form of transport in Vietnam, and it’s easy to see why. They are cheap, quick and convenient. They dart through traffic and roundabouts and weave through back alleys and narrow roads with ease. This bike is actually one of the teacher’s at the school – we were about to head off to the post office and I asked for a quick snap behind the handle bars – but I didn’t drive it, I promise!

This photo was taken on our tour of Ho Chi Minh City. On our second day in Vietnam we went to old ‘China Town’. Here I am with some of the other volunteers in front of a huge lion statue! This was just after lunch and we were on our way to see the  pagodas. There were lots of lions in China Town, but I’m pretty sure this one was the biggest!

This is an example of one of the many beautiful sights we got to see on our tour of Ho Chi Minh City. We climbed a seven-storey pagoda on the tour, it was a wonderful sunny day and the view from the top was amazing! What was special was that there were shrines on every level and the river in the background is actually man made! We are a little way from Ho Chi Minh City so there are quite a few trees and not as many buildings as in the city – what a view!

This photo was from when we were teaching English to our Grade 5 students using the topic ‘Our House’. Our school is located in Dong Nai University of Technology, Bien Hoa City in the south of Vietnam. All the students have heaps of energy, they are always asking how we are and saying ‘Hello’ and ‘How are you?’ Sarah is my volunteer partner (she is from New Zealand) and is asking for students to come up and list some rooms in their house.

Every evening after English School we’d be in our placement pairs practising our new found (and somewhat improvised) teaching skills on a real class of Vietnamese students. This picture was taken with the adult class. This was good as volunteers placed at universities were able to practice with an older class. The students were excellent and came from all over Ho Chi Minh City to attend these classes. It was sad saying goodbye but some of the best memories were working with these students and laughing and having fun.

After a day teaching English, what better way to unwind than to nip across the street (trying to avoid the four lanes of swerving bikes and cars and buses) and grab some dinner? While we were waiting for the food to cook, we saw a family sitting around a small table behind the stall. They were so lovely and happy! We tried out our very basic Vietnamese ‘My name is …’ and ‘I am from…’ to try and introduce ourselves. After much laughing and gestures we asked for a photo right before our food arrived.

This photo was taken at the Ben Thanh night markets. As we strolled past stalls of clothing, handmade things and even fake jewllery, we saw the bright lights and delicious smells of the street food stalls, accompanied by lots and lots of noise and chatter. Awesome colours and sights and believe it or not, the orange thing on the BBQ is a whole fish!

In the backpacker district of Ho Chi Minh City, called Pham Ngu Lao, there are heaps of little side shops selling the most amazing hand-painted artworks. Often when you walk in the artist will either be sitting out the back working on a painting or will personally show you some more of their works. This one was particularly vibrant and colourful and I loved the drying paints and paintbrushes sitting around the easel.

One of the more spectacular things you will see in Vietnam is what people fit on the back of their motorbikes. It took all of us a little while to get used to the fact that, not only multiple passengers were stacked onto bikes but also homewares, live produce and even furniture are taken between destinations by these little buzzing motorbikes. What I found quite incredible was seeing whole livelihoods go by on bikes – families, office workers, old and young, women going to market and men on the way to work travelling with the masses down the busy streets of this big city.

One of the things we were warned and warned and warned about was the water – don’t drink it! We’re lucky that we have access to big, sealed 21-litre vats that the school provides for all of its students and staff. You can never be too careful though, even when you’re having a shower! This sticky note was the brainchild of Sarah – my volunteer partner – to keep us safe. It has worked pretty well so far! 

Quick facts
Capital: Hanoi
Government: Republic
Language: Vietnamese
Population: 88.1 million
Religions: Buddhism
Timezone: GMT +7
Climate: climate, with humidity averaging 84 % throughout the year
Currency: đồng
"Discovering Vietnam and how radically different it is from England (I really did fall in love with it) has also made me want to travel more and explore the world and all it has to offer. I would never have been this adventurous had I not been on this placement; it’s really opened my eyes to the world."

Marianne, English teacher