Nature and Antiquity in Vietnam

Once a war-torn country, Vietnam is now a booming economy, filled with rich history and culture. Ecofieldtrips recently led a group of 60 students from the Singapore International School (Hong Kong) on a one-week humanities field trip to the bustling metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City and the rustic Mekong Delta region, studying the history, culture, and economy of this socialist country.

Our trip started with a journey from Ho Chi Minh City to Vĩnh Long along the Mekong Delta, where we had the opportunity to experience traditional subsistence farming at a local farm. Students got down and dirty at the vegetable and rice farm, planting rice seedlings in the padi field. Through this, they gained a better appreciation of just how difficult it is to get a meal on their plates! After leaving the farm, we took a short ferry ride to Ut Thuy Homestay, where we spent the next two nights. This rustic homestay by the banks of the Mekong River gave us the chance to try out several traditional Vietnamese activities, such as the making of traditional Vietnamese dishes: bánh tét (glutinous rice cake) and bánh xèo (savoury fried pancake). Our students also had a discussion with the homestay owners, allowing them to learn more about the history of the Mekong Delta region. The quiet setting of the Mekong Delta also gave us the opportunity to spot local wildlife - we managed to find fireflies on one of our night walks around the homestay.

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While in the Mekong Delta region, our students also visited a local primary school where they had a language exchange. The local students responded in kind by teaching our students a couple of local dances, including a challenging bamboo dance which had our students stepping gaily across bamboo sticks maneuvered by the local students to the beat of the music. Despite the language barrier, the two groups managed to make friends with each other through dance and games. Our students also left a lasting legacy on the local school by giving the school walls a fresh coat of paint and some beautiful murals. 

After a couple of nights at the homestay, it was time for us to leave the peaceful Mekong Delta to return to Ho Chi Minh City, but not before a stop at the Cai Be Floating Market, where students saw how the local economy thrived, and the Cao Dai temple, where they got to appreciate a unique local religion that blended elements of Buddhism, Taoism, and Catholicism - three religions that had a profound impact on Vietnam. 

Upon our return to Ho Chi Minh City, our students immediately got busy exploring the history and urban geography of the city. The students had the opportunity to tour District 1 - the city centre that was within walking distance from our hotel, featuring historic landmarks like the Independence Palace, Notre-Dame Cathedral, Saigon Central Post Office, Book Street, and French sidewalk cafés. The students gained an appreciation for the complex colonial history of Vietnam while marvelling at the French colonial architecture. Students also visited District 4, a former mafia hotspot that has since been cleaned up and gentrified, and District 7, an up-and-coming housing district catering mainly to the growing expat population in Ho Chi Minh City, to survey the effects of urbanisation on the city’s community. Students even had a chance to experience a slice of local life, visiting two local markets - Bến Thành Market and Bình Tây Market - and learnt to barter while learning more about the local economy. 

Of course, no trip to Ho Chi Minh City is complete without learning about the war history surrounding Vietnam. We visited two prominent war museums in Ho Chi Minh City: the War Remnants Museum and the Củ Chi tunnels, where students witnessed the dark and sobering history of the Vietnam War (known as the American War in Vietnam). We saw first-hand the horrors of the war, with heart-wrenching photographs of war victims and realistic replicas of torture instruments used. We even had the opportunity to traverse the same tunnels used by the Vietnamese soldiers for guerrilla warfare against the Americans. 
Before we knew it, the one-week trip was over. Students thoroughly enjoyed this field trip with EFT, learning much about Vietnam while forging new bonds with their fellow classmates. Truly a rewarding experience for all!

Adam Goh - EFT Biologist