VIETNAM ADVENTURE 2016

During the September school holidays, sixteen students from Years 11 and 12 and three staff members set out to explore Southern Vietnam.

After a quick stop in Singapore, our adventure began in the beautiful city of Hoi An. Here we met our tour guide, Truc, who introduced us to the history, culture, cuisine and language of Vietnam.  Hoi An is famous for its shopping, so we had heaps of fun bartering with the locals, buying tailor-made outfits and experiencing all of the sights, sounds and smells of the markets.  Over the next few days, we had the opportunity to experience first-hand Vietnamese culture through assisting with the original methods of farming, fishing, and learning how to make traditional Vietnamese dishes.  A highlight was the eco-tour where we boarded small basket boats and had a massive mud fight!

After a scenic bus ride along the coastline, we travelled to the old Capital of Vietnam, Hue. We spent our time exploring the Imperial City, visiting the Pagoda and cruising along the Perfume River.  Hue provided us with some crazy weather conditions and a quick flood, however, this did not dampen our spirits and we still managed to go bike riding in the pouring rain.

After we departed Hue, we found ourselves amongst the hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Nothing could have prepared us for the crazy traffic and the non-stop horn honking of thousands of scooters.  We spent three days exploring Ho Chi Minh and its surrounds, taking in the sights of the Presidential Palace, the Old Post Office, Notre Dame Cathedral and the French inspired architecture.  We had the opportunity to experience the War Remnants Museum, which was historically informative yet very confronting.  The highlights of Saigon, as the locals call it, were the Cu Chi tunnels that were built by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War and the hundreds of market stalls we visited in the city.

The group travelled 85 kilometres south of Ho Chi Minh City to the rubber plantations near Long Tan, in Phuoc Tuy Province, to visit the single white cross erected in soil stained with Australian blood. After laying a wreath at the foot of the cross, we gathered for a short service to commemorate the 18 young men who died and the many other Australians who fought in Vietnam.  Like many other Australians who have visited the site, we were struck by the emotion of Long Tan especially when the last post was played.  During the minute of silence we looked out to the surrounding plantations, where some of the 23 injured soldiers spent the night lying wounded.

Another great experience was listening to a Vietcong Veteran share his experience of the war with us. We also visited the former 1st Australian Task Force (1 ATF) bases at Vung Tau and Nui Dat. While standing on a road, where the Australian runway had been, we listened to our guide detail the conflict.

One of the highlights of our time in Vietnam was the visit to a local school in Ho Chi Minh City. The school is run by the De La Salle Brothers and is located in a poor section of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City).  It serves 140 primary school aged students from difficult backgrounds whose circumstances prevent them from attending regular education.  While we were there, we spent time entertaining the students giving the teachers and many volunteers a much needed break.

We also visited the Thien Phuoc Orphanage which provides a home for 65 disabled children. This was a very touching experience as we played with the children, aged from 3 to 16 years, who could not walk or speak.  Seeing these children smile was definitely a special moment that we will treasure forever.  We even assisted the volunteers to feed the children lunch.  Prior to the trip, members of the College’s Z Club and the Student Representative Council raised money for the orphanage which was graciously received by the sister who cares for the orphans.

After 14 jam-packed days, our Vietnam Adventure unfortunately came to an end. Some of us didn’t want to leave, but we were all excited to arrive back in Australia and share our experiences with our families. On behalf of the students, we would like to thank Mr Mark Green, Mr Greg Duncan and Miss Alyce Keleher for taking us on this amazing trip! We created memories and friendships that will last a lifetime.

Gemma Refalo – Year 11 Student