Friday, February 27, 2009

Field Visit to Ninh Thuan Province

All I have to say is "wow". I just spent a week travelling around South-Central Vietnam for work, and I am incredibly impressed with the beauty and tranquility of the place. The reason for the trip was to assess the potential and readiness of the communities to jump starting a Community-Based Eco-Tourism project around a National Park. As well, I had the opportunity to spend some time in a project site where the organisation has resource management projects, and wishes to develop some eco-tourism activities.

More accurately, I travelled around these amazing fishing communities, ate delicious food, toured parks, coral reefs, pagodas, lounged out on the beach eating coconuts and iced coffee, and got a great tan. And this, all-expenses paid. Things were off to a good start when I arrived on a beach-front resort complete with my own beach-side bungalow. I spend a couple nights in there with four cockroaches (may they rest in peace) and three gecko's (the first of whom I named Jimmy). The first day the other Canadian and Australian foreigners and I had the whole day free. We spent the afternoon laying on an abandoned beach strewn with straw basket-boats (and the occasional garbage bag), drinking beer while swimming near the shore. It was great to finally get to know them, as they don't work in the same department as i do and never join the rest of us for lunch. Unfortunately, they left the next day as I continued on the trip (and this was their last week at MCD).

The National Park was amazing. It's the only dry tropical ecosystem in Vietnam. Giant rocky hills jutted with rounded and well-worn behemoths stacked on top of each other meet the ocean in a pristine-white sweeping beach. The communities in the park were amazing examples of how i imagine a Vietnamese fishing village. Bright blue and red boats swaying on the water in a bay surrounded by hills filled with cacti and evergreen-tropical plants. The village themselves were amazingly colourful, the bright houses set on narrowish streets that had only white sand as a surface. People were eager to smile at me (and stare), but not as eager as the kids were to giggle and yell "hello" to me. As if word spread as quickly as an ice-cream truck's jingle, kids flocked to the beach-front road where I had decided to take a rest on the sea-wall (I was incredibly sweaty, feeling sunburnt and had been hiking the whole day). They surrounded me on all sides and began using all five words they knew in English: hello what is your name!? I don't think they've ever seen a foreigner in the flesh before.

On top of the hill from the fishing village, was another village but this time with an ethnic minority village. It seemed like children outnumbered adults 10-fold, and this village was noticeably poorer than the fishing village below. Many houses were made of mud and straw and the houses were much smaller. We hiked our way through the village passing by groups of children cutting medicinal plants, chickens running wildly among the houses and pigs lazily wobbling about, passing through cow pastures until finally reaching a rather large stream. There were many children just hanging about on the rocks, towards the part where the stream takes a sharp jump, winding its way vertically through a maze of giant giants until forming a waterfall. One of the kids took a liking to me. He would shake my hand and give me a thumbs-up. He would hold my hand and help me jump from rock to rock. I taught him how to take a photo with my digital camera. They didn't speak Vietnamese in this community, and so they limited language I had learned didn't take me very far. He didn't understand that I had been asking him his name.

I see this post is getting long, so the second part of this trip will have to be another post. So stay tuned.


Rebel said...

sounds like an amazing trip!

Jeannette said...

I wonder if he kept telling you his name and you didn't understand him.

Sounds like a fun vacation---I mean job. Glad they're not paying you, or you'd officially be a fat-cat.