WHAT does cultural week involve?
Why Involvement Volunteers International?
PROJECT NAME: CULTURAL ORIENTATION WEEK
LOCATION: HO CHI MINH, VIETNAM
START DATES: WEEKLY (SAT/SUN ARRIVALS)
ACCOMMODATION: VOLUNTEER HOUSE (SHARED ROOMS)
MIN DURATION: ONE WEEK
MIN AGE: 16+
SPECIAL REQUIREMENTS: N/A
1 Day Orientation
24/7 In-Country Support
Project Materials & Equipment
Pre-departure Expert Advice
Preperation Tools & Checklists
Certificate of Completion
During IVI’s cultural week you will learn everything you need to know about Ho Chi Minh City and become as prepared as possible, before your project starts. Ho Chi Minh was formerly known as Saigon and is known for its French colonial buildings, skyscrapers and motorbikes! Over the next week, we will be exploring this bustling city, learning everything from 1970 Vietnam War, visiting historic temples, exploring the War Museum and the famous Chu Chi tunnels.
You will also have valuable lessons on the local language and culture, as well as a fun cooking class!
Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) is home to some 6 million people, most of whom you will see at some point during your stay as they whiz around town on their motorbikes. The city’s Tan Son Nhat Airport lies 7km north west of the city centre and is the most popular arrival point in Vietnam for international travellers. As well as long haul arrivals there are many flights to HCMC from within Asia, especially from Bangkok and Hong Kong.
- To have a deeper understanding of the local Vietnamese culture
- To become familiar with the local way of life
- Get prepared for your volunteer project
Food & Accommodation
All accommodation and meals are included in the cost of the programs. All volunteers are expected to be environmentally aware and to use all resources with restraint, especially water, paper and electricity. You will be expected to clean up after yourself, and to play your part to keep the accommodation neat and organized.
In Ho Chi Minh City, the accommodation is in a volunteer centre which is located on a college campus. You will share the rooms with fellow participants, but be in close proximity with local students. This allows a really nice cultural exchange and bonding. Rooms are dorm-style with 4-6 people per room. Rooms are well equipped with air conditioning, and fans and good sized single gender bathrooms, clean and functional. Internet access is available at the accommodation and there are various internet cafe’s nearby.
3 good meals are provided every weekday during your project, with 2 meals on the weekends (breakfast & dinner). Bottled water is easily available in Vietnam and volunteers should budget approx US$1 per day. There is also filtered water available at the campus.
You will be eating local Vietnamese dishes, with predominantly rice at most meals. The Vietnamese cuisine is known for its fresh flavours, soups and stir-fries. There may also be some western dishes such as spaghetti and sandwiches.
If you want to gain a head start on your projects and feel comfortable in your new surroundings, before you begin, this week is a fantastic way to do just that! It gives you time to adjust before your project begins, to explore the local area and to learn more about the culture and customs. This can greatly help you to communicate with the locals on your projects.
- 3 meals p/day weekdays / 2 meals p/day weekends
- Arrival airport transfer (Sat/Sun arrivals)
- Filtered drinking water, coffee & tea
- 1 day orientation
- Daily transportation to project
- In country 24/7 support & emergency assistance
- Fundraising support
- University course credits (where applicable)
- Certificate of Completion
- Travel Insurance
- Tours, Souvenirs & spending money
A free arrival airport transfer is provided only on the Saturday and Sunday before your program begins. A transfer coordinator will meet you at the airport upon your arrival and arrange your transfer from the airport. He will be awaiting you at the arrival section with you name. From here he will take you to your accommodation.
Volunteers arriving before the weekend or by land, are required to meet at our meeting point. All this information will be provided in the program pack prior to departure.
We start with a welcome meeting and introduction session with our local team. You’ll learn about the various projects and sort out any important documents, etc. This is followed by Vietnamese language lessons, the do’s and don’ts within the local culture and learning about the customs and norms of the Vietnamese people. You will also have a tour of the volunteer accommodation and surroundings, such as where you can find ATMs and supermarkets. In the afternoon we will take part in various activities with local students.
After breakfast you will visit some of the most iconic places in Ho Chi Minh, including the Reunification Palace (home and workplace of the president of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War and where an Army tank crashed its gates at the end of the war). We’ll also visit the Notre Dame and the Centre Post Office.
We then visit one of Ho Chi Minh’s most atmospheric temples, the Jade Emperor Pagoda. This temple comprises of many halls and rooms, each dedicated to specific deities. These rooms are full of statutes of phantasmal divinities such as; “The Lord of Hell”, the “Goddesses of Health and Fertility”, and the “Buddha of the Future”
After lunch you will visit the War Remnant Museum, a great chance to learn more of the recent history of the country. After this we will visit the lively Ben Thanh Market.
In the morning you will have fun at a Vietnamese cooking class. Later on, we get involved in bracelet making, before a visit to the Can Cu markets which are close to your accommodation.
Today we will take the whole day to explore one of the most visited places near Ho Chi Minh, the Chu Chi Tunnel system. This extensive set of tunnels were used by soldiers in the Vietnam war as hiding spots. They also served as hospitals, food and weapon storage, and even living quarters for many North Vietnamese fighters. Here you can explore some of the tunnels, have a go at firing a gun and learn about the traps they used to set up for the enemy.
Today we will visit your project site. You’ll get introduced to the project and what you will be doing, becoming familiarised with the people you will be working with. We will spend some time here and helping on the project.
The volunteer working week is generally Monday to Friday from 9:00am – 4:00pm with weekends free to relax and explore your local surrounds. Our ground operators will help you organize additional trips with special (non tourist) rates which can be paid directly in local currency.
Within Ho Chi Minh City…
As a large city, Ho Chi Minh has a lot to offer from shops to Vietnamese water puppet shows. Here are a few suggestions:
Bui Vien Street is the main street in Ho Chi Minh City, also called ‘backpacker street’. There are many cheap restaurants, bars, souvenir shops, massage parlours, markets, tour agencies and hotels/hostels. This is a great place for tourists to shop, dine, entertainment and to party!
Landmark 81 is the tallest skyscraper in Southeast Asia. It towers over the rest of Ho Chi Minh’s buildings and has incredible views form the top. Not only that, it also has an ice rink, virtual reality game, restaurant and shops!
Another place to go for a great view of the city. There is an observation deck (Saigon Skydeck) open daily and offering panoramic views of Ho Chi Minh City. From floors 50 to 52, there are more entertainment facilities, including a fine dining restaurant and bar/nightclub.
Dam Sen cultural park and Water Park
Fun for adults as well as kids, this water park is guaranteed to get you smiling! Plus, it also has some lovely gardens to walk around too. There’s animals, musical shows and restaurants too, making it a fun day trip.
Thien Hau temple
Thien Hau Temple is a beautiful Chinese temple, situated in district 5 of Ho Chi Minh city. It is dedicated to Thien Hau, (also named the Lady of the Sea). Inside there are many intricate carvings, statues and paintings, a very pretty and atmospheric place to visit.
Vietnam Quoc Tu pagoda
The Quoc Tu Pagoda is located in District 10 of Ho Chi Minh City, and is another interesting temple to explore, with its lovely incense smells, colourful statues, murals and shrines. It’s one of the tallest pagodas in the city with 7 floors. Usually only the first and second floors are open, but they open up the third and seventh floor to visitors every 15th of the month.
A couple of hours out from the city is ‘Monkey Island’, also known as Can Gio Island. This huge 80,000 hectare nature reserve contains mangrove trees, water coconut forests, and yes- monkeys! Hundreds of them live wild here and they will be sure to say hello to you- just be sure not to bring food with you, they are pesky little creatures!
Ba Den mountain (The black virgin mountain)
The Ba Den Mountain trail takes you through lush jungle, mountain streams and caves, before reaching its rugged top. You can also take a cable car up to the top to see some wonderful views from above, sometimes from above the clouds!
Outside of Ho Chi Minh…
The Mekong Delta River consists of swamps, islands, Khmer temples and the local floating markets. There are many small villages situated along the river front. It takes 2-4 hours by bus from Ho Chi Minh. Float on a traditional boat, through the jungle, swamps and floating markets to get a real feel for the way of life here.
Vung Tau beach
If you fancy a beach trip, only a couple of hours from the city is Vung Tau beach. There are 4 beaches in this town but try Pineapple beach for calm waters, which are great for swimming and getting away from the more crowded Front beach. There is also a culture and ecotourism park here which has rides and other outdoor activities to have a go at.
Mui Ne beach
Taking around 5 hours by bus or 4 hours by train (from Ho Chi Minh), this is a long sandy beach, lined with palm trees. There are many restaurants, shopping venues and luxurious resorts along the seafront, as well as a fishing village (great for photographers). It’s also a popular place to kitesurf.
Located high in the mountains, Da Lat is pleasantly much cooler and is surrounded by hills, pine forests, lakes and waterfalls. Close to the town is Datanla Falls, where you can walk to see a pretty waterfall (for the adventurous you can try water abseiling). You can also visit Elephant Falls, go tobogganing or just enjoy the beautiful jungle scenery.
Nha Trang is a busy beach resort with a great nightlife, located along the South-central coast of Vietnam. There is a long stretch of white sand and palm tree lined beach, as well as many island hopping tours to gorgeous islands. This is a great place to go and enjoy some nightlife.
Hoi An, along the Centre of Vietnam’s coastline, is a very pretty town, known for its lanterns and its Japanese covered bridge. Although popular with tourists, the town still feels very authentic. There are many French architectural buildings, markets, nearby beaches and colourful lantern stalls to explore. This lively town also has a very relaxed and romantic vibe.
Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park
A UNESCO Heritage Site in central Vietnam, Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park hosts the largest cave in the world (Son Doong). There are also many other stunning caves to explore, on top of lush jungle, mountains, lakes and native wildlife. This is an adventure lover’s paradise, with the views you can get here being absolutely stunning.
Hue Ancient city
There are plenty of things to do in beautiful Hue, central Vietnam. This is a great place to explore temples, as there are many around. A Visit to the Tombs of the Ancient Emperors will take you around 19th and 20th century tombs, statues and carvings, with stunning backdrops of the countryside. Other popular places to visit are the Citadel, the Imperial City and the To Mieu Temple complex, all colourful and intricate temples.
Hanoi (Capital City)
Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, has a rich culture and is known for its Southeast Asian, Chinese and French influence, as well as it’s antient architecture. Located in the North of Vietnam, you can explore the old quarter, watch a traditional water puppet show, wander through the maze of streets or visit some of the many museums.
Easily done as a day trip from Hanoi, Halong Bay is known for its emerald green waters and giant limestone imposing cliffs. Hire out a traditional junk boat and cruise through the beautiful scenery. Or hire a kayak and explore the many different and colourful caves as you go!
Sapa is a stunningly beautiful part of Vietnam, popular with trekkers. For miles you will see green rolling hills, mountains and rice paddies. Explore this beautiful area, stopping in the small villages as you go for an authentic experience. You can reach Sapa by an overnight train from Hanoi, taking 8 hours (or 6 hours by direct bus).
Ninh Binh’s surrounding countryside is absolutely stunning and a great place for those who love the outdoors. Take a trip to Tam Coc, which is similar to Halong Bay. Drift through big limestone cliffs and bright yellow and green rice paddies. There are many things to do in this area from the Mua Cave, Bich Dong Pagoda, Bai Dinh Temple, a nature reserve and boat trips.
There are no further requirements for this program.
Vietnam’s history is one of war, colonization and rebellion. Less than forty years since the savagery and slaughter of the American War, this resilient nation is buoyant with hope. Few countries have changed so much over such a short time as Vietnam. The speed with which Vietnam’s population has been able to put the bitter events of its recent past behind it, and focus its gaze on the booming future is incredible.
However, there are broad regional variations in the distribution of poverty. The regions with the highest relative poverty rates include the north-west, north-central, central highlands, central coast and north-east. But in terms of absolute numbers, more poor people live in the north-central and north-east regions, in the Mekong Delta and central coastal regions, which are home to seven out of 10 of Vietnam’s poor people.
Volunteers have the opportunity to work in medical institutions caring for children and young people affected by Agent Orange, or in schools and community clinics looking after mentally disabled children. Volunteer work is varied and dependent on the institution where the volunteer is placed.
The weather in Vietnam can vary form North to South, with tropical and temperate climates. March to April is one of the best times overall, to visit the whole country, although Vietnam is a year-round destination.
June to August are the summer months and very hot and humid in Northern Vietnam, whereas this region experiences cold winters (as low as 4 degrees). Southern Vietnam is generally pleasant year-round but does have a rainy season from June to November. February to August is the best time to visit central Vietnam, as it gets hit with heavy rains in the wet season.
Vietnam has one of the oldest cultures in South East Asia, creating a rich history with ancient traditions dating back thousands of years. It also has a large Chinese influence. Elders are very well respected in Vietnamese culture, the older you are, the more respect is shown to you. ‘Saving face’ is a concept shown by most Vietnamese people and is thought of as extremely important in their culture. This means that if you feel angered or annoyed by someone, you do not show it and remain respectful. If you lose your temper/ are rude, then this is seen as losing face and therefore a loss of reputation and self-respect.
Vietnamese is the most widely spoken language, other languages include Chinese, Khmer, Cham and tribal dialects. Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism are the main religious beliefs in Vietnam, and you will find many temples dotted around the country. You will often see the local people giving fruits and burning incense to give as offerings.
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