Dates: October 31 - November 14, 2009
In November, Roadmonkey returned to Vietnam for its third adventure philanthropy expedition, cycling from Danang, on the central coast, to Hoi An, a picturesque fishing village, and then south along the coastline and into the rugged central highlands, following the historical Ho Chi Minh trail in a loop back toward Danang. In the highland city of Kon Tum, our 9-person team built a greenhouse and farm farm at a school for ethnic minority students.
During nine days of cycling, we tested our endurance on some of the smoothest and most scenic backroads in Southeast Asia. We paused for four days to build a small farm at the Kon Ray boarding school, with help from teachers and dozens of students from nearby tribal villages, that will generate income to underwrite scholarships for ethnic minority children in one of the poorer areas of the Central Highlands.
"Throw your dreams into space like a kite and you do not know what it will bring back; a new life, a new friend, a new love, a new country." ~ Anais Nin, 1903-1977
Over nine cycling days, our small-group expedition pedaled more than 300 rugged miles through some of Vietnamââ‚¬â„¢s most scenic, historic and remote regions, from coastal flatlands to white-sand beaches, over rolling hills and country streams, into steep cloud-capped mountain passes and through ethnic minority villages near the Lao frontier. An adventure, itââ‚¬â„¢s fair to say, that each of us will remember for life.
The route was physically challenging and visually captivating, comprising patches of bustling commercial routes and long stretches of jungle backroads. Our support van was always near when limbs grew weary, or when the road turned ridiculously steep.
Expedition team members gathered in Hanoi on Oct. 31. After a good nightââ‚¬â„¢s rest, we flew to Danang to pick up our bicycles and hit the road - taking the beach route from Danang to the picturesque river town of Hoi An, 35km south. From there, we spent four days cycling - including one day through the northern fringe of Typhoon Mirinae - into the Central Highlands city of Kon Tum. There we dismounted to build our volunteer project and get to know our local hosts. (Plying foreign guests with homemade rice wine is a happy tradition in Vietnam...ask any of our expedition members).
Dropping our bikes in Danang on Saturday, Nov. 14, we took the one hour flight back to Hanoi for a soft-landing at a quiet hotel near the Old Quarter. A dinner party that evening with a few Vietnamese writers and artists put a celebratory cap on our two-week adventure philanthropy expedition.
Outside the Central Highlands city of Kon Tum, the Roadmonkey expedition spent four days building a farm to grow organic fruits and vegetables on the campus of a new boarding school for ethnic minority students. Our non-profit partner coordinating this project was the East Meets West Foundation, or EMW, one of the largest American non-profit organizations in Vietnam.
The Kon Ray school, built with development money from the American government, now teaches over 160 bright ethnic children who otherwise would not be able to afford their scholarships. Local Vietnamese education officials are working with EMW managers to make the school financially independent. The organic farm Roadmonkey and EMW will build at the school is meant to become a reliable economic engine of sorts, to help this community in need.
All hotels and guesthouses on our route are clean and well-managed, although in the more remote areas along Route 14, rooms will be clean but very basic, catering mostly to domestic guests. In Hanoi and Hoi An, expedition members received soft landings in single rooms at superior hotels. Outside Hanoi, lodging became more basic, reflecting the depth of our explorations: double rooms in clean, no-frills settings.
Roadmonkey expedition members took meals at reputable local restaurants along our route. Note that in Vietnam, outside cities, restaurants are often a family operation, run out of their living rooms or on a sidewalk. Vietnamese food is typically, fresh, cheap and delicious; in Hanoi, you can eat as royalty might, for relatively little money.
The quality of cuisine found on the road often varies depending on the region; in more remote areas, lunch and dinner can become a familiar routine of beef, chicken, soup, vegetables and of course plenty of rice. Beer is everywhere; cold beer is less everywhere, especially in remote areas.
What you are doing has had a huge affect on all of us, internally. Externally, there is a playground where there was none and a bit more hope than there was just a week ago. There are ties forged by the experience that go both ways, and cross oceans, that will never be undone. It's a beautiful thing.
~ John, architect