Vietnam Service Trip 2019

BY: Cameron Proviano

What an adventure!  Thank you to the Ed Tech department for allowing me to take the Ricoh Theta V to Vietnam and capture highlights of Garden Spot High School’s service trip to Vietnam from June 19, 2019 to July 2, 2019.  As a group, we traveled from North to South and everywhere in between.

Vietnam is beautiful and diverse.  Its people are friendly and courteous.  I couldn’t possibly capture all the sights, smells, sounds and emotions that we experienced.  (And as an aside, in some places, we weren’t allowed to take pictures of certain monuments and buildings.  It is a Communist country, after all!)   But I hope my pictures give you a glimpse of the wonder of this country and help you experience the places we saw.   With any luck, you’ll see it for yourself one day!

Be sure to check out our blog (GSHS Vietnam 2019 Trip) at  It has more pictures as well as reflections and insights from many of the trip participants.

Singapore – After a long flight, we landed in Singapore.  Because we had a super long layover, Mrs. Williams booked a city tour for us.  It felt good to get outside, breath fresh air, and stretch our legs!  I loved Singapore…so clean, so modern.


  • Changi Airport – This airport is a destination. There are all sorts of gardens, including a Butterfly Garden, and green space.  The most amazing thing is the Rain Vortex, a 130-foot indoor waterfall.
  • Saigon River/Cityscape – Our tour included Merlion Park which provided great views of the city, the Saigon River, and Marina Bay. Have you seen the movie, Crazy Rich Asians?  Then maybe you recognize some of these sites, such as the Gardens by the Bay (conservatories), Marina Bay Sands (resort hotel), and the Singapore Flyer (observation wheel).
  • Merlion Park – The most iconic national landmark in Merlion Park is the Merlion statue which has the head of a lion and the body of a fish. The body symbolizes Singapore’s humble beginnings as a fishing village.  Its head represents Singapore’s original name, Singapura, or ‘Lion City’ in Malay.  It’s over 200 feet tall and weighs 70 ton.

Hanoi – Good morning Vietnam!  Our first day in Vietnam we explored the Ho Chi Minh complex in Hanoi.  We saw the Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum, his former stilt house, the Presidential Palace, the Ho Chi Minh Museum, and One Pillar Pagoda.  We also visited the “Hanoi Hilton” where former US presidential candidate, John McCain, was imprisoned for 5 years.  Afterward, we saw the city sights on a cyclo tour and, in the evening, the city’s famous Water Puppet performance.  We also met with a former soldier of the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN).  He gave an amazing talk about his experience as a communist solider flying a MIG-21 fighter jet.  He also talked about how he came to make peace and even friendships with some American pilots that he shot down.

I don’t have a lot of pictures of the Ho Chi Minh complex because pictures were prohibited in some areas.


  • One Pillar Pagoda – One Pillar Pagoda is an historic, Buddhist temple in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. It is built of wood on a single stone pillar.  It is designed to represent a lotus blossom which is a Buddhist symbol of purity, since a lotus blossoms in muddy water.  The original pagoda was destroyed by the French Union forces before withdrawing from Vietnam after the First Indochina War (1954).  It was rebuilt afterwards.
  • Ho Chi Minh Museum – This museum, which part of the Ho Chi Minh complex, was built by the Vietnamese people to express their gratitude and memory of the great merits of President Ho Chi Minh. The building bears the symbol of a white lotus.  Inside there are exhibits about Minh’s life and career and about the Vietnamese people’s struggle and victory during his time as president.
  • Truc Bach Lake – Hanoi’s nickname is ‘City of Lakes.’ This lakeside suburb of Hanoi was settled in the 17th  Truc Bach Lake is where John McCain crash landed after being shot down over Hanoi in 1967.  He was on a mission against a Hanoi power plant and parachuted, wounded, into the lake.
  • Hanoi Hilton – Maison Centrale, also known as Hoa Lo Prison and the “Hanoi Hilton”, housed Vietnamese revolutionaries and American POW during the Vietnam War. The Hoa Lo Prison was built by the French in the late 1880s when Vietnam was still part of French Indochina.  It became a symbol of colonialist exploitation.  As many as 2,000 prisoners were crammed into a space reserved for 600 people.  The poor food, sub-human conditions, and the interrogation and torture that occurred here defied the Geneva Convention.
  • Hanoi – Cyclo – Here’s an example of a typical street in Hanoi’s French-inspired “Old Quarter”.

Halong Bay, the “Jewel in the Crown of Vietnam” – Designated a World Heritage site, Halong Bay is in the Gulf of Tonkin in northeast Vietnam.  It is known for its emerald waters and thousands of limestone karst formations.  We spent the night on a boat and during the day went swimming, kayaking, and hiking.


  • Halong Bay – Boat – A view from our boat.
  • Halong Bay – Pagoda – Early morning, we hiked to the top of one of the limestone formations to see a pagoda and a view of Halong Bay. It was a tough hike up!   

Sapa – After an overnight train ride, we arrive in Sapa.  We explored (trekked) the villages of Lao Chai and Ta Van which are in some of the most beautiful valleys in Sapa.  We also visited Bac Ha Market.  It rained – a lot – while we were there.  This area is so different from what we’ve already seen.  Rice paddy fields cover the steep slopes of the mountains.  It’s cooler and wetter.  The people here are very poor.  They open their homes to travelers for a chance to learn about their unique local cultures and traditions.  Ironically, the people there learned English very quickly so that they could take advantage of the tourism trade.  Vietnamese and foreign governments are helping to develop the area to educate and train residents so as to improve their skills and earning potential.  Before we left the Sapa region, we went to the border of Vietnam and China where only a river separates the two countries.


  • Sapa-1 through Sapa-5 -Views of the valleys, mountains, rice paddy fields.

Hoi An – Also a UNESCO World Heritage site, Hoi An is a beautiful city on Vietnam’s central coast.  It is an ancient town with canals running through it.  The city is a melting pot of architecture, eras, and styles.  For example, it had Japanese arched bridges, French wooden shutters, and Chinese pagodas.  This harbor town was an important trading center, specifically the spice trade, starting in the 15th century.   The river system was used to transport goods to the north and inland to Laos and Thailand.  In the 18th century, the city was considered by Chinese and Japanese merchants as the best destination for trading.  Its location made it perfect for trade between Europe, China, India, and Japan.


  • Hoi An – A view of the city which shows the influence of Japanese architecture.
  • Hoi An – Hand of God – The Golden Bridge, or Hand of God Bridge, is a pedestrian bridge near Da Nang, Vietnam. It was constructed to provide a scenic overlook of the Ba Na Hills area.  It is 3, 280 feet above sea level. To reach the bridge, you must take a cable car to the top.
  • Hoi An Tra Que Village – We did an eco-tour here, learning how farmers sow crops and fertilize their gardens using seaweed. We also learned about traditional net fishing.  Vietnam is made up of many farming communities.  This tour gave us hands-on experience into their day-to-day lives.  We even got to ride atop a water buffalo and have a race in a bamboo basket.  As in Sapa, people here are poor but happy.  They don’t have a lot and what they do have they make or grow.  Oh, did I mention its really hot here!
  • Hoi An – On the river
  • Hoi An – Bamboo boats

Saigon – Currently known as Ho Chi Minh City, Saigon is in southeastern Vietnam.  Until 1975, it was the capital of the Republic of Vietnam (also known as South Vietnam).  South Vietnam was a capitalist and anti-communist state.  They fought against the communist North Vietnam and the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War.  The United States supported them.  On the other hand, North Vietnam was assisted by the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China.  When Saigon fell, it was re-named in honor of Ho Chi Minh.  The Ho Chi Minh City of today is the financial center of Vietnam and also considered the ‘gateway’ to Vietnam.  Here, we went to the Cu Chi tunnel system.  It is a complex maze of underground tunnels used by the Viet Cong for military operations.  They were a huge advantage to the Viet Cong and a source of frustration for the United States, as they could not destroy the system. We also went to the “rice bowl of Vietnam, the Mekong Delta, the Thien Phuoc Orphanage, and the Reunification Palace.


  • Saigon-Cu Chi Tunnels – As you can see, it was incredibly dark in there and cramped for space. It was cool and awful and the same time.
  • Saigon – Orphanage – Here we visited with children with disabilities. Some are orphans and others could not be cared for by family due to financial reasons or housing issues.  We played with the kids, fed them, and spent time with them.  Truly a humbling experience.
  • Saigon – Reunification Palace – It is also called the Independence Palace. The President of South Vietnam lived and worked here during the Vietnam War.  A North Vietnamese army tank crashed the front gates, ending the Vietnam War on April 30, 1975.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to toolbar