PMGY volunteer in Vietnam participants are based in a quiet, friendly neighbourhood approximately 45 minutes from the Old Quarter of Hanoi. There is everything you need within walking distance of the Volunteer House: ATMs, supermarkets, laundrettes, chemists, as well as some great cafes and local bars.
High-octane Hanoi is a feast for the senses. The first thing that hits you is the sound of swarms of buzzing motorbikes followed swiftly by the amazing wafts and tastes of incredible street food found throughout the city. Full of distinctive character as well as a confident buzz, Hanoi is now considered a pretty cool city.
Participants generally volunteer on a Monday-Friday basis and the weekends are free to relax or travel further afield. As our volunteers will testify, the wider travel opportunities are extremely important to the whole experience and it is something we certainly recommend. Our local team are able to arrange activities, transport and accommodation but please note this is usually an independent experience outside of the core program.
HO CHI MINH MAUSOLEUM COMPLEX
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex is an important place of pilgrimage for many Vietnamese. A traffic-free area of botanical gardens, monuments, memorials and pagodas, it’s usually crowded with groups of Vietnamese who come from far and wide to pay their respects to ‘Uncle Ho’. Within the complex are Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, Ho Chi Minh’s Stilt House and the Presidential Palace, Ho Chi Minh Museum and the One Pillar Pagoda. Ho Chi Minh holds a very special place in the hearts of the Vietnamese people.
HOA LO PRISON MUSEUM
This thought-provoking site is all that remains of the former Hoa Lo Prison, ironically nicknamed the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ by US POWs during the American War. The ominous French guillotine is a gruesome relic that was used to behead Vietnamese revolutionaries. The vast prison complex was originally intended to house around 450 inmates, records indicate that by the 1930s there were close to two thousand prisoners. Hundreds escaped Hoa La’s walls over the years, with many squeezing out through sewer grates.
THE OLD QUARTER
Take a step back in time into the Old Quarter of Hanoi. It will feel like a different world in comparison to the rest of the city where change takes place daily. The Old Quarter is a warren of old-style narrow, meandering streets full of antique brick houses where merchants and artisans would have gathered to sell their wares. It offers French-colonial architecture, a rich food culture and a long history. Set around Hoan Kiem Lake, a visit here will give you the chance to explore how the locals lived a hundred years ago.
Sapa is orientated to make the most of the spectacular views emerging on clear days; overlooking a plunging valley, with mountains towering above on all sides. This is northern Vietnam’s premier trekking base from where hikers launch themselves into a surrounding countryside of cascading rice terraces and tiny hill-tribe villages that seems a world apart. It is one of the main market towns in the area, where several ethnic minority groups such as Hmong, Dao, Giáy, Pho Lu, and Tay live. Step out into the lush fields and see Sapa’s real charm.
HA LONG BAY
Towering limestone pillars and tiny islets topped by forest rise from the emerald waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. Ha Long translates as ‘where the dragon descends into the sea’ and legend tells that this mystical seascape was created when a great mountain dragon charged towards the coast. As the creature plunged into the sea, the area filled with water leaving only the pinnacles visible. Designated a World Heritage site in 1994, Ha Long Bay’s spectacular scatter of islands (1,969 in total), is unsurprisingly, Vietnam’s number one tourism hub.
Just over an hour’s inexpensive flight away lies graceful, historic Hoi An. Vietnam’s most atmospheric and delightful town, ideal for shopping and strolling along the river. Once a major port, it boasts the riverside setting and grand architecture that befits its heritage, but the 21st-century curses of traffic and pollution are almost entirely absent. Hoi An owes its easy-going demeanour and harmonious old-town character more to luck than planning, as the Thu Bon River silted up so ships could no longer access the town’s docks.
There are several amazing weekend trips to get involved in during your time with PMGY in Vietnam. Travelling over the weekends is a huge part of the experience as it gives you the opportunity to explore the country with fellow volunteers on the program.
With PMGY volunteers being based in the urban environment of Hanoi, they are usually able to organise trips independently without the need for our team to travel with them. There are many travel agents based in the city who can provide affordable and reputable weekend trip options to our volunteers, and they also allow for you to meet other travellers in Vietnam. As a result, we have found participants to prefer the flexibility to explore all the opportunities available to them once they arrive in Hanoi rather than pre-organising trips only for people to want to change these plans once they arrive. You can therefore book weekend trips locally based on your budget, travel preferences and once you have met other volunteers on the program.
We have outlined a couple of popular weekend trip options to give you an idea of some of the trips you can get involved in during your time with us. We recommend participants do not make any firm commitments until they arrive in Vietnam as participants will usually travel in a group and our team are a great resource to help you make plans!
HA LONG BAY WEEKEND TRIP
INCLUDES - TRANSPORT, ACCOMMODATION, MEALS, ACTIVITIES & ENTRANCE FEES
With emerald waters and towering limestone cliffs off the faces of over 1500 islands, it is no surprise that Ha Long Bay was honoured as a UNESCO site in 1994. This expanse of land has been uniquely shaped by more than 500 million years of combined tropical downpours and dense jungle growth. Each islet is varied, from height to steepness – some are even hollow! This makes the bay unbelievably breath-taking.
Ha Long Bay’s name translates to ‘where the dragon descends’ and is thus matched with an intriguing story about how the bay first came about. Legend has it that thousands of years ago, a dragon charged through from the mountains towards the ocean, carving out the bays and valleys with its tail as it went. We’ll let you decide whether you believe with this local folktale as you explore the path yourself!
DAY ONE - LET'S GET EXPLORING
You will be picked up by coach from your meeting point in Hanoi and begin your 4 hour journey to Ha Long Bay, arriving just in time for lunch! Upon climbing on board the vessel, you’ll enjoy a delicious selection of traditional Vietnamese dishes as the boat begins its journey deep into the jigsaw of islands. After replenishing your energy levels and having a chance to settle into your room, it’s time to explore the ‘Surprising Cave’ – we won’t give anything away! It’s then your turn to be in charge of navigating the waters as the group splits up across kayaks to explore all of Ha Long Bay’s hidden nooks and crannies. Dinner is served back on board just before sunset. Activities continue into the evening with options ranging from karaoke to dancing, squid fishing, or quite simply, playing cards!
DAY TWO - LET THE ADVENTURE CONTINUE
After a good night’s rest, it’s time to set sail again. Our first stop of the day is a pearl farm. Here you’ll have the opportunity to witness these beautiful stones being cultivated by local fishermen. For the rest of your day, you will have the chance to relax on a nearby beach, involving yourself in activities such as badminton, volleyball or more kayaking! For an additional charge, you may instead choose to instead explore a nearby village by bike! At the end of the day, you will be transferred to Cat Ba Island, to spend your night off the boat. After a buffet meal at the Bungalow, you may choose to spend your evening fishing or relaxing on the sandy beach.
DAY THREE - COOKING UP A FEAST AND BACK TO HANOI
It’s a relatively early start, so up you get – it’s time to grab breakfast! After refuelling, you’ll head back onto the boat and you’ll begin the journey out of the depths of the bay, back to the mainland. But before it’s time to leave, there’s still plenty of time to top off this weekend’s adventure! It’s time to get your chef hat on, today you’re a student in the kitchen. You’ll then eat your creations for lunch before docking into Ha Long harbour, where your trip, unfortunately, comes to an end.
SAPA TREKKING WEEKEND TRIP
INCLUDES - TRANSPORT, ACCOMMODATION, MEALS & ENTRANCE FEES
If Sapa had to be summarised in one word, it would be green! Sapa is a small, mountainous region, located close to the Chinese border, over 300 km North-West from Hanoi. The area is immersed by thousands upon thousands of acres of lush vegetation, with a terrain that varies from rolling hills to rice paddy fields. Sapa is blessed with crisp mountain air, with the region blissfully untouched by the effects of air pollution. This means a trip here quite literally provides you with a breath of fresh air compared to the chaos of Hanoi, making Sapa an ideal location for a weekend away from the project.
Sapa is truly unique – the region is not only believed to be Vietnam’s best for trekking, but it is famously known for its diverse traditional culture of many ethnic minorities. This weekend trip provides a structured experience that allows you to immerse yourself equally in both aspects. You will experience first-hand the diverse terrains and beauty the region has to offer, from beautiful gardens to lush pine forests, whilst passing through traditional villages, learning about a whole range of different cultures as you go!
DAY ONE - ARRIVAL INTO SAPA
Today’s trek will involve the exploration of both stunning scenery and local villages. When walking through the various terrains – from long grasses to forests, to spectacular gardens – you’ll see why we describe Sapa as ‘green’! You will pass through the Black Hmong ethnic minority village of Ma Tra – a small village hiding away from civilisation. This is the largest group of ethnic minorities in the region. Inhabitants of the village can be recognised by their long black jackets and brightly coloured headscarves. Later in the day, you will also have a chance to meet members of the Red Dao community – another ethnic minority in the region, known traditionally to wear similar dresses to the Black Hmong, but with red headscarves.
DAY TWO - LET THE ADVENTURE CONTINUE
After a classic Vietnamese breakfast, it’s time to get your walking shoes on again as we trek to Mong Sen Village. On the way, we will have chances to see a spectacular view of the famous stepped rice paddy terraces and cornfields, as well as isolated traditional houses, waterfalls, and families cultivating goods like bamboo and rice. This trip really is an ideal way to experience traditional life in the mountains of Vietnam. After completing the trek, you will be transported back to Sapa town, with the chance to explore the town for some Vietnamese goodies.
DAY THREE - BACK TO HANOI
Your journey back to the city will allow you to reflect on all the new memories you have made during this incredible weekend away. The approximate 8 hour journey should have you back into the country’s capital by 4am. Depending on the day of your return, you may use this day to catch up on rest or return to the project.