Aniko shares her experiences from the South East Asia program, where the students have just spent five days planning and leading their travels!
Out of all our experiences in Southeast Asia so far, the student lead portion was definitely one
of the most rewarding. We had set budgets for food, accommodation, transport, and activities
and had to keep track of every group expense, past and future, while also having new fun
experiences that we planned for ourselves. Our group agreed on activities we wanted to do
first, such as snorkeling, surfing, beach time, and free time in cities, as well as sights we
wanted to see like the Golden Bridge.
Using all of this, we planned our week! We spent an extra day and a half in Hanoi, the city we
started from. Here we visited the Vietnam Fine Arts Museum filled with old and contemporary
art by Vietnamese artists, had free time to wander, and some of us went to St. Joseph’s
Cathedral, Jade Island, and the Hoa Lo Prison Museum. On the night of the second day we
got on our overnight train which took us to our next destination, Da Nang. We all got bunk
beds and beautiful views as we approached the coastal city.
On our first full day in Da Nang we went to Sun World in the Ba Na Hills, which is an above-
the-clouds amusement park in the mountains. We took taxis, and then cable cars up to this
magnificent spot. Our priority was seeing the famous Golden Bridge. It’s gold and looks like
two huge stone hands are holding it up on the side of a mountain. It’s a beautiful sight to see,
even while cloudy like it was for us. We also went on the alpine coaster and the indoor
amusement park entertained us for a couple hours.
The next day we had a free morning to enjoy the beach, the city, or just to relax, and then had
a surfing lesson in the afternoon. We loved it and had so much fun that some are trying to surf
again later this trip! It was definitely a highlight of the week, wipeouts and all.
On our final full day in Da Nang we went on a snorkel cruise to Cham Islands booked through
our hotel. Because of how we booked it we didn’t read any reviews and most of it was a
surprise! Our guide in reality didn’t speak much English, and getting to the island we had no
idea what was going on- except that we were on a speed boat. We went to a few different
islands, on one we saw a marine life museum and the live seafood market, on the next we
snorkelled and swam, and on the final one we got a fresh seafood lunch and time to relax on
the beach. All in all, it was an interesting yet fun day, where we just learned to go with the flow!
Our last night in Da Nang we splurged the remainder of our accommodation budget on a fancy
hotel next to the beach. There was a rooftop pool, rooms with ocean views, and an amazing
breakfast buffet included. We slept in and met the rest of our group in Hoi An after a short taxi
Looking back on the student led section, I learned a lot about booking both activities and
accommodations, and how to tell if they are actually what they seem. One way I learned to do
this is to see if there are both good and bad reviews to a hotel because mixed reviews mean it
is real. I also learned about researching restaurants, and making sure to choose ones that we
can stay at or under budget. I also improved my navigation skills by getting to know a new city
by ourselves. I feel much more confident now as an independent traveler and was so thankful
to have this opportunity and learning experience.