It seems there is more to be gained through tourism than a monetary advance. These students in Vietnam are changing the face of tourism by volunteering their time to provide visitors with city tours free of charge, the only exchange – cross-cultural communication.
All throughout Vietnam students are taking tourism into their own hands and creating the perfect type of mutual cultural exchange between tourists and locals. The tours meet both parties’ needs – tourists want to see a city and learn about the local culture and students want to practice their English skills and learn about a foreign culture.
In 2006 organisations like Hanoi Kids in Hanoi and Saigon Hotpot in Ho Chi Minh City founded their not-for-profit, volunteer organisations with the aim to “promote the beauty of Vietnam and create a dynamic environment for self-development of the local students.” Now, 10 years on, Hanoi Kids and Saigon Hotpot both rank in Trip Advisor’s top 10 activities in their respective cities, with Hanoi Kids sitting at number 1 for 3 years running.
Both organisations, and many others throughout Vietnam including Hoi An Free Tours and Danang Free Tours offer a range of tours tailored to the wants and needs of the guests. Tours are free of charge; all the guests have to cover are the costs of entrance fees, transport and food and drink purchases.
Choose from a food tour, giving guests a chance to taste all the exclusive cuisines of Vietnam, or a tour to famous landmarks and city surrounds, of which you have a choice between a full day and half day.
We had the chance to take a tour with Hanoi Kids while recently visiting this lively city. Zung and Finn met us right on time at 9 am for our city tour. They took the time to talk with us about what we would do for the day and gave us the option to choose which attractions we wanted to visit. We spent the day walking through the city, visiting famous landmarks Hanoi Prison, Temple Of Literature and the Women’s Museum, while stopping off at a local restaurant to try some unique dishes prominent in northern Vietnam. Zung, a recent member of Hanoi Kids, explained to us how the program has significantly helped him with his English skills even after a short while. “Speaking with foreigners allows me to practice my English skills and understand what corrections I need to make. It also let’s me share my lovely city with all the people I meet”.
The standard of tour we were given was more than we could have ever expected. Both Zung and Finn could have been mistaken for history experts, giving us detailed insights and explanations into the history of all the places we visited that day. It’s no wonder they have landed themselves a spot in Trip Advisor’s hall of fame.
It is clear through our experience that these kinds of cultural exchanges benefit both the students and us. The volunteers can explore their full potential through cross-cultural experiences and we are able to explore our own cultural curiosity. Who says that tourism needs to be anything more than that?
Below is a list of student run organisations in Vietnam that offer free tours to guests.