Pt I: Introduction [Planning]
Pt II: SIN-KUL-HAN [Flights]
Pt III: Essence Palace Hotel [Accommodation]
Pt IV: Hanoi Sights [Sightseeing]
Pt V: Eating in Hanoi [Dining]
Pt VI: Bloom Microventures Tour [Activity]
Pt VII: HAN-KUL-SIN [Flights]
Pt VIII: Epilogue [Review]
Apparently my e-mail ended up in their spam folder but I still received a reply two days later. Loan (pronounced as Luan) from the Bloom team gave us more information about the tour. It cost 75 USD for each adult (60 USD for under 22s or 30 USD for under 7s) and part of this money would go to the loans that they disburse to women in the community that we would be visiting.
Ying and I arrived at the Opera House just before the arranged meeting time of 8am.
There were few groups of people who made there the meeting point and we couldn’t locate our group initially. We had to call Loan and she immediately found us. We would depart less than 10 minutes later, after all the tour participants had arrived.
There were nine participants in total; beside the two of us and a German tourist, there was a group of Hanoi-based Australian/New Zealander expats.
Phu Minh, the commune that we were visiting, was 70km and two hours’ drive away from Hanoi. There was a nice expressway for a big part of the journey but we had to use rural roads for the last third of the journey. The road became noticeably bumpier as we crossed from Hanoi province into Hoa Binh province.
En-route, Loan gave us an overview of the organisation’s work as well as an introduction to the family whom we were visiting. We were also taught some simple Vietnamese phrases so that we could greet the locals in the commune.
Our first stop was at Ms Mo’s house. Ms Mo would be the recipient of the next loan and she planned to use the money to buy more feed for her pigs.
She warmly welcomed us into her house and laid out the mats for us to sit on. It was a simple one storey house with a living room and a bedroom.
We started chatting with her about her family and plans with the help of Loan’s translation.
The neighbours’ kids came over to her place to gawk at us foreigners when we were there.
Our first activity of the day was to make sweet dumplings. Ms Mo prepared the dough and we simply put the cane sugar into the dough and made them into balls.
We then followed Ms Mo to the kitchen where she cooked the dumplings for us.
The dumplings were delicious and all of us had quite a few.
We also had a go in grinding green beans using traditional equipment.
Ms Mo then showed us her animals.
Her toilet and showers were located outside the house and were built with aid by Child Fund. The toilet was a very basic one according to Ying.
We were then invited to visit Ms Mo’s cassava field which was around 10+ minutes’ walk away.
Ms Mo’s cassava field was located on a slope and she demonstrated how the cassava were harvested.
We also stopped by Ms Mo’s canna patch where she harvested one for us to see.
The owner of the machine took notice of us and came over to say hi. Despite not speaking any English, he was friendly and readily switched on the machine to show us how it worked. That was really nice of him.
We walked through the village on our way to Ms Mo’s house. The village reminded me of my grandfather’s hometown in China. While Phu Minh didn’t seem as affluent, it was definitely cleaner and better-kept.
We bid farewell to Ms Mo at her house and wished her good luck. The bus picked us up and we headed to the place where we would have our lunch.
The building was built by the NGO and could receive visitors who wish to stay overnight at the village. We had our lunch at the ground level and visited the accommodation upstairs after the meal.
Loan told us that beside bringing tourists to the village, they also bring kids in the kindergarten on excursion here to learn more about farms and animals.
One of the activities planned for us was to try weaving baskets using bamboo strips. The locals made them to catch shrimps and now they sold them as souvenirs to visitors.
Loan ended her introduction of the basketweaving with “I am only good in verbal instructions” and one of the participants immediately added “you would make a good wife!” All of us found it hilarious and couldn’t stop laughing.
The master weaver came along and gave us a demo. He already started the bases for us and we only needed to continue adding the bamboo strips.
While the rest gave up, Ying persevered and hers was the most complete.
After our basket-making ventures, Loan brought us to the lake which was around 10 minutes’ walk away from the lunch place.
I didn’t expect that the lake was so nice. If only the weather was nicer!
Normally the tour participants would go on a short hike in the surrounding forest but we didn’t do that due to the muddy tracks. All of us marvelled at how peaceful and serene the Vietnamese countryside was; a far cry from the noise and chaos in Hanoi!
The next stop would be the broom factory. It was set up in collaboration with the local government so that local women could work part-time there.
The clinic and primary school were also nearby and we went in to take a look. Loan explained to us how the medical service and education worked in the village while we were there.
They were the last stops of our excursion. We headed back to Hanoi slightly after 3.30pm and were dropped off at the Hanoi Opera House slightly after 5pm.
In all, the trip was really awesome except for the weather. Loan was a great guide and we learned a lot of things from her. The activities were fun and it was wonderful to meet the friendly villagers of Phu Minh. It was nice to visit a place devoid of the usual touristy stuff which one usually finds in Vietnam. We were glad that we went on the tour and thoroughly enjoyed our experiences.