A Vietnamese girl’s ‘0 dong’ overseas trip

Thanh Tam made a volunteer trip to save money on accommodation in Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and Sri Lanka, two years ago.

In July 2019, after graduating from a university in Ho Chi Minh City, Nguyen Thi Thanh Tam, then 23 years old, set out to travel to several Asian countries. Carrying a small backpack and the money that seemed to only last for a month, she traveled for 8 months through 6 countries.

The form Tam chooses is work away, an international volunteer model that connects hosts and volunteers, with the aim of working and cultural exchange. In which, volunteers can do jobs such as teaching English in remote areas; clean the room; take care of garden plants; tour guide … in exchange for the cost of accommodation and meals.

Thanh Tam in Hampi, India.  Photo: NVCC.
Thanh Tam in Hampi, India. Photo: NVCC .

With Tam, because she is interested in the service profession, she chooses to volunteer at homestays and motels for backpackers. Before sending an email to the host, she often researches carefully the information and reviews of the volunteers first and then goes online to find the name of the homestay to find out the quality of the accommodation. She shared that because this form of tourism is quite safe, she is not afraid, but she does not always find a “hearted” host.

The first volunteer work that Tam did was at a single resort on Lonely Beach, Koh Rong Island, Cambodia. Her impression of this place is a pristine beach, no noise, bustle, no wifi, surrounded by only white sand stretching, clear seawater.

With her are 4 other volunteers from France and Austria. In the morning, everyone wakes up at 7am, spends an hour picking up trash on the sandy beaches, then sharing in gardening, carpentry, cleaning the room, Tam cleaning, and serving at the restaurant. Whenever the restaurant is not busy, she takes guests to visit, a place where you can watch beautiful sunsets or coral reefs. When there is a coral diving and waterfall tour, she can go with her. Every 3 days, there will be a boat to deliver food to the island in the evening. Just hearing the whistle, everyone ran to the sea, carrying things into the warehouse. For Tam, this is the most exciting time because everyone is having fun and cheering for each other. Every day in the afternoon, the volunteers do not have to work, they sunbathe together, swim in the cool water of the sea.

Staying at the resort for 3 weeks, in addition to not having to pay for meals and accommodation, she also has many new friends. This is also the first time she gets to see Plankton, the glowing sea creature, learn yoga, and fall in love with Khmer red curry.

Leaving Cambodia, she took a bus to continue to Koh Chang (Elephant Island), Thailand. Her workplace is an island motel, with the owner often adopting and taking care of feral cats. This is also the reason why Tam chose to come to this “never heard of” land.

Her job is as a receptionist, serving meals, taking care of and talking to tourists, in addition to taking care of 16 cats at the resort. Here she works 5 days a week, 5 hours a day, freely choosing shifts. In her free time, she often rents a motorbike to explore Koh Chang.

After staying here for a month, Tam said she was allowed to stay alone in a room because it was the low season for tourism. In particular, she met Mrs. Kris, saw how she cherished and cared for cats and many other friends who were always enthusiastic to help and care from buying food, showing her where to enjoy delicious food. Every day, she is surrounded by 16 cats, not only playing but also many times busy taking pictures for each one.

Cats lying on the bar.
Cats lying on the bar.

During the trip, a month of volunteering in Luang Prabang, Laos was the time that Tam found the most interesting. This time, her workplace is a guesthouse by the Mekong River, with the boss being a French-Vietnamese man. Here she gets to do jobs she has never done or thought of, that is, looking after a bar and a cruise ship on the river.

Working 4 hours a day, she is responsible for standing at the bar distributing leaflets and advertising to invite customers to buy tickets to watch the sunset. When the boat started to run, she followed to host the program. The first is to serve welcome drinks, then get to know each tourist and introduce the game rules on the boat. She is also the one holding the mic to host the show during the party. The first time she led English in front of dozens of tourists, Tam was so shaken that one word turned to another, but by the fourth time, she could confidently not hold the paper. In her free time, Tam teaches the children of the owner and staff at the guesthouse to learn English. Although not a professional class, everyone paid attention, which made her very happy.

During her stay here, she watched the sunset on the Mekong River in many different shades. In addition, she also learned more about customer service, how to make some basic cocktails, and most importantly, exploring Luang Prabang, as well as pushing her limits to speak in front of a crowd.

In Laos, she also had an incident where she lost the money she brought, although it was not much, but caused her many difficulties. With the help of a new friend, she got a job as a translator for a company in Indonesia. During the day after working on the yacht, in the evening Tam spends 5-6 hours completing the project. This is also the job that helps her to continue her journey and stick with the online job so far.

A photo of a sunset on the river taken by a tourist for Tam.  Photo: NVCC.
A photo of a sunset on the river was taken by a tourist for Tam. Photo: NVCC .

Tam also worked part-time in Sri Lanka for a week; Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Thailand for a week. In addition to volunteering to be able to experience without having to pay for accommodation, in 8 months of traveling, she also traveled to India, Indonesia, and other localities of Thailand, Laos… in the form of discovery. freely, with a cost of nearly 50 million dongs. She said that after returning to Vietnam to celebrate Tet in February 2020, the Covid-19 epidemic broke out so she could not continue the journey, so there was a small saving left from online jobs.

“If I could go back to the beginning and have more money, I would still choose to volunteer abroad. Because those experiences have contributed to my current self-confidence and have just been able to travel. , being a part of the community and saving money is great,” she said. Follow vnexpress