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International Seminar to Thailand and Vietnam

Rural Leadership North Dakota (RLND) Class VII participants recently experienced a 12 day study tour of Thailand and Vietnam where they learned about the country’s agriculture, people, communities and culture.

Hydroponic FarmThe 28 participants flew into Bangkok where they met their guide, Mr. North, about 3 a.m. We checked into our hotel and tried to get some rest before the start of our first day in Bangkok.

Day two of our trip was the first full day in Bangkok. The group’s first experience was a visit to the Thai Red Cross Snake Farm to learn more about snakes and how prevalent they are in Southeast Asia. After lunch the group heard from several speakers from the US Embassy and USDA regarding agriculture, trade, economic drivers and overall understanding of Thailand’s status in the world. The group ended the day with dinner on a riverboat cruise in the middle of Bangkok.

Day three brought the group to a hydroponic farm near Bangkok. Participants heard from the owner of the farm about how he started and has grown over the past ten years. After lunch Class VII participants visited a home for children with disabilities. They met the director of the home and learned about the skills children learn to be as productive as they can be. Class VII participants left a donation of toys, books, and other items the children needed before leaving the home.

Day four was the last day in Bangkok. The group started the day with a boat trip along the Chao Phraya River to see more of the city. The group visited the Wat Arun Temple and the Wat Pho (reclining Buddha) Temple. Over 90% of Thai people practice Buddhism and Bangkok has over 400 temples. Mr. North took the group to the airport in the afternoon for a flight to Hanoi, Vietnam.

The class landed in Hanoi late afternoon and went through the visa process at the Hanoi airport. With 29 participants needing to get Vietnam Visas stamped into their passports the process took a while, about 90 minutes! The group was glad to meet the new tour guide, Danny, and board the bus to Hanoi. The evening ended with a wonderful dinner and getting settled into the hotel.

The first full day (day five) in Hanoi was exciting as the group drove out of the city to Song Phuong village where we met local vegetable and fruit farmers. The fields where the fruit and vegetables were grown were lush green in color. Participants saw farmers tending to their fields as they watered, fertilized and hoed their fields by hand. Their water system consisted of cement canals that separated the fields from each other. The group was invited to one of the farmer’s homes to enjoy fresh fruit from their fields along with rice wine and water. It was wonderful to get to meet his son’s family as well. The group returned to Hanoi for a city tour in the afternoon and a traditional Vietnamese Water Puppet Show that evening.

Day six started with a three hour bus trip to the mountainous village of Giang Mo to visit the Muong minority people of Vietnam. The group’s first stop was a school in the village where they met elementary aged children and shared “chippers” with them from North Dakota. The group was able to meet with the school principal and teachers to learn more about the education system in the village. The group was surprised to hear the students go home for lunch every day and if the weather gets below 55 degrees school is called off. The school building didn’t have windows or doors so it was understandable why school would be called off with cooler weather.

The class next visited an orange and sugar cane plantation. The owner of the plantation didn’t speak English however Danny, the tour guide, translated as the group learned more about his plantation and how he marketed his products. On the way back to Hanoi the bus stopped at rice fields at Hoa Binh City. It was amazing to see how labor intensive rice is for the Vietnamese. The average wage per year for Vietnamese people is $2,200. The farmers worked very hard and, typically, sold their fruits and vegetables to local people.

Danny took the group to the Hanoi airport on day seven of the visit. Participants boarded a plane to Ho Chi Minh City mid-morning and arrived in Ho Chi Minh City around noon to meet the last tour guide, Yee. The group settled into the hotel in Ho Chi Minh City (locals call it Saigon) and boarded a bus for a tour of Saigon.

Day eight brought them to the Mekong River area of Vietnam where they boarded a large boat that took them to a fish farm where they learned about how long it takes to bring fish to market. Next, the boat took them to an area where participants switched to a three person boat/canoe and went on a leisurely ride down a small canal. The small boat/canoe was powered by a Vietnamese woman and her expert rowing capabilities. Next, the group learned about the floating market where you can buy fruits, vegetables, along with other necessities. They observed how the locals make rice paper, puffed rice treats and snake wine. Some of the participants held a snake before leaving the area. The day ended with a wonderful open air meal surrounded by lush greenery and beautiful flowers!

Day nine brought a unique experience to RLND Class VII participants. The class met with participants from the New York LEAD Program and the Ontario, Canada leadership program for the day. All three leadership programs were in Saigon at the same time and were able to organize a day together. The 80 member group was split into five groups for the morning with each group experiencing a different part of Saigon. In the afternoon the three groups came together to listen to speakers from the US Embassy, Canadian Chamber of Commerce Vietnam, Vietnamese Gardening Association and Vietnam Farmers Union. The group ended the day with a wonderful meal and traditional Vietnamese music!

The last day in Saigon was spent visiting local farms including a worm farm and a dairy farm as well as visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels that were used during the Vietnam War. The group shared an evening meal together and went back to the hotel to pack and wait for the 3 a.m. bus ride to the airport to get on a 6:30 a.m. flight back to the United States. 



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