hoi An Final Day

Mario Deschamps's blog - August 25th, 2013 8:00 PM

On my last day, my host decided to take me to their family restaurant. My final meal consisted of rice with a bed of shrimp in a sweet glazing.

Hoi An final mealHoi An final meal

What a meal. I wanted to pay my compliments so they took me to the kitchen where I saw her continue to work hard at preparing such fabulous meals.

Hoi An Chef momHoi An Chef mom

When I was done, I returned to get my belongings and jumped into a taxi back to the Danang Airport. My host saw me off.



Mario Deschamps's blog - August 25th, 2013 8:00 PM

On the 20th, it was time to go up to Sapa to assist at the Baguette and Chocolate restaurant, bakery, and mini hotel which is operated by How Sua school. Everything was planned by WUSC and M. Ha. I took a taxi to the train station. I had already received my voucher and was waiting for the train at gate 4. I had already asked to make sure I didn't need anything else. As they started to board, the ticket agent said something in Vietnamese and then said "No" and pointed in a different direction. I had to quickly go get a different ticket to board the overnight coach. I met my suite mates which included a lovely couple from Hungary and Claire from England. We each shared some of our stories from our trip and eventually turned in for the night. With the shaking of the train and the noise, I didn't end up sleeping at all. When we arrived the next morning in Lao Cai, we parted ways and said we'd try to connect as some of us were going to be on a similar schedule for the train ride back.

I boarded a bus full of tourist and started up a winding road up the mountain towards Sapa. The views I experienced were amazing. One can never imagine this if I had even attempted to describe it. These are just some of the views I experienced.

Sapa - Up the mountain roadSapa - Up the mountain road

Heading towards SapaHeading towards Sapa

Upon arriving, I was met by students and staff members at the school. They invited me to relax for the day as they had planned a little touring around the Village on my first day. After settling in, the manager Thus and I went on a journey through the market. He showed me a few shops along the way and then headed for Dragon Mountain in the central part of the village.

Dragon MountainDragon Mountain

While up on the mountain, I noticed a few gardens, limestone rocks, and spectacular views. Oh yeah, also bumped into a couple new friends. Well, just a couple of people walking around that I decided to ask to have my photo taken with. As it is custom to ask how old you are, if you are married,etc. I decided to do the same. One was 23 and the other was 26, believe it or not. They don't look their ages. There were a few other people but not too many to be overwhelmed with crowds. The weather was slightly overcast but looked like it was opening up.  A little cooler then Hanoi. And far from being so humid.

Sapa - Dragon Mountain with new friendsSapa - Dragon Mountain with new friends

Sapa - Dragon Mountain gardenSapa - Dragon Mountain garden

Sapa - Dragon Mountain pathSapa - Dragon Mountain path

Sapa - Dragon Mountain rocksSapa - Dragon Mountain rocks

Sapa - Dragon MountainSapa - Dragon Mountain

After lunch, I was off on a trek to the village of Cat Cat with the Bakery teacher. We started off walking through the village of Sapa and strolled through the market area where I saw a lot of foods that we are not used to. But overall, it was crowded and unlike what we are used to. We eventually made our way through its winding roads and started downhill. We walked along the side of the mountain while being followed very close behind by two Mong women trying to sell us small embroidered pieces that they had made and it took them several weeks to make. We entered through the gate that led us towards the village. We were walking along the side of the mountain which was quite steep.

Sapa village of Cat Cat - viewSapa village of Cat Cat - view

I asked if we could actually see the village and they said "look down there". I looked over the edge and still saw nothing. It was a long way down. It must have been a couple thousand feet down and a long winding road down. As I looked into the valley, I could not believe my eyes. I was thinking just how lucky I was to be experiencing Leave for Change and able to share my experience with people so far away. Helping complete strangers that I now consider close friends as they have accepted me into their lives. All at the same time, they are sharing their life and experiences with me. As I looked into the distance and saw such a beautiful site, I can only imagine how to explain my journey to all of you. The only way is to just keep describing this experience, the people, and show you pictures. Unless one day you get the chance to also experience this yourselves.

My journey downhill continued to the gate of the community. A guard pointed towards the side of the road which lead us onto a walkway. A much shorter route but yet straight down many steps. As we trekked through, I visited several little shops and Mong homes which they allowed me inside to visit. Other buildings incorporated basket weaving, a forgery where small children played with knives and hammers, and another included weaving flux into silk. All this within the beautiful site of rice layered fields along the way down to the valley.

Sapa village of Cat CatSapa village of Cat Cat

Sapa village of Cat Cat - stone pathSapa village of Cat Cat - stone path

Sapa village of Cat Cat - children playingSapa village of Cat Cat - children playing

Sapa village of Cat Cat - weavingSapa village of Cat Cat - weaving

Sapa village of Cat Cat - walking the pathSapa village of Cat Cat - walking the path

Once at the bottom, my guide informed me that there was a surprise that awaited me. I think she said this because I was admiring her village so much. She was right, the surprise was a beautiful waterfall in amongst the trees in the depth of the valley. I can't say anymore than what my pictures show. Just put yourselves in my shoes, if you can, and imagine what was going through my head.

Sapa village of Cat Cat - waterfallSapa village of Cat Cat - waterfall

At the end of our trek down, I was told that we can either take a bus, motor bike, or trek back up. My guide said she always walks back up. So I agreed. Oh my....Straight up, no water, a sweat filled shirt, and I still had to climb this mountain. Although it was some 2000 feet, I made the journey up one step at a time. It was easier than I thought.

The next day, my presentation was given and they loved it. They love to learn and get involved. I also added a couple of classes for new menu ideas which is what the school is all about. I showed then how to make french toast, a chicken and vegetable wrap, and a french sugar tart that they know call Mario's french tart. In the afternoon, I jumped on the back of a motor bike with the general manager and he took me to the next couple of villages called Lao Chai and Ta Van. Let me just say that this trip was just as exciting. A 13 kilometer trek for most people with overnight home stays that we did in a few hours on a motor bike. Next time I go, I'll be on foot for sure. Just look at the photos.

Sapa Ta Van VillageSapa Ta Van Village

Sapa Ta Van VillageSapa Ta Van Village

Sapa Ta Van VillageSapa Ta Van Village

Sapa Ta Van VillageSapa Ta Van Village

Before turning in, a few staff, teachers, and students were heading for a walk through the village and asked if I would join them. Of course I said yes. And I decided to treat them to a beer which we ended up in a karaoke bar. We sang Vietnamese songs, had some laughs, and finished off the night with Pha which is a traditional chicken noodle soup.

The next day I trekked about on my own and later awaited my bus back to the train for the overnight ride. The students, teachers, and staff all stood at the front of the building on the porch and saw me off. We took a group photo before I left.


I got on the bus way in the back seat and then the driver loaded the luggage. Directly in front of me where I was jammed in tight. LOL. And then as we drove back down the mountain, the person next to me said she didn't feel good. Oh no.....She eventually took some medication and a few minutes later she was drowsy and fell asleep. Phew.

Sapa TrainSapa Train

I boarded the train and eventually fell asleep only to wake up at 4:30 am and already arrived in Hanoi. I took a cab to the hotel only to learn that they had no rooms available till after checkout sometime around noon. They let me sleep a couple of hours on the couch in the restaurant. Then I left my luggage and went for a stroll through the streets.


Since Halong Bay

Mario Deschamps's blog - August 24th, 2013 8:00 PM

Well hello everyone. Sorry for the delay in getting my blog up. I've been really busy and now as I go to turn my laptop on, it's telling me that Windows won't start as it's missing a file. Great. Just a little sarcasm on my part. At least I still have my phone. Lol! It might take a little longer to type but well worth it to show everyone my adventure.

I got back from Halong Bay after a three hour bus ride. What a trip that was. I ended up getting on the bus last and got the wheel well which my knees were up by my face and then I had my backpack on top. I was glad to stretch a little when we finally stopped an hour and a half into the ride. We stopped at a souvenir shop which I found way too expensive. Tourist trap of course. I noticed a little cocktail drink that is pretty popular here. I don't know the name but let me explain a little. A little snake and a little scorpion. Have a look.

a little tastea little taste


First Days in Vietnam

Mario Deschamps's blog - August 11th, 2013 8:00 PM

On Sunday morning I woke up and decided to go off on my own to learn a little bit more about the city. I made it around the corner and observed my first major intersection where I needed to cross. Having spoken to many people about this adventure, I decided to stop at the intersection first and take a photo. That's when it happened. My first attempted theft. A motor bike came from around the corner on my left and grabbed my phone right out of my hand. At this same time, my right hand came up and i grabbed the guy arm but it slid up to his wrist and over his hand due to the speed he was traveling. My hand grabbed the phone that he just took from my and it went flying into the middle of the intersection. The motor bike was now disappearing in the distance. I immediately reacted and dove into the intersection and grabbed my brand new blackberry that I had just bought before leaving for this trip. That's when I realized how many motor bikes there were on the street. I had them flying around me every which direction. As you can imagine, my first crossing was now real simple.


Once across the round about, I happen to come across Hoam Kiem Lake. This lake is just south of the Old Quarter where a night market is typical help on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. The lake itself is a small body of water in the center town. It is known as Turtle Lake as legend says that in the 15th century, Heaven sent Emperor Le Thai To a magical sword which he used to drive the Chinese out of Vietnam. After the war, he happen to come across a giant golden turtle that was swimming on the surface of the lake. The turtle took the sword and disappeared in the depth of the lake. Since then, the lake is known as Ho Hoan Kiem or also Lake of the Restored Sword because the turtle restored the sword. Every morning, locals gather around the lake to practice the traditional t'ai chi.

Hoan Kiem LakeHoan Kiem Lake

In the afternoon, I met with my prearranged volunteer tour guide Ms. Trang. She volunteers as a tour guide so she can practice her English speaking skills. She was also accompanied by her cousin Ms. Trang. We started off by going to the Temple of Literature. This temple is dedicated to the Khong Tu and honour's Vietnamese finest scholars and men of literature. While entering through the south, one will proceed through four yards/gardens to the Khue Van pavilion, then to a square pond known as the Well of Heavenly Clarity. Upon graduating through the program, you end up in the north side of the courtyard where one will find a pogado housing a statue of the Confucius and four of his disciples.

Temple of LiteratureTemple of Literature

Temple of LiteratureTemple of Literature

Temple of LiteratureTemple of Literature

Temple of LiteratureTemple of Literature

Temple of LiteratureTemple of Literature

Temple of LiteratureTemple of Literature

Temple of LiteratureTemple of Literature

Temple of LiteratureTemple of Literature

After finishing the tour, we took a taxi to the Museum of Ethnology where exibits of tribal art, artefacts are displayed. On the property, there are beautiful traditional village houses that still found today in different part of the country. Examples are stilt houses, Bahnar communal structure and a Yao home.

Museum of EthnologyMuseum of Ethnology

Museum of EthnologyMuseum of Ethnology

Museum of EthnologyMuseum of Ethnology

It was getting closer to dinner time so we decided to stop for a drink on a street corner while sitting on little plastic stools. We sipped on a traditional ice tea and learned more about Vietnam. We eventually made our way across the street to have street food consisting of Pho and spring rolls. Following dinner, we decided to part ways and I slowly made it back to my hotel room for a good night rest.

On Monday, I made my way by taxi to the WUSC office where I met with the entire team. I was first met by Ngoc my Sector Program Officer and a coordinator by the name of Meagan Smith who in fact is a First Responder at the University of Guelph. What a small world. She introduced herself and said that she was hired with WUSC for her summer employment here in Vietnam. I then proceeded to meet Uyen the Accountant and Administrator as well as Michael Emblem the Director and another volunteer by the name of Claude who was also at Hoa Sua School as a Chef. What a fantastic group. I was given an orientation on the program and an open discussion about the school.

The following morning, I was picked up and taken to Hoa Sua School to meet with Madame Ha who is so pleasant and welcoming. She is sweet as pie and does anything for you. A welcome meeting was initiated where a plan and schedule was agreed upon. A final farewell was given to Claude as his mandate had just ended. We gathered in the dining room and had a great lunch. And if you haven't had true Vietnamese food, it is amazing flavours.

 Me, Ngoc, Claude, Madame HaLunch at Hoa Sua School: Me, Ngoc, Claude, Madame Ha

As the week went on, I was given a tour of the facilities. These youths are just amazing. Although they don't know who I was, there smiles and waves are just so welcoming. The sewing class consists mainly of young females all of which are deaf and mute. The teacher got there attention for me by flicking the lights on and off. When they were told by sign language who I was, they all smiled and gave me waves. Every morning and every night I walk by the building and here they are just waving at me. They smile from ear to ear.

Hoa Sua SchoolHoa Sua School

Hoa Sua SchoolHoa Sua School

Hoa Sua SchoolHoa Sua School

Hoa Sua School - Cooking area for studentsHoa Sua School - Cooking area for students

Hoa Sua School - Female ResidenceHoa Sua School - Female Residence

Although L4C is my mandate, I decided to still get out on weekends and see a little more of Vietnam. This weekend I decided to board a bus on a three hour ride to Halong Bay. One of the wonders of the world. On the bus I met some pretty interesting people from all parts of the world including Germany, France, Switzerland, England, Scotland, and Canada. Once we arrived at the port, we were transported to the cruise ship by a small platform boat. Upon boarding the ship, we were given a small introduction and assigned our cabins where we were going to stay the night. Once we checked in, we were provided a gourmet lunch while the ship slowly made its way towards the vast 2000 limestone Islands, floating village, and cave.

Halong Bay - Cruiser ShipHalong Bay - Cruiser Ship

Halong Bay - IslandsHalong Bay - Islands

Halong Bay - IslandsHalong Bay - Islands

Halong Bay - IslandsHalong Bay - Islands

Halong Bay - Floating VillageHalong Bay - Floating Village

Halong Bay - CaveHalong Bay - Cave

Halong Bay - IslandsHalong Bay - Islands

Halong Bay - IslandsHalong Bay - Islands


My day of travel

Mario Deschamps's blog - August 2nd, 2013 8:00 PM

Over the past few months I haven't really written anything as I was basically just preparing for the trip.  I had ventured out to get my first set of immunization shots and awaited contact by WUSC in respect to my travel arrangements and my mandate.

A couple weeks before my departure, everything started to fall into place. I received my last immunization shots, received confirmation regarding my mandate, received a copy of my flight arrangements, my hotel accommodations, and my contract detailing my work in Vietnam.  I started to feel good about my mandate and real excited of course.

Six of us from the Leave for Change program 2013 met at my home for an evening of gourmet food and a little welcome back for Mary from Nepal. What a fantastic night. Thanks everyone and sorry to those who missed out.

Anyway, my first day started on August 2 at 6 AM. I got to the airport and checked in.  When I got to the gate, i eventually heard that the flight was delayed due to severe storms in the Chicago area.  After a couple hours of waiting, the first flight got cancelled.  Mine was still on.  They called me to the desk and said that I had been switched to a direct flight to Tokyo so I could make my other connection.  I was thrilled as I know didn't have to have two layovers.  Oops, hold on. Wrong, they said I now wouldn't make that flight either.  I was reverted back to the original flight however leg two was switched to a later Tokyo flight with another airline. I got to Chicago and had about 45 minutes to get to the other plane.  Good thing I didn't have to pickup my luggage like they had said originally.  Got on the Tokyo flight and got myself settled in for the 14 hour journey.  Met a couple guys sitting next to me that had just graduate from law school at Harvard.  They were trekking to Vietnam and Cambodia before heading of to work in New York City.

Once in Tokyo, a was greeted by Japanese Airlines who said to go have dinner and a beer on them as the flight to Hanoi had been delayed for yet another three hours due to a typhoon that hit the city that afternoon.  Yes a typhoon.  lol  So my new friends and I sat and had a nice cold beer to pass the time.

Once on the flight, we realized the flight was going to be yet another several hours and then a 45 minute trek to the hotel.  Once we got to Hanoi, I started for the exit and got stopped by customs.  I realized when I got my suitcase that i had several little stickers of happy faces on them. I figured they had already checked them and put stickers on them.  NOPE. It meant check this guy.  After a quick x-ray and them asking what was inside, they let me through.  phew. lol

About 45 minutes later, I found my taxi driver who didn't speak a word of English.  I reverted to my handy Vietnam book and introduced myself.  He had to read the phrase as I wasn't saying it correctly. Along the quiet ride to the hotel, my driver pointed and laughed at a tiny little motorcycle carrying food to the market. It was about 10' and full of baskets of food.  I was surprised he could balance that thing. Oh yeah, someone was sleeping on the top and the bike had no lights. lol

We pulled in at 2 AM on August 4.  Yes about 30 some hours of travel.  Tired but still going, I sent a couple of emails to say I was here safely.  At 6 am I was woken to the sound of beeping mopeds in the street.  And my journey begins.  Sorry no photos yet. It was dark out.

What to expect while in Vietnam - Oh my......

Mario Deschamps's blog - June 6th, 2013 8:00 PM

During my recent orientation training in Toronto on June 1 and 2, several people spoke to me about safety while crossing the street.  They informed me to ensure that I cross at the intersections.  Well, I decided to do a little research and to my disbelief I figured out why they were saying what they said.  However, my next question was, where are the crosswalks.  See for yourself. LOL


See video



So all my paper work is in and I am now waiting further details.  I will be starting my immunizations next week which will consist of Hepatitis A & B, Japanese Encephalitis, and Typhoid.  Oh yeah, I can't forget the Malaria medications.

In respect to my mandate, here is a video I found and would like to share.


See video



Again, thanks for following me along my journey.  I will be arriving in Vietnam in early August.

My mandate and preparation

Mario Deschamps's blog - May 15th, 2013 8:00 PM

Hello all,

This first blog is to inform you that I will be based with the community partner Hoa Sua School in Vietnam as a Fire Prevention and Health Safety Advisor.

I am in the beginning stages of preparing for my mandate which will entail training, back ground check, and of course vaccinations.

I will add blogs and photographs along the way.

For those who comment on my blog, please ensure to add your names at the bottom of your comments so I see who has posted the comment.

Looking forward to hearing from you.