Friendship Foundation of American Vietnamese

Responsible Tourism

By Volunteer Julie Feeney
Project XII Participant

After a long bus ride filled with adventurous toilet stops, the volunteers arrived in Can Tho. After freshening up we headed nearby for our boat that would take us to the floating market. How many people can a small boat hold? Apparently 24 or so if they are strategically placed. One of our fearless leaders, Joe Junior, claimed that the boat captain gave him coffee but I still do not know if I believe him. And we were off at a snail's pace in the predawn of Can Tho.

We passed hard working people at an ice factory and in other various forms of hard labor. What would it be like to be these people on a day-to-day basis, doing exhausting work before the sunrise? Not such a romantic vision now then, is it? A thousand times I saw lights in a factory and each time thought, that maybe we were here, that this was the floating market. I had visions of becoming a pirate and taking over the floating market.

How many versions of life has this river seen?

Yet when we actually do get to the floating market, at first I did not even notice. It started as one fellow boat floated up beside our boat, and offered us coffee. Then as light emerged I saw other boats-one with fruits-one with breads and yes, one with the dreaded Vietnamese Chicken. Other boats splashed by, done with their business. What time did these people have to get up to bake bread and then get in a boat to sell it? I do not want to know. It turns out too that our boat had wares for sale and quite a few of us bought some inexpensive clothes. Who isn't a business person in Vietnam?

Our boat docked and this leads me to the second part of my journal entry... dum dum dum.

We arrivde at this house that was supposed to be both an orchard and a zoo. What it turned out to be was a bunch of animals in way too small cages and some monkeys with short chains around their necks, tied to trees.

Having had all I can stomach as I watched some participants snap photos of the monkeys in their horrid condition, I “escaped” outside.

This led me to a bunch of questions that I am struggling with—maybe you can help. I guess as in any situation I am tempted to get on my self-righteous um horse? And find out who the evil culprit is to blame. For after all, those animals didn't tie themselves up and stuff themselves into cages now, did they? So who is it? What are you to do on a tour when you are lead into a situation like that? And better yet, what do you tell this family (if anything) that is trying to make money in a dog eat dog world (okay I'll stop with the animal puns)? Seriously though. And this isn't the only place in Vietnam; many attractions came with their own pet animal placed in a miserable condition.

What I chose to do was to describe my outrage and in response was asked to do this journal entry. Okay so here's the journal entry, now what course of action do I suggest? I would say to ask whatever tour you are on to not frequent such places, simply do not give them your business. They wouldn't do it if they didn't make money from it. This sounds rather cruel doesn't it, but you could give your money to someplace else that wasn't damaging to animals. If you come upon it unexpectedly, leave and express your disgust in a tactful manner to the tour manager. Again, I don't know how helpful it would be to speak to the family in question. You're not in Vietnam long enough to understand the language or the way to best approach the situation, but you do have the ability to influence someone that is. So I here now say, please FFVAN next year please try to find another place to visit that doesn't have animals in these conditions.

(As a tourist there are many things that we have to do to be responsible, especially in regions that see few foreigners. Like it or not, you are the representatives of Westerners to these people. If you get drunk and do things your mama would be ashamed of, people will remember that. How do you feel in Japan when people take your picture because you are the “exotic” foreigner without asking permission? After a while it's not so fun is it? Littering-man, don't even get me started. Not to say all the participants in our group did these things! Quite the opposite in fact. Just to say that, like it or not, you are constantly observed and will most likely stay as a memory after you leave. That is something that should be stressed before the trip. (Responsible tourism is mutual.)

Back to Our Journey...

Now after eating some very tasty fried bananas we were back on the boat. Surprisingly, the journey back was much faster than our journey there. Various participants took turns making movie star like appearances on the bow (is that the right part?, some pirate!) of our boat. We passed people washing their hair in the river.

This is the same river that we, as tourists, will go on a boat to eat dinner and to dance.

How many versions of life has this river seen?

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Meet foundation Vice Director Joe Meissner.