The Dial

Students and teachers engage in Southeast Asian culture during the Casten Trip to Vietnam

Students+participate+in+the+early+morning+Alms+Giving+Ceremony+in+Luang+Prabang%2C+Laos.+In+this+ceremony%2C+local+Buddhist+monks+with+alms+bowls+by+their+sides+walk+through+the+streets+of+Luang+Prabang+to+receive+food+donations%2C+most+commonly+steamed+rice.%0A%0A%0A
Students participate in the early morning Alms Giving Ceremony in Luang Prabang, Laos. In this ceremony, local Buddhist monks with alms bowls by their sides walk through the streets of Luang Prabang to receive food donations, most commonly steamed rice.

Students participate in the early morning Alms Giving Ceremony in Luang Prabang, Laos. In this ceremony, local Buddhist monks with alms bowls by their sides walk through the streets of Luang Prabang to receive food donations, most commonly steamed rice.

Photo credit: Max Rosenblum

Photo credit: Max Rosenblum

Students participate in the early morning Alms Giving Ceremony in Luang Prabang, Laos. In this ceremony, local Buddhist monks with alms bowls by their sides walk through the streets of Luang Prabang to receive food donations, most commonly steamed rice.

By Max Rosenblum, Politics Editor

“I’m not joking!,” yelled Tan, the tour guide, always enlightening trip members with a fascinating cultural or historical fact about his native Vietnam.

On March 17th, 18 Hackley Upper Schoolers, accompanied by four faculty members, took off from JFK International Airport on the Casten Trip to Southeast Asia. The ten-day trip, which concluded on March 27th, brought participants to Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.

After a 15-hour flight that took students and faculty members to Hong Kong International Airport, the group ended their lengthy day of travel when they arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Students and faculty visited sites such as the Herbal Medicine Museum, the Cu Chi War Tunnels, and the Vietnam War Remnants Museum during their four-day stay in the bustling metropolis. The focus of their stay in Ho Chi Minh City was the Vietnam War, a war which resulted in the deaths of over 2 million Vietnamese citizens. Not too long after the end of the war, Vietnam affirmed its communist government. Years later, Vietnam opened its doors to western development, and Ho Chi Minh City became a blend of modern, French colonial, and traditionally Vietnamese attributes.

The day trip to the nearby Mekong Delta focused on Vietnamese coastal life, and gave students the opportunity to ride a traditional canoe around river tributaries and to explore a fruit orchard. Tour guide Tan, a favorite amongst students, elevated the experience in Vietnam with his vast array of knowledge, emotion, and humor.

Trip-goers then spent two days in Laos where they took part in a cooking class at a wooden enclave. Among the delicious culinary creations cooked by participants was Mok Pa, a traditional Lao dish consisting of steamed fish and spices wrapped in a banana leaf. Later that day, students and faculty took a trip to swim in three levels of beautiful turquoise cascades at the Kuang Si Falls, a popular tourist attraction near the town of Luang Prabang. Sophomore Ben Marra said of the falls, “Swimming there was crazy because the water is freezing and you can’t take your shirt off, but we all felt so lucky that Laos had shared something secret with us. Even though it’s a huge destination, there was still this sense of sanctuary about it.”

The third leg of the trip in Siem Reap, Cambodia, began with a traditional Cambodian dance show, and soon brought a day of service filled with school building and palm shutter weaving at the nearby Ladybird Village. On the last full day of the trip, Hackley travelers woke up at 4:00AM to get a chance to marvel at the beauty of Angkor Wat, a UNESCO world heritage site and temple constructed in the 12th century. The largest religious monument in the world, its construction began as a Hindu temple paying tribute to the god Vishnu, but was slowly transformed into a Buddhist temple as construction neared a close.

Senior Lexi Schechter reflected on the trip’s value for her: “This trip was truly an eye opening experience as we were able to get a glimpse into the culture of three other countries while actually connecting with a community on a personal level. Having the chance to assist the NGO at the Ladybird Village in Cambodia has first handedly shown me how much I have to be grateful for and how something so small, like learning verbs in English such as ‘running,’ can bring sheer joy to a 14 year old.”

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