With very short turn-around time, I was lucky enough to get a half-day tour with Ms. Duyen, a junior in college who generously shared her time and knowledge about Hanoi and Vietnam the Sunday before her final exam week.
There are so many nice things about this young lady and her club/organization that I have to write this review. First, she arrived at my hotel a bit early, but didn't ask the hotel front desk to let me know she was there until it's our appointment time. 2. At the end of the tour I told her I'd walk back to my hotel since I had done it numerous times; she was reluctant to deviate from the protocol, which requires her to accompany me back to my hotel until I reassured her and told her I'd call her after I arrive. 3. I offered to pay so that she could take a taxi instead of a bus back to her dorm after the tour; she declined. 4. I tipped her, but she said it'd be a contribution to her club and I'd receive an acknowledgement, which I did within a week.
I was curious about her club, so Duyen told me that in her club's last recruitment, 1000 applicants applied; only 50 were accepted after 3 rounds of exams. Additionally, they had to receive 2 months of training (one full day each week) before they became eligible to guide a tour. No wonder they are so well disciplined and trained. I really appreciate all efforts put in to run this club. Unfortunately, some people do not differentiate between this club and its copy cats, and even blamed on hanoikids.org for things not of their doing. If you need to complain about anything, please make sure first your guides indeed are from hanoikids.org, not the fake ones (e.g., hanoikids.com, etc.)
As to the tour itself, it could not have been better. As said, the tour guides are really well selected and trained. Duyen helped me save hours in skipping a mile-long line as I wasn't interested in seeing the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum; we were still able to visit the rest of the complex, which I was more interested in seeing. We also visited the Temple of Literature upon my request. When we visited it happened to be graduation season and it's in Vietnamese tradition that graduates pose for photos with their fellow classmates at the Temple of Literature. We saw a lot of them. We were also able to compare pronunciations of the scripts at the Temple in Vietnamese and my languages (Mandarin Chinese, Taiwanese, and Hakka.) It's fascinating how similar these languages are in certain but not all words. It's also interesting to see how much Confucius has influenced Vietnamese culture to this day, which I didn't know before.
We then visited one of the old coffee hours in Hanoi and chatted about student life and our cultures. It's a perfect way to wrap up the tour. The exchange is memorable.
In all, I couldn't have been happier. Thank you, Hanoikids.org and Duyen.
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