by Luong Thu Huong
When we think about travel, we tend to imagine ourselves lying on a beach in glorious sunlight, swimming in transparent blue water or breathing fresh mountainous air.
It is an experience of total enjoyment.
However, when such travel is combined with charitable activities and environment protection, one is not only relaxed but also contributes something to society and learns more meaningful things about life.
Unlike normal tours, charitable tours or voluntours are often conducted in disadvantaged areas that have high tourism potential.
For example, a charitable tour called Ao Am Cho Em (Warm Clothes for Children) has been launched annually by a travel agency since the winter of 2012.
Tourists joining the tour get to explore the natural beauty of northern provinces such as Lao Cai, Yen Bai and Thai Nguyen. At the same time, they can directly give presents or donations to disadvantaged local children and experience their daily life.
"I enjoy both travel and charity work. I have seen many poor children in the mountainous northern provinces such as Ha Giang going to school with bare feet or without warm clothes in the freezing cold. That moves me into tears," Nguyen Van Anh says, explaining about the reason why she booked Ao Am Cho Em Tour.
"I was stunned by the spectacular landscape in Ha Giang during my visits, but the charitable trip was my most memorable one. It was truly a chance for me to not only discover the land I love, but also share and sympathise with the plight of underprivileged locals," Anh says.
The participants in voluntours are both tourists and volunteers, mostly students who want to get more life experience and also do some social work.
Instead of giving donations, students with limited budgets can contribute to local educational projects such as by teaching English and social skills to children or by repairing facilities for provincial schools.
Nguyen Van Ha from Ha Noi Banking Academy has just returned from his voluntary tour to Mai Chau District in Hoa Binh Province. Together with nearly 100 other students and volunteers, Ha helped the villagers in their daily work and to improve their English skills.
"This voluntour enabled me to practise my English and social skills with other international volunteers, in addition to teaching English to the local people so that they can communicate with foreign tourists," he says.
During the trip, tourists can see small mud-splattered children and little dilapidated houses perched on mountain slopes. "But hidden behind those sights are the sincere human kindness and affection of the local people for us.
"I have realised how fortunate I'm in comparison with the people there, and felt I should treasure more what I have. Those are the reasons why I will definitely come back," Ha says.
Besides booking tours to do charity work, an increasing number of tourists are surprisingly very willing to spend money on environment-friendly tours in which they have to collect rubbish or plant trees.
Ly Son Island in the central province of Quang Ngai, Ha Long Bay in Quang Ninh Province and Mai Chau in Hoa Binh Province are popular destinations for such tours.
"I learnt about the tours that combine environment protection and the discovery of nature. I was very curious and so decided to book one tour to Mai Chau District," Nawarat Masathien from Thailand says.
While she was very impressed with the spectacular mountainous scenery in the province, she was very surprised to see rubbish scattered in the area.
After relaxing and discovering their destination, the tourists, regardless of their nationality and age, spare some time to collect rubbish left behind by previous tourists at camping sites or on the beach.
"It is good for both the environment and the living conditions of the local people," French visitor Floria Baker says.
"The villagers also joined us in collecting and classifying rubbish in bags," she says, adding that even her children had a lot of fun and enjoyed the meaningful activity.
Environment-conscious tourists are also excited about ReCycle Tours, in which they can cycle on peaceful roads to reach their destinations, while planting trees along the way.
Many of them consider planting of trees to be a tribute to nature that has presented them with charming natural beauty.
"I hope such tours will be expanded and more tourists will join them, so that each person can become more aware about his responsibility to society and the environment. It also helps to make the country a better place, attracting more visitors from across the world," Ha says. — VNS