Xin cháo! Sandy and I have had a great start to our journey here in Vietnam. Our first stop in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) was packed with meetings, site visits, and amazing food.
It's hard not to be drawn into the incredible energy and vibrancy of this place, not to mention the endless stream of motorbikes! Couples and whole families often cram onto a single bike, weaving chaotically through the streets in a way that somehow works (usually).
First on our agenda was to get to know our friend and Travel Director, Duy Tran, his father Thuy Tran (Chairman), George Ehrlich Adam and their Exotissimo team. As the largest travel company serving foreign visitors in Vietnam, Exotissimo will coordinate all of the logistics of our travel program, including tourist excursions, ground transportation, lodging and meals.
Did I mention that the food here in Vietnam is incredible? Our photo here captures one of (too) many dishes we've consumed. One of our favorites so far is Nha Hang Ngon, a bustling place in central HCMC that appeals to foreigners and locals alike. We sat on the terrace to check out the street scene while our food was being prepared on both sides of us -- it makes you feel like you're eating the street food without the side effects. The next day we stopped at Pho Hoa for what Duy rates as the #1 Pho in HCMC -- hot, sweaty and delicious!
We also visited Koto, a social enterprise providing vocational training to street and disadvantaged youth. Koto is under consideration as both a site visit and a dinner spot. Ideas for our visit include cooking classes with the trainees and maybe even a master chef contest! We also hung out with celebrity chef, Bobby Chinn, at his restaurant in HCMC along with our photographer Giao and newly anointed resident historian, Bob Schiffer, longtime Director of the Vietnam Trade Council and former Senior Advisor to the U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam. We were also very fortunate to spend time with U.S. Consul General, An Le, to hear his insights on Vietnam, to share our vision for the trip and discuss opportunities for interchange with Vietnamese executives.
In addition to Koto, we visited two other organizations that are strong site visit prospects. The first is called DRD, run by a remarkable woman named Yen Vo who helped us understand the obstacles facing disabled persons in Vietnam, which make up an astonishing 15% of the population.
We also visited The Little Rose Shelter for abused girls. This was an especially moving experience for Duy, Sandy and I who sat together with the girls in a circle on the floor. Sandy shared her own life story, beautifully reminding how one can overcome adversity and still accomplish big things in life. We then went around the circle asking the girls to share their aspirations. Before we knew, it was lights out -- our meeting room was suddenly transformed into a dormitory as the girls brought out their floor mats and blankets.If these first three site visits are any indication, we're going to have a strong portfolio of prospective grantees and learning opportunities on our first travel philanthropy program to Vietnam. Next we go to Hue, Hoi An, but we can't leave HCMC without a special thank you to Kim Do, our gracious host here and her wonderful family. Stay tuned!