Many will say that Ho Chi Minh City is well known for its food and nightlife. But Hanoi is known for its cultural and historical value.
One group hoping to showcase the best of Hanoi’s cultural and historical sites is Hanoi Kids, TripAdvisor’s #1 rated activity in the capital city. It also happens to maintain a strong volunteer and social good driven mission for its tour guides and its guests.
Hanoi Kids (HNKs) is a student-run NGO established in 2006 that aims to “Be A Little Ambassador of Hanoi” through leading city tours for English speaking travelers to Hanoi. They hope to bring insights into Vietnamese culture and tradition through local curation. For its guides, the organization offers a way for students to practice their English in a practical environment.
I was introduced to HNKs on my second trip to Hanoi and had a chance to interview the incoming president Lý Lưu Ly and vice-president Thân Việt Anh to learn about the organization’s goals and mission.
If a six-year old asked you about what HNKs is, how would you answer?
Ly: We help foreigners explore and learn about Hà Nội city in a way that is more fun and authentic than traditional tours.
Việt-Anh: This is quite an interesting question I have never been asked before. Hanoi Kids is a group of students taking foreign friends to visit Hanoi city without charge. I think for children, the shorter, the better for comprehension.
Why Hanoi Kids?
Việt-Anh: As you may know, in Vietnam, learning English is mostly about grammar and vocabulary. Consequently, we do not have many opportunities to improve our speaking and listening. There are a lot of students who receive scores of 9 or even 10 in class but they can not say a word when it comes to practical situations. Thus, HNKs was created in 2006 for this reason and we have just celebrated our 10th birthday.
What are some of the differences between HNKs and traditional tours?
Ly: We don’t want the relationship between us and visitors to be that of the traditional tours, a relationship between a “tour guide” and a “customer”, where the customer pays the tour guide/agency and in return the tour guide imparts knowledge on the customer. We truly believe in forming new friendships and shooting the breeze while exploring the city of Hà Nội.
And how many tours do you organize?
Ly: We usually have 10+ tours daily, rising as high as 20+ daily in the peak season! Our five most popular destinations are The Temple of Literature, Ho Chi Minh’s Complex (including his Mausoleum), Hỏa Lò Prison, Vietnam Museum of Ethnology and of course, Hoàn Kiếm Lake.
How many members are there? How is the organization set up?
Ly: This year, there are over 600 members, with 100 of those being part of the active circle and rest as participatory members. HNKs is divided into 6 departments: Tour Operations, Public Relations, Internal Relations, External Relations, Training and Design & Art.
Tell me how you came to be a leader of HNKs:
Việt-Anh: I joined Hanoikids in October 2014, after passing three rounds! I felt so lucky since only 50 are chosen among nearly 1000 applicants. I started my journey at Hanoikids by enrolling a two-month basic training course to build up my skills…however, at that time, I found out that there are some problems in the courses which I want to improve. Thus, I joined the Training Department later on..One and a half years passed by, I worked hard and shared ideas as well as experience gained from every tours, which is highly recognized by both junior and senior members in the club…when the election came, I felt ready to do something new, ready to make Hanoikids better with my experience and passion.
Ly: I found out about HNKs in high school at a summer camp. I joined as a member my 2nd year of college and became president this past June through an election process. As a member for a few years now, I have discovered both strong and weak points of HNKs. After coming up with some ideas and thorough consideration, I decided to self-nominate myself to be the president of HNKs with the hope that I can contribute to its development.
What is the best thing you have learned from your work?
Ly: A more confident “mind”! Before I became director, I was not a very talkative person at all and could not fully express my ideas the way I wanted to…now I have to express my ideas clearly and concisely. And of course, thanks to HNKs, I now have a lot of friends who have helped me a lot in becoming a more mature person. They are all the most gifts I have gained from HNKs.
Việt-Anh: The most special thing I gained from HNKs are the friendships. We still keep in touch with a lot of our previous guests to share about lives, families and work. Moreover, some HNKs members even visit their guests in their own countries.
For me, the best thing of doing this is learning the view from other sides of any issue. It is interesting to discuss a problem together but from different points of view regarding history, culture and education. Sometimes it makes me jealous what other countries have but this also helps me to appreciate my country more. I also learn about the way to talk with people regarding their age, occupation and nationalities, this has improved myself so much and now I am confident to communicate with people without hesitation.
As well traveled Hanoi-ans, what are your favorite parts of Hà Nội and why?
Ly: The Temple of Literature (Văn Miếu) for me. Growing up, I didn’t understand and appreciate the Temple of Literature; now I better understand the tranquility of the environment that matches its historical significance as an educational and cultural site.
Việt-Anh: The Old Quarter is my favorite part of this city. Before joining HNKs, I had little understanding of this hidden charm of the city. The Old Quarter is the combination of not only tradition and modernity but also peace and vibrancy. Walking around the Old Quarter, I feel like going back to the past with narrow streets and old architecture. By contrast, I can see a lot of western bars, music pubs which are so sôi động (vibrant and “happening”) at night. Furthermore, the best thing Hanoians can do nowadays is taking photos in the early morning on the first day of the Lunar New Year. Strolling around and enjoying peaceful atmosphere without daily hurries or traffic jam. However, [I also enjoy] sitting in a nice corner with a cup of coffee to see people hurrying [on] with their business…
And for friends interested in joining, what’s the recruitment process like?
Ly: Well, we have three rounds of recruitment. First is the application round where we screen applicants’ answers to standardized questions. After that, we have in-person teamwork assessments–this is usually a combination of a game and a group presentation. Finally, we conduct individual interviews. We are looking for folks that are compatible especially ones that are NOT anti-social and of course, friends with an English level that is adequate but most importantly, an individual looking to improve their English!