Vietnam: Ecology and Conservation

Journey through Vietnam's natural environments and cultures, and experience current challenges affecting the conservation of the country's diverse ecological systems on a summer abroad.

Gain hands-on experience with diverse ecological systems and natural resource preservation through a culturally immersive high school summer abroad program in Vietnam. As you travel from the country’s bustling capital city to mangrove forests, the Central Highlands, jungle and coastal areas, and the Mekong Delta, you will acquire firsthand knowledge of Vietnam’s ecology while discovering the threats, including climate change and development pressures, impacting Vietnam’s natural environments and indigenous communities.

During your excursion to the mangrove forests in Can Gio, canoe down the Dong Nai River and observe monkeys and birds in their natural habitats. Visit the gibbon primate center, and learn about conservation efforts and challenges at Cat Tien National Park, home to mammals such as Asian elephants, sun bears, gaur, and many smaller species. Attend seminars on climate change and the environment and visit the floating markets on the Mekong River. Explore marine ecology on the beautiful island of Phu Quoc—an island of significant economic, scientific, and environmental value, boasting numerous coral reefs and seagrass beds. Take advantage of ongoing, dynamic experiential learning opportunities while biking, snorkeling, and trekking.

Through homestays and field visits to cultural and historical sites, you will gain critical knowledge of Vietnam’s history and contemporary life. Visit the Cu Chi tunnels, one of the longest systems of underground tunnels from the Vietnam War, and spend time at local NGOs working to advance the quality of life of vulnerable people and communities. Immerse yourself in the daily lives of two Vietnamese families during homestays in the capital city and Da Lat. Receive instruction in Vietnamese language and cooking and participate in a community service project, such as building a biogas system or teaching English to children, during the program’s rural stay in Hoa An village. Learn about the indigenous traditions of the Lach ethnic group in the Central Highlands and attend seminars on Vietnamese folk music and Zen meditation. The program begins and concludes in Ho Chi Minh City.

US citizens require a visa for this program. Participants will work with The Experiment’s visa agency to acquire and pay for a visa.

Community Service Certificate: At the conclusion of this program, participants will earn a community service certificate noting how many hours of community service they completed.

Orientation: Ho Chi Minh City, 3 days
Homestays: Ho Chi Minh City,* 6 days; Da Lat City (Central Highlands),* 3 days
Other Accommodations: University dormitory, educational institute, hotels

* Homestay locations can vary.

Days 1–3

Orientation in Ho Chi Minh City

  • Learn about the history, culture, and environment of Vietnam from experts
  • Visit important sites throughout the city, such as historical monuments and the Reunification Palace
  • Get to know other members of your group during activities
  • Start learning some basic Vietnamese language

During the orientation period, you and your group will stay in a centrally located hotel.

Days 4–12

Urban Homestay in Ho Chi Minh City

  • Become immersed in the daily lives of a Vietnamese family
  • Do activities with your host family and local volunteers
  • Attend Vietnamese language classes
  • Visit sites of historical interest, such as Cu Chi Tunnel, and local NGOs

Outdoor Excursion (Thematic Focus)

Can Gio Mangrove Forest 

  • Learn about mangrove forests and plant trees
  • Visit a crocodile farm and monkey and bird habitats

During this period, you will stay in the home of a family.

Days 13–16

Homestay in the Central Highlands

  • Become immersed in the daily lives of a Vietnamese family
  • Do activities with your host family
  • Attend a seminar on Zen meditation
  • Visit sites of interest, such as Prenn Waterfall, Bao Dai Palace, and a silk weaving factory
  • See a gong performance by members of the Lat ethnic group
  • Hike Lang Bian Mountain

Thematic Focus at Cat Tien National Park

  • Learn about conservation efforts and challenges at Cat Tien National Park
  • Trek through the primary forest to explore the flora and fauna there
  • Visit a gibbon primate center
  • Observe wildlife at night

During this period, you will stay in the home of a family in Dalat and in guest houses.

Days 17–20

Excursion to Can Tho and Hoa An

  • Participate in a community service project — such as building a house, repairing a road, building a biogas system, or teaching English to children — in Hoa An
  • Meet with Vietnamese youth and participate in cultural exchanges in Hoa An
  • Attend seminars on the environment and climate change and on culture and folk music in Can Tho
  • Visit the floating markets on the Mekong River and a club for orphaned children in Can Tho

During this period, you and your group will stay in an educational institute and a centrally located hotel.

Days 21–25

Excursion to Phu Quoc Island (Thematic Focus)

  • Learn about fishing and fish sauce making at a fishing village
  • Spend time at the beach and go snorkeling and squid fishing in the ocean

During this period, you and your group will stay in a guest house.

Days 26–27

Return to Ho Chi Minh City

  • Visit sites of interest such as Suoi Tien Park and Dam Sen Park

During this period, you and your group will stay in a centrally located hotel.

Day 28

Program Reflection and Wrap-up in Ho Chi Minh City

  • Reflect with your group on your experiences during the program

During the reflection period, you and your group will stay at a nearby hotel.

Day 29


Please note: This itinerary is only a sample and is subject to change. Because of factors such as group size and availability of in-country offerings such as festivals, your experience — including sites visited and the number of days spent in each location — may differ somewhat from the one presented above.

These are leader bios from summer 2015.

Jacob Reckford

Originally from Portland, Oregon, Jake spent two years in Thailand teaching English and coordinating a teach abroad program for an international education organization. A graduate of the University of Colorado Boulder with a BA in film studies, Jake first caught the travel bug when he studied abroad with Semester at Sea, and has lived in, studied in, and explored 23 different countries since!

Prior to living in Thailand, Jake worked as the teen programs coordinator for a residential camp in Oregon and as a unit leader for a camp in Colorado. Jake is scuba certified, TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) certified, and he is an active community volunteer. In his free time, Jake enjoys film, basketball, playing music, skiing, and backpacking.

Sarita Upadhyay

A native of upstate New York, Sarita Upadhyay graduated from Cornell University with a BS in natural and environmental systems. While in college, she spent seven months living and studying in Melbourne, Australia. She also co-founded Big Red Bikes, Cornell’s first bike-share program, and raised $50,000 to ensure the program could be funded and continue to operate past her own graduation. After college, Sarita followed her love of the outdoors to the Amazon in Ecuador, where she coordinated a teaching program, and then to Cuzco, Peru, where she managed logistics and tours for a travel company.

Sarita worked on developing green infrastructure projects in Chicago, Illinois, at an urban sustainability-themed think tank before leading The Experiment’s summer 2014 Costa Rica: Biodiversity, Ecology, and Sustainability program. She has traveled extensively in Asia, with highlights including living on a farm in Laos, taking a motorcycle trip in Vietnam from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, and visiting family in Delhi, Mathura and Mumbai, India. Currently, Sarita lives in San Francisco where she studies psychology and works on research in health-related psychological interventions at the University of California, San Francisco. Sarita is a PADI-certified Advanced Open Water Diver and former lifeguard. In her free time, she is an avid cyclist and hiker.