Discover the ancient culture largely hidden from the modern world. Vietnam has found stability and success after years of struggle. And now it’s time for the rest of the world to know about its unique and elegant beauty. As you explore the country, you are treated to flavorful foods, spectacular views and exhilarating adventure. Rewarding community service experiences with children and a farming community deepen our understanding and relationship with our hosts as we learn about this nation and are won over by the hearts of its people.
Participants on this program fly on a chaperoned group flight from New York to Hanoi. Your leaders greet you at the airport and are with you from check-in onward. Everyone has the opportunity to begin trip bonding before we even land. For our many travelers from outside the New York area, we are happy to assist you with arranging connecting flights at suitable times into New York.
For your return from Ho Chi Minh City, you fly on a chaperoned flight to New York. For travelers from other areas, we help you arrange transfers at suitable times after the group has cleared customs and immigration in the USA.
The Khiem Thinh Nhan Chinh School for the deaf is a non-profit school run by The Hanoi Red Cross Organization in downtown Hanoi. The school accepts children from ages 3 to 7 when they are still in the early stages of hearing loss. These students learn a range of life skills such as body language and other communication skills so they can be prepared for life’s challenges. You will have the opportunity to help renovate a classroom by painting and helping with other beautification projects. Additionally, you will interact with these children by playing games and other activities.
Get ready to use that green thumb! You will spend 2 days learning what it takes to be a real Vietnamese organic farmer: learn to prepare soil for proper planting and how to properly sow the seeds. Work alongside local farmers and witness firsthand the benefits of this way of life. Organic farming in Vietnam is very important, as it helps to protect biodiversity, balance the natural ecosystem and preserve the environment.
This orphanage has been housing and feeding orphaned, disabled children since 1924. They house approximately 200 children who are afflicted with a variety of mental and physical ailments. You will bring joy and cheer to their day by entertaining the children through storytelling, playing games, and teaching them new fun activities. You’ll leave your mark on the orphanage as you help with adding a new pathway to the orphanage grounds and assist with painting and other restoration projects.
Layers of history are all around you and reveal periods of French and Chinese occupation. The charming capital has aged well, preserving the Old Quarter, monuments that include the Temple of Literature (the spiritual home of Confucianism), the One Pillar Pagoda and the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh. Marvel in awe at the stunning colonial architecture of Hanoi that sit alongside modern developments. Learn the local craft how to lacquer paint with a professional artist – you will make your own traditional Vietnamese painting to bring home. Lakes, parks, tree-lined boulevards, more than 600 temples and pagodas add to the appeal of this city.
This is Vietnam’s most popular tourist hub. When you see the beauty that leaves you breathless and in disbelief, you will know why. Picture emerald waters dotted with towering, limestone island mountains. The bay is surrounded by lush rainforests that were once a natural form of fortification for invaders looking to make their way into Thailand. Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a must to explore and enjoy the natural wonder of Vietnam. On your cruise of the emerald bay, you will have the opportunity to kayak and swim in the tranquil waters and explore the Sung Sot Cave with its stalagmites and stalactites. Top off your day by seeing the city at night via cable car and the Sun Wheel Ferris Wheel.
The North-South Railway, better known as the Reunification Express, stretches almost the entire length of the country by starting in Hanoi and ending in Ho Chi Minh City. The overnight ride begins in Hanoi and takes us over 400 miles to the city of Hue. Our group sleeps in private 4-person compartments with sheet, pillow and blankets provided.
Hoi An was once an international trading port in the 17th and 18th centuries for ships coming in from Japan, China and the West. Hoi An offers a glimpse into the well-preserved culture and heritage of Vietnam’s wealthiest city. Learn to cook at The Morning Glory cooking school as well as learn the delicate art of silk lantern making: a traditional art form that the Vietnamese have practiced for centuries. No visit to Hoi An would be complete without a ride in a coracle boat (round shape boat) through the mangroves and waterways. Soak up the sun and enjoy the water with your friends on the picturesque beach of An Bang as you gaze out into the South China Sea.
We fly into Nha Trang, a stunning resort city with shoreline to the east and surrounded on three other sides by picturesque mountains in the distance. This modern city offers remarkable promenades with a selection of boutiques and shops and a vast array of restaurants to choose from. Explore the Night Market and see the Long Son Pagoda. View the city from the back of a Cyclo, Nha Trang’s version of the rickshaw. SCUBA dive or snorkel in the Hon Mun Marine area. (For your safety, all SCUBA operators restrict participants with certain medical conditions. Please ask about your own circumstances if applicable.)
Located in Vietnam’s Central Highlands, Dalat is where we move from ocean views and sandy beaches to gorgeous views of lakes, waterfalls and the countryside. The moderate climate makes it a superb place for our adrenaline-fueled activities. Enjoy an exhilarating canyoning adventure by rappelling down waterfalls, sliding down natural water slides and zip lining in the Dalat Canyon.
Formerly known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city in Vietnam and known for its French colonial-like architecture, labyrinth of small streets full of markets and shops, and for playing a crucial role in the turning point of the Vietnam War. Modern skyscrapers tower over temples that are centuries old. As your time in Vietnam winds down, we tour through the Cu Chi Tunnels which played an important role in South Vietnam’s strategy during the war. Pick up one more souvenir in the Ben Thanh Night Market before flying home.
This colonial-style hotel, in the Old Quarter, is a welcoming and comfortable start to our adventure. Rooms are air conditioned and have Wi-Fi.
Centrally located and close to the waterfront, this hotel has Wi-Fi and air conditioning and a large roof top terrace for the group to meet and spend time together.
This charming hotel is located a short walk to the old quarter of town. Rooms have Wi-Fi and are air conditioned. Participants can enjoy the pool after a full day of activities.
Surrounded by shops and restaurants, this hotel is a 5-minute walk from Nha Trang Beach. Rooms have Wi-Fi and a rooftop pool with sundeck and city views.
Overlooking the Xuan Huong Lake, this European-style hotel is close to the city’s greatest treasures. All rooms have Wi-Fi. Dalat offers a cooler temperature as we are in the mountains.
Centrally located and just minutes from the bustling Ben Thanh Market, every room is air conditioned and has Wi-Fi.
At Westcoast Connection nothing else comes first. From our extensive trip planning department through our management team and our leaders, it is our single biggest priority! Safety procedures, equipment – we’ve got it covered. All Trip Leaders and Directors are certified in First Aid and CPR. We are extremely proud of our safety record and welcome all questions you may have in this area. Please see more under Safety First.
Once you are on your trip, you will have sensitive leaders that are caring, approachable and always there for you. Your Trip Director and Trip Leaders are people with incredible backgrounds including teachers, guitar players, IRONMAN triathletes, SCUBA divers, volunteers, and so much more.
Every staff member takes part in and must complete our extensive training weekends that review our philosophy and procedures to provide a well-supervised and fun-filled program.
Our Trip Directors, the individuals responsible for overseeing each itinerary, take on the roles of teachers, coaches, camp counselors, mentors, concierges and hosts. They’ve been trained to provide individual attention and create an all-inclusive family atmosphere (our EACH & EVERY philosophy). There’s a definite art to building dynamic groups, and we’ve worked hard to master it! We want you smiling on day one right through to a teary goodbye at your farewell banquet.
Our leaders are non-smokers. To learn more about our staff, please visit our Summer Leaders section.
We can’t say it too many times, this is a really incredible group experience. A great dynamic starts with our secrets for group bonding. Our bag of tricks goes way beyond traditional ice breakers. Imagine people hunts, Rock, Paper, Scissors championships, Ninja tournaments, flash mobs and so much more. We work hard to get everyone moving beyond first impressions and creating an atmosphere of total acceptance. Our staff hiring and training emphasizes social safety and establishing an inclusive culture. Many of our travelers come as individuals and we have a geographically diverse enrollment with students joining us from across the U.S., Canada and internationally. This mix helps eliminate cliques at the outset and establish an open environment that benefits you. We take great care in assembling groups to create an unforgettable social experience. Our international service programs are for up to 24 group members.
Our service projects can change from one year to the next as we adjust to the needs of the local communities and the guidance of our service partners. This way, our service hours have the greatest impact and move forward the projects with the greatest priority. We also focus on service-learning throughout the process, where education and reflection are key to enriching these experiences for all.
We partner with established organizations that have a long history of achieving their goals and integrating teen volunteers into their efforts. Over the years we have built strong relationships with various organizations in the communities we visit who look forward to hosting our groups year after year. The specific service projects that we will work on are finalized in late spring and depend on what is most needed in these communities. Past projects have included building homes with Habitat for Humanity in Costa Rica, planting sustainable gardens with Children’s Eco Training in South Africa, teaching children to read with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hawaii. Last summer we completed 22,917 hours of service (that’s equivalent to 2.6 years!) in just 8 weeks.
Whether it’s building and planting sustainable food gardens in South Africa or lending a hand by making mud bricks for a community in rural Peru, our community service programs participate in a wide array of meaningful projects on five continents! With the help and direction of our longstanding local partners on the ground, our projects focus on five main themes: community welfare, youth leadership, environmental sustainability, infrastructure, and wildlife conservation. Check out some noteworthy projects we completed in previous summers to give you a glimpse at how we make our summers count!
Our groups participate in well-planned and substantial community service projects in between surfing in Hawaii, snorkeling in the Galapagos, zip lining in Costa Rica, climbing to the top of Machu Picchu in Peru, or marveling at the Big 5 on a safari in South Africa. We know when to pick up the pace to get the adrenaline flowing; we also know when it’s time to chill with some downtime on the beach. The balance of service and recreation is what sets our programs apart. By integrating adventure and recreational highlights into our itineraries, we are able to maintain a high level of enthusiasm.
Volunteer with experienced nonprofit organizations and alongside the locals who often directly benefit from your help, as you become part of a team working towards a common goal. Everyone’s contribution and cooperation are so important to help the service projects progress as planned, so please join us with the right expectations and a positive attitude. The rewards in sharing this experience are many, such as lasting friendships, improved interpersonal skills and personal growth. You will receive a letter of completion recognizing 20-70 hours of service (depending on the program) and listing the projects you helped to complete.
Westcoast Connection is a Certifying Organization for the President’s Volunteer Service Award. The award program was developed in 2003 as a way to honor and thank U.S. citizens and residents who engage in service both domestically and abroad. Presidential recognition of what you have achieved speaks to the type of person you are and hopefully inspires others to take positive action to change the world. The award requires completing 100 hours of community service within a 12 month period. Your service hours with our program qualify towards that total to earn the award.
As you travel to new places and experience different cultures, your journey may challenge your ideas and preconceived notions. We recognize this and strive to provide an environment where you are free to question and learn. This is nurtured by our leaders’ open and non-judgmental guidance. The opportunity for growth through service learning is endless!
Of all our summer programs, community service provides the greatest opportunity to interact with the local people and culture. Being exposed to families and children who have different customs and daily realities can broaden our perspective and raise our awareness of important issues. In a multicultural world, this education can break stereotypes and help us understand the role we play as global citizens.
There really is a difference in how different summer programs operate! Motivated teens going away with qualified leaders is a given. But what sets us apart is the depth of our qualified personnel that allow us to perform with the greatest consistency at the highest level.
Your Trip Director and Trips Leaders are with you throughout your program. They have daily contact with one of our two 24-hour Communication Centers and are in regular contact with our Company Directors. Our Company Directors are the most seasoned veterans who each oversee specific programs providing support to trip staff and to assist with any situations that may arise. Collectively our team is an incredible resource with 420+ summers of combined teen travel experience. This way, we can lend a hand wherever and whenever a little extra effort is called for. This investment in depth of personnel is unrivaled in teen travel and is a critical element to achieving consistent, excellent program quality and surpassing client expectations!
Included in the trip tuition are all activities and entertainment described, breakfast & dinner daily, lunches as indicated on your specific program, gratuities, taxes, land transportation, accommodations, and fanatical customer service from our full-time team and summer Communication Centers. This can add up to tremendous value!
We provide clean and comfortable accommodations. Please don’t expect luxury resorts and at the same time we know you need a good night’s rest to perform community service as well as have energy for our many other included activities. For quality and consistency of the group experience, we do not have any homestays. Each student has their own bed. For more detailed information on any specific program, visit the section marked Where We Stay.
A big part of a program’s success depends on how well you eat. We are proud of the fact that year after year we are complimented for our quality and quantity of food and variety of options. Meals vary by destination. Part of your travel experience will be immersing yourself in the local cuisine and culture so please bring with you an open mind and a willingness to try new things. In Vietnam your mouth will water over authentic spicy local dishes. Local favorites for you to try include Vietnamese noodle soups called Pho (pronounced fur), incredible springs rolls called Goi Cuon and baguettes (Banh Mi). They also have North American style options on the menu.
We have satisfied the choosiest of eaters and gladly accommodate most special dietary requests including vegetarian, anaphylactic food allergies, lactose intolerance, celiac disease and kosher style. We welcome discussing your individual requirements with you and have extensive personal experience in this area. International travel may present more challenges than domestic locations and we are happy to review your personal needs and help you select an appropriate itinerary.
In Vietnam, we travel using chartered deluxe, air-conditioned motor coaches with professional drivers except for one overnight train from Hanoi to Hue. On the train, you have private, locked cabins with 4 berths.
You only need to bring one week’s worth of clothing as outlined in our packing list as we have the opportunity for laundry weekly.
On our international programs, every week you will drop off your laundry at a local wash and fold service and then pick it up clean, folded and ready to go.
While you’re out having the summer of your life, your parents should feel like they are in on the action as well. We post updates to our blog and Facebook page and e-mail photos approximately once a week so those at home can be in on the fun. Parents also have access to our dedicated office Trip Monitors 24/7 for any questions and/or concerns. We’re as in touch as any trip operator could possibly be via smartphones with e-mail and text. The goal is uncompromising safety and peace of mind, day after day, hour by hour, minute by minute. Participants may bring their personal cell phones.
In last summer’s surveys, 98% of responding teens and parents said they would recommend us to others. We must be doing something right!