Ninh Binh and Tết

(Boat driver)

Each day brings about new discoveries in Vietnam. First, I can’t stress how much I love my job. My co-workers are supportive and hard-working; I’m slowly meeting all our partners and learning more about their portfolios; and I’m starting to get connected into the world of Health Management Information Systems in Vietnam. And as an added bonus, am finding the city of Hanoi and its surroundings simply fascinating.


Last week, I had the good fortune of joining Jim Setzer and his research team from the Health Strategy and Policy Institute (HSPI) on a site visit to Ninh Binh, a town in the Red River Delta of Northern Vietnam, to see a hospital management information system that has recently been deployed in the field.

(Attempting to paddle the boat)

Granted, prior to our formal meetings with the District Health Office and the Provincial Hospital, we spent the morning enjoying the area called Tam Coc, often referred to as ‘Ha Long Bay on the rice paddies”. The landscape is striking, with huge rock formations protruding from the rice fields scattered along the Ngo Dong River.

(Taken from the road – rice fields with the rock formations in the background)

(Jim and Luong)

We toured the region on small boats – and personally, I was blown away by the fact that our ‘driver’ paddled the boat with his feet (I likened it to riding a recumbent bike)! His precision in terms of steering was phenomenal, especially considering the route that we traveled.


The name, Tam Coc, literally means three caves (Hang Ca, Hang Guia, and Hang Cuoi). The tour is somewhat surreal, as it involves traversing the caves in the dark (which vary in length, with the longest being 127 meters and the shortest approximately 40 meters), while dodging large stalagmites along the way. I experienced sheer joy as the darkness subsided as we neared the cave’s opening, revealing sites of breathtaking beauty.


The rock formations surrounding the river are so majestic that photos simply do not do it justice. But, I’m sure you can get the general sense of these natural wonders.

(Impossible to capture the beauty of this amazing place)


I gladly absorbed the scenery along with the peaceful atmosphere. And, we were the only boats on the water, which added to the serenity of the day (a major juxtaposition from the hustle and bustle of Hanoi).

(Another boat driver)

(Relaxing after a long day of rowing)

And, I thoroughly enjoyed the company of my peers! Everyone from HSPI was incredible – so kind, generous, bright, and friendly (as an aside, Dr. Oanh brought me a present (Vietnamese for Beginners) the following day at the Health Systems Assessment dissemination conference). Again, this just exemplifies the true nature of the Vietnamese – so thoughtful and gracious!

(Jim, Amy and the HSPI Team)

On a separate note, this week has also been insanely busy due to the preparations leading up to Tết, the most revered holiday and festival in Vietnam.


My Vietnamese counterparts describe Tết as the equivalence of Christmas/New Years all rolled into one. It’s a time for family reunions, cooking special holiday meals, and paying homage to their customs and traditions.


The city is even more insane during the period leading up to Tết, with the markets and streets swarming with people buying food, new clothes, and decorations for the home.

(Traditional foods served at Tet)

Last night I joined several friends for a cultural night out where we were able to learn more about the traditional customs and to taste the holiday meals.

(New friends)

By in large, this experience only heightened my excitement to live and work in Vietnam.

(Celebrating Tet at the office with some of my co-workers)

I’m actually flying to Burma next week for the Tết holiday (granted, our offices are closed during that time, so I’m using this as an opportunity to explore new territories).

(Learning about the traditional customs of Tet)

Sending much love,

Frauke, Saqib and Amy
(Finally met up with my friends from Malawi, Frauke and Saqib, who are also stationed in Hanoi – what a small world!)

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