Tran Van Tien, the group’s founder, who runs two cafes in the capital’s foreigner-frequented downtown area, said that many international tourists have difficulties during their visit to the capital. He shared that his expat clients have a great need for a wide range of information regarding scenic spots, recreation places, hotels and restaurants.On the weekends, visitors meet young volunteers, mostly students from universities in Hanoi, who bring a large board that says “Hi. We speak English, French, German, Chinese and Japanese. Just feel free to ask us any questions that you may have.”
Meanwhile, Vietnamese students lack the environment to practice foreign languages.
For this reason, he urged his friends to establish the ‘Ask me anything’ volunteer group, which aims to support foreigners as well as create an opportunity for students to acquire new knowledge and improve their language skills.
After three years of planning the project, he and his partners established their group, “Ask Me Anything” in April, 2015. The group’s membership has surged from five to start with, to the current 735, including expats, with around 20 volunteers working on a regular basis.
While some other groups support visitors through the Internet, Tien’s group makes direct contact with travellers. They use Ngoc Son temple as a place to welcome visitors palace.
According to Nguyen Dang Lan, one of first members of ‘Ask me anything’, each visitor needs different information, however, most of the visitors are interested in restaurants, Hanoi’s history, and tourist attractions such as Ngoc Son Temple or Thap Rua (Turtle Tower). “As for food, we have carefully prepared a list of Hanoi’s best food, featuring Hanoi’s character and well-known restaurants in Hanoi for visitors. I feel happy when the beauty of Hanoi’s culture is shared with international friends.”
Besides on-site support, the free tour guides are also willing to take tourists to places following their own itinerary. With the tours, the group’s members have an opportunity to introduce specifics about Hanoi. According to member Lan, by talking with foreign visitors, they can learn more about Hanoi and the world.
Member Vu Hai Yen, a student of Viet-Hung Industrial University, shared that now she has more foreign friends, who are living in Hanoi. They have helped improve her English speaking skills.
Many tourists said they are impressed with the group’s activities, their hospitality and helpfulness. They expressed their hope that the activities would expanded to many more cities and provinces.
The group’s founder Tien said that the group is looking to expand its scale to the entire country, particularly foreigner-packed cities and resort towns as Sa Pa in northern Lao Cai Province; central Da Nang City; the UNESCO-recognised Hoi An Ancient Town in central Quang Nam Province; and Ho Chi Minh City.