In April, I went one month in Hoi An, Vietnam, to volunteer in a cat shelter.
At first, I wanted to see more of Vietnam and go from North to South as I hear so many beautiful things about this country, but knowing that in the North, they eat lots of cat and dog meat, I couldn’t risk to witness it. So I’ve decided to concentrate on the center of the country which seemed safer. I’m going to the South in October anyway.
Hoi An is a small town of about 120,000 inhabitants, UNESCO classified since 1999. It’s multi-cultural heritage (Chinese, Japanese and French) makes this town very unique. More and more tourists come to visit it every year and on fullmoon nights, it feels more like DisneyLand than a small Vietnamese town. But it is worth it. Totally. To see hundreds of colorful lanterns float on the Thu Bon river is definitely something you want to do. On other nights, the town is still beautiful, illuminated with thousands of lanterns. Magical.
At mid-day, when the sun is high, tourists flee the small streets to gather in restaurants with fans or AC. This was my favorite time to wander the town with my camera. With some patience, you can easily witness and shoot local people with their traditional hats on (I thought it was only there for tourists, but Vietnamese actually do wear them a lot. Especially elder ones or in the country side) in front of a yellow wall, Hoi An signature.
The shelter, Jack’s cat café is owned by Emma, an English woman who ‘s been living there since 2008. The shelter is also a café. The café is more or less financing the shelter. Emma and her husband still have to work part time jobs to get the additional money needed. The shelter is also their home. They live there 24/7 with around 70 cats. (+ 2 dogs and a baby girl).
They all share 2 buildings and a large garden, where the clients of the cafe are served. The cats live totally free in this highly secured place. It is impossible for them to escape nor unwanted people to get in. Which helps keep the cat-nappers away from them. See, in Hoi An, pet cats and dogs are often kidnapped and sent to the North of the country for the cat and dog meat trade. We often hear about the dog meat trade. But the cat meat trade is also a reality.
Since you don’t find many feral cats and dogs anymore, the thieves now catch pets animals. The fact that they eat that kind of meat is already awful to me, but the worst is the way they kill them. According to their beliefs, the more the animal suffers before it dies, the more value and taste the meat will have… I leave it to you to imagine the atrocities these pets have to endure during many days before getting killed. Actually, whatever you can imagine, know that it’s even worst… there are many articles on the internet about it. Read them if you want to know more (but it is very violent and graphic).
It is therefore crucial to keep the cats safe in the shelter. And I would say that most of them seem to agree with this… you can’t really say they are stressed here!
With the volunteers and the clients here to cuddle them, they are happy cats.
There are of course the tough ones, looking for trouble all day long, the cuddlers, the playful, the biters, the noisy, the curious, the lazy ones etc. In April, we had about 12 kittens, aged 2 to 6 months old, with Sparkle, my little princess, who would suck on my t-shirt for hours. Let’s say I wasn’t the best volunteer… but the cats got lots of love from me!
During my spare time, I visited the surroundings. Alone or with friends met along the way (Christelle, Brice, Noah, Maya). I also spent some great time with other travelers met in different countries before. South-East Asia is really small and we feel like we are following each other!
There is a beach nearby. I’ve heard the sea is nice and warm but I didn’t go swim in it.
My Son, the local archeological site is around 30 km and really not worth the visit… very small.
Beautiful rice fields, villages and local people with beautiful faces and smiles.
4 days before leaving, my friend Maya and I found a tiny kitten on the side of a busy road in the middle of nowhere. I scooped the kitten in my bag and drove back to Hoi An with him. Bobbie (that’s now his name) was starving. Since my hotel didn’t accept pets, I stayed in the lobby with him for over 2 hours until they got tired of us and let us in my room, only if the kitten remained in the bathroom. Fair enough. The shelter couldn’t take him in as they were at full capacity.
I spent the entire night and following day lying down in the bathroom with Bobbie snuggled around my neck while posting ads on Facebook expats pages to find him a forever home. Emma was sending messages to people she knew, hoping someone could adopt him, or at least foster him.
With lots of stress, there was a happy ending with a French couple adopting him at 6 pm that day. They live in Hoi An and were looking for a kitten. Love at first sight… not surprising though, as he is the cutest thing on Earth right now!
That would have happened in Europe, I would have of course adopted him. I miss him a lot, but his new mom regularly sends me pictures.
Even though I’ve spent one month in Vietnam, I can’t say I know a lot about this country. I don’t regret not going up North as people I’ve met told me they witnessed some horrific scenes. Working in the shelter in Hoi AN gave me a pretty good idea of what is going on there already and this illegal meat trade affected me a lot more than what I thought.
I’m glad I’m going to the South in October, to visit more and get a better idea of the country.
If you want to donate to the shelter (they really do an AMAZING job, caring sometimes around the clock to save tiny little kittens and bottle feed them every 2 hours. They only rely on donation and are not helped by international NGO), please click here
For more pictures, please click here