Below is a personal report from Vietnam by Devon, one of our founders.
The humid warm air of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) hit me immediately as I left the front doors of the airport, the feeling familiar and welcoming. This was my second visit to the country and I was met by one of my best friends from Switzerland who relocated there many years before and now has his own Vietnamese family. He certainly looked the part, a locally based foreigner with tanned skin and flip-flops, making me all too aware of just how white and formal I must have looked coming straight from Europe.
During my first day in the city, we moved effortlessly from posh bars filled with expats to (incredible!) local eateries and bustling markets. Saigon is yet another safe city in a very safe region, as long as you don’t count your time driving through the chaotic traffic. Amazingly however, as I was in its midst, riding on the back of my friends motorcycle, I felt comfortable and excited as the blur of humanity whisked by me, sometimes within mere centimetres. Despite the visual perception of chaos, there seems to be some invisible hand guiding it all as I have yet to see any accidents or injuries.
What can be a lot of fun is watching for those bikes competing with one another for carrying the biggest load. In just that first day I saw everything from large families crowded on top of a single small scooter to a man whose bike was so covered by helium balloons I was afraid he’d lift off like the old mans house in Pixar’s ‘Up’. I also noticed that compared to my last visit, protective headgear had suddenly appeared everywhere, a practice that seems to have been adopted quickly and nearly religiously.
My overall impression was that the 5 short years between visits had radically transformed the city, with new buildings rising from each neighbourhood I visited and the appearance of many more western brands, shopping centres and high quality hotels. Saigon is ‘one the move’ in more ways than one. It’s sill an almost surreal experience to see the rampant capitalism of the people and place mixed with the communist propaganda posters along the city streets.
As a city, Saigon has many things to do, from shopping at Ben Thanh Market, to visiting incredible restaurants and spas, to the historic Reunification Hall and Notre Dame Cathedral. Probably my favourite however was my visit to the Central Post Office, which was designed by the same architect as Paris’s Eiffel Tower. It’s a stunningly surreal time capsule of a building able to transport you back in history without the need for much imagination. I have some wonderful pictures from this building, many of which I have transformed into black and white shots to aid the essence of timelessness.
Luckily for me, my friend is a destination expert who worked for an incoming tourism company, so he was able to recommend a trip out on the Mekong Delta for my second and third days (By the way: lucky for all of us now, he now works as a destination expert for Nezasa!).
The trip took place aboard a traditional looking wooden ship and included all meals and a cabin for the overnight docking. Everything about the trip felt authentic, but still very comfortable for a westerner.
After being picked up at my hotel, I was driven hours out of town, further and further into the Vietnamese countryside. It’s amazing to watch the buildings and traffic give way to a simpler way of life outside the city. Rice farms, thick tropical vegetation and water buffalos toiling in the fields provide many opportunities for some beautiful pictures of the rural life of the region.
The trip aboard the ship was amazing. The food and drinks were all of the highest quality and the off ship excursions were some of the highlights of my entire South East Asian trip. We went to rural villages in the dense jungle, visiting local homes and enjoying some locally picked fruits, many of which I had never tried (or even heard of) before.
The best-of-the-best however was the early morning arrival at the Mekong Delta floating markets. These authentic markets are unlike many others in South East Asia, in that they are not preserved for tourists, in fact I didn’t see any amongst the hustle and bustle of fruit laden vessels as they meandered and negotiated their way by the hundreds through the early dawn lit waters. It was a cornucopia of sounds, colours and people, and probably one of the best experiences I have had as a photographer. It was effortless to snap shots of local people going about their day while the sun, water and colourful paints and fruits filled my lens with their vibrancy. From the first golden flecks of dawn until we headed back to shore, my camera was nearly in constant motion while my eyes soaked in sights I felt privileged to have the opportunity to see first-hand. For lovers of culture and authenticity, the Mekong Delta is hard to beat.
In reviewing just these first few days in the country, I felt I had seen and experienced more of Vietnam than I had on other trips that lasted weeks. I’d only seen a tiny fraction of this nation and it truly boggled my mind to consider all that Vietnam has to offer.