Land of Color and Grace: A Visual Journey through Vietnam

What can I say in a few paragraphs about a country as beautiful, complex and mysterious as Vietnam? While many people’s first association with Vietnam may be that of the US/Vietnam conflict and all the horrifying and iconic imagery that accompanied it, what we discovered on our recent three week exploration of the country couldn’t be further from that.

Vietnam these days is a bustling, colorful, dynamic and geographically diverse country with a beauty, mystique and gentle quality all of its own. From the first day we arrived in Hanoi’s “Old Quarter” and were immediately greeted with fresh mango juice by our hotel’s friendly owner to the last part of our trip during which we cooked catfish Pho with our hosts on the banks of the Mekong Delta, we found Vietnam’s people to be disarmingly friendly and open. We were also consistently struck by the beauty of many of the places we visited–Halong Bay with its hundreds of limestone islands and blue waters, the cathedral-like chambers of Phong Nha’s extensive caves, the French colonial architecture and colorful lanterns of old world Hoi An, the lush green rice paddies on the outskirts of many towns and the dramatic coastal vistas of the Côn Đảo Islands. We were also seduced over and over again by Vietnam’s absolutely delicious food. Ginger, garlic, lemon grass, fresh herbs, interesting textures and creative combinations made every meal an exciting adventure and possibly one of my favorite countries food-wise.

And if this isn’t all enough to convince one to start dreaming up a trip to Vietnam, the country is also remarkably inexpensive to travel in. While many hostels, homestay and low-end hotels can be found for under $15, even the plusher hotels rarely go much over $40. For us this meant we could enjoy our journey, eat like kings, explore the country on bicycles, paddle boards, motorcycles, boats and buses and embrace grand adventures we would perhaps not have been able to afford in a higher priced environment. The trip was beyond memorable and left us wanting to encourage others to replace their own associations of Vietnam with more positive and and current versions. On that note, I leave you with one of my favorite travel quotes and some of the images I created along the way:

“Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all of one’s lifetime.” – Mark Twain

After three weeks exploring Vietnam, the country completely won me over with the beauty of its landscape, its gentle culture, its strikingly open-hearted people, frequent old and new world juxtapositions and of course its deliciously complex food. This quiet moment–from a Sunday morning in Hoi An–I hope captures a little of the mystique and beauty of this country.
A view of Halong Bay from Ti Top Island.
Paddle boarding near Halong Bay. Such an extraordinary journey exploring the caves, lagoons and rocky islands of this beautiful region. One of our most dreamy paddle boarding adventures ever!
I photographed Thanh Nhàn– surrounded by the paper lanterns she sells at one of the tourists craft shops– at “the Citadel”, an archeological site in Hue. Thanh told me her passion is to make paper flowers and for each of her creations, she writes an accompanying poem. I was struck by her sweetness, by the beauty of the flowers and poems she creates and by her determination to soon open her own shop selling her flowers and poems.
A sweet and colorful moment I captured while bicycling in the rain through a very quiet village near Phong Nha.
I photographed these two young women surrounded by Hanoi’s colorful cherry blossoms in Hoan Kiem Lake Park.
A woman sells bananas on the side of the road while motorcyclists sit stuck in the glut of motorcycle traffic in Hue. I was struck by the massive number of motorcycles ones sees in Vietnam–one of my least favorite aspects of the country–and the constant honk of horns that accompanies them.
A group of Vietnamese women play a card game in downtown Hue.

A woman reacts joyfully to seeing a friend while wearing traditional clothing at the Imperial “Citadel”–the one time home of Vietnam’s Nguyen Dynasty–in Hue.
School boys ride their bicycles through the chaos of pedestrian and bicycle traffic in Hoi An.

Just a few of the many lanterns that light up the town of Hoi An–a UNESCO Heritage Site filled with beautiful French Colonial architecture on the banks of the Thu Bon River.
A cat and dog communally observe the world from their home in Hoi An.
Fishermen are illuminated in the morning sun while fishing in the Thu Bon River in Hoi An.
Young men use a net to fish in a canal beween the rice paddies in Hoi An.
A colorfully dressed woman sells bananas at the local market in Hoi An.
Fishermen return their boats to port after a day of fishing in Con Son Bay in the beautiful and mysterious Côn Đảo Islands.
One of the many house boats from which people sell wholesale fruit, agricultural products and specialties at Cai Rang floating Market in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta region. During early morning hours, the waterway becomes a maze of boats packed with goods and food.
A man purchases watermelons from a wholesaler at Cai Rang floating Market in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta Region.
A beautiful young woman is photographed in the traditional Vietnamese hat which is kept on the head by a cloth (often silk) chin strap. Vietnamese women are very conscious of protecting their skin from the sun as paler skin denotes higher social status and indicates the fact that the woman doesn’t have to work in the fields so many women not only wear a hat but also use a cloth to cover much of their face.
A woman bicycles through a village in the Mekong Delta Region.
I was struck by this man napping in a rather uncomfortable-looking position outside a barbershop–despite the loud honking of horns and general city noise–in the bustling city of Can Tho in the Mekong Delta.
Snakes and other creatures sit in a vat of “snake rice wine”–slowly flavoring the concoction in the Mekong Delta region. Along with snake rice wine, we encountered exotic Vietnamese dishes featuring crickets, ant eggs, cobra, crocodile and rat. While these particular dishes may not appeal to Western tourists, Vietnamese food in general is incredibly delicious, full of fresh herbs and spices and rich in flavor.
A scene from the night food market in Can Tho in the Mekong Delta region. Street food is exceptionally cheap in Vietnam so many locals purchase their evening meal (often for under a dollar) at one of the night markets.
“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.” – Anonymous
Me at the end of one of those amazing days of travel when the world just seems wondrous (Côn Đảo Islands).
Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: