Photography & travel tips from an award-winning photographer, educator & wanderlust

Viet-@#%&-nam!

Wonderfully amazing things I didn’t expect to encounter in Vietnam:

– Motorbikes. They were everywhere and they hold everything. We’ve witnessed some of the craziest things being transported on top of these narrow, speedy, stinky Herculese-of-an-invention bikes – refrigerators, large baskets of fish, tables, chairs, babies without helmets, flowers, dogs and my favorite captured here – 5 people at a time!

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In HCMC (Saigon), we were suicidal enough to cross a motorbike-infested intersection, which (say what?!) had no traffic lights. At first, it was a minor shock to the system, with nervous giggles and thoughts: “I don’t need to go on the other side anyway, right?” But once you witness other thrill-seeking tourists doing it, you think that maybe its a part of the Vietnamese initiation. Eat street food, try Durian (stinky, prickly green fruit) or cross this intersection and you’re one of us!

Once you fight the urge to listen to your senses and wait or stop or run across like a lunatic, it is actually quite a beautiful experience. Think of it as the stars aligning, the universe is paused as you make your way across, listening to every beat of your nervous little heart, inhaling rapidly, forgetting to exhale, while your toes are crammed in your shoes, praying not to get squashed by an overloaded dude, whose balloons are covering his face to see your petrified one.

According to the locals, there is a way of surviving this or any of the Vietnamese street crossings, yes I made sure to ask around, before we made the leap:

So, take a deep breath, because you’ll need it!

Live in the moment, since there is simply no time to hesitate in case you forgot your wallet on a table behind you.

Once you walk, don’t stop.

Look in the direction of traffic, know when it changes (remember no lights and no signs/markings on the road either)

Stick together. You’ll find comfort in larger groups of people, but two is just as good as any. If you’re crossing alone (you’re a Bad-A$$ M@% F#$^!, your name goes on a wall somewhere, I’m sure)

Don’t make sudden movements.

Here is how it’s done, like a family of Bosses! (Click for video!)

Another thing, I didn’t expect about Vietnam was – Street Food!

I’m usually weary about trying things off the cart, no matter how appetizing it may look. My reluctance is formed by the memories of almost every travel trip spending a short amount of time near the toilet, doing things I rather not discuss. It’s rare, but it’s a pain in the ass (pun intended 🙂

Fortunately, the Gods of no glove or hairnet wearing ladies and gents on the street were sending me good joo joos this time around. Of course the locals may have a different metabolism than us, but I’ll tell ya its a great rule of thumb – if locals are eating there, you should too!

We have tried some of the best BanMi (sandwiches), Pho, Spring Rolls, sugar cane juice and other delicacies that HCMC has to offer. Don’t listen to my hypocritical self, because every rule has an exception, especially when ICE CREAM is involved.

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Did you know there is such as thing as Nitrogen Ice Cream?! Me neither! I had to try it (even though its apparently an American Invention). The goal is to avoid ice crystals in this yummy concoction of liquid Nitrogen and ice cream ingredients of your choice (I went with Mexican chocolate, which had cocoa powder and cayenne pepper = it’s less delicious than it sounds 🙁

My hubby went with the Cookies and Cream flavor (yum!) and once again I was biting my elbows for trying to be spontaneous with my less than delicious selection.

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Notice how tiny the chairs were, poor hubby once again felt like a Giant.

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When you think of Vietnam, you think of the war, the food (primarily Pho), straw hats, floating markets and the Mekong Delta. But little did this traveler know, that I’ll find myself enjoying a beautiful sandy beach on the West Coast of Vietnam, on the island called Phu Quoc. Talk about a place you never want to leave, ok, maybe to visit Cambodia next door, just to get it off your list, haha!

 

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5 Best things about Phu Quoc:

1. Round trip flight from Saigon for less than $50 (jetstar air). But who needs round trip, when you can just die there and be content. One way only $20!

2. Food – Vietnamese and Thai readily available. I’ve had the best Papaya Salad with Seafood on Phu Quoc! They serve this Crack Coffee with Hot Choco Mix (magic ingredient it seems) on a top of a nice fat layer of condensed milk (I know, hello heart attack!)

3. Sunsets. Grab your camera, a tripod (or don’t) and a cold brewski and feast your eyes on some over saturated golds and pinks as the sun gently makes it way down into an ocean’s cradle.

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4. $4 Massages – enough said.

5. Stunning resorts for any budget. We stayed in a 3 person room with air con for $56 night, but the same resort can be as affordable as $15/night for a 2 sleeper with fan. Yes, our room was comfortable, but hey for $15 a night you can stay there longer or get more massages, curries, pho, souvenirs, beers, etc. No matter your style, budget or way of travel, you can always find an affordable or a luxurious option on Phu Quoc, I personally loved Nhat Lan (specifically for it’s night views and cozy hamocks).

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And if you have a chance, find your way into a nice little day trip to Phu Quoc’s Pearl Farm, Coconut Prison, Pepper Farm and a super white sand Sao Beach. A bit touristy, but a definitely good way to contribute to the local economy (chances to buy pearls, local wine, peppers, souvenirs).

Would you like to see where they get those pearls from in Phu Quoc?

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So long, Vietnam, I’m sure I’ll be seeing ya!

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