WANDERING WITH WENDY – A TOUR OF VIETNAM

I’ve just returned from a commission to shoot Vietnam and Cambodia for Wendy Wu Tours.

It’s the first time I’ve done an organized tour of a country which, I’d have to say, definitely has its place – particularly if you want to take in a country’s highlights in comfort, and you don’t want the hassle often associated with independent travel.                                  

Here’s some of the notes and pics I compiled during the 14 day tour:    

On traveling with an organised tour: Ah, the joy of sweeping past the queues or boarding that air conditioned coach parked just outside a major attraction after a long, hot walk; the reassurance of having your luggage checked, transported and loaded at the airport or hotel; the pleasure of not having to think about the logistics of travel from the moment you meet your guide – simply follow the singular instruction; be in the lobby on time. And, in Vietnam in particular, having someone on-hand who can help you make sense of an exchange rate where everything, it appears, costs seven million billion Dong (which amounts to barely anything), is an absolute blessing.

Well done to our local guide, Tuan (below), who – as it turned out – was also a bit of a Karaoke master.

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The Attractions: We’ve certainly visited many of Vietnam’s highlights. We joined the queue at Ho Chi Mihn’s Mausoleum (mainly ’cause everyone else does, I guess, as seeing him laying there full of embalming fluid in a glass tomb and glowing was all a bit spooky to me). We braved the bustling streets of Hanoi in a rickshaw (the best introduction you can get to the city), cruised iconic Halong Bay, wandered the picturesque alleyways of Hoi An, and stood amid the splendour of some of the country’s most revered historic and religious sites. Tomorrow we head for the world-class beaches of Danang before wandering Saïgon and visiting its war museums to immerse ourselves  the tragic history of this young nation’s struggle towards independence.

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Cruising Halong Bay: Sadly, my cruise of Halong Bay is likely to be indelibly etched into my memory as the first opportunity I had to photograph these world heritage declared limestone monoliths from the air saw my drone rise to a metre then crash into the ship’s mast, before wildly whirring across the deck in what proved to be its death throes. Damaged in transit I presume. Otherwise, (more-so for the rest of the passengers I’d suggest), it proved to be a relaxing overnight experience, idling across glassy, emerald waters and weaving in between the towering natural structures, looking out from the top deck of these charmingly, old-world looking ships we travelled on.

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The appeal of cruising Halong Bay was spending the night on board these rustic, timber vessels.

Sadly, the fine weather eluded me (but, as I’d smashed my drone, I was almost thankful)

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I love the elegance of the traditional Vietnamese dress – the Ao Dai.

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Danang, where I traded the beach for a Buddhist temple. I had high hopes for some stunning beach shots of Danang but the weather was poor when we got there so I did a few quick snaps and headed to the city’s Buddhist temple to capture it in the morning light.


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Arguably, Vietnam’s most photogenic city: Hoi An is popular among tourists and it’s a delight to photograph. It’s crumbling old buildings, its yellow, weather-worn walls with their coloured shutters and doors, and the pastel lanterns that dangle over its laneways, make it a charming place to wander around with your camera looking for opportunities.

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Most Enjoyable dish you ask? ….not an easy one, but two dishes stood out to me: This simple shellfish soup (below) was amazing. Purchased in a random cafe (apparently it’s a common dish), where I could point to the photos on the wall and leave it to the judgment of my hosts to divine what I was on about. The Shells were dropped into boiling stock with clear rice noodles, and garnished with fresh Basil, a touch of chilli, shards of lemongrass and a sprinkling of black pepper soaked in lime, then served with a dozen grilled prawns and a chilled Saïgon beer. Exquisite. Total Price: About AUD$15 ( …..or seven million billion Dong).

My second choice was The Propoganda Cafe, a block from Notre Dam Cathedral in Saigon. Funky decor with great food (a super healthy fusion of Vietnamese and Western cuisine). You can walk out having had a beer and a meal for less than AUD$20.


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Man’s inhumanity to man. It’s hard to come to Vietnam and not be mindful of the turbulent history it suffered but I think its every visitor’s responsibility to at least recognise what went on in the country, and reflect on the damage that was done and the far-reaching consequences that point to the futility of war. So, with this in mind, our group visited the Remembrance Museum in Saigon which displayed a most harrowing account of the atrocities that took place. For me, details of the tortures that were inflicted on prisoners of war left a particularly sombre impression. Imagine being confined to this cage (below) after a savage beating or laying your neck out on the guillotine. It’s just so hard to comprehend the suffering that took place, and the darkness of the people who inflicted it.



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Quick Summary: I thoroughly enjoyed Vietnam and an organized tour is a great way to see the country’s highlights quickly and in comfort (certainly I can recommend the 14 day trip I did with Wendy Wu). We enjoyed comfortable  accommodation and transport throughout the tour, a fine cuisine  (though, personally, I could have eaten more local food) and a top tour guide who was well informed, and enthusiastically looked to meet everyone’s needs. While the itinerary was full, it was fun – which was the general consensus of the group I travelled with.  I thought it was a great introduction to Vietnam which I’d like to return to and explore at my own pace ….maybe even theming the trip around cooking, he says.

Footnote: I’ll add more images to the Vietnam Gallery of our library at www.davidkirklandphotography.com when I return from my current assignment in the Cook Islands.