Vietnam – Enticing, Exotic, Exciting
by Lynn Gail
Travelling through Vietnam humbled, surprised and challenged me. I began my journey in amongst the charming chaos of the Old French Quarter of Hanoi. My home town in Australia is so quiet I can often hear the waves gently swishing at the shore. The streets of Hanoi shattered my senses – the incessant continuous beeping of horns, the steamy spices rising from people stirring their cooking pots on the sidewalk and the thick crowds rushing to go somewhere, anywhere, stopped me in my aimlessness. I stood, absorbed by my surroundings – the man reading the daily newspaper with all its sheets pinned on a large noticeboard, the men playing Chinese chess in the middle of the sidewalk, the people carrying thin strong bendy rods across their shoulders balanced by plastic wares swinging on either end and the constant hectic busyness. For any photographer who loves to capture the flow of real life as it happens all around them, Hanoi is a melting pot of opportunities – I was in my element. Leaving the steamy streets of Hanoi behind I headed for the most northern point of Vietnam, Sapa and Bac Ha, to photograph the colourful Flower Hmong people and the velvety green terraced valleys I had read about. Here, the journey to reach Sapa has to be mentioned – I travelled on an overnight train, The Victoria Express, which takes around five hours. As the train clunked and clicked-clacked its way along the tracks I gripped the bed rails, convinced at any moment we were heading right off the rails and into some poor farmer’s field. I could hear people laughing nervously each time we screeched to a halt at some tiny station then took off again into darkness. When I finally arrived unscathed, having had milliseconds of sleep and drove into Sapa, I understood why people make the taxing journey. Snow- topped mountains sprinkled in white icing, peaked through the morning’s mist in the distance. Hill-tribe women dressed in traditional multi-coloured embroidered clothing started to set up their market stalls. The hilly paved streets that dipped into the valley were waking up as locals opened their French style villas recently modernised for visitors. Forgotten, was the lack of sleep as I began connecting with and photographing the locals – their quick wit and grasp of the English language was completely unexpected. These were people who didn’t attend school. From chatting with visitors, they had not only picked up the language but also the nuances of a dry sense of humour not often understood when a new language is learnt. People visit Sapa to see the Sunday markets. Although this is a spectacular sight, it’s thick with foreigners and locals - when I trekked away from the beaten trail I found welcoming locals and learnt about the rural countryside where they dyed their cloth, made baskets, and looked after their land. I chatted with children, learning how they attend schools in the morning and tend to family duties in the afternoon – as soon as they are old enough, they help with chores – their sense of community was very strong, it had to be, to survive in an area that lives of the land. In the two too short weeks I spent in Vietnam it became one of my best-loved destinations – it has character, class and chaos all rolled into one – and it’s back on my bucket list!