53. My Year in Photos: Fifteen Favorites

A selection of the author’s photos, each of them a memory from a year of Travels in Vietnam.

It has been a difficult year all over the world. In Vietnam, we cruised through 2020 with some of the lowest coronavirus infection rates on Earth, only to be hit hard by Covid-19’s Delta variant in 2021.

A year ago this week, I launched this blog. It has helped me to weather the storms of the past year, keeping me focused on my original purpose for coming to Southeast Asia: to travel widely and absorb the Vietnamese culture along the way.

Given the restrictions on movement made necessary by the omnipresent flu, I’ve done much more of the latter (sponging up culture) than the former (traveling). I have high hopes that will change in coming months.

To celebrate my first year of regular blogging, and two years living in Vietnam, I’ve put together a collection of photographs to share. Each of them has a story. All photos are mine. Please keep in mind that I’m a journalist, not a photographic artist, and I choose images to illustrate or complement my writing.

The photo immediately above was taken at my favorite Saigon restaurant, Quince, in District 1. French Chef Julian Perraudin, who combines Gallic sensibilities with local ingredients, has been honored as the best in Vietnam. Here, the front-of-house manager, Ms. Kim Nguyen, displays a chef’s special.

Motorbikes and motorcycles are the primary form of transportation throughout Vietnam, but especially in the big cities. When I lived in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), I relied upon two-wheelers for taxi service, but didn’t wish to drive myself — for reasons best expressed by this picture. Having moved in February to the far less frantic provincial center of Buôn Ma Thuột, I now ride and own a motorbike.

The Mekong Delta is only one region of Vietnam, much as the Mississippi Delta is only one part of the United States. But it is this nation’s breadbasket, where the lion’s share of exportable rice is grown, and thus is a major population center. I had the opportunity to spend several days of the annual Tet holiday with a rural family, which required several crossings of the various braids of the Mekong River on local ferries such as this one.

Quack! As a loyal Oregon Duck (that’s a sports team, for my non-American readers), I’m partial to the web-footed waterfowl. On the other hand, its meat is delicious. At Tet holiday markets in the Mekong Delta, you can select your own bird, whether they like it or not.

There is amazing diversity in the religions of Vietnam. A person may profess a singular faith, but often it is much more complicated. Buddhism may intermingle with Taoism and Confucianism, for instance, and become a very different religion than the one the Buddha taught. At Saigon’s Jade Emperor Pagoda, a monk sells various icons and fruit drinks to raise money to support the temple.

Even further from the norm is the Cao Dai faith, a syncretic philosophy which honors Victor Hugo and Sun Yat-sen among its avatars beside the Buddha, Jesus Christ, Joan of Arc and Vladimir Lenin. At its mother church in the town of Tay Ninh, devotees gather four times daily to direct their chants and paeans of praise to an all-seeing eye.

A favorite getaway for Saigon’s European residents is the hill town of DaLat, once a French colonial retreat at 1,500 meters (about 5,000 feet) elevation. It is especially popular among artists and other independent speakers. A prime example is an architectural oddity known as the Hang Nga crazy house. Construction began in 1990 and it remains a work in progress.

Tropical Phu Quoc island is a popular vacation spot for Vietnamese nationals and foreign visitors alike. A 4.9-mile (7.9-km) cablecar, the world’s longest such over-the-sea aerial, has been a popular attraction since it opened in 2018. It carries excursionists over the Gulf of Thailand fishing village of An Thó’i to Hom Thom isle, with its nature reserve and water park.

At Phu Quoc’s Ong Lan Beach, a lone celebrant dances to the setting sun as it disappears into the Gulf of Thailand near the Mango Bay Resort. Yes, this is the same image I’ve chosen to introduce my blog posts. Nearer to Cambodia than to the Vietnam mainland, Phu Quoc island still offers quiet getaways despite an explosion of commercial and resort development in recent years.

If there is one Vietnamese food that is known around the world, it is the savory beef-noodle soup known as phở. Slow-simmered beef-marrow broth is accented by lemongrass, coriander and ginger, then served with a variety of other vegetables and spices. My favorite variety is phở tai nam, served with beef filet and flank, as presented in this photo taken at Phở Nguyen in Buôn Ma Thuột.

A keeper from the ethnic Ede tribe directs an elephant through the shallow waters of the Srepok River in Yok Don National Park, Vietnam’s single largest nature reserve, near Buôn Ma Thuột. Besides elephants, the park is home to muntjak deer, monkeys, leopards and red wolves. I look forward to hiking here.

Spectacular Dray Nur Falls is just one of several beautiful waterfalls in DakLak province, in Vietnam’s Central Highlands region. About 250 meters (more than 800 feet) long and 30 meters (100 feet) high, it also has hiking trails to various natural attractions, including ancient caves and spooky exposed tree roots.

Vietnam’s third-largest city, and the hub of the Central Coast region, is Da Nang. The waters of the East (South China) Sea appear impossibly blue in this view from the lower slopes of Nui Son Tra (“Monkey Mountain”), a location well-known to American servicement in the early 1970s.

Downtown Da Nang is separated from its beach strip by the broad Han River, itself crossed by no fewer than four major bridges. Most spectacular among them is the Dragon Bridge, which changes color from green to blue to orange to magenta as fire and water spout from the head of the “creature” at the bridge’s far (east) end.

No small town in Vietnam is more popular among tourists than Hoi An, a half hour’s drive south of Da Nang. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was once a port of international trade. Today it charms with colorful lanterns, floral displays and bustling riverside activity. This is the Assembly Hall of the Fujian Chinese Congregation, a presence since the 17th century.

Published by John Gottberg Anderson

Writer-photographer specializing in travel and food subjects ... member of the Society of American Travel Writers for more than 20 years ... former editor for the Los Angeles Times and France's Michelin Guides, among others

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