Hồ Chí Minh
Vietnam

Vietnam

The bronze likeness of Lý Thái Tổ, emperor of the Lý Dynasty, casts a stern eye over the city he founded over thousand years ago. Which is to say, Vietnam has some history.

We began our journey in Hội An, just south of Da Nang. The former is a 15th century port town and UNESCO World Heritage Site; the latter is a large metropolis and once the site of a major air force base during the Vietnam War, or as the Vietnamese call it, the American War. One of the first things we learned is that the Vietnamese hold no grudge against Americans. Before the U.S.A. dropped several million tons of TNT on their heads, the Vietnamese had been fighting for independence from France, and before that against the Chinese. Given so many former (and potentially future) enemies, choosing to forgive a few war crimes and become an American ally seems entirely sensible.

From Hội An we travelled north to the photogenic Hạ Long Bay before returning to the capital in Hanoi. Througout our stay we found that people were super friendly and the food was consistently superb. We discovered some quiet running routes amongst the rice paddies outside Hội An, and did half a dozen memorable laps around Hoàn Kiếm Lake in the heart of Hanoi along with about a thousand other morning joggers and cyclists. Vietnam is a country of smart, lovely, pragmatic people who all seem to have a higher heat tolerance than I do.

A woman wearing a USA sweatshirt rides past us between rice patties near Hội An.
A woman wearing a USA sweatshirt rides past us between rice patties near Hội An.
Sean Pont
A statue adorns the side of a Hindu temple in Mỹ Sơn. These structures were built between the 4th and the 14th centuries by the kings of Champa. Little is left of their original grandeur -- what wasn't brought down by a thousand years of wind and earthquakes was blown apart by American bombs when the Viet Cong chose to hide out there thinking that we would be too pious to destroy it.
A statue adorns the side of a Hindu temple in Mỹ Sơn. These structures were built between the 4th and the 14th centuries by the kings of Champa. Little is left of their original grandeur -- what wasn't brought down by a thousand years of wind and earthquakes was blown apart by American bombs when the Viet Cong chose to hide out there thinking that we would be too pious to destroy it.
Sean Pont
The temples weren't the only attraction at Mỹ Sơn. Clockwise from top right: common tiger (Danaus genutia), striped blue crow (Euploea mulciber), another common tiger, and a resplendent redbase Jezebel (Delias pasithoe). Despite their names, all are extremely rare and once-in-a-lifetime finds.
The temples weren't the only attraction at Mỹ Sơn. Clockwise from top right: common tiger (Danaus genutia), striped blue crow (Euploea mulciber), another common tiger, and a resplendent redbase Jezebel (Delias pasithoe). Despite their names, all are extremely rare and once-in-a-lifetime finds.
Sean Pont | Part-time Lepidopterist
This abandoned ship washed up next to our hotel. No one knew who it belonged to, so the army climbed aboard to see if they could get it running and take it to port.
This abandoned ship washed up next to our hotel. No one knew who it belonged to, so the army climbed aboard to see if they could get it running and take it to port.
Sean Pont
We stopped at a pearl farm on our way to Hạ Long Bay. These ladies are performing mollusk surgery. They insert a polished sphere made from freshwater mussel shell and a small piece of mantle tissue into the gonad of an unsuspecting oyster. Three short years later, a pearl is born.
We stopped at a pearl farm on our way to Hạ Long Bay. These ladies are performing mollusk surgery. They insert a polished sphere made from freshwater mussel shell and a small piece of mantle tissue into the gonad of an unsuspecting oyster. Three short years later, a pearl is born.
Sean Pont
Detail view of bivalve surgery. Forceps! Scalpel!
Detail view of bivalve surgery. Forceps! Scalpel!
Sean Pont
Limestone isles topped with dense vegetation rise sharply from the calm waters of Hạ Long Bay. Legend has it that they were created by dragons keen on protecting Vietnam against an invading foreign fleet. Equally likely is that this karst landscape was formed over a period of 20 million years when a massive slab of limestone was lifted up by tectonic activity and met the hot, wet climate above.
Limestone isles topped with dense vegetation rise sharply from the calm waters of Hạ Long Bay. Legend has it that they were created by dragons keen on protecting Vietnam against an invading foreign fleet. Equally likely is that this karst landscape was formed over a period of 20 million years when a massive slab of limestone was lifted up by tectonic activity and met the hot, wet climate above.
Sean Pont
The limestone cliffs of Hạ Long Bay hold another gem: Thien Cung caves. Along with the standard assortment of stalagmites and stalactites come a tremendous variety of rock morphologies. The image on the bottom left may look like a double exposure but is actually the reflection of the cave cieling and wall on a crystal-smooth pond.
The limestone cliffs of Hạ Long Bay hold another gem: Thien Cung caves. Along with the standard assortment of stalagmites and stalactites come a tremendous variety of rock morphologies. The image on the bottom left may look like a double exposure but is actually the reflection of the cave cieling and wall on a crystal-smooth pond.
Sean Pont
YiOu looks pensive as the sun rises over Hạ Long Bay. Perhaps she is thinking about coffee.
YiOu looks pensive as the sun rises over Hạ Long Bay. Perhaps she is thinking about coffee.
Sean Pont
A solitary cyclist waits to cross a street in Hanoi in front of a growing crowd of motorbikes. Vietnam has a population of 100 million people and around 50 million motorbikes and motor scooters. They account for 95% of all registered vehicles in the country and have largely replaced bicycles as the major mode of transportation. It can make crossing the street a rather sticky affair.
A solitary cyclist waits to cross a street in Hanoi in front of a growing crowd of motorbikes. Vietnam has a population of 100 million people and around 50 million motorbikes and motor scooters. They account for 95% of all registered vehicles in the country and have largely replaced bicycles as the major mode of transportation. It can make crossing the street a rather sticky affair.
Sean Pont
A soccer team practices in a public square in Hanoi. The city is sprawling and has few parks, but people make do. We found that the streets around nearby Hoàn Kiếm Lake are absolutely overrun with joggers, cyclists, and practitioners of Tai Chi every morning until the traffic picks up around 7.
A soccer team practices in a public square in Hanoi. The city is sprawling and has few parks, but people make do. We found that the streets around nearby Hoàn Kiếm Lake are absolutely overrun with joggers, cyclists, and practitioners of Tai Chi every morning until the traffic picks up around 7.
Sean Pont