This is the first of many new posts regarding my life transition to becoming a full-time freelance, traveling photographer who works remotely and works with nonprofits and great organizations.
So, I successfully made it to Vietnam! My journey started Wednesday, January 3, 2018 at 6am in North Carolina with a
two hour drive to the airport (thanks Mom!) followed by a flight to JFK airport in New York City, which sadly was followed by a 12 hour layover... I wasn't allowed to get my ticket or drop off my bag until a couple hours before the flight left, so I spent that time in a food court in the main entrance of the terminal, before even going through security. Because it was such a long layover, my bag I checked on the flight out of North Carolina had to be picked up at baggage claim, and I had to check it in again and go through security again in New York. Luckily, however, I found one of the few tables with an outlet in that food court and camped out there pretty happily for almost nine hours straight. Then we were allowed to check in through Korean Air. And that line was insane. Followed by the longest line to security that I've ever seen. They were nervous about the winter storms all over the East Coast that were quickly approaching New York, so they got us on board quickly so we could leave and not be stranded. I am very lucky I left the day I did, otherwise I would probably still be in the States! Then was a 14 hour flight to Seoul, South Korea.
I flew Korean Air which was fantastic. Lots of legroom, comfy seats, a personal tv with great movie selections, and good food! We took off right before 1am on Thursday, and they immediately served us dinner. Then all lights were turned off for eight hours and the whole flight pretty much slept. I lucked out by sitting in the middle section (there were three sections with three to four seats per section), and I was one of the end seats. The two seats between me and the guy on the other end were empty, so we were both able to stretch out and sleep, which was SO nice! The lights were turned back on, we had breakfast, and pretty soon, we landed. I was in Seoul for three hours and found an amazing section called "the Relaxation Lounge." It had quiet rooms, a nap zone with beds, free showers, recliner chairs, and a meditation room. That was awesome and necessary, as I had now been traveling for over 30 hours straight.
Then a five hour flight to Vietnam!! Once I arrived in Ho Chi Minh (12:30pm on Friday, January 5, 2018), I had to go through the visa/passport lines. Visas are now required here. One popular option is to go through a visa service in advance, pay in advance, and get your visa on arrival. I had heard good things about this and decided to do that before I left the States. I paid an extra $10 and was personally greeted as soon as I landed and walked to the visa section that was overflowing with people. However, since all the paperwork was done and approved in advance and fees were already paid, my paperwork was taken to the front and about 10 minutes later I had a visa in my passport. Then, I was walked past the insane lines to go through passport checks and was walked to a counter with not a single person in the line and was ushered into the country. Best $10 I've ever spent. It saved me probably at least an hour or two of time and a lot of stress. I exchanged some US dollars into Vietnamese dong and booked a taxi to my apartment. Easy peasy :)
I am staying in an apartment in a part of Ho Chi Minh (or Saigon as everyone here calls it) called District 2. It's a pretty trendy area with lots of expats (foreigners who work and live in a different country than their own) with tons of restaurants and shops. It's much quieter than District 1 which is the main part of downtown Saigon with bars and hostels and traffic and backpackers. I am staying in an apartment of a friend of a friend. The family who live in this unit had to go back to the UK for at least six months right at the time I was arriving. We had been in touch because of our mutual friend, just about things to do in Vietnam and recommendations before I was coming out, and they asked if I'd like to sublet from them while they were gone. It worked out perfectly for both of us! It's a huge apartment complex with four tall apartment buildings (30 floors in each). In the middle of the four buildings is a pool. At the bottom of each building are little shops and restaurants. There are also playgrounds, tennis courts, etc. It's very family-friendly and everyone knows everyone, it seems. Good mix of locals and expats together.
The family left before I arrived, so they left my keys with friends in a neighboring building in the complex. A lovely Canadian couple with three adopted boys. They've been here for five years. The mom, Roxy, brought me over to the apartment and gave me a walkthrough. Then I hopped down to one of the markets on the ground floor, bought a few essentials, made a quick dinner, and passed out early from jet lag. Which meant I woke up bright eyed and busy tailed at 5am...
The next day, Roxy and I walked all around our area on a little tour. She showed me where to buy fresh veggies and fruit from different shops and grocery store, where imported food is, where cheaper food is, the best restaurants, pharmacies, dentists, etc. Everything I could need! And there are so many food options. In addition to all of the amazing local spots and fantastic Vietnamese restaurants, lots of foreigners have opened restaurants, and apparently, the food is amazing and authentic to whichever cuisine they are. Great Italian, great pizza, great Thai, great Mexican... there are even craft beer bars.
We went grocery shopping, and I spent the equivalent of $20 US dollars on an insane amount of things that will hold me over for a while. We also got a Vietnamese SIM card to put in my phone (which I unlocked before I left through AT&T, so I can buy local cards wherever I live and just put them into my iPhone). For $9, I got a new SIM card with my new Vietnamese phone number, wifi, data, and minutes that will last me about a month. So take that AT&T! Plus, everywhere here has free wifi, so I'll pretty much always be connected.
Then, after dropping off my groceries, we went to eat with her family at one of the many little spots right by the apartments. I had Vietnamese traditional iced coffee, which is amazing and dangerously addictive. The drip coffee has a little sweetened condensed milk added and the beans have a cocoa flavor added, so it tastes like chocolate milk with caffeine. And I had a pork banh mi sandwich on a fresh French baguette. WHICH WAS SO GOOD! And all of that was only $2.
IN THE AFTERNOON, I HAD TO GO IN THE POOL IN THE COMPLEX BECAUSE EVEN THOUGH IT'S TECHNICALLY WINTER HERE, IT'S HOT. THIS TROPICAL CLIMATE IS VERY MUGGY AND HOT PRETTY MUCH YEAR-ROUND. IT WAS IN THE UPPER 80'S, BUT FELT MUCH MORE HUMID THAN THAT. IT WILL ONLY CONTINUE TO GET HOTTER THE CLOSER TO THE SUMMER MONTHS WE GET. LUCKY FOR ME, I HAPPEN TO LOVE THE HEAT. AND I HAVE TO SAY, AFTER SPENDING SOME TIME IN UPSTATE NEW YORK OVER THE HOLIDAYS, THIS WAS A REFRESHING CHANGE OF TEMPERATURE!
I'M STILL A LITTLE JET LAGGED, SO WILL HAVE AN EARLY NIGHT TONIGHT. THEN TOMORROW, I'M JOINING ROXY AND HER FAMILY FOR CHURCH IN THE MORNING. THEY ATTEND A NONDENOMINATIONAL CHURCH WHERE A HUGE NUMBER OF EXPATS AND FAMILIES GO, AND SHE SAID IT'S AN AWESOME NETWORKING CHANCE FOR ME TO MEET THEIR FRIENDS AND OTHER FAMILIES AND START TO GET TO KNOW PEOPLE IN THIS AREA. I'M ALSO INTERESTED TO SEE THE DIFFERENT KINDS OF RELIGIONS THAT ARE REPRESENTED. SHE SAID MONKS, CATHOLICS, CHRISTIANS, MUSLIMS, BUDDHISTS, ETC. ALL GO AND IT'S A LOVELY MELTING POT OF FOREIGNERS AND LOCALS.
IT'S BEEN REALLY NICE MEETING THE PEOPLE I HAVE SO FAR AND MY AREA SEEMS AMAZING. I'M EXCITED TO CONTINUE TO EXPLORE AND GET MY CAMERAS OUT. IT'S FUNNY HOW EASY IT IS TO ACCLIMATE AND GET USED TO THINGS. I FEEL LIKE I'VE BEEN HERE FOR MUCH LONGER AND ALREADY FEEL QUITE COMFORTABLE IN THE COMPLEX AND THE APARTMENT AND ALL THAT.
PLUS, I AM REALLY HAPPY I WENT TO CAMBODIA LAST YEAR, BECAUSE I FELT MORE COMFORTABLE VERY QUICKLY WITH SOME HABITS LIKE EVERYONE WEARS FLIP FLOPS OR SANDALS PRETTY EXCLUSIVELY, AND ALL SHOES ARE ALWAYS TAKEN OFF BEFORE ENTERING HOUSES, AND YOU'RE BAREFOOT IN YOUR HOME. AIRCON IS EXPENSIVE, SO DOORS ARE LEFT OPEN THROUGHOUT THE DAY TO GET BREEZES IN AND FANS ARE USED ALL THE TIME, ETC. FLOORS ARE ALWAYS TILE AND SWEPT/MOPED ALL THE TIME SINCE EVERYONE IS BAREFOOT... LITTLE THINGS LIKE THAT.
I'VE ONLY BEEN HERE FOR 30 HOURS AND HAVE A LOT MORE TO EXPERIENCE AND LEARN, BUT I AM THRILLED TO BE HERE AND TO CONTINUE SHARING WITH YOU ALL!
Danielle Desnoyers is a traveling freelance photographer with a focus on humanitarian, travel, and family photography. She currently splits her time between the United States and Vietnam with travels to other countries as well.