On a tired Sunday afternoon my taxi brings me from the airport to the old town of Hanoi, Vietnam. I open the door and directly collect a left uppercut from the noise of the city that almost throws me back into the car. Countless high-frequency signals and noises are coming from every conceivable direction and drill into my bone marrow. And then – there it is again. The comforting and warm feeling of being far away from home. Far away from our western optimized cities and lives and our insatiable thirst for organization, control and regulation. For the next three weeks I will exchange my comfort zone for highly concentrated chaos.

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My trip through Vietnam took me across the entire country. Vietnam is wonderfully easy to travel. Due to its slim shape, one automatically passes by every part of the country without having to make the decision to miss something by travelling to one part instead of another. Public transportation reaches all popular regions of the country, although it’s not for weak nerves! The driving skills of the bus drivers are, let´s say adventurous, and make you feel like you are sitting in a Formula-One car. I definitely recommend renting a motorcycle from time to time and discovering the secrets of Vietnam on your own. Especially the so-called “Cloud-Pass” (Hai-Van-Pass), which is outstandingly beautiful and gets you through a mountain range, which draws a climactic border between North and South Vietnam. The landscapes you cross on this tour are just mindblowing.

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Never been on a motorcycle? No worries. Nobody cares about that in Vietnam. Driving licenses are just considered “nice to have”. One very important advice for all you easyriders: when you drive around in the cities of Vietnam like Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, never – and I really mean never –  stop your “motobike” if you don´t want to get swallowed by the traffic avalanche. Just don´t be scared of the other countless motorcyclists and keep going. While the traffic might seem uncontrolled and wild, the Vietnamese are used to the chaos and will always find a way around you. If you stop, you´ll be lost. Forever.

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What deeply impressed me were the people in Vietnam. I have never met such warm-hearted and friendly people. In a country that is characterized by oppression, violence and bestial war crimes I met some of the warmest people I have ever encountered, . Engaging with the history of the country one could think that Vietnamese have enough reasons to despise the rest of the world. The Vietnam War was the first war that was broadcasted in TV. Television was uncensored and unfiltered by governments, and nobody had any idea about the effect of such horrifying images. So how come Vietnamese are so friendly, open-minded and hospitable? On my trip through the Mekong Delta, I stayed on a cocoa farm owned by an elderly man. He was a pilot for the U.S Army during the Vietnam War. When I asked him this question, he replied only briefly: “We Vietnamese are good at forgiving, but we do not forget.”

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Another encounter that left a considerable impression on me was a moment I had with a 93 year old lady. She was wearing a green headscarf. Together with my tour guide Maruko, I was on a photo tour through the countless labyrinths of the Mekong Delta. Sitting on the back seat of her motorcycle, we went for almost three days over rice fields to floating markets and other local highlights. Suddenly, Maruko stopped her Harley and walked straight – and without any previous notice – into an old farmer’s house where the lady with the green scarf was sitting in her rocking chair. She was definitely surprised by our and especially my visit. It turned out that she had never met a foreigner before in person. Imagine that! It was an incredible moment. She was so curious about me that at the end she learned much more about me than I learned about her. At last, she allowed me to take some photographs of her. I discovered that she did not really know what a camera is! When I showed her a picture of herself, she immediately started smiling and laughing and almost fell off her rocking chair. We had so much fun. She said she had never seen a picture of herself before in her life! Another priceless moment I will never forget.

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All in all, I was highly surprised by Vietnam. I did not expect the country to be so rich with hidden secrets and super friendly people. I definitely recommend leaving the touristic trails and discovering the countryside of Vietnam. The people will love meeting you on your visit, and you will love meeting them. At any time, I felt more then welcome.

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Andy Gawlowski
Andy is a freelance travel photographer currently living in Zurich. He was born 1980 in Poland, grew up in Germany, and now lives in Switzerland. Photography has accompanied him half his life and became an important way for him to communicate his view on the world. What he really loves about travel photography is the need to quickly adapt to different cultural situations, moments, light conditions and time restrictions. Some photographic moments are only available for the seconds you are confronted to them. You can get a great photo or lose it forever in the same moment.

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