top of page

essays | places


motorcycle mania


Vietnam · 2015   green velvet



   On my way to the bus station, I bought a motorcycle. I’d just decided to take the easy way up North, but life dealt me a much juicier chapter. When I stepped out on the street, my eyes happened upon a Honda Win that just felt right. Lulu. That much was obvious. I found the backpacker who sold her fast enough and some $ 200 and twenty minutes later I was on my way. With a broken speedometer you also had a broken odometer and no way of knowing how fast you are going and less way of knowing how many thousands of miles that bike had shrugged off, but there was no better way to sweep Vietnam from the South to the North and to get into those hidden corners that no bus or tourist agenda penetrates.

Nobody spoke English outside the tourist bubbles, but they all spoke kindness and plenty of it – from the cops who stopped me for speeding and explained Vietnamese traffic rules to me on Google Translate, to any mechanic between Ho Chi Minh and Ha Long who patched up Lulu, to all the road side restaurant owners and the receptionists of these love-hotels where you’d find condoms and whitening cream on your Mickey Mouse bedsheets.

It was an intimate journey with ever changing landscapes all around me and inside me. I had some thinking to do, some feeling and atoning, and there was plenty of time waiting for me in my solitude as I drove up and down and left and right, sometimes zooming through the traffic like a gazelle, sometimes leaning back in the shade large trucks would cast onto the scorching highway. The only motorized vehicle I ever owned, Lulu got me all the way across Vietnam and eventually into


a glimpse

Tam Coc valley in Vietnam seen from Mua Caves Lookout

passages   LOW-KEY LIMESTONE | Tam Coc rock, limestone throne, monsoon swoon, ravine queen, panorama mama, rice paddy daddy. They call you the “Dry Ha Long Bay” these scoundrels. But where they see an uncanny resemblance to the limelight lime-star up north, you look more you than anything else, and what you lack in ocean you make up for in rice. You don’t need a UNESCO fiasco, or a Hollywood spotlight, for your recipe is low-key.

passages   400 YEARS | A major Southeast Asian seaport throughout the 16th to 18th century, Hoi An is now among Vietnam’s most significant tourist destinations, and yesterday’s merchants from China, Japan, India, and Europe are today’s tourists from the very same lands. I wonder how the feel has changed over time. Was life there more authentic when people poured in for trade, not tourism? How did and do the locals feel about all the attention? How have the cultural dynamics changed throughout the exchange? Was that little, yellow architecture more intriguing when it was novel, or is it now that nostalgic sentiments flake off the warm facades? What did this scene look like when the lanterns were lit by candlelight and the restaurants and storefronts were whatever they might have been? And what will Hoi An look and feel like in another 400 years?

French colonial buildings in Hoi An, Vietnam
Two rivers merging near Hoi An in Vietnam

The rivers merged under a random bridge as though that was perfectly normal. And indeed, no one else seemed to care much for the view, but I had never seen anything like it, and so I declared it immensely interesting.

Vietnam · 2015   blue river meets brown river

Mickey Mouse bedsheet at a hotel in Vietnam

Vietnam · 2015   Micky and more

Bay with turquoise water in Vietnam

Vietnam · 2015   turquoise crescent






places / stories

Can Tho / Cultural Evolution


Can Tho / Vietnam · 2015   shipping melons


Can Tho / Vietnam · 2015   melon merchants


Coming in from Cambodia, Can Tho was an obvious stop in the wet heart of the Mekong Delta, but tourism hadn’t dropped anchor yet. With more gestures than words, I managed to get to the floating market where goods were exchanged from boat to boat. It’s always fascinating to see how culture adopts to environment in an evolutionary if accelerated manner. Most of Can Tho has already faded into that impenetrable fog of my memories, but one interaction has survived: me, inside a store, penniless for unknown reasons, and some friendly middle-aged lady buying me a bag of chips. They had enough good souls in that country to invade heaven.


Floating market in the Mekong Delta, Can Tho, Vietnam

Can Tho / Vietnam · 2015   Mekong market


Ho Chi Minh City / Modern Chaos

Skyscrapers in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City / Vietnam · 2015   growing tall


Ho Chi Minh was a modern chaos and that’s about all I recall. On my way out, Lulu broke down, or so I thought, five minutes after I’d bought her. But she was just out of gas and when I dragged her to the next corner there was already someone there to help me. There is someone helpful at every corner of Vietnam. We pushed her to the next stop or gas station or something and gave her a large bottle of Coke. They always sold gas by the soda bottle in these parts of Southeast Asia. And off I went, pulling a thousand traffic tricks to maneuver Ho Chi Minh’s madness. It is an orchestrated madness, to be sure, and there is one simple, crazy rule to it: you are responsible for what the traffic participant in front of you does. No one will ever signal or glance at the rearview mirror before pulling their shenanigans. You have to react and that means being alert every second and meter of the way. It’s more of a game than it is traffic, and you must be a gambler to partake.


Buildings in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City / Vietnam · 2015   box build


Hội An / Crowded Fairytale

Lanterns in Hoi An, Vietnam

Hội An / Vietnam · 2015   lantern warmth


The historic center of Hoi An, Vietnam

Hội An / Vietnam · 2015   nostalgia in full swing


People in the historic center of Hoi An, Vietnam

Hội An / Vietnam · 2015   fairytown


It’s funny how these well-preserved pasts always seem like fairytales seen from the present when they were probably anything but. Nostalgia is a warm feeling that can only account for the idyllic simplicity of the olden days, but not for its struggles, inconveniences, and anarchies. Looking at Hoi An’s old masonry from a few centuries away, you could paint some pretty cozy narratives, and everyone seemed to agree on those and also on the aesthetics, and so it was a pretty crowded fairytale. It held me captive for some days, and I used the breather to put on a facemask and spray-paint Lulu – black and navy blue in theory, black and indigo when the metal was dry.


Hoi An, Vietnam

Hội An / Vietnam · 2015   pasta in the making


Houses in Hoi An, Vietnam

Hội An / Vietnam · 2015   a quieter layer around the core


Back-alley in Hoi An, Vietnam

Hội An / Vietnam · 2015   sweet back-alley trap


Quảng Bình / Paradise Underworld

Lime stone formations in Vietnam

Quảng Bình / Vietnam · 2015   twin rocks



Quảng Bình / Vietnam · 2015   river road


Quảng Bình / Vietnam · 2015   happy highway


Vietnam thinned out into a wasp waist a little North of Da Nang, and so it was never much of a drive from the coastal highway to the hinterland hills. Limestone formations sprouted all over the land like rock flowers and underneath it all lay hidden a purple, spikey underworld.


Paradise Cave, Vietnam

Paradise Cave, Quảng Bình / Vietnam · 2015   inside the inside


Tam Coc / Bed of Rice and Rowing Feet

Lime stone formations, people rowing and reflection in Tam Coc, Vietnam

Tam Coc / Vietnam · 2015   gliding on glass


Lime stone formations and reflection in Tam Coc, Vietnam

Tam Coc / Vietnam · 2015   in sync



Tam Coc / Vietnam · 2015   dirt road dame 


Tam Coc / Vietnam · 2015   checkered rice


Tam Coc rock,

plunged in eternal sleep on a bed of rice,

the world passing it by,

affairs of no matter,

because what goes full circle is, at the end of the day, stagnant as rock.


Tam Coc / Vietnam · 2015   all good


Tam Coc / Vietnam · 2015   rice & rock


Traditional rowing boats in Tam Coc, Vietnam

Tam Coc / Vietnam · 2015   rowing feet


They rowed the boat with feet that had the dexterity of hands.

Ha Long Bay / Crowded Fairytale


Ha Long / Vietnam · 2015   water blossom


Ha Long / Vietnam · 2015   boat blender


Ha Long, I didn’t have time or thirst for your cruises, but don’t think that your beauty was lost on Lulu and me as we sat by the promenade, staring into your sea soul.


Motorcycle at Ha Long Bay in Vietnam

Ha Long / Vietnam · 2015   Lulu


Fisherman at Ha Long Bay in Vietnam

Ha Long / Vietnam · 2015   catch




bottom of page