Follow The Saigon Running Route Of A Photographer Who’s Going Places – Koi Nguyen

Everyone’s a content creator. To stand out takes talent, creativity and straight-up hustle. Photographer and videographer Khoi Nguyen has lots of all three but especially the latter as you’d know if you’ve seen him lapping Saigon’s Reunification Palace on his daily run.

Đọc bài viết bằng tiếng Việt

“I have a two-year plan,” the ambitious photographer smiles enigmatically about making it as a photographer. The 22-year-old RMIT graduate is confident. “And I prefer to be called Koi by my friends,” he adds. As a teenager, before RMIT, he became interested in psychology and NLP, theories about communication and personal development that were becoming popular. He still employs lots of strategies he picked up then during shoots.

“So,” Koi Nguyen explains “I talk to the participants a lot before the shoot, not necessarily about the shoot itself — about life, who they are, those kinds of things.” Then Koi Nguyen employs what he’s learnt, especially during the first five or ten minutes, to empathize with them or to make a joke or two putting them totally at ease. “It’s like dancing — when you feel you’re being watched and judged you’re awkward, when everyone’s dancing it’s liberating.”

Ambitious photographer Koi Nguyen.

“How would I explain to someone what I do in one shoot?” Koi Nguyen asks. “It has to be the Vespa shoot…” Shot in October last year, it was his first time working for an international brand. “Plus that brand means a lot to me; the unique body shape, the smoothness of the ride, even the philosophy behind Vespa scooters.” It was a milestone.

But rather than focus on commercial shoots Koi Nguyen has kept “grinding” with food and fashion shoots, and more. “We learn by doing,” he shrugs at the truism, “And the more we do, the more chances we have to learn from our mistakes.”

Koi Nguyen’s process has evolved as well. And it develops with every shoot. “Now, first I decide the message I want to convey, then it’s the lighting — how the set-up supports the message visually…”

“Then I go from surface to soul, to express the character or emotions of the person, or for food shoots I’ll try to express the freshness and sophistication of the food. The other main difference is movement. With people it’s dynamic — I’m tired at the end of a shoot. With food, it’s all focused care and attention…”

For kit, Koi Nguyen always carries his favorite camera. “It’s a Fujifilm XH1 I’ve been using for two years now, with a Fujinon 16-55mm f/2.8 lens, a memory card box of nearly four 64GB cards, a speedlite, a cleaner, a few pens…” he smiles again opening his backpack for us. “And depending on the project, I might bring a tripod, strobe, and some other photography tools.  In the old days, I only needed a camera, but the more I study and work, the more I have to bring in more lights and light-adjusting tools to ensure the best light on set.”

However, today, we want to explore Koi Nguyen’s other passion: running. But, like his way of shooting, there’s lots of psychology in the way he runs… 

“The more I love jogging…the more I want to share this passion I’ve developed with people.”

When did you discover your passion for running?

It never was a passion. Especially jogging! I remember one trip to Dalat. I wanted to run around Xuan Huong Lake, which is around 5km. By the end I couldn’t stand up, my muscles were so tired. But I’d made it. That was partly thanks to my friend and mentor who was regularly running around District 2 at that time. He told me running is the practice of consistency. And it’s the practice of self-discipline. It’s about moving out of your comfort zone…and never giving up. 

The more I run, the more deeply I understand what he told me is true. And so, the more I love jogging. And the more I want to share this passion I’ve developed with people.

“Lots of ideas pop up,” after a run.

What do you think about when running?

When I run, I mostly listen to audiobooks. So I think about the book I’m listening to. Before I discovered the joy of listening to audiobooks while running, I’d think about work, life, future plans…

Do you think there is a link between running and creativity?

Most definitely! You’re running, you’re out of breath, you’re sweaty. But in those five or ten minutes immediately after a run, this refreshing spirit fills your bones, your mind clears, stress disappears…and lots of ideas pop up. 

What advice do you have for a beginner to running?

Targets help. Say my goal is 100km, then if I miss that today, I know I have to make up for it tomorrow. Set a goal for yourself every week. Another, every month. But most importantly, constantly think about why you’re doing this…
I also impose a penalty system on myself. I pay a 500K fine for every kilometer incomplete. The penalty motivates me more than the reward! 

Then there’s nutrition, an almost never-ending topic. Study carefully. Exercise according to a plan. Rest properly. And finally, I recommend practicing alone. That way you’ll develop initiative and independence. 

What’s your running route that you’re sharing with us like?

I’m a real “big city boy”. So I love to run through Saigon’s District 1 with its wide tree-lined boulevards and historic buildings. I get to see the city change first hand. The contrast between old and new is striking, and seems to be more starkly defined every time I head out for a run. And with every run, I love where I live a little bit more…

“With every run, I love where I live a little bit more…”

Tell us about the route in more detail…

We start out at the Independence Palace early. It’s place in Vietnam and Saigon’s history is assured, so it seems a perfect starting point for this run through District 1. I’ll do around five laps of the square grounds. Each one is 1.4km. 

Then we go across Han Thuyen passing the young coffeeshop crowd chatting, laughing, and flirting on the corner of Han Thuyen and Pasteur. Then we run past Notre Dame Cathedral to admire the splendour of its French architecture. By seven, the city is truly awake — the traffic intensifies, and the quiet of the streets fades for the day. All these noises, cars, laughter, the sound of the birds, make me feel present and alive. 

After that, we go down Dong Khoi and across to Nguyen Hue to enjoy the bustle of this major Saigon promenade. There, appreciate the contrast, modern shopping malls, the old cafe-apartment building. Everything is mixed. It provides such eye-catching juxtapositions. 

Next, across again to Ho Tung Mau Street, and then Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street. I like to also run along Dang Thi Nhu. There you can find my favourite coffeeshop, Saigon Coffee Roastery, but during this run we only get to savour the smell of the coffee before our journey continues. Then it’s along Tran Hung Dao, the backpacker street of Pham Ngu Lao — a street with very different colours and vibe to the historical streets we’ve left behind. It’s a reminder that while a lot of cities claim to never sleep, as far as Saigon is concerned it’s true. 

And then through the August Revolution Park and past skyscrapers like the AB Tower. Then we’re back to iconic Saigon, and The Rex Hotel. On our way back to the palace, we run along Nguyen Thi Minh Khai. By this time of the morning, crowds of people stream to the Palace. And elderly exercisers work out inconspicuously in Tao Dan Park. 

And then we’re done. Just remember, when you run, breathe rhythmically, listen to the city, watch out for life — for beautiful humanity — and by the end you will definitely feel more love, and more relaxed and simultaneously energized for the rest of your day.

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