This interminable virus. Days turned to weeks, then months and months. In Saigon, social distancing became instructions to stay at home, then a curfew, and then a rule to not go out at all. Except for anyone returning to their country, the international airport is off-limits. What used to be the launch-pad for long weekends exploring Tokyo or Bangkok, or beach breaks in Bali or the Philippines, takes a few daily flights and accepts a trickle of shell-shocked passengers getting out.
Đọc bài viết bằng tiếng Việt
But if you could travel, where would you go? And what would you do? Have you been reminiscing about your favourite holidays, or planning new ones when this is all over? Do you even still remember how to travel?
To reignite the spark for escapism, we asked four of the city’s coolest people enduring lockdown to tell us about their travel habits, their best and worst trips, and where they’ll go…once they can go anywhere.
Alan Cerutti is co-founder and CEO of Happiness Saigon, a creative consultancy agency that’s become known for its ideas that trigger business across South East Asia. “I’m passionate about creativity and innovation…but my biggest passion right now is watching my daughter Pia Jade growing up as we wait for the birth of our son in September,” Alan explains.
Nhu Tran is a model and modelling coach. “My role is to create art through the expression of beauty, which means helping individuals to embrace their own uniqueness…” she introduces herself thoughtfully.
Fashion stylist Chi Lemon has been all around the world already. “Growing up, I lived in China, the UK, Canada, the US, Japan and Australia,” she remembers. Today, she’s the kind of traveller who comes prepared. “I never travel with less than two suitcases of clothes,” she explains, “gotta get that perfect picture for a magazine, or for my Instagram. I’m never without packing cubes…lifesavers.”
And Khuat Nang Vinh is managing editor and head of content and creative for Luxuo Media. “We’re blessed with running the imprints of lots of international publications which target niche, fashion and high-end lifestyles,” Vinh smiles.
What has this lockdown taught you about travel?
Chi: Being confined to life trapped inside the walls of my apartment, I’ve never appreciated nature more than I do now.
Vinh: For me, with lockdown comes nostalgia. That’s what I’ve realized. It’s summer now, the perfect season for exploring…only we can’t go anywhere, except into our store of memories.
Usually, my career means there’s never a dull moment. I get to go places and meet people. But this period has even put an end to that. That’s made me realize there are so many things I still want to see and do, overseas and here.
Alan: Travel does leave us with so many memories. I’m grateful to have those. So, I’ve started to make photo albums…which was long overdue. I admit that I used to take travel for granted. Having had time to reflect, I think that this period will turn us all into more mindful travellers.
Fortunately, in the times between lockdowns, we had the chance to travel domestically, which brought us closer to the soul of where we live, Vietnam.
Nhu: I get to travel a lot with my work, the same as you, Vinh. I love having the chance to visit different places and experience different cultures. This has definitely been a time to appreciate the opportunities we’ve had. I’m undoubtedly going to be one of the more mindful travellers Alan is talking about too. From now on, I promise to appreciate every single moment. Who cares anymore about ticking off a checklist of places we’ve been or things we’ve seen? I’m going to cherish every single intimate moment and every single shared experience I have along the way. The small, overlooked details…
OK, imagine the next trip. What would you do to experience the place more deeply?
Alan: Explore by bike or scooter! I discovered Rome, Berlin, London and NYC all that way. It’s different to getting around by taxi, bus, or on the underground. You get a deeper sense of the place much more quickly. But honestly? These days, my wife is the organizer. She has this trick of exploring the city before we set off through the eyes of locals via their social media. I guess browsing Instagram hashtags can take you far.
Chi: Instagram places is definitely great for discovering photogenic, or design-conscious spots. Usually, I’d do a quick Google search of the area I’ll be staying in, checking out the museums and any other must-visit places, then I’ll look at them again on Insta and map my route.
Vinh: I’m the same. I follow travel-Instas or users who share nice reels of destination-specific lifestyle content. I compile all the places into a must-visit list, arrange my plan and go! In 2020, I decided to go to Sapa shortly after we could travel domestically again once the first lockdown had ended. I found a video on Facebook that captured lots of beautiful scenes in and around Sapa, downloaded it to my phone, and when I was there I showed it to residents so they could point me in the right direction.
What’s your criteria for choosing where to stay when you travel?
Nhu: I’m pretty pragmatic. Value for money and location speak the loudest to me. If it’s a hotel chain, stick to their loyalty program. And of course, there’s no issue with joining more than one. You can get discounted rates, free cancellations, in-room perks and upgrades. I’ve even had free stays. Before I book, I check the map. If the hotel is near local landmarks, malls, must-visit restaurants or other attractions, then I’m interested.
Vinh: Same. Convenience is everything to me, so I’ll always take somewhere in the thick of the action. Besides that, I need a gym and quick service, preferably somewhere with self check-in. I’ll always have on hand snacks, a travel adaptor, and a speaker to listen to music.
Alan: True. Location’s essential. The experience is important too, so we prefer small boutique-style hotels with soul. Places for inspiration. I love Saigon. This city has soul and edge and I want to discover the same wherever I go. So, I want a place that plugs me into the latest in the arts, music, and sub-cultural scenes.
Chi: I rarely get to choose. Most of my stays are for work, so someone else picks…
And what’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen on your travels?
Vinh: It has to be sunset on the beach in Australia. And the rice terraces in the north-west of Vietnam. It’s such spectacular scenery!
Alan: I took a trip of self-discovery when I was 18 before I committed to my studies. With my parent’s support, I took a working holiday in New Zealand and Australia. I think I experienced a sense of ultimate freedom, and so my memories from that time are rose-tinted. It’s not simply the place, but the feeling it creates. It’s the people you’re with, the state of mind you’re in, the stage in life you’re at.
Today, when I travel with my family, it’s about being in the ‘now’ and realizing life is about them. As we speak, my daughter Pia is talking loudly and in gibberish into a can that she’s pretending is a phone. This makes me travel too.
Chi: Tough question! Every place has its own uniqueness. I love the beauty of nature, but also the beauty of highly-constructed and curated urban environments. If I had to choose one, it’s the pyramids of Egypt. As a child, I dreamed of being an archaeologist. I always used to marvel at how they could have been constructed when they were constructed. Then, it’s even more awe-inspiring when you see them in real life, the scale of them.
Which destination in Vietnam do you dream about visiting again? Why?
Vinh: For me, it’s Phu Quoc. I love the sea. Phu Quoc has some beautiful beaches, and it has this wildness and natural beauty. I can’t imagine anything more perfect; my eyes are closed, and I’m laid on the sand, and all I can hear is the murmur of the waves lapping against the shore. The seafood’s good there, too….
Alan: It’s hard for me to choose one. The north, central, and south of Vietnam are so diverse. There are so many places to explore in each region. We’ve been fortunate to visit them all. From the last trip, Bai San Ho really stood out. Great memories.
We should also confront the bad. Any terrible travel experiences?
Chi: Film sets are not the glamorous places people think they are. They’ve been some of my worst travel experiences, especially during the first difficult few days: sleep deprivation, sharing a room with strangers. Thankfully, as with most things, you quickly get used to it and after a few days it takes on this summer camp vibe!
Alan: I seem to have forgotten all the bad travel experiences. That’s probably because they’ve been quickly erased with something good which takes up a far bigger chunk of memory. That’s life I guess.
Vinh: I always prepare so thoroughly and research so carefully that nothing usually goes wrong. OK, there was one trip that made me very worried about my safety. In 2020, I was travelling to Seoul right at the moment they had the explosion of COVID-19 cases during that first wave. I remember my phone kept buzzing with travel alerts about the outbreak…
Which place have you not visited yet in Vietnam that you can’t wait to check out?
Vinh: Ha Giang! I want to do more trekking and discover that magical scenery. I’ve never been trekking, so it’s also something I need to experience at least once. Besides beaches, Vietnam’s mountains and highlands are the most beautiful destinations here.
Chi: I once did the Meo Vac-Ha Giang motorbike ride. I’d really recommend that, Vinh. You really get this feeling of how vast the world is on that trip. But for me, I kind of want to see Phu Quy Island to check out the dramatic landscape.
Nhu: I love camping, and Son Doong Cave is a place I’ve wanted to visit for some time. I’m proud Vietnam can claim to have the world’s largest cave. And the more you learn about it, the more impressive it is. For example, the cave has its own eco-system, and down there it has weather and it even generates clouds. What makes it more exciting is that it’s not so easy to access, with limited places for the full expedition per year. It must be the experience of a lifetime…
And finally, where in the world are you dreaming of visiting once travel resumes? What will you do when you get there?
Alan: Simple things, visiting family, and the mountains…it would be nice to see snow after all this time.
Chi: My dreams have been of heading off into the mountains too. Me and my friends actually planned to visit the Himalayas after Tet last year. It’s lucky we didn’t go. If we had, we might have got stuck there. However, the Himalayas are still top of my list.
Vinh: I’d go to Bhutan, I think. It has been named the happiest place in the world. It’s the only country that emits no greenhouse gases or emissions. But beyond that, because of the difficulty to access the Kingdom, the nature remains wild and alluring…
Nhu: I’d go anywhere, I just can’t wait to travel again. I’ll never take my freedom for granted ever again. But for now, let’s stay home and make the grandest travel plans we can imagine!
Translation by Bao Ngoc Ly and images courtesy of the guests