Vietnam: chaos and tranquillity

Stylist and photographer Mark Anthony Bradley goes to Ho Chi Minh City for hustle, and Phú Quốc for heavenly calm

Ho Chi Minh City is an incredible multi-sensory experience; the sights, the smells, the sounds. It’s a place that engulfs you. And to really get to the heart of it you need to embrace its street culture, which is alive with colour, dynamism and vitality on a par with anywhere else in the world. Almost everywhere you go, street food vendors line the pavements serving the most incredible array of amazing things to eat, including copious amounts of phở bò noodle soup, the national dish of Vietnam.  

Architecturally, it’s an exciting mix of colonial buildings and modern wooden structures on stilts. One of my favourite places to visit was the Cafe Apartments, a 1960s-built apartment block that’s been converted into a multi-storey café. It’s a great place to people-watch, especially as it serves as a favourite haunt for all the local young hipsters and there’s a different café or boutique on every street-facing balcony.  

The Café Apartments, Ho Chi Minh City

We visited during one of the hottest and most humid months of the year and, if you’re anything like me, you’ll go through two or three T-shirts a day. But that doesn’t alter the fact that Ho Chi Minh City is an incredible place to walk about and seek out hidden spots where you can sit and watch the world go by with the locals.   

I spent a memorable afternoon on one such street corner, watching and photographing swarms of motorcyclists weaving in and around the nervous pedestrians. It’s a kind of organised chaos and it might be hard to fathom the fact that there are very few accidents or collisions. But after a while you realise there’s an almost poetic flow to the way that the Vietnamese motorcyclists drive. I couldn’t help but be transfixed by the mesmerising state of confusion it bombards you with.

From Ho Chi Minh City, we went down to Phú Quốc, an island off the southwest coast of Vietnam, near the border with Cambodia. The north of the island is covered in dense tropical jungle, while in the south there are beautiful white sandy beaches with gorgeous blue seas. The capital of the island is a town called Dương Đông, which has a thriving, popular market that is a must for lovers of seafood in particular. It served as a fascinating place to sit, observe and take photos of the local street vendors luring in and entertaining the tourists. 

We mixed it up while we were there, staying for a couple of nights at the luxurious JW Marriott Phú Quốc Hotel on Emerald Bay with its stunning interior design and pristinely kept private beach. Reluctantly moving on, we headed inland to the centre of the island to a hidden retreat called Maison du Vietnam, in the heart of the jungle. It’s a stunning location – far from the masses, pure green, the trees thick with birds, and lily pads on the resident lake.  

The island itself is not unlike the rest of Vietnam, sometimes bustling and chaotic, sometimes astonishingly serene, but always vital and incredibly beautiful.  


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