Destination Vietnam

By Jeff Cooke

I’ve always loved traveling and am so thankful to have a job that gives me the opportunity to see the beautiful places that our world has to offer. It’s one of the reasons why I love destination weddings. I have a bucket list of places that I hope to someday visit … and one of those places was Vietnam.

A few years back, I was introduced to Julian Wainwright, an incredible photojournalist who lives in the Philippines and primarily shoots destination weddings all over Asia. Julian is originally from Canada, and every year he travels back to Halifax with his family for the summer … and every year we get together for a family BBQ, a few drinks and of course a little shop talk. After a brief 48 hour stint in Korea several years ago(a crazy story for another time), I’ve always wanted to travel back to Asia, and year after year, Julian and I would discuss the possibility of me going overseas for a visit.

Last summer, the conversation came up again, only this time it involved an opportunity to second shoot not one, but two amazing weddings with him. It was just too good to pass up, especially since both weddings sounded amazing and I’d get the chance to collaborate with a good friend and incredible photographer. Arrangements were made, flights were booked, and after a few FaceTime chats, my plan for the 16 hour travel day was set.

It started in southern Vietnam with a wedding at the beautiful Intercontinental Danang Resort, with a few days at the nearby colourful town of Hoi An (one of my favourite stops). After that I had a week alone to travel 500 miles north, so after two mornings surrounded by fisherman, farmers and local street vendors, it was on to Hue, a city rich with Vietnamese history.

My adventures in Hue included getting into a motorcycle accident doing a u-turn for a photo of a farmer riding a bull, and having my wallet stolen … not by the guy on the bull, but by a clever pick pocketing system that involved 4 taxi cab drivers. Long story short, I eventually got it back (50 bucks lighter) before jumping on a 14 hour sleeper train to Tam Coc, which is an incredibly scenic place where parts of the movie King Kong were filmed. The train ride sure was interesting. It felt like something out of a Wes Anderson movie where it was just me, a 6’5 white Canadian and 3 other non-english speaking Vietnamese passengers, all bunked on top of each other for the duration of the trip. This place was also where I watched a local street vendor kill, clean and cook my meal … right in front of me!

I eventually reconnected with Julian in Hanoi, which turned out to be one of my absolute favourite stop because it’s where Julian worked a photojournalist. He knew the city inside and out … introducing me to some of his closest friends, favourite food, foot massages, good drinks, music, sights, sounds, memories and life that fills the streets. It was a crazy busy city … one that a photographer could easily get lost in and I found myself overwhelmed on several occasions.

My final destination was the icing on the cake … on board a traditional Vietnamese junk boat for Krystal + Tristan’s wedding, sailing through the breathtaking islands of Halong Bay.

If I never set foot back in Vietnam again, at least now I know that it’s so much more than what I grew up seeing on TV and in the movies. Turns out you don’t have to be Rambo to visit that wonderful country … but you definitely need to go armed with a camera.

Also, the song in the slideshow holds some meaning. I had no idea what the song was when I first heard it, spinning on vinyl at a very cool craft brew bar in Hanoi (Standing Bar) … but it haunted me for weeks! Turns out it’s by Francis Yip, titled “Green is the Mountain” … and is not Vietnamese but a Taiwanese folk song about a mountain range and the people that live in the mountains. It ended up being the very first song on my Vietnam playlist, followed by Don’t Play the Game That I Can’t Win by the Beastie Boys … all music that I experienced along the way.

Thank you Julian for everything … it was all an experience that I will never, ever forget!

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