Travel Diary: entry #1

(Adrienne J. Romero / SoCul Images)

SoCul x Escaped Minds* is an exclusive monthly collaboration where we encourage avid travelers to share their journeys, experience and more.

On Jan. 2, 2020, six of our staff members went to Vietnam as part of their college course “Global Journalism.” 

But the 14-day trip became more than just a school trip — it became an immersive experience into the country’s culture, environment and reality. 

The difference between communities, countries and beyond is what makes the world a wonder in itself. 

(Once COVID is gone) we encourage everyone to explore new worlds, interact with local people and let your mind escape.

(Adrienne J. Romero / SoCul Images)

Jan. 6, 2020
Location: Ho Chi Minh City
Day 4 of trip

Our trip to Vietnam was once in a lifetime. I’ll never forget the experiences I shared with my classmates and the people we met along the way.

My favorite day was when we went to the Mekong River. As soon as we arrived at the small town, we were led to a boat and were taken through the floating villages. Some of us got on the edge of the boat and took pictures, and my other classmates (Neidy, Adrienne, and Diana) went on another boat with Professor Demillo, and interviewed a family who sells Taro root. From what I heard, they were open to the idea of talking to us and were very nice.

We toured the river on a smaller canoe. As we floated through the river, I had never felt so much peace in a short amount of time. The river was calming, hearing the cicadas and looking at the wildlife on the side of us was so peaceful.

We wore our straw hats to shield us from the beaming sun. As we went through the river, I saw other tourists who were very friendly and waving hello to us.

After we ported the boats and got back on the larger boat with the rest of the class, we sailed through more floating markets and went back on land to eat an amazing meal. We then heard live folk msuic from the a traditional band.

The music hit my soul like no other and even though we did not understand what they were saying, everyone enjoyed what was being played. This day was by far my favorite day and I’ll never forget my time in Vietnam.  

     – Amanda Sanchez


Jan. 7, 2020
Location: Ho Chi Minh City
Day 5 of trip

My favorite day was one that wasn’t on the itinerary. 

It was a Tuesday, and it was the first time I’ve seen my friend from high school, Quan, in four years.  

The last time I saw him was June of 2016 — our high school graduation day. Of course, I haven’t seen the majority of my senior class since then, but Quan and I were in the same group of friends, so saying goodbye to him was a little harder for me. 

But then I was in Vietnam, his home country. 

He went to the wrong hotel about two times before finally finding the right one in Ho Chi Minh City (typical Quan). He was on his motorbike and emerged from the hundreds that stuffed the streets, catching me and my friends off guard. 

Quan was taking me and my friends — Neidy, Amanda and Diana — out to dinner and on a little tour of the jam-packed city. I’m the type of person who loves mixing their friend groups, so this was important to me. 

To describe Ho Chi Minh City, think New York City — but instead of cars and trucks flooding traffic, it’s motorbikes, and hundreds of them. I can still hear the faint sound of traffic and feel a bit of the humidity. 

So we started walking to the restaurant. I caught up with Quan as he and my other friends started to talk. It was already dark, and the only sources of light were from store fronts and headlights from the bikes. People loitered in front of stores while others relaxed in chairs.

For the first time on the trip, I didn’t feel like a tourist.

As my friends from Saint Peter’s and friend from Marist High School talked, my past and present began to merge. You know that feeling when you have to take a step back and soak in the moment? Yeah, call me corny, but that’s what I did.

I don’t even remember what we ate from the restaurant, aside from the pictures, because all I remember is laughing; Quan laughing at us for not properly using chopsticks (I guess I’m still a tourist) and us laughing at Quan because he’d crack on each of us. 

It was a short night, but it had one of the biggest impacts on me because though we come from different worlds, we can still come together and have a good time. 

And that’s why I love being a journalist and delving into different cultures because there’s never an end to that.

Dear Vietnam, thank you for opening my eyes to a whole new world. Dear Quan, thanks for paying for our dinner!!

– Adrienne J. Romero








Jan. 8, 2020
Location: Da Nang/Hoi An
Day 6 of trip

5:45 AM. After snoozing our alarms three times, my friend and I finally got out of bed and rushed to get ready in 15 minutes. We still had to pack up the rest of our stuff but we made it. Along with the rest of our group, we exited the hotel just as the bus pulled up for our 6 AM departure to the airport. 

After a quick 90 minute flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Da Nang, to our surprise, we hopped right onto a bus and headed to the remarkable Marble Mountains for a hike. With the steps carved into the mountainside, although rather daunting at first, the hike to the top is anything but ordinary. 

The 360-degree views around the mountain are spectacular and photo ops are plentiful from the stunning pagodas, caves, and trails we explored. We stopped quite often to soak in the sights and awe at the various Buddhist shrines and carvings on the 156-step walk up. 

The ancient statues, temples, and altars in the stone are said to provide spiritual guidance to those who visit and while I do not necessarily consider myself a very religious person, it was truly an ethereal experience to have seen it up close. 

During the day, after our two-hour hike, we had the privilege of lunching at a local beachfront hostel-restaurant, Hoa’s Place known for hosting American and Vietnamese veterans. At Hoa’s, while enjoying some traditional food, we also met Mr. David Clark. 

Clark is an American veteran who lives in Da Nang and is an active member of Veterans for Peace. Veterans for Peace is an organization that seeks to expose the true costs of militarism while advocating for a culture of peacemaking. 

We learned that Clark and his Vietnamese wife, Ushi, participate by raising money for young victims of Agent Orange and supporting efforts to remove the unexploded bombs that still remain beneath the soil decades later.

Later that night, we ventured into the ancient town of Hoi An for dinner drinks. 

While Hoi An is a gorgeously-preserved islet and has received the classification of a UNESCO World Heritage site, many of the incredible streetscapes with Japanese, Vietnamese, and Chinese inspired buildings have been converted into bars, restaurants, galleries, and stores adorned with colorful silk lanterns giving it a contemporary feel. 

The whole group ate together at a local Vietnamese-fusion restaurant, Mango Mango, owned by celebrity chef Duc Tran, whose travels heavily influence his cooking. After a few yummy cocktails and appetizers courtesy of Duc, we devoured delicious one-of-a-kind dishes and desserts like prawns grilled in a passion fruit, butter-garlic sauce and a mango flambé with coconut sauce.

To conclude the night, a few friends and I explored Hoi An’s nightlife before heading back to the hotel.

In my opinion, much of what we saw this day and even our time at Mango Mango encapsulated the beauty of present-day Vietnam, traditional with a twist. Despite the external influences, natives throughout the country have stuck to their heritage and the traditions they grew up on. What seems like a juxtaposition of the old and new worlds translates to a beautiful blend of history and modern charm that captures not only the eyes but the heart as well.

     – Alexis Morales

Jan. 9, 2020
Location: Hoi An
Day 7 of trip

Some of my favorite experiences abroad have happened while interacting with the local people — and it was no different in Vietnam. But on this day, I also felt a connection to my craft I had never felt before.

The day started off with a beautiful yet challenging bike ride in Hoi An. 

See the funny thing is, I didn’t know how to ride a bike — don’t worry I’ve learned since then — so riding through the narrow streets of Vietnam where motorbikes and people are everywhere was interesting to say the least. But luckily for me, I had my friend Ed to watch my back while homegirl pedaled her life away. 

On the side of the road was the kindest rice field worker who allowed us to pet and ride his water bull. If I’m being honest, I think that experience was as joyful for him as it was for us. He even let us photograph him. 

A mile down the road, we entered a local farming area where we got to meet several farmworkers. One of them even let us plow through the soil of his lettuce garden. He seemed pretty happy, so I think we did a good job. 

Stumbling upon a small shelter, we enjoyed a delicious Vietnamese drink to refresh us before our ride back home. But as much as I loved our afternoon adventure in Hoi An, the evening had to be my favorite part.

Adrienne and I were doing a story on the fishing villages in Vietnam. We had the honor of interviewing two fishermen and asked them what it was like spending half of their life at sea. 

Em, a 60-year-old fisherman, allowed us to accompany him on his nightly fishing trip where he spent hours fishing, hoping to have enough to sell to local restaurants in the morning. Filming his journey was an epic moment. 

Sitting in the middle of the river on a boat, only seeing him through the faint far away headlight and sound of his paddle hitting the boat, I recorded him. It was an experience like no other. 

I oddly felt very free and at peace. I think it was because after filming I sat there taking in the experience and picturing myself doing something like this for years to come — you know, like a travel journalist. 

Till this day, I hold that moment close and think about it when I lack motivation. It inspires me to keep thriving for that dream of one day being able to travel the world and document people and their cultures. But if that wasn’t inspiration enough, I think about the lovely family we met that night. 

With a bowl filled with her dinner, the daughter of a fishing lady came out of her house to hand feed us all. It was honestly a very beautiful moment. With almost nothing left for herself she happily stood there in the middle of the street making sure each one of us had a bite.

Those sweet souls you meet when traveling are what make the experience. They are the reasons behind my favorite memories and the reason why I fell in love with Vietnam.

     – Neidy Gutierrez

Jan. 10, 2020
Location: Hoi An
Day 8 of trip

The bright lights from the beautiful bustling streets filled the air as I walked around Hoi An. 

Everywhere you looked, there were friendly faces from people in their shops to the many activities that filled the area. 

What stood out from all this eye aweing scenery was the music — and it became my favorite experience in Vietnam. 

Everywhere we went from Ho Chi Minh to Hoi An, each place had their own musical aspect, but in Hoi An there was a place tourists could go to learn how to sing along to one of Vietnam’s traditional songs. 

I took my shoes off, and sat down after being greeted by a woman and her family whose faces were filled with bright smiles. 

She began to sing a beautiful melody that brought me pure joy as I tried to learn each line, making sure to pause and allow me to slowly get the hang of it — considering the song was in Vietnamese. 

After realizing I was having a bit of trouble, she proceeded to take out a piece of paper, writing the lyrics down for me, singing each line and emphasizing the fluctuations in the notes. 

To this day, I keep that paper with me as a memory of my experience and the day I overcame my fear of singing in front of strangers. 

What made this experience stand out to me was the connection I was able to make with the woman and her family, and the unforgettable footage, photos and memory that came with it. 

Unlike just listening to the music, singing alongs allows you to engage in a way that is very personal — and for me, someone who has loved singing and music since I was a child, it felt like so much more. 

And after finally completing the entire verse, I felt so accomplished. Not only had I just sang a song in a language that I had no knowledge of, but I felt like I understood the meaning behind the song.

The complexity of the diverse notes was jaw dropping and the singer executed every single one flawlessly. I became in touch with the Vietnamese music style and it made all my future experiences listening to the Vietnamese singers more authentic. 

If I could go back to that day, I would relive that moment a million times over — but for now, it will live in my heart as the best experience that I’ve not only had in Vietnam, but with the art of vocalizing and traditional Vietnamese music.

   – Victoria Bishop-Smith


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