Sounds from Vietnam

This is a post of a different nature. I'm trying to write more often here on this blog than I have in the past, so although this is not about my music I hope you'll find it interesting nonetheless.

I went to Vietnam with Annie in March for 10 days. It was my first time in Asia. I began in Singapore for a week-long conference for work (I don't do music full time yet!), and then Annie met me in Singapore and we traveled to Northern Vietnam. 

We had the idea to record sounds of our trip on our iPhones apart from the usual picture-taking and journaling. Below you'll find the sounds we recorded, as well as little stories about each sound. I hope you enjoy!

As I mentioned, our travels actually began in Singapore. Singapore has wonderful food, and there was a restaurant in the Little India district called Komala Villas (Map) where we had lunch before our flight to Vietnam. It was very authentic, we ate with no silverware, and the food was delicious. This first sound isn't much as we were still getting the hang of it, but if you wait until the end you can hear me praise mango lassis!

Our first few days were spent in Hanoi (Map), the capital of Vietnam. One of the daily noises as we explored the town were various speeches coming from outdoor loudspeakers that were mounted on electricity poles. We would often wake to the sound of them from our hotel room, where this recording was taken from. They were an interesting reminder that we were traveling in a proudly communist country, although we had no idea what the loudspeaker speeches were saying, so maybe they were just poems about love!

Once or twice, we heard these loudspeakers play music, and then it made me want them in the US! This recording was also taken from our hotel room with the window open, and you can hear street sounds mixed in as well.

Speaking of street sounds, Hanoi's streets are about as far away from quiet as you can get, at almost all times of the day. The streets are very busy, clogged primarily by mopeds, pedestrians, bicycles, and the occasional car. At least this is the case in the Old Quarter, where we spent most of our time. There are plenty of cars and buses and trucks in other parts of Vietnam, but there are always tons of mopeds. One night we went to this excellent restaurant where we sat on the 3rd floor with open-air windows looking out into the street. This recording mixes the chaos of the street with the chatter of people in the restaurant quite nicely.

We left Hanoi after a few days and traveled into the Central Northern part of the country, a place with almost no tourists. We had a bit of an adventure on two buses and a moto-taxi ride through the countryside, but we eventually arrived at a serene Thac Ba Lake (Map) and the La Vie Vu Linh ecolodge. The lodge was run by young locals, who were our age and very laid back. There were only two other guests at the lodge besides ourselves, a nice French couple. The lodge's sleeping quarters did not have traditional rooms, but had mattresses in mosquito nets because the thatched-roof lodge was not completely enclosed. Thus, one night it rained and Annie recorded this sound from our bed, where you could see the rain falling on the lake. 

The best experiences at La Vie Vu Linh were definitely the two dinners we enjoyed there. As there are no restaurants and hardly a town nearby, all meals are eaten at the lodge. A few staff members take turns cooking dinner for the whole camp, staff and guests alike. And staff and guests eat dinner together, seated on pillows on the floor of the lodge, overlooking the lake. The food was wonderful and it was amazing to get to know all of these different people. The first dinner our French friends were there, so there was English, French, and Vietnamese being spoken and listened to at the dinner. This recording is from our second night when it was just us and the staff. At both dinners rice wine was served by dipping small shot glasses into plastic tupperwares of the sake-tasting drink, and shots were taken by clinking glasses, drinking, and then shaking everyone's hands around the table and saying "thank you" in a language we were not able to ascertain the name of, but we're pretty sure was not Vietnamese. You can hear a man sing-saying "Hao Mee Doo" at the beginning of this recording; that is the "thank you" we all said after each shot of rice wine (and there were many!). If you listen closely, you may be able to pick out the bong-like sound of a man smoking a Vietnamese tobacco pipe near the end.

Unfortunately, we were not very disciplined with our sound recordings, so the next two locations in our trip get sort of skipped-over. We do have some sound of a bunch of drunk Irish dudes singing loudly to their favorite songs in a café at 7am (they had not yet gone to sleep from partying the night before), and Annie recorded me singing in the shower while we were in a hotel on Cat Ba island (Map). You can click the links and go listen to them but I wished we had recordings to listen to from the rain and fog of Sapa (Map), the rattling night train back to Hanoi, or the sounds of the sea from Cat Ba Island. I do have a video of the day we spend moped-ing around the island, which was a lot of fun: 

Our last day or two of the trip was spent in Hanoi again. On our very last day we took a cooking class where we learned to make a few vietnamese dishes such as Pho Bo. The chef also took us in a Pedicab ride to an open-air market, where we tried a few dishes from vendors and bought some ingredients for our meal. I took the above sound in a moving pedicab, and you can hear the loudspeaker again (this time attached to a bicycle moving down the street), some roosters, the sound of traffic, and the bells that the pedicab drivers rang.

I feel like I could build a song around this last sound. The chef teaching our cooking class showed us how he minces pork: on a big thick circular cutting board, with two meat cleavers, one in each hand. My days as a drummer did not help me when I tried to make the same sound cutting the meat, as handling the knives was very different from handling drum sticks. 

I hope this gave you a nice aural picture of our time in Vietnam, and I encourage people to try this on their own adventures! It is really interesting how your experience changes when you are looking for sounds rather than looking for pictures to take. You notice things in ways you may not have noticed them if you were thinking about them primarily through your eyes and only secondarily through your ears.