Ah Vietnam…I’ll preface this post by saying yes I know we didn’t explore the entire expanse of Vietnam, but that’s the beauty of our show.. We’ll come back and tackle more unique content here! A Vietnam Part II, maybe even a III! What we wanted to focus in this episode is the people of Vietnam. More specifically, the women.. And our city to explore was Hanoi. We wanted you to get into their shoes and experience their narrative, literally, from their perspective. The tandem bike really was the perfect way to showcase that.
Before I rolled in, the crew was already in town working on the first segment (textile industry) and gathering general b-roll shots. There was supposed to be a meatier segment on the textile industry, but I trimmed that entire segment – enough to give you an idea of the industry and set the premise for the joke! The awesome Christopher Columbus explorer outfit designed by Kelsey Kay Crampton was an absolute hit. The reveal and the inside joke was universally received and we also had a blast rolling around the city on the tandem with our unassuming passengers. Its quite difficult carrying heavy backpacks, cameras, and then putting your entire faith in the pilot of the bicycle, weaving through Hanoi’s gnarly traffic! Exhibit A, this video! Jonny was way superior in riding the tandem bike, I always had the closest calls when Dante rode it, so we fired him from that duty.
All jokes aside, it was a revelation shuttling around on the tandem bicycle. Chancing upon curiosities such as the spit roasted dog (pictured here
). Meandering from the main road into little alleys that took you into secretive coffee houses. Man, that egg coffee was a treat! Inconspicuous alleyways with supremely friendly locals gesturing us by, and of course the indelible Vietnam war (Or American wars as known locally) relics, woven into the lives of the Vietnamese. The sights, smells, sounds, were really absorbed better on a bicycle. I would highly highly recommend you to do the same thing we did!
Besides the war memorial site, the most interesting thing we chanced upon was the b17 crash site in a random neighborhood. The b17 fuselage and landing gear was never recovered and has become a landmark for the local residents. Juxtaposed next to the b17 cafe. I’m sort of paraphrasing Anthony Bourdain’s take on Vietnam, but there is something really magical about the place and you only experience it when you ingratiate yourself with the locals. Our guide Hoan was an absolute delight to work with!
Hoan Kiem lake was a treat, a peaceful little lake surrounded by a lot of greenery and nicely paved bike and walk paths. It’s a welcome break from the frenetic hustle of the city. We showcased the story of the giant turtle, which was an awesome segue into our next, snakes! Or snake consumption that is.. Now this was a delicate matter to translate on tv. Personally, I’m a believer that we are the apex predator in the cycle of life, and therefore, if it provides nutrition, its gotta die. I’m a voracious carnivore! And so is Jonathan. In Vietnam, snake consumption has moved off the menus of the plebeians and onto the plates of the wealthy. We wanted to showcase this dining experience so we wondered just a little bit outside Hanoi and found the snake village. 80USD for the entire 10 dish cobra meal. They were brandishing the snake as we walked in and communicated our intentions. The snake was already de-fanged, and once we were ready to film, they instantly decapitated it, zipped it open – separating out the heart and the bile duct /organs. The head was kept as a showpiece, while the spewing blood was mixed with Hanoi vodka. Same goes for the bile, which was punctured by a needle; watching that bile oozing out was visually spectacular, but I felt the precursor of some of my own bile about to erupt into my mouth.
With an open mind and stomach, we got the smorgasbord of snake-festivities. They used, literally every part of the animal, the blood, the meat, the bile, even the bones! Everything except the head, that is. I signaled to Jonny that we need to hammer on the fact on camera that this is what the Vietnamese eat, and that we’re doing the animal justice by consuming everything. We made a healthy dent into it, wouldn’t recommend the bile shots, but it wasn’t as bad as I feared. I’ve never seen this full 10 course meal on tv so i’m hoping we’re pioneers when it came to showcasing the cobra meal. There was nothing spurious about our appreciation, long live the reptiles!
Speaking of food, Pho, as tasty as it is, isn’t really enough food for bonafide meata-tarians such as ourselves. No matter how much we ate during our meals, we would always get hungry within an hour or two. We’d stroll out of our hotel and find the proper local joints that would still stay open at late night, and eat with the locals. I really enjoyed that experience but I sure did wish I had more meat… Anything.. Even cobra!
About 4 days pass and by now we’ve got 4-5 passengers on the tandem bike, got their narrative, and it was so much fun to film around the city! I’m especially proud of the broll shots of people’s reactions when they saw Jonny bike past them on his explorer outfit – the best one being when he passes the 4 military guys doing the march. Motorcycling in Vietnam felt like being a fish swimming along with it’s school. You felt part of the collective group, you could hear conversations, observe daily emotions, it was a very connected experience. One of the best cities to scooty around or bike around, for sure.
Jonny brought up the idea of this one village that is famous for it’s embroidery work on traditional Vietnamese costumes. At first blush, it sounded kind of bland, but the idea was that he would trade his outfit with one of theirs. Forget bland, this was gold! A hilarious end to a joke that was crafted at the very beginning of the episode, perfect! Lets go to this village! So we hopped on this open backed tricycle-esque truck thing that took us about an hour outside of the city. Yes we cheated a little, it was out of biking distance (insider info!) and finding this village was a mission in its own right. Our driver took us to this spot, and bailed for lunch, taking our production gear with him. After a 15 min long panic session, he finally came back from his claimed lunch. Gear was alright, whew! So we began the segment, got our shots, and as usual kids found their way into our scene, like they do on most of our staged scenes. All in all, it was a cool experience coming to this village, and it was even a cooler experience driving back to Hanoi on the back of our tricycle-truck hybrid. I sort of wish we filmed from this as the reaction we got from people looking back at the 3 of us, explorer outfit, tandem bicycle and all, were worth capturing.
We wrapped the Columbus outfit segment, and visited the snake topic again. Where do these snakes come from? That lead us a little farther outside of town – a hilarious story finding this place as we had no guide working with us at this point in time. So we enlisted our cabbie to find the supposed village, Vinh Son. We rolled in, and it was almost like a ghost town. Somehow, word got out and we found a little house that bred the snakes. We roll in and negotiations began. They wanted roughly 50USD for about 20 min of entertaining us with the snakes. At the drop of a hat, the small panels on the grounds were flipped open and 2 snakes were whipped out. 2 gigantic, big ass cobras!
Jonny monkeyed around with the snakes for a bit. Then it was my turn, as I got some close up shots with a go pro mounted on the monopod. I was sure the cobra would try to bite as the camera approached it, and sure enough, it struck with thunderous ferocity. Both the go pro and the monopod was drenched in venom by strike 4. I figured I had pushed my luck enough, and that was that! As we were wrapping the segment, the handlers asked us if we wanted to see the biggest cobra we’d ever witness. Sounded interesting, but to see it, would cost us a pretty penny. At this point, we were tired of all the prior negotiations, we had already gotten our segment, so we decided to pass on the offer. We were slaked out (as the Vietnamese say).
By now we’ve got a healthy amount of roll time – One more segment was planned, for buffer reasons. We didn’t have to venture out too far to get it. Tam coc is an easy bus ride away from Hanoi. We arrive at this picturesque little spot, grab dinner, and turn in for the night. Something about this place was unique, I sensed it! Maybe it was the lack of traffic noise, etc. but the gorgeous vistas that welcomed us the following morning made me realize what I was sensing the night before. I busted out the tele lens as our boatman took us deeper into the river. Passing really beautiful lush country, idle fishermen, water buffalo, and the wildlife starting to get more exotic. Migratory birds soaking in rays atop trees, mountain goats scaling insanely high cliffs, it was just pure poetry in motion.
So once we got to the end of our boat ride, the idea was to relax and soak in the views, take a little break. But what actually happens is that you get hoarded by sales ladies offering a huge variety of drinks, snacks, collectibles, trinkets and the lot. This was yet another way to explore the ‘women at work’ theme we’ve been covering in this episode. Jonny would be the sales assistant for these boisterous ladies and it’d be a light hearted segment. Now even though most of the tourists were Westerners, Jonny could not hook a single customer. His sales-man routine yielded in absolutely zero sales, but it was still a hilarious segment seeing him beg and grovel with the tourists. In the end, we had to cut this but I just thought i’d share this on the blog to show you the visuals. If you’re in Hanoi, definitely venture out to Tam Coc and head out for the morning markets. It’s touristy, but you’ll appreciate the gorgeous vistas.
All in all, it was a really fun experience to film and produce this episode. Lovely people, great food, brilliant vistas – I still smile everytime I see footage from Vietnam and I can’t wait to produce another episode, exploring a different part of the country. I really look forward to that day.