Sightings – The Vietnam edition

Going back through old travel photos is always a great way to burn a couple of hours. Long forgotten memories are instantly brought back sharp as day, as the pixels on your computer monitor instantly transport you back to a time and place where you were just that little bit more free and living a little closer to the edge than you do in your day-to-day life. Just re-reading that sentence, I sound like an old man reminiscing on days gone by. But no, these shots are just from 2008. I was barely 20, and it was my first overseas trip – a four week visit to my sister and brother-in-law who were working in Saigon for a year. They got some time off, and we headed all over the countryside and into Cambodia on an odyssey of discovery. Well, at least it was for me.

I had no DSLR or real interest in photography, and Any Given Reason wouldn’t be thought of for another three years. Even though I just bought a cheap Pentax snapshot camera before I departed, taking photos of the cars I saw just seemed natural. I guess the seed was there, even back then. Here are a few of my discoveries.

The Bentley in the lead photo and this Rolls Royce Phantom were both on display at a dealership just around the corner from where my sister was living in Saigon. It was quite funny because they had a strict no photo rule. After being denied, I went back at about 10pm that night, just to discover that the dealership was paying a group of locals to sit outside all night and stop people from taking photos. I managed to snap a few frames before legging it away down the street. Being a tall caucasian does have its advantages sometimes; they didn’t stop me.

I found the juxtaposition of these super-luxury cars in Vietnam fascinating. Here, on one hand is a finely sculpted piece of automotive engineering – the Phantom is as close to perfection as you’ll find. Yet it just looks so out of place driving down a potholed road, street vendors lining the sides and motorbikes whizzing by. It was like a moment of calm in a sea of utter chaos.

The local Suzuki dealership had P.G Andersson’s Super 1600 JWRC Suzuki Swift on display. It was the only racecar I saw for a month, the first time that had happened in a while.

To my great surprise I actually managed to find the Fiat dealership. The people in Vietnam were amongst the universally friendliest I’ve met, but the staff at this dealership took it to another level. I tried to explain to the salesman how I owned a Fiat back in Australia, but he hardly spoke a word of English and just smiled and laughed a lot, I didn’t think he understood anything I had said. But then he left and said something in Vietnamese to the receptionist, who a little while later came up to me and gave me a Fiat cap, with ‘Mekong Auto’ embroidered on the back. It’s one of my most treasured souvenirs, and has pride of place on my shelf.

Some of you may have seen the excellent Top Gear Vietnam special, and as it turns out I only missed them by a few days. The new Fiat 500 had only just been launched and ironically this was the first one I saw, and the staff at Mekong Auto told me (in very broken English) that they only had it for 4 days until it continued on its tour of Asia. Top Gear visited Mekong Auto and actually showed a shot of this very car in the final film, so they must have been there within a few days of my visit.

Here’s James May walking around the same 500 with his shoebox of Vietnamese Dong.

Mekong were also dealers for the Korean P.M.C (Pyeonghwa Motors). Is it just me, or is there more than a subtle hint of the Toyota Prado in their Pronto DX II?

Same same. But different.

There’s a definite reference to the Chevrolet Silverado in the front of the Premio Max, and the side doors look almost as if they’re straight off an Isuzu D-Max/Holden Rodeo. Strange days.

Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.

It’s all about context, really. An E60 looks almost normal in Adelaide, but quite out of place in downtown Hanoi.

So here’s to the next trip, to taking photos and to revisiting them in years to come!

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1 Comment

  1. Tom Gilbert August 13, 2012 Reply

    Excellent post.. I too have enjoyed traveling in Asia and the poverty is always confronting. Possibly less so when viewed from inside a Rolls Royce Phantom!

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