travel writing: impressions of saigon

my notes from vietnam in 2009.

v1the streets of saigon.

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mekong river.

P1060843 copybamboos on the mekong.

v7traditional place of worship, just a few hours away from the capital.

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vietnamese pagoda, saigon.

The wind blew hard as we exited the Ho Chi Minh International Airport, but I didn’t feel it. I felt the looks of the strangers standing in the heat; sweat dripping from their faces. From afar, a smell touched my nose. It was a smell I knew very well, but couldn’t identify. Warm air hugged me and from that point, all my thoughts were to be focused on a non-existent cold swimming pool. For the rest of the trip the most frequent indulgence would be a steaming bowl of pho.

Rice-paper making, coconut tasting and riding across the Mekong River are only a few of my favorite experiences. I loved walking around Saigon during free hours, alone, enjoying the sounds of the streets and its potential dangers of hundreds of motorbikes and small number of Vespas. It became a hobby trying to spot them in the busy traffic flow.

Poverty and simplicity of Vietnamese people’s lives is heart-breaking and silencing. It does not allow for complaints and cries when in need of something. Children living less than for $2 a day. Hundreds of them. Lack of hygiene and luxurious towers contrasted by streets shops selling original French baguettes. Complex Chinese characters were replaced by Latin alphabet and six indicators of tones generations ago. I spent three days out of a week with children from the Christina Noble Children’s Foundation. This experience allowed for a new perspective to be put in my eyes and mind, with realisation what it means to be stripped off of life-enriching possibilities, which I, as an international student, am served on silver plates every day.

It was joyful to spend a day with orphanages at local water park. For a whole afternoon I allowed myself to be a part of something greater than my insignificant life, as I held a child by hand and helped him to climb up a ladder. Being with children made me go back to my own childhoods and enjoy myself in silly games with balls and water pistols. Buying a lunch for someone whose name I can’t pronounce felt only natural and nobody stopped for a second to think about it. Giving gifts, no longer wanted, to them was the biggest gift of all. No matter how irrelevant and uninteresting it felt to everyone.

The hardest and the longest hours seemed to have been with visually impaired children where the touch and sound were only means of communication. But looking at it now, it comes to me that those moments were the ones I will remember the most. They were rare and new. Never before have I met a group of people more willing to learn from me than the children who could not see.

Each day brought us harsh moments as well as refreshing ones, which made me wish to stay in Vietnam for a lifetime. Each experience pushed forward and motivated me in stretching my full potential even further. I would like to be able to go back in a few years and enjoy Vietnam as a more developed country than what it is now.

all rights reserved 2009 (c) sara tomovic.

days like these will kill me

central, hong kong. 9.32 am.

I haven’t been to central area this early for a while. since last year probably. in the morning queen’s road central is different. quieter, somehow. businessmen going up to their chilled out offices on high levels; everybody holding a fresh paper cup of starbucks; heels clicking and red taxi lines along the street edges. every time I walk past the center I feel a little sting by the heart. today was particularly bad. I am tired of having more bad days than good days. cold, rainy, dreary and grey days. I can barely function. freshness of the air in the morning only reminds me of what no longer is reality. those mornings in soho, which I had grown to love were just a lick of something I would never have. and it’s not that I am lingering in the past. it’s the expectations of the future would be like that are killing me. one day a time. I keep reminding myself of this, but it doesn’t help. nothing seems to help.

kowloon tong, hong kong. 6.07 pm.

I have been awake for more than twelve hours now; with the day barely halfway through. by the time I leave work it will be half past nine. it’s been raining all day, which results in continuous darkness and overcast. grey coat covers the city and I am having trouble staying awake, or being focused. or anything. I am counting the minutes, the hours, the days. until something changes. it horrifies me when I think about all the ideas that I never had a chance to realize. or even just note down. I dream of a freelancer’s life. I dream of a beach house, spacious rooms filled with books, daybeds and images from my travels around the world. I dream of being on the road, with a backpack on my back and a camera on my neck. I dream of the boy’s home; of coffee plantations and lake tanganyika. I dream. a quick reality check reminds me of where I actually am. but the dreams are the only thing that keeps me keeping on. three hours to go.


Copyright Masikaimage taken from

I love this photograph.

it has so many effects on me. I stare at it. I look at it. I cannot draw my eyes away. the vibrant colors, the texture. the red of the beans. her hands. they are so rough, yet they look like hands of a mother. even though I am not sure if she is a mother.

it’s not because it has something to do with congo. or because I am always researching and frantically reading the UN news. it’s not all because of that. sometimes I can just relate to the people and their culture the way I never thought I would, despite all the negative. and there’s a whole lot of negative. but then come the good news, and we ease up a little bit. of course, we cannot know what is going to happen. perhaps, march 23 of next year will show. but until then, I am looking at beautiful images from the region. listening to remarkable music and putting all the bad aside.

I am simply trying to see the beauty I know is there. or maybe it’s because I was just too young to know back then, so I am trying to make up for something. that doesn’t make sense, really, even though it did cross my mind and it’s more than upsetting.

march 26


hong kong island. shot from 62th floor of the immigration tower.

today is cold, dreary and grey. it’s dark and gloomy and I am trying to stay focused on my work, even though the only thing I would like to do right now is cuddle up with the boy, put on a good film or music and drift in and out sleep. transition from winter into summer is the worst. there is not much of winter or spring in hong kong to speak of; the period until real summer arrives is the worst.

a few of my sources of inspiration for today and this week in general:

+ a homemade strawberry & banana smoothie with the perfect cup of coffee for breakfast this morning. I am trying to make a smoothie every morning now. it takes five minutes, it’s delicious and healthy. I am definitely going to try some of these.

+ I am watching this video over and over again. just fight away the blues.

+ this sentence: “i sit across the street from the house i grew up in. but the place i grew up in doesn’t live there anymore.” from habit by tara.

+ global glimpses by my muse anja mutic. if somebody asks me, what would I want my life to be like, it’s her life.

+ reading an article about work/life balance kind of puts things into perspective.

+ these images by julia trotti. I have two photography book projects on my mind. more of work in progress, really. I am collecting images, taking notes, preparing a timeline for the next few months. I want to travel more and I want to make money by traveling. I found this helpful as well: advice on branding

+ I feel you, Brian. I feel you.

+ everydayafrica instagram feed. one day, one day. and soon, too.

+ two posts from two different bloggers from india. here and here.

+ zadie smith’s 10 rules of writing. I simply love her.

+ chinua achebe’s death broke my heart. he was one of my favorite authors and inspirations. I am revisiting his things fall apart and planning to read the rest of his books soon. I never got around to it and it’s sad that he needed to die first in order for me to remember.

+ last night we finally had some time to ourselves, without interruptions. two hundred dollars were nothing in comparison. mong kok was quiet and deserted due to a tiny rain. we had the streets to ourselves. walking around, holding hands, laughing so hard there was an echo behind us. he found his favorite bottle of heineken, it’s a growing collection now. one of my favorite nights in a while.

+ good luck with the picture. I absolutely adore sean penn. even more now.

+ and finally some good news.

volume twenty-nine: dubai

strange wanderlust came over me this afternoon. so I went looking through my photography folders and found these images from dubai once again. I’ve shared them before and they’ve appeared on flickr and other platforms a numerous times, but never here.


two men // dome cafe.


a shopping mall // palms.


Burj Al Arab.


two men walking // regular buildings in dubai.


a mosque // details.


different angles.

copyright (c) sara tomovic. 2008.