Vietnam, Cambodia - Jan/Feb 2024



In the beginning of the year, I went to Vietnam and Cambodia. From travelling alone to visiting family, I took pictures with my phone every day and wherever I went to document and capture the experience of this time. This built up a basis for posters and data visualisation to express my perception and feelings that somehow can relate the story of my family and my origins.

Transit timetableTransportation timetable. This abstract visualisation aims to represent the connection between cities all over the world that made my trip on a weekly schedule (similar to a bus line).





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Hà Nội

13-19.01

The plane landed at Nội Bài airport on a Sunday afternoon. I recall the warmth, the misty mood and the humidity that caught me. And it felt good. I felt flagrant smells that instantly brought back emotional memories from a long time ago. Vietnam has an unique olfactory landscape that I can’t forget. Not only in fruits but also in flowers and herbs, everywhere melted together with barbecue smoke, incense from pagodas, with humidity and dust from non-stop constructions.

I took a motorbike ride from the airport to reach my hotel located in Ba Đình district, close to Trúc Bạch lake. Seated behind the driver, I could observe the ballet of scooter driving. Traffic lanes separate, follow curves, turn corners, and move along in utter confusion. It is an extraordinary form of swarm intelligence. Like fishes swimming in the same direction, everything goes with the flow and doesn’t interfere with the movement of the crowd; I was simply amazed by the beauty of order amongst the chaos. 








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Huế

19-21.01

Huế was the royal capital of Vietnam for approximately 150 years (1802–1945) under the Nguyễn Dynasty. The imperial court practiced various religions such as Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. Kings were obsessed with the idea of the physical resting place for the afterlife. Therefore, Huế is full of majestic royal tombs and impressive monasteries. 

Purple is the color of Huế and it stems from the belief that in a hot zone, purple becomes a cool and elegant color which looks not sad, but smiling. It is not too profound like the smell of jasmine, but delicate like the smell of orchid which is ordinary and tender.








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Hô Chi Minh City

22-23.01

I met my parents, my great uncle and aunt who had been already there for a few days.

My mother was born and raised in Sài Gòn (the former name of Hô Chi Minh City prior the formal reunification of Vietnam into the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in 1975). She fled the war at the age of 14 and was unable to come back for over 30 years. I remember our first trip to Vietnam in 2004 and my mother’s anxiety about returning to the country she had fled. We went to see her house, which miraculously survived the bombing. It had been turned into a scooter garage; my mother insisted on going in. On another trip, we went back and it had become a Japanese restaurant. The next time we went: a karaoke bar. True to this ritual, my mother continues to visit her house (or what’s left to it) every time she comes to Vietnam. Today, there’s almost nothing left: it is now an investment bank.

While the official name of the city is Hô Chi Minh City, the name Sài Gòn holds a significant cultural significance for my mother and for many people in Vietnam. 

The city has two names and it continues to be a strong part of its cultural identity today, that translates the historical and emotional attachment.










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Hà Tiên 

26-30.01


After a few days visiting Long Xuyên and Châu Đốc, we reached Hà Tiên, the town bordering Cambodia. Hà Tiên was so special to me. I was enchanted by its unique identity. It is part of the Melkong Delta but lies on the Gulf of Thailand. The city, which played a signifcant role during the French colonial period, developed and saw a rise in European influence.

From Hà Tiên it is possible to reach the island of Phú Quốc by boat. Now that Phú Quốc has had its own airport since 2012, tourism is on the rise on the island at the expense of Hà Tiên. Depsite the province’s efforts to boost tourism, many hotels are empty and houses are used as cages for breeding swiftlets, birds closely related to swallows.

And perhaps, it is this melting pot that captivates me. I was delighted by the light, the right color match on houses, its geometric shapes, the vintage look of ‘90s hotels, the cooling breeze from the sea, river and hills throughout the day and the bustling central market combined with delicious streetfood. There’s a good balance of new and old, charming and raw, natural and urban, left-alone and developed.












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Kampot 

26-30.01

Kampot is a charming city in Southern Cambodia where French influence is still present in colonial architecture and salt farming that uses the same technique as in Guérande. It is located 50 kilometers from Vietnam.

Culture and traditions are similar, but not quite the same. In South Cambodia, Cambodian food is similar to Vietnamese food. In South Vietnam, Vietnamese food is similar to Camdodian food.

My second name is Vietnamese and is Bích Liên which means “Jade waterlilly” and I believe this has keenly influenced my affection for plants and flowers, especially tropical ones because of their vibrant colors and prominent smells. I love to find the perfect match between their colors and textures with the surrounding environment.











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Phnom Penh 

05.02-06.02


I asked my great uncle about the relationship between Vietnam and Cambodia and he told me they have an ambiguous one that dates back to a bitter past. This was the feeling I had by talking with local guides but I didn’t dare express it. Although Vietnam may have defeated the Khmer Rouge when it entered Cambodia in 1979, many Khmer still view the Vietnamese march on Phnom Penh as an invasion, not a liberation. This contentious relationship started long before the rise of communism in both countries with the unclear common land and maritime borders that have been source of tensions since the Vietnamese southward territorial expansion started in the 16th century.

I am travelling alone again, just for a few hours in Phnom Penh before going back to Paris, while my parents went back to Hô Chi Minh City for last purchases and goodbyes. I wanted to see the Mekong River for one last time. That river soothes me. It's a mix of calm and bustle, with fishermen's boats skimming past ferries carrying hundreds of scooters. I also believe it's representative of the current and past conflicts that punctuate the region. The river flows through six countries: each of them seeks to defend its own interests, but they must also unite to protect themselves from outside aggressors.

I took a ferry boat to cross the river and watch the sunset over it, and it was the best way to round off my trip in style. The next day, I am flying back to Paris to celebrate Tết (the Vietnamese New Year) with family in France. Chúc mừng năm mới !















Data visualisation


Drawing data to tell a story: from the number of people I have talked to while travelling alone to my personal food experiences and activities I did while travelling between different cities.







 

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