Part 4: John Doan’s Southeast Asia Tour – Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam – From Mopeds to life in City Parks, to Posing with a Model, to Resourceful Street Vendors, from the former President’s Palace to a Rooster on the Street

1.Vietnam a Century Ago



Vietnam a century ago was occupied by the French but still retained many of its former traditions.



2.Vietnam a Century Ago



The Dan Nguyet or “Moon Guitar” was a popular instrument played in Vietnam before guitars were introduced in the 20th century.






3. Memories of By Gone DaysMoon guitars can still be seen today in Vietnam hanging on the back walls of antique stores like a memory of a distant time.

I came to Vietnam with my dear friend Tinh Mahoney, who is an amazing musician and film maker, to learn more about his life and about the amazing people who live here, to travel among them, to soak in the beauty of the countryside, write some musical sketches and perhaps to even introduce the harp guitar to the Vietnamese in the 21st century.


4. Arrive to Motorcycles in the Streets

When I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City under the light of a full moon I saw a youthful and vigorous people zipping about on mopeds.


5. Neon Signs of Ho Chi Minh City

Not only did everything look exotic to me on the neon lit streets, there were smells in the air that seemed distinctly Vietnamese!


6. Morning the City Wakes Early

Upon waking the next morning to the sounds of busy streets, honking horns, and mopeds accelerating past, I could not resist yelling out “GOOD MORNING VIETNAM!”


8. From Window of Cab Couple on Motorcycle

During our cab ride into the city I rolled down the window and took this photo of a couple on a moped right next to us.  With a great sense of humor and a welcoming glance they smiled for the camera.


9. Antique Dealer making Delivery

I felt like I was in a flow of humanity that was whizzing past on motor bikes with all sorts of strapped-on cargo from brief cases to thousand year old vases.


10. Motorcycle Parking


Once out of the cab it became apparent to me that all available parking was crammed with mopeds for as far as the eye could see.


11. Girls in the Park


Downtown, while walking through a park, the city seemed so alive with its people busy with the important activities of life.



12. Wedding Photos in the Park


If they weren’t primping to attract a would-be-suitor some were having photos taken for their wedding.




13. Kids in the Park


Tinh was my guide into the culture of Vietnam. He encouraged me to strike up a conversation with a group of young students who might like an opportunity to speak English.



14. Kids on the Street

Young people around the city welcomed me and my request to take their picture.  They were all smiles, filled with laughter and an unabashed hopefulness for peace in the world. What a difference 40 years can make.  How much easier is it to share a smile than a sad memory.



15. Photo Session on the Street


On one street a model was posing for a photo shoot.





16. Breaking into Photo Session


I don’t know what came over me when I asked if I could pose with the model myself.  I think she thought I was a big time movie producer, fashion agent, or famous musician and that I might be her ticket to fame.  I told her I would do what I could to promote her and so I included her here in my blog post (I am embarrassed to say that I forgot to get her card).



17. Open for Business from Motorcycle





Vietnamese are incredibly resourceful and entrepreneurial.  This lady skidded into this parking spot and within one minute was open for business.



18. Sidewalk SellerVietnamese aren’t necessarily waiting for someone to give them a job. They appear to create their own jobs and set up shop most anywhere.  This lady is selling lotus pods on the street and does all her accounting on her iPod.


19. Street Seller




Life here can be a balancing act making sure to not sell too much from one basket alone but a little from each.



21. Presidential Palace

The Former President of South Vietnam lived in this Palace situated in the center of the city. From here he conducted the war against the north …



22. Tank take Over of Palace 1975



… until this tank bulldozed through the main gate ending the war in 1975.




John Doan Talks with Tinh Mahoney about the War


While talking about this era with Tinh it was clear that events around the Vietnam war were not merely facts, dates, and place names to him but were dramatic  chapters in his own life. He has recorded some of his soulful music on “Vietnamese Suite” and “Acoustic Rain” that reflects upon his time having grown up in war torn Vietnam. It is not just music of pain and loss but of hope and reconciliation.



Massive board rooms and conference halls and an escape helicopter were not part of his experience then (except for the helicopter as he was air lifted out of Saigon a day before the North took over the country).

27. Building Front



Back into the city we encountered everything from architecture that was colorful, incredible and moving  ….






28. Fresh Food




…. to fresh food for sale on the street that was colorful, edible and moving.




After experiencing Ho Chi Minh City Deirdra and I were excited to visit our last stop of the tour: Phan Thiet – Tinh’s current and childhood home.

29. Waiting for the Bus

When I said I was looking forward to the bus trip to get there he began to laugh uncontrollably. His laughter got his friend Tam, Deirdra and I laughing as well.  Little did we know what was in store for us on this six plus hour bus ride through congested streets, back roads, and to infrequent rest stops!

Look for Part V: John Doan’s Southeast Asia Tour to Phan Thiet – From Dragon Fruit to a Dragon Festival Parade, a Secret Concert and Secret Beaches, Tea houses to sleeping in a restaurant and other Adventures on Buses and Motorcycles.

8 thoughts on “Part 4: John Doan’s Southeast Asia Tour – Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam – From Mopeds to life in City Parks, to Posing with a Model, to Resourceful Street Vendors, from the former President’s Palace to a Rooster on the Street

  1. Hi John,

    Thanks so much for sharing your trip with all of us. You make it sound fun and exciting. It’s good to know that music can be found in all corners of the world.

    Safe travels to you and your wife.

    Your friend and fellow picker,

    Jon Hay
    Bella Vista, AR

    • Clarence:
      Thank you for your kind word. I happen to be one of your biggest fans. Truth be told, it is you who is FABULOUS! Your singing, your bass playing, your arranging, etc. I was proud to be a New Christy Minstrel on stage with you.


  2. John, Thanks for sharing the stories about your trip. I spent time in Vietnam 42 years ago. It was a very different place back then but there was music. I had a guitar and was learning to play when I wasn’t busy being a member of the war machine. You are a good steward. Keep up the good work.

    • Mike:

      Thank you for writing and for going through the war and serving your country in spite of the war’s unpopularity and sad losses. I can’t imagine the challenges you faced but I think I share with others a gratefulness that you and others did a difficult job and I am happy you made it through the ordeal. Yes, Vietnam is a different place now and you would be moved to see how open and friendly the people are.



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