On Travel writing

Compared to other forms of writing, travel writing has less inherent value. The internet is redundant with travel content and one can easily find 100 articles or more about the same destination. It just does not root from necessity or a call to tell stories. Travel writing can inform and evoke sensations but normally does not go any further than that. In modern time, travel writing can be grouped in the same category with content marketing, sustained by good cashflow of tourism. And don’t talk about SEO writing. It’s just the worst.

Nevertheless, there are many levels of travel writing. At its worst, it’s full of cliches. At it best, it will be a delicate and in-depth look to a certain destination, done by savvy professionals. It will blend some cinematic elements with personal experiences and succinct analysis. This is a small, niche market, employed by high-end hotels/ resorts, travel column of big magazines and travel guidebooks.

There’s also another type – travel operators who write about their own products in a personal, authentic tone. Currently I see this rising in Instagram cause this platform allows people to tell instant stories in a personal way. Travel bloggers like Nomandic Matt is also shifting his focus more to Instagram than this website.

Despite all of its lures and problems, travel writing is ultimately a skill. It’s a sustainable skill to build cause there’s always a market to use and implore. Travel writing is also an excellent excuse to polish descriptive craft that I wanna dive in a bit deeper.









How to best share what happened

Everytime a friend joined an interesting event and simply said “it’s cool”, I get frustrated.


“What do you mean when you say it’s interesting ??” I asked

The conversation afterwards soon turned into an interview that, in turn, frustrates my friends. It seems difficult to transfer all those things he/ she just absorbed not long ago into something comprehensible. Details and sensations overwhelm us, and only choosing what to say seems difficult.

In this post, I will share my personal experiences in telling stories. Specifically, it’s a how-to for event journals. I will structure this as a casual Q&A write-up by imagining which questions you might have in mind, but do let me know if there are other questions. 🙂

WHY should we write about an event? Why not just use videos/ pictures?

Ideally, a good recap is a smooth combination of these media tools. Pictures help us have an impression and videos show the whole thing. However,  a succinct write-up will help:

  • forming stories

By choosing to write (aside with using other media tools), we have the capacity to not just presenting what happened, but elaborating it. In the process of being a conduit, we reshape reality and have the capacity to zoom in and zoom out, focusing on details that matter and leave out things that do not. This process is quite close to creativity and will give us a sense of flow, as well as autonomy.

But here comes the difficult part: HOW? Is it difficult? Is it time-consuming? How do we stay as objective as possible? How to we compress so much details into a short recap? What details to focus on? What details to leave out? How to open and end a story?

Writing is the best way to learn

Writing is the best way for us to reflect on certain things and people. Even when we don’t aim to share stories with people, writing will help forming a magnet for lateral thinking as well as archiving for future reflection. In this article in Medium a few years ago, this guy shares quite elaborately about his experience on writing

stop consumption

Personally, I chose to write about events because that process will force me to pay more attention in the first place, as well as fuel deeper reflection in the future. Therefore, even when I don’t care what others think or have no particular audience in mind, I will learn something in the process. A win-win situation based on a selfish standpoint.

Subjectivity versus Objectivity

An event journal resembles journalism, in a sense that we try to capture what happened but in the end, it’s not about us. It’s not only how we feel but how things actually unfold. Let readers/ audience decide for themselves how they should feel about those moments.


That task is definitely difficult. I myself still struggle to balance subjectivity and objectivity. Deleting “I feel” is the first step, but we can’t help developing feelings to certain people and incidents. When that happen,  It’s okay to embrace our own perspective and weave that into the structure. In event journal, I balance this by

  • Being subjective about people (how a presenter makes me feel, what do I think about him/her, what do I think about his/her mannerism).
  • Being subjective about the vibe of the event (casual or formal, open or clastrophobic, free-flowing or tight)
  • Being objective about activities (what a presenter says, how audience react).

In the process of journal writing, you might find youself reacting differently. It’s OK.

Is it time-consuming?

Writing is a time-consuming process, but in a good way.  When we are immersed and attentive, time becomes elastic and relative.

When you first start, it might take around 4 hours to properly write a journal. Gradually, this will become a skill/ habit and take less time.

Anyway, don’t do it in the first place if time is a problem since writing can be a pain in the ass literally and metaphorically 🙂

chỉ mục

How should I structure the journal?

Ideally, we should structure a journal. Having this frame in mind will help us gather details more easily even without emotions. I have tried several personal templates and currently, this is what I stick to


By having a certain structure in mind, you can write even when you don’t have enough emotions or even when you don’t have deep understanding of the subject. The frame you prepare will be an anchor to help you gather enough information as well as presenting it in a comprehensive style.

FINALLY – Words 🙂

Don’t worry if you don’t have enough vocabulary. Journal writing is a combination of description and reflection so you only need to have a set of vocabulary on

  • Descriptive writing (adjectives about people/ places)
  • Reflective writing (how you feel about certain things)

Using therasus dictionary is a big help in the process and don’t forget that writing is a continual editing. What you end up after writing will be different (and better than what you have in mind).

For descriptive writing, check out my previous post:


For some of event journals, check out my other blog:


Thank you for reading. If you feel ready to try writing an event journal, PM me 🙂







Sunrise Description from “Co To” of Nguyen Tuan



Not to be translated but to feel and maybe, maybe, to analize. It is hard to describe sights like sunset, or crystal clear water. The kind of scenery that is meant to numb us all or meant to be depicted with a neat photo.

Yet somehow Nguyen Tuan has mastered his words to bring us a very soulful description.


As one of 9 prominent modern Vietnamese writers, Nguyen Tuan took his writing seriously, as a career with high attention to his words and delicate Vietnamese vocabulary. The Coto description contains many paragraphs in which he attempts to compare water color with many images to eventually surrender. Helpless in front of majestic nature, he is still not relenting.

The next morning Tuan woke up early to devour that grandiose sunrise scene in Coto which forever sets an unforgettable image in our mind, at the time reading him in high school.


Nước biển Cô Tô sao chiều nay nó xanh quá quắt đến như vậy? (…) Cái màu xanh luôn luôn biến đổi của nước biển chiều nay trên biển Cô Tô như là thử thách cái vốn từ vị của mỗi đứa tôi đang nổi gió trong lòng. Biển xanh như gì nhỉ? Xanh như lá chuối non? Xanh như lá chuối già? Xanh như mùa thu ngả cốm làng Vòng? Nước biển Cô Tô đang đổi từ vẻ xanh này sang vẻ xanh khác. Nó xanh như cái màu áo Kim Trọng trong tiết Thanh Minh? Đúng một phần thôi. Bởi vì con sóng vừa dội lên kia đã gia giảm thêm một chút gì, đã pha biến sang màu khác. Thế thì nước biển xanh như cái vạt áo nước mắt của ông quan Tư mã nghe đàn tỳ bà trên con sóng Giang Châu thì có đúng không? Chưa được ư? Thế thì nó xanh như một màu áo cưới, được không? Hay là nói thế này: nước biển chiều nay xanh như một trang sử của loài người, lúc con người còn phải viết vào thân tre? Nghe hơi trừu tượng phải không? Mà kìa, nhìn cho kỹ mà xem, nước biển đang xanh cái màu xanh dầu xăng của những người thiếu quê hương. Cũng không phải là sợ lai căng, nhưng nghe nó vẫn chưa trúng vẫn chưa được ổn phải không? Sóng cứ kế tiếp cái xanh muôn vẻ mới, và nắng chiều luôn luôn thay màu cho sóng. Mà chữ thì không tài nào tuôn ra kịp được với nhịp sóng. Đua với sóng, thì chỉ có mà thua thôi. Chao ôi, nước biển Cô Tô chiều nay xanh cái màu xanh của ngọc bích. Hoặc là chao ôi, nó xanh như một niềm hy vọng trên cửa biển. Nghe nó lại càng chung chung; chưa sướng gì, nhưng thôi (…)


Mặt trời lại rọi lên ngày thứ sáu của tôi trên đảo Thanh Luân (tức đảo Cô Tô mẹ?) một cách thật quá là đầy đủ. Tôi dậy từ canh tư. Còn tối đất, cố đi mãi trên đá đầu sư, ra thấu đầu mũi đảo. Và ngồi đó rình mặt trời lên. Điều tôi dự đoán, thật là không sai. Sau trận bão, chân trời, ngấn bể, sạch như tấm kính lau hết bụi. Mặt giời nhú lên dần dần, rồi lên cho kỳ hết. Tròn trĩnh phúc hậu như lòng đỏ một quả trứng. Lòng đỏ trứng khổng lồ đặt lên một cái mâm bạc rộng bằng cả một cái chân trời màu ngọc trai nước biển hửng hồng. Y như một mâm lễ phẩm tiến ra từ trong bình minh để mừng cho sự trường thọ của tất cả những người chài lưới trên muôn thuở biển Đông. Vài chiếc nhạn mùa thu chao đi chao lại trên mặt bể sáng dần lên cái chất bạc nén. Một con hải âu bay ngang, là là nhịp cánh (…)


Just another rejection

I wanna cry. I don’t need more rejection. Where am I going? I have things to solve rather than delving in this.


The Vietnamese Voice just wants the voice that is safe and present a good image of Vietnam. Fuck you all. Fuck your lip services. Fuck your careful submission. Why don’t you just go to Humans of Vietnam and get a story of a humane fisherman instead? A hard working one who strives and have hope for future and happy in simplicity due to his big ignorance about what is going on? You need to represent Vietnam in that Amazon thing, and you want it as your plan.

       Expectations killed me. I poured my heart to you and you just reject it like that. It broke my hope and my self-esteem at a time when it very low, as you can see from my submission. 

Enthusiastic? I hate that word very much by the way. It makes me feel worthless than ever. Because I don’t write it for you in beginning, “praising” it as “enthusiastic” is like denying an ince-cream from a child.

“Oh sister are you thirsty? I have an ice-cream.

Thanks but no thanks babe”


Maybe I am just not suitable. Haiz. I don’t know. Just another rejection in a fragile period that makes me worse off than necessary.

I have two choices though

1. Die in this and never submit anything in the future.

2. See it just as it is – When sb is not suitable, it is not chosen, and it should not hinder why I choose to craft writing, which is more about expression and reflection. Any thing like this is just icing on a cake. Without icing, I still have the cake. The icing is decoration and never the essence of it.


And what’s good? I can always better my writing and connect with writers, both widely and deeply if I want to. I will learn from them for the better.


Screenshot002So I decided to pump swear words to them and….


“In the mean time, it healthy and worth doing to support the growth of any meaningful work”

Maybe the only meaningful work today is complaining, as everyday =)))

COMPLAINING, COMPLAINING, COMPLAINING. U get it? Because the world has enough of positivity, right? So to balance, I decide to taint this beautiful earth with my complaints.


As human beings, we are taught to “not take things personally“. I get it. But do you know that it is damn hard to do so, because we are taught to be less human, we should do things from our hearts, but when bad things happen, do not take things personally.

We are taught to think strong and behave strong. Damn it.

The ? mark

I can help you. I want to go“, I insisted.

I told Cal when he told us his plan to go back to Mekong Delta for an interview. Having been to Mekong many times, I still volunteer to go back. To feel the vibe, explore his style of story forming and satisfy my curiosity of brain picking.

Different from me, Cal has written professionally for 10 years and he treats stories as, of course, real stuff. Sometimes, to get the raw material, this person is willing to ride a bike in dusty Saigon for 120km back and forth to talk with a farmer for 2 hours about all the same questions he had asked 2 months ago. Sometimes, due to be being a perfectionist, he spends all day long crafting stories and then halfway, he thinks “Damn maybe no one will buy this”, then he stops there, torn between what he wants to do and what is supposed to do.

Why ?

How many?

Ask him again what he thinks about…

What happened when?



I was like “Come on man, why do you want to know so much?”. Sometimes I think if our famer was not very patient he would have been mad.

But now looking back, I think he is like a gold digger, in which stories are a mine. Some details need to be cut, some will be developed and turn into a twist, but to develop that, all have to be gathered.

Take it all, then cut it ruthlessly.

I think somehow it is the trait of all professionals. Selection. Distillation. Focus. Trade-off. Frustration. All in one bag. It is a frustrating and not always rewarding process, yet that is the path they choose.

When Instagram is nOt an agony

Instagram or Inspiring in an instant has grown out of an app that nearly every phone user has.  Released in 2010, it has attracted 400 millions of customers worldwide, 90% of which are under 35, surpassing Twitter’s and LinkedIn’s reach.  Instagram acts a powerful marketing tool especially for photo-dependent entities (models/ photographers/ cook/ fashion designers/ clothing/ designers of all kinds/ travel operators), expanding their fanbase interactions and at the same time, affecting our lives in a negative way as a jealousy trigger, as mentioned in this widely-shared New York Times article – The agony of Instagram. 

Stepping to the photo platform for only a year without utilizing its potential just yet, to me, Instagram is a great story telling channel, and I can totally relate to how dangerous and at the same time, how fascinating this can be.

Social-media voyeurism and the fear of missing out


Daniel Radcliffe is one of stars choosing to live his life out of social media and his answer in the interview with Sky News magazine came straight to the point. Starting from a tool to connect and interact, social media is also a channel for self-expression, crafting digital lives that fit with how we view ourselves or how we expect our lives to be.

Compared to Facebook or Twitter, Instagram is easier to trigger jealousy. As a photo site with user-friendly filtering functions, Instagram brings snapshots together, cutting out mundane moments and pop, in seconds everyone of us looks much more interesting. It helps us to zoom out and see life moments stretching in a long period of time being condensed. If posts in Facebook are a disorganized mess of thoughts, status and photos, Instagram hypes everything up and in an instant we are surrounded by beautiful people and  exciting adventures. It is hard not to be affected by these and look back thinking “What is wrong with me?”

A great therapeutic tool

my instagram
A tool for me to zoom out, look back in time, be grateful and keep fighting (as if life is miserable?)

Daniel Radcliffe has a point since as a star, his privacy can be heavily affected by social media and as an ordinary person, social media can make us live more digitally than “in-the-moment”, in a way lowering our self-esteem by decreasing our authenticity.

However, Instagram does not have to be that way. Before phones and all kinds of apps became prevalent, nearly each of us has printed photo album which we treasure and carry around. How is that photo album different from this digital version? Each photo carries with it a certain memory, a story, a person we met which might never reunite. Instagram can be a source of nostalgia in a good way. It helps us, in a moment, to travel back in time, immerse in that memory now vividly visualized in our head and reminds us that we have experienced a not-so-bad journey. In that grid, there is no space for worries and frets, just beauties and adventures.

In his book “Don’t sweat the small stuff“, Richard Carlson, a well-known psychotherapist shares 100 succinct advices about how to live lves more lightly without worries, in which the 16th one is this

will it matter a year from now

Instead of sucking in whatever bad moment we are in, Instagram helps us to embrace Time Wrap- a great exercise to give us perspective. It releases us from the prison of day-time block, stretching our vision and in a way, will make us more carefree, generous and daring , welcoming uncertainties with less worry. We know that most of the things do not matter a year from now, so why care?

Aside from jealousy, Instagram can be a source of inspiration. Sometimes we need somebody else to slap in our face and show us how limited our world is, and there is so much out there to explore. In this facet, we can be both – the ones inspiring and the one being inspired.


Okay get up and do something about it.


A picture is worth a thousand words? We need both

Asia Outdoors and Ethos Travel are two of our many tour operators in Vietnam that have been utilizing Instagram to tell stories. Instead of hiring a copy writer to describe how amazing a place is, they just show them its awesomeness. When my customers ask me the difference between normal rice paddy fields and rice-terraces for example, I simply click on the images and from that, start explaining


The pictures set us in the right context and saves me from unnecessary desciption, from which I can go further to tell my guests about the favorite village of photographers in Northwest Vietnam or how difficult yet interesting rice planting in mountains can be.

In the end it is our choice to be depressed or be inspired. Instagram has no fault, and definitely NOT an agony.




https://medium.com/digital-trends-index/how-to-use-instagram-as-a-storytelling-tool-62f1785b4d84#.qi4c2elhrHistory of Instagram



View at Medium.com

View at Medium.com

Saigon Writers’ first meet up

Aside from the very unrelated bicycle 😉, First meetup of Saigon Writers turned out to be an enjoyable encounter, with different characters trying to reach demographic, ehm, sorry Ellen ‘Digger’ Jones, democratic atmosphere ^^.

Due to heaps of free time with nothing to do, I came there earlier than expected, texting Ellen and found her already there in the middle of 20 seat line.

“I booked 16 seats only, I knew people are late and some may not come. If more come we can always drag more chairs.”

Thanks to low expectation on turning up number, we were happy in the small circle. People started to chit chat randomly and introduced about their writing.

“It has been years since I stopped writing frequently”

Then Steven came, asking:

“Is this a group of writers?”

“Well fair enough, we just talked about how rare we write, haha”

The demographic of this democratic event is interesting, with many nationalities (British, Vietnamese, US), some are professional writers like Kris and Huong Thi, some wrote very early like Ellen but stopped upon coming to VN due to tight working schedule, some write short stories and politial essays like Steven, some just write personal journal like me and An, or Trang Pham (who is, by the way, an outbound tour guide in South East Asia). We even had Shandy, a Philipino with perfect US accent and great sense of humor. Shandy wrote a travel blog about her trip to India and now more active in story telling and standup comedy events.

We were also shared a book club (female only) called “Wine and book” in Saigon and about to do research on quiet venues for next meeting and how to combine strengths of members in either freestyle topic or specific topic discussions.

The community is there, depending on how willing we are to interact.


I am given the privilege to be writing here: surrounded by students and non students, with well-selected books to read, water to drink and (big-screen) computers to use in a view looking over Saigon Cathedral. Yeap, somehow big screen computers matter ^^. Now me myself prefer to use the name Saigon over Ho Chi Minh city, in a biased way 🙂




Just say it

Words can be used to elevate things or put things down in delicate ways, and because of that they can be very useful, or dangerous, or f**king annoying.

Speaking with “decent” phrase to use in mind is annoying. Like a layer to hide your true thoughts, words are sometimes just a defense mechanism. With mastery you can easily excuse yourself, attack others or just create narcistic writing filled with unnecessary flowery words.

“Omg this is so beautiful/ awesome/ best of this & that”. Complaints come later. I hate that #.#

Don’t be passive agressive. Just say it. I love you/ hate you/fed up with you/bored to death. Just say it & free your mind.

Wordsmiths I am scared of


Wordsmiths. Great story telling & marketing.

10% of content- Main story: view of ha long bay from an airplane in 15 mins

90%- Extra flesh: view from hanoi to halong, beautiful ha long, experienced reliable pilots, history of aviation. The history is added because the scenery is not brilliant enough so yeah, time to use your imagination (down there are bomb craters you cannot see, many of which disappeared).

Ended with the tour’s slogan.

This is something to learn from when your subject lacks substance wink emoticon

But hey, 6 million for 15 mins even not being able to feel the water? Why not just climb to one out of numerous mountain tops there and spend the rest for a private junk in a secluded part in the bay?

When bird’s eye view is overrated.

Curated content & mainstream list articles

Cafebiz translates from BI.
BI copies and edits from Quora.
Greatist and Lifehack copy each other.

So many articles are curated content. Fresh and original content now is shared for free in social networks and picked to be remixed by media in one way or another.

Media is full of “how to be successful” list articles. The formula is:

1. Use short, defining, upbeat sentences. (Which gives an impression of affirmation or credibility)
2. Pick some good traits of people and get deep on how those traits can improve our lives.
3. Insert some famous names (“See if it works for Tony Robin or Bill Gates, it must be true”). It’s like the way Trung Nguyen use famous name to market their coffee (“Napoleon drinks coffee therefore…”). #.#

Reading those feels good, but that’s it.

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