Wearing a dark mask, dark glasses, a helmet and riding a rusty motorbike, you would be forgiven for thinking Ivan Os is not a usual part of the scenery in the central province of Bình Thuận. However, he is well-known to the locals.
Os, who is 43-year-old and originally from Russia, had travelled widely around the world before his first visit to Việt Nam in 2015.
Living outside of what many would consider their comfort zone is nothing new for Os. Born in Russia, he grew up in Africa, where his parents worked as geologists and often took him along on their field trips.
Ivan Os takes a photo with a local on his travels. Photo courtesy of Ivan Os
“Most of my life I lived and travelled in Asia, from Nepal to the Philippines,” he told Việt Nam News.
“Before coming to Việt Nam, my knowledge of this country was very poor. I discovered Việt Nam slowly, starting from the southern provinces – Phan Thiết, Mũi Né, Đà Lạt, Phan Rang, Nha Trang, then I expanded the range of my trips to the Central – Đà Nẵng, Huế, Hội An".
“I always travel by motorcycle. As I travelled more and more I fell deeper and deeper in love with this country. I intend to stay here, in Việt Nam, amongst its nature and culture.”
His first impression of the country was a little different and he did not find it easy to adapt to local lifestyle, culture, cuisine or even the traffic.
Though he had travelled by motorbike in many other countries, it was not easy to ride a bike in Việt Nam at first.
As most westerners find, motorbikes here are smaller than usual, but Os was pleasantly surprised by their power ratio and how efficient they are on fuel.
He has tried various kinds of motorbikes while travelling in Việt Nam. Photo courtesy of Ivan Os
In his first year in Việt Nam, Os spent time exploring the province of Bình Thuận; particularly the sand dunes, beaches and pagodas, before moving on to the neighbouring provinces.
Then, his trips began to last longer and longer.
“The more I travelled, the more I understood the country and people,” he said.
In summer 2020, he travelled alone on a Honda Wave from Mũi Né to Đà Lạt, along coastal provinces like Phan Thiết, Khánh Hòa, Đà Nẵng... to northern provinces and cities such as Ninh Bình, Quảng Ninh, Hà Nội, Cao Bằng, Sơn La, and Lào Cai...
Ivan Os prefers travelling by motorbike than car. Photo courtesy of Ivan Os
After three months and 7,000km, he reached the remotest areas in the north of Việt Nam.
He said travelling by motorbike is the best way to enjoy the scenery, unlike travelling by car where your vision is restricted.
“I am amazed by Việt Nam's interesting nature, traditional way of mountain life, gigantic caves, rice fields on the slopes of mountains, karst islands, but most of all I love simple and open people,” he said.
“I was extremely surprised at a mountain dubbed 'Angel’s Eye' in Nà Ma Valley in the northern province of Cao Bằng and terraced rice fields in Mù Cang Chải, Yên Bái Province.
“The tranquil and spectacular scenery make me fly high.”
Os did have some minor accidents and sometimes his bike broke down, but they all added to his remarkable memories of the trip.
He said it’s hard to say which memories are the most impressive, as he met lovely people everywhere. Việt Nam hosts a diverse nature and well-preserved national identity culture.
“Once I almost drowned in a cave; it was unforgettable but worth it. I was completely alone, in an incredibly gigantic cave. It was magic to be in a dark cave that is tens of millions of years old,” he recalled.
“Every trip teaches something. Travel is one of the best ways to educate yourself.
He enjoys life in Việt Nam. Courtesy Photo of Ivan Os
“Maybe that’s why I love this country. Việt Nam is like my second homeland.”
In regards to cuisine, the north occupies his mind with delicious dishes. The same street food can be processed differently in different regions.
Phở (beef noodle), bánh mỳ (sandwich), seafood and Vietnamese beer are his favourites.
He was also invited to try local specialities like thuốc lào (black tobacco smoked in a bamboo pipe) but he refused for fear of being stoned [sick].
He said in comparison with other countries, Việt Nam has fairly mild weather.
“You can easily find places to relax, like sunny beaches or highland areas with fog,” he said.
Os runs Instagram and YouTube accounts with thousands of followers who join him on his journeys around Việt Nam.
He has also joined social networks that share Russian tourism experiences in Việt Nam.
“I have a lot of free time right now because of the pandemic. At the moment I am looking back into my archived content, as well as studying motion-design, video editing and graphic programmes for design,” he said.
He plans to make a documentary on Việt Nam based on the footage he has shot during his trips.
“I want to show the diversity of Việt Nam to attract new visitors to this country,” he said. “I hope to show them something new and amazing.”
An ethnic minority woman and her child through Ivan's lens. Courtesy Photo of Ivan Os
Os plans to make another trip to the Mekong Delta when the pandemic is under control. He also wants to visit Sơn Đoòng Cave in central province of Quảng Bình, Hạ Long Bay and villages in the north.
“I hope industrialisation will not take over the traditional cultural values,” he said. “I think tradition is a magnet for foreign tourists.”
“I consider Việt Nam to be one of the best countries in Asia for independent travel and tourism,” he said.
"Of course, I faced problems during my travels. I had motorcycle breakdowns, there were injuries, I lost and broke shooting equipment, including losing a drone in a waterfall, but none of these problems can stop me.” VNS