Let‘s Travel Somewhere is a project by Nisa Maier. Nisa, who is a photographer herself, wants to capture the essence of every country on the planet through stunning photographs and gripping stories. But she can’t do it all by herself. She believes that a single traveller can‘t live to see it all. That‘s why she started to collect and share inspiring photo-journeys by other striking travel photographers.
I really LOVE that format. Only horizontal wide images that really drawn you, the viewer, into the scenery.
I have contacted Nisa few weeks ago to compliment her on her beautiful project and offered to participate.
Vietnam is my first contribution to Let’s Travel Somewhere. More here.
“I’ve always wanted to travel to Vietnam. An image of the lanterns in Hoi An, that I came across in a photography magazine, encouraged me to book a flight and go. Sometimes photographers will go on a journey just to get that single image that inspires them. I arrived in Ho Chi Minh at the end of January last year, at the midst of Tet Holiday. (The Vietnamese New Year). The streets were humming and buzzing with traffic. At the beginning I thought it was because of the holiday, but eventually I realized that this was Vietnam. A steady stream of motorbikes, rickshaws and cars driving around in both directions. Not once, did I join a group of people just to cross the street. I won’t lie if sometimes I just held my breath, praying silently I would make it safe to the other side of the street.
I’ve been to Vietnam for almost 2 weeks and planned it time-wise to be in Hoi An on February 5th for the full moon festival, which is held on every 14th day of the lunar year. I ended up hopping from South (Ho Chi Minh) to North (Hanoi, Sapa and Halong Bay) and back to the Center to Hoi An, just to make it on time for the festival. Vietnam is beautiful and fascinating. The street food is fresh and delicious, the people are inviting and friendly and the culture is captivating. If you spin the Globe and want to travel somewhere, don’t miss on Vietnam”
I’m thrilled to have one of my favorite images of Hanoi, featured in March-April issue of AFAR Magazine.
I was visiting Vietnam last February right after Tet festival and before the Vietnamese New Year celebrations. While visiting Hanoi, I was curious to see Ho- Chi Minn Mausoleum, mostly because people warned me about it. Some said it was a creepy experience, some said it was a ‘must-see’ because of its History, so I’ve decided to check it out myself. As the hours of opening were quite limited, by the time I got there, the Mausoleum was already closed.
I couldn’t go back without taking some pictures.
So I’ve decided to take a picture of one of the guards. I loved the white uniform with the red stripes. As the guard was not really happy to be photographed, I had to pretend I was taking picture of the Mausoleum behind him. I’ve pointed my camera toward the building, but the minute he was not looking, I’ve pointed my camera at him and took this shot.
If you have the chance, please grab AFAR Magazine and tell me what you think.
Last February I was in Vietnam for two weeks, looping around my schedule to make it on time for the Full Moon Festival in HoiAn on February 5th. I was rushing from Hanoi in the North to HoiAn in the Center, just to see the paper lanterns on the HoiAn river. Trust me, it was worth it!
The concierge in the hotel I was staying in heard I was a photographer, and one morning slipped a colorful flyer on my table while I was having breakfast. It was a HoiAn Sunrise photo tour in a fishermen village. The truth is that I was debating if to take the Sunrise photo tour or the Sunset photo tour because I didn’t really want to wake up that early. But after meeting Etienne for sweet-condense milk coffee in one of the cafes in HoiAn at the same day, he convinced me to take the Sunrise one! I thought to myself, where else in the World I can do it, if not there, right?
I’m really excited to have the opportunity to feature Etienne on Window or Aisle? and share with you some of his breath-taking images.
Where are you from? I am from Avignon in South of France.
Where did you study photography? I actually never studied photography. I moved to Vietnam over 5 years ago and it quickly stroke me that I was losing something, living here without a camera. The thing is that after I bought my first camera I caught the photography virus, a strong one, and it never left me!
What made you want to learn it or do it? The beauty of Vietnam and South East Asia, and mostly its people. Being stuck in the mud in a rice field, busy capturing a farmer in the setting sun… the world stops around me when I am busy doing things like that, and this is what makes me continue. I have also been teaching photography with workshops in HoiAn for the past 2 years, so I have to be on top!
If you weren’t a photographer what would you do? I moved here selling wine to resorts… I would probably be doing some sales and marketing somewhere in Asia (being stuck in an office all day long, having a boss,…) hahaha.
Where do you get your inspiration from? I do spend a lot of time watching and following travel photographers I know and like. But what really inspires me and moves me is photojournalism. A dream I had when I started, becoming one. I know this is not what I do now, but I aways keep these styles of photos in mind when taking photos.
How do you usually approach a new project? It’s more something I find, see or hear about. I do not think I am mature enough to start a huge personal photo project that I will do until the end. I am also quite busy with the photo workshops here in HoiAn and launching the new tours in South East Asia… so I guess a personal photo project is something that will come to later.
What are you working on right now? Still editing wedding photos(…), and marketing the new tours in South East Asia.
Window or Aisle? Window of course, admiring the landscape and wishing I had my camera with me!
One of my closest friends tends to measure her Birthday and the year that passed by the number of places she has visited and the number of people she fell in love with. In other words, a good year for her will be a year well travelled (to some new destinations) and a year she has experienced love or fell in love at least once. When she shared with me this information, I smiled and paused for a second but just because I had to think about her great idea and evaluate my past year according to her standards; Love and new destinations.
Looking back at where I was and what I did and how I celebrated my previous Birthday and having a check point to where I am at now (few days before my birthday) I must admit I have covered quite much of the plan. Yes, I’ve been traveling quite a lot for work or to catch up with family and friends and I met some interesting people.
Last year on my Birthday I packed my camera bag and another Gemini friend (Sharyn) and we went to Nassau, the Bahamas. We both wanted to escape New York for a while. We didn’t want to deal with velvet ropes or high priced drinks as we did in previous years on our Birthdays. Obviously the Bahamas was a great escape, even though I experienced a semi-Tornado storm on the day of my Birthday for the first time in my life.
On the day of our Birthdays we both wrote our goals for the next coming year (sort of a habit we keep). I think Sharyn wrote hers on a piece of paper and shoved it in a beer bottle and then she threw it to the water. I wrote mine on the back of a Murakami’s book I was reading back then. Whereas I am not sure how much did Sharyn complete her list, I think I covered almost 60% of mine.
It has been an exciting year for sure, and even though 60% of my goals were covered, I’ve managed to achieve some extra new ones I didn’t plan before;
I have traveled to some new destinations and came across different and various cultures. I made some new friends. I might even lost some. I tasted new kinds of food I would never imagine I try, not to mention where I found it. I learned how to translate my thoughts and ideas into pictures and words. I struggled with lighting equipment. I started to like negative space. I met and photographed famous people. I got nervous before doing that. I tried to decide what should be in focus. I took blurry pictures. I probably bad worded something up. I got confused more than once because of a guy. I considered getting off facebook few times. I finally gave in to Twitter. I found my name printed in some global websites and magazines. That was exciting! I got impatient so many times. I fell few times while running. I tried to be courageous. I talked to myself while taking the Subway. I took a 24 hour flight (almost non stop). I took a night train all the way from Hanoi to Sapa just to realize there was too much fog for a shoot. I took the midnight train back at the same day. I left my camera bag in the middle of a Starbucks in Tokyo. I watched a lot of French movies. I searched mostly for natural light. I took pictures of the interiors of other peoples homes and actually kind of liked it. I had some second thoughts regarding my unconventional life. I tried to forgive and forget. I had days based on coffee and dark chocolate. I tend to say YES to opportunities that came across and I freaked out when time was moving too fast.
And even though I feel I was quite slow paced the last couple of months, I can’t wait for the new ones to come.
It took me only one day in Vietnam to realize the Vietnamese mothers are actually like the Jewish mothers; They like feeding people. It took me only one day to realize the Vietnamese are also like Israelis; Food is at the very heart of their culture. Almost every aspect of social, spiritual, and family life, revolves around food.
In Vietnam, food is everywhere in sight. In every street corner, a woman pulls out plastic stalls around a a dish, or a huge pot of soup. At each train stop, vendors rush up to the passengers, offering homemade treats such as shrimp cakes, sticky rice, grilled corn, mango or pineapple covered with sweet red chilly flakes, sun dried squid, dried fish, dried fruits, little black dotted eggs or French baguette. The Vietnamese cooking is fresh, healthy and light, and more over, colorful and beautiful to behold; Yellow corn, pinkish-orange shrimps, deep orange crabs, red hot chilly peppers, vivid greens, pearl-color glassy noodles.
In Ho Chi Minn I was drawn immediately to Ben Thanh Market, a popular and touristy destination, watching the women washing, peeling, cutting, cooking and serving food. And in Hanoi, I visited particular street vendors who were located in the alleys around the hotel I was staying in. I learned to recognize the specific type of food for every hour of the day; pork sausages on skews served as a morning snack for kids before they go to school, grilled pork in a marinade of sweetened fish sauce with a side of rice vermicelli for their parents, airy baguettes, then throughout the day one can find pork and mushroom dumplings, spicy Pho noodle soup, white porridge soup served with crunchy croutons, grilled seafood on skews, rice noodles in so many variations, and of course, the Vietnamese coffee; thick, rich with a sweetened condensed milk, that makes it all worth it.
Quick tip: If a place is busy, it’s almost certainly fine to eat there. Don’t eat anywhere with slow turnover (this includes fancy-yet empty restaurants) and make sure to drink a lot of water.
“One should really use the camera as though tomorrow you’d be stricken blind”
Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam February 2012
As a photographer, I love taking pictures of others who take pictures. There is something very special in being in the moment, looking at the viewpoint and click. When I take a picture, I always feel as the world around me freezes for the second I click the camera bottom. After I hear the sound of the shutter released, it’s like the world can get back to normal again. I was planning to take a picture of Hoan Kiem Lake on a misty morning for a long time. In fact, that was one of the reasons I wanted to go there. It was a fine misty morning on February when I just started my walk and passed through the lake, as I used to do every morning. And then I saw this young woman with her camera, pointing at d Ngoc Son Temple in the middle of the lake and the two teenager boys sitting on the right. I love the green and red color combination, both of her bag, the guy’s coat and the green of the lake and the tree.
When I took the picture, the world around me DID freeze for a second.
Drinking so many Vietnamese sweet coffees with condense milk I can even count on one hand, trying to cross to the other side of the street when so many motor bikes are zooming around, Overlooking Ho Chi Minn city at night from the Rex hotel’s rooftop, helium balloons, street food vendors, walking to Ben Thanh Market and having Pho noodle soup for breakfast, squeezing lime into the soup, adding red hot chili peppers, The Notre Damn Church outside of Paris, Cu Chi Tunnels, walking barefoot into the Cao Dai Temple exactly at noon time, Spring rolls and Shrimps at the night market. Sitting on a stool among the locals while having dinner and experiencing all the cheers and celebrations of the Tet Holiday. Staying at the old French Quarter in Hanoi, right next to the St. Joseph Cathedral. Waking up every morning to the sound of bells of the Cathedral and heading for a run along the Hoan Kiem lake, Tai Chi in front of the red Tortoise Tower, walking around the ’36 streets’, looking all day long for a steam Bao and finding it at the bakery next door. Sofitel Metropole Hotel almost every night to get a fast internet connection, passing through the Opera house on my way back. Mango and Pineapple on a stick covered with sweet chili, Halong Bay in the fog, Taking the night train to Sapa and walking almost half day inside a foggy cloud, Baguette and chocolate for breakfast at the Austrian coffee shop, Kit Kat Village, taking the night train back to Hanoi at the same day. Hoa Lo Prison, Tran Quac Pagoda, and giving some fake money to the Gods. Temple of Literature, Ho Chi Minn Mausoleum and walking back through the Ba Dinh Square. Drinking lemon tea and eating sunflowers seeds like the locals do. Getting to Hoian just on time for the Full Moon Lantern Festival, floating a paper lantern on the Thu Bon River on that very special night and praying for some good luck. Sweet potato and coconut green bean cake almost every day. Condense Milk out of the can almost every morning, Grilled corn with chili lime sauce. Waking up at 4 am in the morning just to see the sunrise in a fishermen market. Speaking in English but have no one actually understands you, but still making your way around in a smooth way….Priceless!
“Never allow yourself to become one of those people who, when they are old, tell you how they missed their chance”
Hanoi, Vietnam, February 2012
This picture was taken in one of my latest days in Hanoi. I spent almost six full days in this city and I walked its streets and alleys thoroughly, despite the massive traffic. I had an urge to eat bao buns, these delicious steamed buns filled with either pork or sweet beans, as a vegi-version alternative, for vegis like me. But even though Hanoi is filled with Boulangeries, thanks to the shades of a French past, it took me a while to find what I wanted. But eventually I did!
To make a long story short…in one of my searches for French Boulangerie, I came across this guy, who was sitting on a chair trying to have a nap. His eyes were closed before and he was semi-napping I think, but he has just opened them and looked at me when I took that shot. He didn’t say a word. He just stared back.
It is not that difficult to find laundry in Vietnam. It is everywhere! In fact, I’m not sure if there are dryers in Vietnam (in other words, I’m quite sure there are not). The Vietnamese hang their clothes out to dry in every window or balcony of their home, and sometimes, they just open a window to let the wind dry the clothes in doors. In Hanoi, for example, the Vietnamese hang their flags outside the windows and sometimes the National flag seems like part of the laundry itself. In all places though, laundry (and a lot of laundry) could be seen in all parts of the day and sometimes I just had to walk inside an alley into a small court in between the houses to find the clotheslines. In most cases, the Vietnamese women who were either hanging the laundry or cooking/selling food outdoors, didn’t really understand why I take pictures of some clothes on a wire.
‘Madam, Motor’… ‘Madam, Motor…’ This is how most of the Vietnamese motor-bikers in Hanoi used to approach me, trying to convince me to get on their bike for a ride for a certain amount of money. For those who didn’t experience Vietnam yet, please be advised that crossing the streets is a challenge.
The country in general and Hanoi in particular, is humming and buzzing with traffic. A steady stream of motorbikes, rickshaws and cars driving around in both directions. Not once, did I join a group of people or someone else just to cross the street, and I won’t lie if I say that sometimes I just hold my breath, praying silently I will make it safe to the other side of the street. I arrived to Hanoi at the end of January, few days after Tet Holiday and the streets of the city were even more buzzing and humming, especially during night time, when families went out for dinner, ice cream treat and some loud Karaoke.
I arrived to Hanoi planning on staying for only two days but ended up staying for longer.
One of the reasons was the place I’ve stayed. I booked a room in Hanoi Hibiscus Hotel, a family hotel, few meters away from the Saint Joseph’s Cathedral in the Old Quarter and it instantly became my ‘home away from home’ place to stay. The central location of the hotel and the friendly professional staff, made my stay much easier than in Ho Chi Min City, where I landed, which has inspired some culture shock. The area around the Cathedral was packed with young crowds, all sitting in the local cafes on plastic stools, drinking tea with lots of lemon and cracking sun-flower seeds, leaving a trail of shells on the ground. Fashionable young girls driving on their motor bikes, was a common thing to see.
The variety of places to see and visit, the comfortable weather at that time of year, the great street food and the sense of tourism, made the North of Vietnam more welcoming and easier to travel.
I’ve booked an initial tour to get to know some parts of the city with Hanoi City Tours, a free tour by a local young student, who wants to improve his/hers English skills and at the same time introduce and promote their city.
I chose to have my guided tour in the Old Quarter or what called the ’36 Streets’, a labyrinth of old streets, evolved in the 13th century when artisan guilds were concentrated along each of the original 36 lanes, and clustered by speciality; Silver street (where you can find silver jewelry as well as gravestones), Silk Street, Mats Street, Paper Street, etc. Each of the 36 craft guilds once had its own communal house, however, like most of the quarter’s pagoda and temples, they were shut down during the communist takeover and transformed into schools or public housing.
In the outskirts of the Old Quarter, there is the Temple of Literature (located to the south of the Fine Arts Museum at Pho Quoc Tu Giam street). When it was first built, it was the school of the Elite of the Nation and Vietnam’s first University. After passing exams at the local levels, scholars who wanted to become seniors came here to study for rigorous examinations. It got its name ‘Temple of Literature’ at the beginning of the 19th century, and now serves as a place where people and mostly students come and write a prayer and a wish and ask for success in their studies. If you want to be like the locals, have your wish or prayer written by one of the calligraphers outside the temple. I visited the temple one afternoon, during the last days of Tet Holiday. It was packed with young students who came by, all excited and anxious when there was a special ceremony, all praying for a good luck in the up coming year. The Temple is a homage to Confucius, peaceful and spiritual, arranged in a series of a linked courtyards. I was walking past tone-stealed shaped like turtles, overlooking the students praying with a great intention. (Felt so relieved I don’t need to pray for my next school year)
One of the most beautiful pagodas that exists in Hanoi is the Tran Quoc Pagoda, which is located beside the Red River and perhaps is the oldest one in Hanoi, dated from the year of 1639. I was there one afternoon watching the crowd lighting perfumed incense and giving fruits and fake money to their Gods, just at the last days of Tet Holiday.
While you are in the area, you can walk along the river towards the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and the Presidential Palace near by. Make sure to check the opening hours in advance and the strict rules of the mausoleum. By the time I got there by noon, it was already closed. Some of my friends told me I didn’t miss a thing though….
Even though I didn’t plan it, I paid a visit to Hoa Lo Prison, also known as the infamous Hanoi Hilton. The prison was used by the French people who imprisoned, tortured and guillotined Vietnamese revolutionaries, and later on was used by the Vietnamese who prisoned American pilots, including the Republican senator John McCain. One can easily notice the hinted propaganda by the way the Vietnamese represent themselves as considerate to the American needs. As scary as it is, I really recommend to visit this site.
From Hanoi, it is very easy to book a day-or two day trips to Halong Bay or book a midnight train to Sapa in the North. April is a great time to visit Vietnam. The weather is comfortable, the trees are blooming and the food is always great.