Fuji X-T1 in Vietnam
It’s amazing there are still places you can easily access and find people living in really primitive environments. I am not talking poverty, but a very simple way of life.
Before I went to Vietnam, I thought you would have to trek up the Himalayas for these kinds of photo opportunities!
But, in Vietnam, just 50 yards from your doorstep you can find people working the land, and living in very basic conditions – but extremely content and happy with their way of life.
So anyone out there after some great holiday snaps, grab your camera and visit Vietnam!
I couldn’t take my big cameras due to weight and size restrictions – just too hard to lug around with me, but I wanted more than an iPhone, because I knew I would want to zoom in to get the best from the experience – so I bought the Fuji X-T1 with the 18-55 lens and it was fantastic! It’s really small and robust and I carried it around easily in a small handbag!
I’ve never read a camera manual in my life, but I spent 7 hours of the flight really getting to grips with it!
I have to say it was the perfect camera for the job – it was amazing to get out there and shoot pictures without carrying around heavy equipment! I took my iPhone, but hardly used it as the zoom was so fantastic on the Fuji X-T1.
Life in the street
Hoi Chi Minh City is one of the busiest places I’ve ever been too – the constant traffic from hundreds of scooters buzzing around you is amazing – but you get used to it after a while and find yourself crossing a street in a way which you would never do in the western world. The photo opportunities are fantastic – from the street vendors to the children – it took me hours walk around the city, I was so inspired!
Hoi An is also a buzzing place – a small town full of thriving businesses, bustling markets, and more wonderful photo opportunities! The people are genuinely pleased to see you and love being photographed. They don’t ask you for money in return, they invite you into their homes! The Vietnamese are some of the most kind, friendly, lovely people I have ever met.
Going back in time
We spent two amazing days in the Cham Islands, just off Hoi An, where we stayed in a small village with the island people. This sounds a really touristy thing to do – but it wasn’t at all. Most Westerners go for the day – but the real beauty is in staying a couple of nights – wow, what an eye opener. We ended up being the only ones staying, and the island people could not do enough for us – they invited us into their homes, fed us and made us feel wonderful. They wanted to show us their way of life, and it was truly amazing.
They had electricity for a few hours in the morning and a few at night, from their own generator. Everyone slept on either tiled floors, or on hard wooden beds with no mattresses. They cooked on the floor on an open fire and spent the rest of the day mending their fishing nets, or getting a few hours sleep – as they rise at 4.30am to work when its slightly cooler.
Wherever you go, the children run out giggling – they love meeting people, and pose incessantly for the cameras – which is brilliant because they are absolutely gorgeous!
It can sometimes be hard to get relaxed spontaneous shots, because the children just want to pose for you all the time! So I later sneaked off and observed from a distance to capture them when they didn’t know they were being photographed (beach shots above – Lightroom presets: Cyanotype and split tone).
Unlike all the Western restrictions we have, here the teacher was only too pleased to let me take photos in the school and the colours were just wonderful.
Fishing is the main industry in The Cham Islands and of course the boats need regular fixing – which made wonderful photos! I just loved the curves of the coracles and the texture and colours of the worn materials.
I was fortunate enough to be able to go out in a fishing boat at 4.30am one morning – the light was beautiful and it was an experience I won’t forget.
I don’t profess to be a landscape photographer but I love taking pictures of interesting things on my travels – and the Vietnam scenery is full of things I don’t normally see – paddy fields, amazing plants growing out of water, deserted beaches, wonderful shapes and compositions just waiting to be photographed.
This photo blog would not be complete without showing you some of the wonderful older people – their faces are so full of character (if not teeth!). I’ve often seen pictures of these people in books and magazines, but I never imagined I would be able to see so many wonderful faces within yards of where I was staying. And when I’m 80, if I can squat down or sit with my leg up on a chair like they do, then I will be very grateful!
For my easy guide to Lightroom check out: Getting started with Lightroom
It honestly is the most amazing feeling to be able to take pictures of a bygone era, without having to go very far at all. If you want to do this, I recommend you don’t book lots of sightseeing trips – just go to one area and really get into the culture. Most tourists get shown the Disney version of a country, but living in the community ensures you get to experience the real Vietnam. Get up and go to the markets at 6.00am, hire a bike and cycle through the wonderful paddyfields, and thoroughly immerse yourself in a culture just crying out to be photographed.
I stayed at Hoi An Chic hotel which was surrounded by paddy fields and had the friendliest staff I’ve ever met – all for £45 a night. The accommodation was like a £150 night hotel anywhere else. If you eat in the local restaurants or on the street full meals cost around £5.
And if you are brave, stay in a homestay on Cham Island – I went with Karma Waters, a wonderful vegan restaurant in Hoi An who arrange for you to stay with the islanders – a big thank you to Nguyen Thi Anh Nguyen for being a wonderful guide and translator – it would have been very difficult without her.
And one of the best things was having a full body massage nearly every day for about £7!
Vietnam really was a great experience, and I hope some of you will get the chance to take your camera there and enjoy it too!
PS: If you really want to see some stunning photography of Vietnam, check out Rehahn – a French photographer, living in Vietnam who I met on my trip – what a talented guy!