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Five reasons why Vietnam is a photographer’s paradise

15th July 2018

Culture and landscape photographer Phil Malpas shares his five reasons to visit Vietnam.

1. Amazing crafts

Across Vietnam it is possible to find locations where highly skilled crafts people create fantastic objects that require hours of dedicated work, skill and knowledge. In Hung Yen Province we spent a delightful couple of hours with a gentleman who is the last remaining maker of fish traps in the traditional style. The traps are hand woven and then smoked for durability. We were grateful that he arranged for three of his regular workers to meet us and demonstrate their remarkable skills.

Despite the language barrier we were able to have a lot of fun and a great deal of laughter – especially when we showed them the images on the backs of our cameras. In this particular image, the latest batch of beautiful traps is loaded onto a bicycle for transport to the local market. A number of us had a turn sitting on the bike and it was almost impossible to keep it upright when stationary, let alone actually making it move.


2. Spectacular Scenery

A four-hour bus ride to the east of Hanoi lies the UNESCO World Heritage site of Ha Long Bay. Part of a larger region that includes Bai Tu Long Bay to the north-east and Cat Ba Island to the south. The area is famous for containing almost 2000 islets of various shapes and sizes, most of which are limestone karsts. Although Ha Long Bay is extremely popular and quite busy, Bai Tu Long Bay, where the attached image was taken is relatively quiet and peaceful.

We embarked from Ha Long City on our Oriental Sails Junk at lunchtime and spent the afternoon cruising between the fabulous islands. A few hours before sunset we left the ship and took to a number of small rowing boats, each propelled by a local lady, to the Vung Vieng fishing village. The image shown here was made from this small rowing boat on our return journey to our junk. The experience of peacefully cruising through this magical scenery with one potential image after another being presented to us is one that we will never forget.


3. Motorbikes

Across Vietnam, but mostly in the major cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) the motorbike or moped is the main form of transport for the local people. It is a source of endless amazement to see how the resourceful Vietnamese use these vehicles to their maximum potential. It is fairly common to see whole families on a single bike (perhaps two adults, two children and a baby) whizzing along the city streets where the rules of the road aren’t particularly clear or for that matter aren’t often adhered to.

We had a lot of fun looking for unusual loads being carried. This image was taken on Long Bien Bridge where an endless stream of motorbikes crosses in both directions, either side of the railway in the centre. With his enormous load of furniture and rugs this man was causing quite a hold up as his poor little bike struggled to move faster than walking pace on his way out of the city.


4. Religion and Culture

The Vietnamese Communist Party dictates that the country is officially atheist. Despite this, Vietnam has a number of commonly practised religions with large numbers of followers, the most popular of which is probably Mahayana Buddhism. Across the country numerous small temples can be found each of which is beautifully cared for and full of potential subject matter. Individuals will also keep shrines to deceased relatives in their houses and will often be proud and happy to share these with visitors.

We arranged to meet this 79 year old gentleman and his 82 year old brother at one such temple in Tam Coc province. The younger brother, pictured here playing a traditional musical instrument, spends most of his time at the temple making sure it is clean, tidy and always ready to receive visitors. It was a real privilege to spend time with these two gentlemen who both demonstrated a supreme serenity and calmness despite meticulously following our photographic direction with ease.


5. Incredible colourful markets to explore

In direct contrast to the serenity of the temples, another fantastic source of photographic potential in Vietnam has to be the many, varied and regular markets. From the early morning flower market in Hanoi (where fresh cut flowers provide a riot of colour) to the street side shops in Hanoi old quarter, where every few yards there is another intriguing subject waiting to be photographed.

We will never forget our visit to Binh Dien fish and flower market in Ho Chi Minh City. We arrived well before dawn in almost complete darkness to find thousands and thousands of local people had begun their day some considerable time earlier. The noise, smells and action were almost overwhelming. In complete contrast the lady in the photograph shown here was selling her produce at a floating market in the Mekong Delta. Here the people spend their lives on boats and are completely familiar with being on the water from a very early age (I suspect making our sometimes, clumsy efforts to keep afloat seem rather amusing). 


If you would like to know more about our tour to Vietnam led by Phil and Clive Minnitt please click here.

(All photograph's credited to Phil Malpas).

Light and Land

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