Vietnam, Southeast Asia’s “skinniest country”, stretches roughly 1,000 miles from top to bottom but is only about 25 miles wide at its narrowest point near the center. Although officially reunited, north to south, Vietnam feels more like two separate countries. While Hanoi and the northernmost cities and villages cling to more traditional, communist ways, Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City as it is now called) in the south, bristles with the energy and entrepreneurial fervor of any major U.S. city. With its amazing diversity and rich cultural history, Vietnam offers the adventurous traveler a unique opportunity to experience and photograph an exciting mix of landscapes, people, places, philosophies, cuisines, crafts, and religions.
Starting in Saigon, we will travel by boat to Can Tho and be captivated by the lazy rhythms of the Mekong Delta. We’ll photograph the amazing diversity of Can Tho’s fish markets and in particular, a unique floating market where trade continues as if untouched by the modern world. Next we’ll travel north to explore the azure beaches of Danang and Hoi An, an important Vietnamese trading center in the 16th and 17th centuries. In 1999, Hoi An’s old town was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site as a well-preserved example of a Southeast Asian trading port with buildings that display a unique blend of local and foreign influences.
After photographing Hoi An, we head northward to Hanoi to experience a completely different “Vietnam”. In Hanoi, we will shoot the bustling old quarter and visit Ho Chi Minh’s tomb, and even have some free time to avail ourselves to some of the best shopping in Southeast Asia. It’s here where the silk and lacquer ware is most plentiful and inexpensive. Then it’s off to the Gulf of Tonkin and breathtaking Halong Bay. Ha Long Bay (literally: Descending Dragon Bay) is yet another UNESCO World Heritage site. The bay features thousands of limestone karsts and isles in various sizes and shapes. We’ll board a traditional Chinese junk and sail among Halong Bay’s limestone cliffs and caves. after a meal of fresh, regional delicacies on the boat, we will disembark to spend the night on Cat Ba Island.
As our journey draws to a close, we are transported by overnight train ever northward, to experience and photograph Bac Ha. The town of Bac Ha, which is nestled among the emerald rice paddies, riots of bamboo, pine, and orchids of Vietnam’s lush northern hills is host to a Sunday market where we’ll be able to photograph up to 10 different local hill tribe groups including: the Flower Hmong, Dzao, Giay (Nhang), Han (Hoa), Xa Fang, Lachi, Nung, Phula, Thai and Thulao. The photo opportunities about, as they bargain for water buffalo, pigs, horses, bottles of local firewater (made from rice, cassava or corn). It is here you will have one last opportunity to purchase charming locally made Hill tribe handicrafts. Bac Ha will be our final stop on what likely will be one of the most memorable, photo rich trips of your life!
Day 1: Arrive Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), where you will be picked up at the airport and taken to the hotel. This evening we will have an orientation meeting followed by dinner at a nearby restaurant. Overnight in Saigon.
Day 2: Today, cameras in hand, we set out for a Saigon City tour. We’ll make images of many of Saigon’s icons including the fantastically ornate Hotel de Ville which serves as Saigon’s city hall, the turn of the century Opera House, the Dong Khoi Street shopping area of the French colonial period, the Notre Dame Cathedral (1880) and the spectacular turn-of-the-century Colonial French Post Office. We will view Reunification Palace from the outside, then photograph the activities at Binh Tay Market. In the afternoon we will visit several religious sites including the Thien Hau Pagoda (Cantonese pagoda) in Cho Lon and the Sri Mariamman (Hindu) Temple and the Saigon Central Mosque. After our first full day photographing we’ll return to our hotel for dinner. Overnight in Saigon.
Day 3: About 8:00 a.m. this morning, we will transfer to boat dock for our fast (3 hour) ride down the Mekong to Can Tho. Upon arrival in Can Tho we transfer to the hotel and check in. For the rest of the day we tour Can Tho, visiting and photographing the lively waterfront area where the local inhabitants go about their normal activities. Then we set off for an amazing photo shoot of the Ninh Kieu Wharf area, the busiest commercial wharf in the Mekong Delta. Overnight in Can Tho.
Day 4: This morning we are up early for our 5:30 a.m. departure to the Fong Dien Floating Market, a chaotic, picturesque marketplace with hundreds vendors in boats buying and selling everything from bananas and coconuts to freshly slaughtered pork and sugar cane. We will have the opportunity to photograph the market from the shoreline and from water level in our private boat. Later, we return to Can Tho, to visit Can Tho Market, the Cantonese Congregation Pagoda and the Munirangsyaram Khmer Pagoda. Overnight in Can Tho.
Day 5: After breakfast we return to Saigon via private bus and proceed to the airport for our short flight to Danang. After being picked up at the airport in Danang we will be transported by private coach to Hoi An. We’ll make a quick stop to photograph beautiful, historic China Beach, with its vast expanse of pristine water and clean unspoiled beach. We’ll continue onward to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hoi An. Overnight in Hoi An .
Day 6: Today we explore amazing, photogenic Hoi An on foot and while riding in Vietnam’s famous cyclos. We will photograph the Riverside Market area, the Japanese Covered Bridge and the Quan Cong Temple complex. Hoi An is a photographers paradise, with friendly inhabitants, charming architecture, and narrow streets awaiting our exploration. Overnight in Hoi An.
Day 7: Today you are free day to explore the ancient city of Hoi An on your own or spend the day relaxing, shopping or perhaps swimming at any of the nearby white-sand beaches. Overnight in Hoi An.
Day 8: After checking out of our hotel, we transfer to the Airport in Da Nang for our flight to Hanoi. Upon arriving in Hanoi we meet our guide and driver and embark on a city tour of Hanoi which will include stops at beautiful Hoan Kiem Lake, the Ngoc Son Temple and St. Joseph’s Cathedral. In the evening we will witness and photograph a traditional water puppet show, followed by a delicious dinner. Overnight in Hanoi.
Day 9: This morning we are up early to witness synchronized t’ai chi at dawn on the shores of Hoan Kiem Lake. After breakfast we’re off to photograph in the old quarter, a fascinating and photogenic area full of shops, vendors and frenetic activity. After exploring the old quarter we visit Ba Dinh Square and the One-Pillar Pagoda, the Ho Chi Minh House on Stilts, the Presidential Palace, and the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Overnight in Hanoi.
Day 10: Today we are transported to Ha Long City, gateway to Ha Long Bay. Stopping along the way to photograph rice fields and local, roadside villages. That morning, we board our traditional Chinese junk for a tour of Halong Bay, where we will see caves, limestone monoliths and even take a swim in the gulf of Tonkin. We have dinner on the boat before disembarking at Cat Ba Island where we’ll spend the night. Overnight on Cat Ba.
Day 11: This morning we will explore and photograph local fisherman working at Cat Ba, before boarding our boat back across the gulf of Tonkin to Halong where we will be transported by private bus directly to Lao Cai. Arrive Lao Cai at around midnight, check in Thien Hai Hotel and overnight there.
Day 12: Early morning visit to to Can Cau Market 20-kilometers north of Bac Ha. We tour and photograph the Can Cau market, then return to Bac Ha by mid-afternoon and check-into our hotel, giving us the balance of the day to discover the quaint town of Bac Ha and spend overnight there.
Day 13: We’ll rise early to photograph the action at the Bac Ha Sunday Market. We’ll have the chance to photograph local hill tribe groups bargaining for water buffalo, pigs, horses, bottles of local firewater. In the afternoon, we’ll have a delicious lunch and tour the villages and hamlets nestled among picturesque rice paddies and hills surrounding Bac Ha. Later, we’ll board our private bus for the trip back to Hanoi. On arrival, we’ll check into our hotel. Overnight in Hanoi.
Day 14: Today will be a free day to explore Hanoi. You may want to relax at Hoan Kiem Lake, shop in the old quarter or photograph more of Hanoi’s hustle and bustle. In the evening, we have our farewell dinner. Overnight in Hanoi.
Day 15: Today, depending on your departure time, you are transported to Hanoi airport for your flight home.