Terra Galleria Photography

Kyaiktiyo, Myanmar

Part 6 (last) of Myanmar photo tour diary: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

Although Kyaiktiyo, also known as Golden Rock, is one of most incredible sights anywhere, we offered the visit as an extension to the Myanmar photo tour because it is a more arduous journey. It started with a ride (by private mini-bus) to Kyaikhto, about 160km from Yangon, which took about five hours.

From the base station, the only access to the hilltop is by foot (only done by the most hardy pilgrims), or by custom busses, which are just large pick-up trucks with seats. As the sign says, the fare of 3,000 kyat (US $3) includes life-insurance.

Each bus carries 35 passengers seated on hard benches in the back. We were part of the few lucky on the front, although even there it is quite cramped and bumpy. The trip takes one hour, not including a stop mid-way, necessary because on the upper segment, the road is one-lane. I’ve read that because it is too hazardous, foreigners are not allowed to ride that segment, but we were able to do so, which saved 45 minutes of uphill walking.

The amenities at the hilltop hotels are quite basic. During mealtime, as one of the legs of my chair plunged through a hole in the floor which was covered with linoleum, I almost fell. However, we were just a few minutes from the Kyaiktiyo pagoda. Near the entrance, young men were playing Chin Lone, a no-hands version of volleyball, using as a net post one of the ladders provided for climbing into the busses.

The focus of Kyaiktiyo is the Golden Rock, a large granite boulder covered with gold leaves pasted on by devotees. The gravity-defying boulder lies on an inclined rock slab with a small area of contact, overhanging for half its length.

On top of the rock, a small pagoda has been built. It is said that it is a strand of Buddha’s hair enshrined in it which miraculously prevents the rock from tumbling down the hill.

While the Golden Rock is a wondrous sight at any time of the day – there is nothing like it anywhere else – it is most beautiful at dawn and dusk, when it glows magically.

Due to its remote location, the atmosphere surrounding the Golden Rock is much more charged with mysticism and devotion than other sites we have visited. Pilgrims light up candles, pray and chant through the night.

The Golden Rock is the third most important Buddhist pilgrimage site in Myanmar after the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon and the Mahamuni Pagoda in Mandalay. Food and souvenirs are available at the nearby Potemkin village, where the ambiance is more festive.

When time comes to go to sleep, many pilgrims camp right on the plaza, wrapped in thick blankets against the chill of the hilltop location (1,100 meters elevation).

With the exception of a few, guesthouses cater to Burmese people. Probably due to the more arduous journey, the number of tourists is still relatively small, which contributes to the quality of the atmosphere.

On the way back to Yangon, we made a lunch stop in Bago. There, this cyclo driver was reading a newspaper featuring a picture of some folks who looked awfully familiar.

Our photo tour group made it into the news !

See more photos of Lake Inle

Part 6 (last) of Myanmar photo tour diary: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

Lake Inle, Myanmar

Part 5 of Myanmar photo tour diary: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

Day 8 (cont)

Nyaung Shwe is the main gateway to Lake Inle. We photographed children in two different settings there, first at a school as they were playing at recess, always a fun interaction for everyone.

Inside the Shweyanpyay Monastery, the ambiance was more studious.

Outside, we noticed beautiful window openings and waited for a few monks to look out.

One of Myanmar’s most spectacular and breathtaking sights is tranquil Inle Lake. The lake’s shore and islands are home to 17 villages built on stilts and inhabited by the native Intha people.

One of the main focus of our stay in Lake Inle was to photograph the famous Intha Fishermen. We created a fresh perspective on this iconic subject by photographing them from above, right from the deck of our resort.

Photographing from a stable position instead of a boat also let us create rare dusk images with lanterns. Intha Fishermen are known for their technique of rowing wrapping one of the legs around the oar to relieve and free arms for fishing.

Day 9

At dawn and for half-an-hour after sunrise, Inle Lake is often graced with a thin layer of mist floating just above the water. A backlit angle emphasizes the mist rising around the Intha Fishermen.

Photographed in the warm light of sunrise, this group demonstrate fishing using the typical conical net.

Kayan women of the Padaung tribe are well known for wearing neck rings, brass coils that are placed around the neck, appearing to lengthen it. We visited a weaving workshop where besides seeing them working, we were able to make portraits in a relaxed atmosphere.

In the afternoon, we took a boat ride down to the Indein village on the western shores. With hundreds of small stupas in a various stages of ruin, the Indein Pagoda complex is an amazing and haunting site. I hiked to a nearby hill so that I could use a telephoto to compress the perspective, which conveys the density of the stupas.

For our sunset session, we photographed this canoe. Believe it or not, it was sunken by the resort personnel upon our request (upon checkout, I received a billed listing “canoe service”). To focus on such a simple subject let us learn a lot about composition.

Day 10

We started the day with a third session with the friendly Intha Fishermen. One of the goals was to try to create more natural-looking images than the day before. It was particularly instructive to critique images of the previous day while brainstorming and planning for the next similar photo shoot.

We then crossed the lake to Ywama Village. The boat excursion gave us you an intimate view of life in this unique community where villages and farms perch over water on stilts.

The markets on Lake Inle rotate locations on a 5-day schedule. At this morning market we saw the native Shan people wearing their colorful tribal costumes.

Like Lake villages, the Nga Phe Kyaung monastery is perched on stilts.

In late afternoon, the visited the Maing Thauk Village, outside of the tourist trail.

A family invited us to share a tea in their stilt house.

At sunset, we photographed floating gardens of fruit and vegetables which are anchored to the bottom of the lake with bamboo poles.

Day 11

After spending a third night there, it was time to leave the delightful Myanmar Treasure Resort, where each of us enjoyed a private cottage with Lake views.

We enjoyed a beautiful dawn ride to Nyaung Shwe, before driving to Heho, from where we caught a flight back to Yangon.

See more photos of Lake Inle

Part 5 of Myanmar photo tour diary: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

Pindaya, Myanmar

Part 4 of Myanmar photo tour diary: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

Day 7

After an early morning flight from Mandalay to Heho, we drove to Pindaya on a bumpy road out of the main tourist trail.

The landscape changes as we gain elevation and travel back in time. High-elevation crops of lentils and mountain rice that make colorful patterns on the rolling hills.

We visited a paper and oiled umbrella workshop to see how red umbrellas carried by the monks (which you saw in the previous post) are made.

Pindaya is known for the Pindaya Caves. They are accessed by spider-shaped covered stairs high on the cliffs. The name Pindaya is a corruption of Pinguya, which translates to Taken the Spider in Burmese. Legend relates that a large spider which resided in the caves had captured local princesses, which were rescued when the giant spider was killed by a prince’s arrow.

Inside the caves, over 8,000 Buddha statues have been placed by pilgrims over the centuries, filling up every imaginable space inside to create an incredible labyrinth.

Day 8

Pindaya itself is a picturesque little town, nestled between Pone Tanoke Lake and the cliffs which house the Pindaya Cave, where every hilltop has a stupa.

Waking up before dawn, we walked around the lake surrounded by giant banyan trees, with golden stupas in the distance.

In early morning, villagers came to the shore of the lake to bathe and wash their clothes.

Men drove ox carts to fill up their water tanks.

Pindaya is the site of a 5-day rotating street market that we were fortunate to catch.

During the scenic drive to Nyaug Shwe, we made several stops on the rural road to greet villagers and observe local activities.

See more photos of Pindaya

Part 4 of Myanmar photo tour diary: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

Mandalay, Myanmar

Part 3 of Myanmar photo tour diary: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

Day 4 (cont)

After an early morning flight, we arrived in Mandalay. The country’s second largest city is the spiritual and cultural heart of Myanmar.

On Marble Street, Mandalay’s street of stone-sculptors, men attack blocks of white marble with drills and angle-grinders. From the clouds of marble dust emerge Buddha images from all shapes and sizes which are hand-polished by women.

At the Mahamuni Pagoda, we were fortunate to run into a Novitiation or Shinbyu ceremony. Followed by their families in their best attire, the soon-to-be novices are lead in a procession around the pagoda.

A most important events in a Buddhist’s life, the ceremony reflects Buddha’s journey as he renounced his life as a prince (hence the princely attire and makeup) in his quest for enlightenment.

In late afternoon, we visited Taungthaman Lake and photographed at sunset the legendary U Bein Bridge, the longest piece of teak wood in the world.

Day 5

We were up at dawn to capture the sunrise over the moat of Mandalay Fort. The key to such an image is to wait for the most intense color, which occurs around 15 minutes before actual sunrise.

We had several opportunities to witness monks going for their round of alms. Contrarily to widespread thinking, this is not begging, but an opportunity provided to the devotees to earn merit by giving. To that effect, the monks walk a long way from their monasteries, often barefoot.

We observed life along the Irrawaddy River before taking a one hour cruise to Mingun village.

Mingun Pagoda would have been the world’s biggest pagoda, but construction of this enormous brick building was halted after a fortune-teller predicted that if construction was completed, the King would perish. The remaining Mingun Bell is the largest in the world.

In the afternoon, we admired the extraordinary woodwork at the Swehwe In Bin Kyaung pagoda before going up the Mandalay Hill for a panoramic view.

After sunset, we had the privilege of attending the evening prayer at one of the numerous monasteries that dot the Mandalay Hill. More than half of all Buddhist monks in Myammar reside in the Mandalay area. Out of respect I did not want to use flash. Instead of trying to make a somewhat sharp picture, I opted to capture motion. Images with motion work best when there are elements which remain sharp enough, so the challenge was to wait for a key moment when some monks would be in motion, and others not. This happened at the end of the prayer, so the window was very short. 1s ISO 1600 f4 did I say it was dark ?

Day 6

Sutaungpyei Pagoda on top of Mandalay Hill at dawn was a much more serene experience than sunset. As often there is a short window after it is too dark and before the lights are turned off there.

Compared to sunset, sunrise added a low layer of fog, floating well below Mandalay Hill. The image looked just grey but by just moving black point and white points contrast raised to reveal details.

Back to the streets of Mandalay, we ran into this elaborated alms procession, where each monk, instead of carrying his own bowl, is accompanied by an umbrella bearer and a man holding a donation bag.

At the Gold Pounders Workshop we watched sheets of gold being beaten into gossamer-thin pieces and cut into squares. Those are used for a practice seen through the country: the application of gold leaf to Buddha images by devotees and favor-seekers.

At the Mahagandayon Monastery, renowned as a center for monastic study and strict religious discipline, some of the thousand monks line up for lunch.

We visited a silk workshop, a production for which Amarapura is known.

Although today Awa is a small village (in which we had to travel in a traditional horse-drawn carriage), traces of its golden days as Burma’s capital can still be seen throughout its peaceful rural landscape filled with magnificent ruins such as the Daw Gyan Pagoda complex.

Sagaing, an ancient capital, is nowadays an important religious center. Our first stop there was the Zayar Theingi Nunnery.

We next checked the many Buddha images in the crescent-shaped hall of U Min Thonze pagoda.

Our late afternoon and sunset shot was from Soon U Ponya Shin Pagoda at the top of Sagaing Hill, home to a more than a thousand monasteries, nunneries, temples and pagodas.

See more photos of Mandalay

Part 3 of Myanmar photo tour diary: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

Bagan, Myanmar

Part 2 of Myanmar photo tour diary: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

Day 2

Bagan is known for its thousands of Buddhist monuments and temples, making it one of the most remarkable archaeological sites in Asia. After surveying the area from a temple platform, we approached friendly villagers tending to their fields next to the temples.

We continued to get a feel for this rural area by checking out the Nyaung U market.

While most of the Bagan temples are ruined, there are a few active ones, such as the Shwezigon Pagoda.

We explored the Bagan countryside with a visit to Mingun village, where we saw women making a lacquer bowl and processing their harvest, all by hand.

For late afternoon and sunset, we went back to the upper terrace of Shwesandaw.

Our dinner doubled as a marionette puppet show, Myanmar’s most distinctive performing art.

Day 3

The day started with an optional hot air balloon ride, which is the best way to take in the vastness of the site. At $450/person it is an expensive 45 minutes, but the price is the same (or higher) everywhere, so if you are going to try that great experience, Bagan is as good a place as any.

After breakfast, we visited the Sulamani temple, remarkable for its frescoes and stone work.

At an orphanage, Buddhist novice monks lined up with alms bowls before their lunch. This was their last meal of the day, as buddhist monks do not eat dinner.

We generally had great access to Buddhist monks (here at the Shinbinthalyaung reclining Budddha) because our local tour guide was a three-time monastery drop-out.

In late afternoon, we drove to the rustic village of Minnanthu, one of Bagan’s less visited regions. We photographed ox carts against the backdrop of the spectacular Tayok Pye temple.

From the same spot, just turning our backs, we saw this family herding their sheep.

Next to our restaurant (where we enjoyed a music and dance performance), we found this umbrella store.

Day 4

Before catching our flight for Mandalay, we enjoyed a dawn session atop another temple, followed by a colorful sunrise.

See more photos of Bagan

Part 2 of Myanmar photo tour diary: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

Yangon, Myanmar

Part 1 of Myanmar photo tour diary: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

Since my first visit there in 2000, I have always thought of Myanmar as the most enchanting country in South East Asia. In January 2014, I had the pleasure of leading a photo tour there. Thank you Alan, Massoud, Phuoc, Regis, Ron and Yasmina for being such fine and inspiring traveling companions and photographers. In this post, I will share images made during the tour in Yangon, where all tours start and end, but before that, I’ll address a bit the changes I have seen in the country.

Change in Myanmar

Myanmar visitation has been historically low: a few hundreds of thousands visitors per year – for comparison, Thailand receives about 8 million, Yosemite Valley 4 million. It’s not that the country was closed, dangerous, or difficult to travel. However, many in the West considered it politically incorrect to visit because Myanmar is ruled by a military dictatorship. There was this notion that visiting the country equaled to supporting its repressive regime. The locals seemed to have a different view, though, since every single Myanmar national I spoke to in 2000 said it was good to have visitors.

The situation changed a few years ago, with a transition to democracy, recognized with President Obama’s official visit in 2013. Myanmar, long considered off-limits, had become the new hot travel destination in Asia.

As a result, travel costs have increased dramatically, because Myanmar doesn’t have yet infrastructure to meet the demand. A room in the Panorama Hotel in Yangon, listed at $40 in the latest edition (2012) of the Lonely Planet guide, now costs $125. In the fall of 2013, although our tour group was not full, in response to new inquiries, I was disappointed to hear from our local travel agent that I could not add participants because hotels or flights were full. The Lonely Planet guide warns about quick changes, and they are right. Just one example: they advise not to use official money changers because the black market rates were considerably better. Now the money changers at the airport are invariably the ones with the best rate.

In 2000, even sites on the tourist trail were quiet and relaxed. Those same sites are now crowded. Popular sunset sites can be packed with tourists standing elbow-to-elbow. However, it is possible to get around this problem with careful planning. At sunrise the summit of Mandalay Hill was almost empty, whereas at sunset there was hardly enough room to deploy a tripod. Outside the main tourist trail – even in Yangon – things have not changed that much. It is still easy to observe a traditional culture and a way of life. There are places where villagers are now asking for money after posing for pictures, something I never saw in my first visit. But there are also places where they will ask to pose for a picture with you, because seeing a foreign visitor is a rarity.

Day 1

We began our day with a stroll along the peaceful shores of Kandawgyi Lake near the huge Karawek hall (where we would have our welcome dinner), replica of a royal barge.

We spent an hour nearby with beautiful Moe, who posed for some portraits. Like most women and girls in Myanmar, Moe is wearing Thanaka, a cosmetic paste made from ground bark. Thanaka serves as a skin conditioner, sunscreen, and a perfume that has a delicate fragrance similar to sandalwood.

In the early afternoon, we visited indoor sites, first the 229-feet long reclining Buddha statue at Kyaukhtatgyi Pagoda.

Not far from there, we saw the five-story tall buddha of Ngahtatgyi Pagoda.

The highlight of the day was the Shwedagon Pagoda, possibly the oldest, largest, most sacred, and most beautiful pagoda in the world, where we stayed until dark.

Day 11

Upon return from Heho, we toured briefly Yangon’s city center, then walked along the Sinoodan jetty to observe life along the river.

We returned at the Traders Hotel to photograph the city at dusk from its upper floors, a fascinating mix of old and new.

Day 12

Before leaving for Kyaiktiyo (see part 6), by tipping a security guard, we were able to photograph at dawn from a private building a view that captures the essence of Yangon: you see Independence Monument, City Hall, 2,500 years old Sule Pagoda, Bengali Sunni Jamae Central Mosque, Emmanuel Baptist Church. Time window was less than 10 min: before it’s too dark, after, lights are off.

Day 13

Back from Kyaiktiyo, Regis and Yasmina were eager to return to the Shwedagon Pagoda. It was my 6th visit on that trip, as I had flown in a few days before the start of the tour for scouting. Although the oil candles were not lit, I was rewarded that they had moved away canopies which prevented me on the previous visits to photograph from the Victory Place, my favorite location in the Shwedagon Pagoda.

Day 14

We wrestled ourselves out of bed early one last time to capture the full moon setting over the Shwedagon Pagoda from the shore of Kandawgyi Lake. I used ISO 1600 to keep exposure short enough (1/2 s) to avoid excessive blurring in the moon (which moves fast at 250mm). This is a single exposure.

See more photos of Yangon

Part 1 of Myanmar photo tour diary: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

Happy New Year 2014

I wish everyone a year 2014 full of happiness, health, and success. My sincere thanks for your continuing readership and interest in my photography.

Midnight Jan 1st 2014, Yangon, Myanmar. Lasers and fireworks appear on the night of international New Year only for the second time in Myanmar.

Year 2013 in review and parks night favorites

In 2013 I took a break from yearly trips to Asia, which allowed me to refocus my efforts on the National Parks project. Although it has been a decade since I photographed each of the 58 US National Parks, I have been revisiting lots of them – 17 this year alone. My goals are to indeed “have a more diverse parks experience than any other living person” (to use words of The Active Times), to discover for myself seldom-traveled areas that eluded me before, and to try new expressive approaches.

This year, I solidified my efforts into motion and multi-media, releasing my first finished time-lapse video: Hawaii Volcanoes (146K views on Vimeo), as well as 360×180 virtual reality panoramas of the Colorado Plateau.

In photography, I’ve been continuing my multivariate interpretation of the National Parks. Although I release images in large blocks based on geography, if you’ve looked carefully, you may have noticed a number of themes and sub-series. I’ll introduce more in 2014, but for this end-of-year post, I’ll highlight one: the night.

I feel that by this year, I’ve learned enough to feel as comfortable with the camera at that time as during the day. Maybe it is a carryover from my mountaineering days, but I also found myself enjoying hiking by night. With many National Park locations getting more frequented by photographers, the solitude and quiet of the night restores some of the sense of awe that I experienced during my initial visits.

Links point to blog entries where you can see more (daytime !) images and often read in great detail about my experiences while making them. For images only, see growing collection of night photographs of the National Parks.

On January 10th, president Obama signed the law renaming Pinnacles Monument as Pinnacles National Park. The next day, I made my first of several visits there. In the course of 2013 I hiked all the trails of the 59th US National Park except for one, capturing winter frost, spring wildflowers, the summer Perseid Meteor shower (pictured here), and fall colors.

In February, I returned to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park which I explored from sea to summit, photographing the Lava Ocean Entry – which was outside the Park proper in years past – and then hiking to Mauna Loa summit where I camped overnight for some unique images – my most memorable wilderness adventure of the year despite its brief duration.

Beginning April, lured by news of the best Joshua Tree bloom in living memory, I drove to Southern California to visit Joshua Tree National Park, Mojave National Preserve, and Lee Flat in Death Valley National Park. At the end of the month, after attending the inaugural edition of Paris Photo Los Angeles, I spent a few days in the foothills of Sequoia National Park, an area overlooked by most in favor of the sequoia groves and High Sierra peaks.

In June/July, I traveled to the Dakotas, spending time in Wind Cave National Park, the less visited Sage Creek and South Unit sections of Badlands National Park (but still missing Palmer Creek due to insufficient research and imprecise information from rangers), and paying respects to Theodore Roosevelt at his remote Elkhorn Ranch.

The morning before flying home, I hiked to Chasm Lake, one of the most spectacular sites in Rocky Mountain National Park, arriving barely in time to make this photograph despite waking up at 1am.

In July/August, for the first time, I went to the Florida Everglades in summer with also two days at Biscayne National Park. Despite the discomfort of heat, humidity, and mosquitoes, I was most pleased with the photographic conditions: the spectacular skies, storms, reflections, and lushness.

On that same trip, I spent three very busy days on tiny Dry Tortugas, where besides photographing by night, and underwater (not at the same time), I set foot on Loggerhead Key thanks to friendly and generous sailors who spared me the risky open-sea crossing.

In mid-September, I caught one of the last trips of the year to Wizard Island in Crater Lake National Park, finding that the six hours between drop-off and pick-up were barely enough to explore.

Driving from Crater Lake, I arrived at Kings Creek Fall in Lassen Volcanic National Park without daylight left because the shorter trail was closed. I got the shot by light-painting using the bright torch I was carrying in addition to my headlamp. On the next days, I visited Juniper Lake and Warner Valley, quietest sections of one of the least visited National Park.

In October, I led a rare photo tour into the Maze of Canyonlands National Park, during which we enjoyed great scenery, adventure, isolation, food, and camaraderie.

After the tour, I stayed in Utah for a week, revisiting Capitol Reef National Park and Arches National Park. In the small and popular park, I found solitude and out-of-the-beaten path locations in the Courthouse Wash, the ridge beyond Delicate Arch Viewpoint, and at Cove Arch (picture).

As you seen through this short selection which I hope will inspire you for 2014, nighttime brings in a host of possibilities not available during the day. Besides the change in illumination angle of the moon (equivalent to time of day, main variable in daytime photography), there is also the moon phase, and the opportunity to light the scene, either with fixed lights or light painting. Then there is the glorious night sky with stars, planets, and the Milky Way.

I am concluding this overview of the year by expressing my gratitude to you, my audience. I hope that you had as good a year than I had, and wish you an even better year 2014 !

360 Panoramas

This year, I’ve been experimenting with a new technique: 360×180 panoramas. Such an image captures the entire visual sphere, panning over 360 degrees and tilting 180 degrees from straight down to straight up vertically. Flattened with a spherical projection, as in the two images of Arches National Park which illustrate this post, it looks strange, but instead it is presented as a virtual visit so that the viewer can interact, using a normal angle of view, with the panorama with the mouse or touch gestures by rotating it in all directions and zooming in and out, as if we was standing there.

360 panoramas are in some sense opposite to photography, because by definition, no attempt is made at selective framing. I personally view them as a form of multi-media, since the viewer explores with motion, however unlike in video, he is the one choosing the camera motion, which could make them more captivating.

On the other hand, a particular time and viewpoint still needs to be selected. Because of the space encompassed, their choice is even more critical than in photography. I find they are at their best in places which offers interesting views in all directions, such as Petes Mesa.

360 panoramas are of course nothing new, being the basis of Google Street View. This year Google has been trying to democratize them by incorporating “photospheres” into Android. However, there is as much difference between those implementations and mine as there is between casual snapshots and fine prints. Besides the choice of time and viewpoint, consider that the 360 panoramas that I present are assembled from at least 15 full-frame DSLR (5Dmk3) images – more when HDR is used – resulting in images of at least 16000×8000 pixels which yield virtual views that will look good on even the largest screens. In order to prevent parallax errors, which would certainly cause visible mis-alignment in those truly high-resolution panoramas, I used a two-axis panoramic head on a tripod, which in turn requires tricks to eliminate from the panorama.

Here is a first set of 360 panoramas from my trip to the Colorado Plateau last fall. For full effect, be sure to view in full-screen mode.

I’d appreciate it much if you let me know what you think of the presentation. For instance, do you prefer delayed auto-rotation or no delay, as in the two last panos of Capitol Reef ? Slow auto-rotation, or faster, as in the last pano ?

North Vietnam Photo Tour with QT Luong

Following our successful 2012 Vietnam photo tour (see also work by participants Mark Wainer, Barry Andrews, Ron Harris), I will be leading a new North Vietnam photo tour in collaboration with Insiders Asia from Dec 12 to Dec 22, 2014.

Why North Vietnam ? The North has seen less economic development than the South. It is often more authentic, and home to the country’s most beautiful natural landscapes. Hanoi, a capital with a millennium-long history, is the historical cradle of Vietnam. In the countryside, changes have been so slow that one can still observe scenes of a centuries-old way of life there, culminating in the remote mountains, where hill tribes people wear their traditional colorful ethnic dress daily. Concentrating exclusively on North Vietnam, the more relaxed travel pace of this tour will provide us with many opportunities to explore and experience village life in unspoiled locations.

Yet there will be plenty of diversity, from the ancient temples and bustling streets of old Hanoi, to the serenity of the varied landscapes. We will cruise Halong Bay’s emerald green waters in a beautiful private charter boat with an overnight which will allow us to photograph at sunset and sunrise the spectacular limestone islands. Around Ninh Binh, we will photograph equally spectacular rock formations, but this time rising above lush rice fields, as we ride a stream on small rowing boats in and out of narrow caves. With the backdrop of Vietnam’s most impressive mountain scenery, we will meet with the ethnic minorities after trekking to their villages in Sapa and will attend one of the most colorful markets that you can see anywhere in Bac Ha.

Why travel with us ? Although we are based in the US, both Insiders Asia’s principal and I have a Vietnamese background and have traveled extensively in Vietnam. Like in all Insiders Asia trips, this will be a luxury travel experience at an incredible value: we will stay at the best hotels (four stars when available) in each location, travel in our own full-size bus with plenty of room to stretch and store gear, enjoy copious breakfasts and superb Vietnamese dinners, and benefit from the exceptional knowledge of our local Vietnamese guide who gathered high praise on the previous tour. On some evenings, we will gather around a projector to discuss our images. Besides, I will be available at all time to help you individually with your photography.

Join me for a great photographic adventure in Vietnam next December.

Detailed information about the North Vietnam photo tour.