We are going to do a few new things with the Blog this year. One thing we are going to do is introduce you to some of the guests that travel with us tour. They will share thoughts and images about the trip(s) with you and give you yet another perspective on photography and M&M Photo Tours, Inc.
Our first guest post is from Carol Chung. Carol splits her time between The Big Apple and Orange County California. She spent many years in corporate America and was very successful in her work. Carol has been into photography for some time and has traveled the world capturing image that inspire her and others. She has been our guest on several tours and agreed to share her journal from the October 2012 Indochina photo tour she took with us. As you’ll read below Carol photographed more people on this trip than on all her other trips combined. She has shared several shots of children she captured along the way. All images belong to and are copyright protected by Carol Chung and used with permission. We hope you enjoy.
Since I’ll never remember what I saw and where it was I attempt to coordinate what was planned with what I saw and to record it each day…before I forget and a new experience pre-empts the day before. So here it is.
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
Travel days October 11th – 12th
I managed to check-in on-line for my fights to Bangkok via Hong Kong and I even got my boarding pass for the flight to Hong Kong, but could not get my boarding flight on to Bangkok. After checking with Cathay Pacific I was told that I could get the boarding pass at a special counter at JFK.
On boarding the Air Tram to the airport I met up with the Pro Photographer for the trip (Ron Wyatt). We got checked in, thru security (the agent on entry gave me a hard time, because I don’t look like my passport photo) and to the gate. The flight to Hong Kong was long and I got very little sleep. We had some fun figuring out the entertainment system and getting to the menus that we wanted.
We left the Bangkok airport after clearing immigration and customs for a two-mile ride to our hotel. The hotel was a respite from our long day and it was good to shower and sleep in a bed for a few hours.
Day 1 of tour
We left the hotel in plenty of time to pick up our tickets and clear customs for our flight to Laos. This short hour and forty minute flight to Laos. We had time for lunch where they even served wine. Imagine that on an US airline.
Luang Prabang is a very interesting city from the American viewpoint for several reasons. There is only one (?) traffic light and I’ve not seen it. There are very few cars and oodles of scooters. Otherwise is looks very similar to other countryside Asian cities I’ve seen. Our hotel is about a year old and very, very nice. The rooms are comfortable and the lounge, dining area is open on the sides. It appears to be in the middle of the woods. The temples are interesting and talking with the monks informative. Our guide served as a monk for three years and could answer our questions about monk life.
The night market was massive with many, many shops with interesting products. I bought a pair of pants that I intend to use as pajama bottoms. You should have seen the face of the shop girl when I didn’t bargain the asking price. They must love Americans as we don’t bargain often.
Dinner was a fixed menu of typical Lao food, some of it too spicy for my taste, but otherwise very good.
The group arose early to view the giving of alms by the monks. I wanted to go but I need as much rest as possible.
After breakfast we went to the morning market. This Market was more in the line of food stuffs. It too is a very big market that reminds me of many of the Asian markets I’ve seen before.
Next stop was the Wat Sene and Wat Xienghthong temples where we saw many more examples of the architecture and the many Buddhas.
Now for the boat ride to lunch. Along the Mekong River there were many opportunities to shoot interesting “frames.” Children jumping into the river. Boats traversing the river carrying various cargoes. The lush landscapes. We opted to have lunch…another set menu of Lao foods. Getting on and off the boat was an adventure. A plank was set between the land and water. Sometimes the plank was sturdy and sometimes you felt it would snap if the weight were just right. Next the step up to the boat was sometimes 3 feet high. If we were going to land there might be a mud crossing to get to the stairs. The stairs sometime consisted of fifty steps and the distance one step to the next could be two feet.
The trip to the Pak Ou Cave was next on the agenda. The activity was intended for a pre lunch activity, but we were behind schedule and needed to have lunch before the restaurant closed. The cave contained about 3000 Buddhas of various sizes and composition. The Buddhas were brought by the local people for religious observations..especially around the Lao New Year.
Back toward “home” and a stop at a local village where they make rice wine. We learned a bit about production of wine and we had a designated wine taster. Brown, white and wild rice produced varying levels of alcohol content…some at high as 60%. Our taster was “in Awe” of the strength. There was also a market which contained lots of shawls that were loomed. We stopped by a stall where a girl of nine was weaving a shawl. She selected a shawl from the offerings and demonstrated how it was worn. She really worked the demo. A model in the making.
Instead of the second village we went back to the hotel to refresh ourselves for dinner. The closer we got to dinner, the sleepier I got, so I opted for my treat of a massage. The cost was $10, $5 of which was because they came to the hotel.
Again part of group attended the giving of alms and again I decided not to attend. I know I made a mistake because the group really liked the experience.
We stopped at the Hmong Village where products woven out of silk were made. We naturally had a demo of the weaving. Here we observed the weaving of more intricate patterns.
After a drive of some 120 minutes we arrived at the entrance to the Khouangsi Waterfall. We walked to the foot of the largest fall and what a fantastic sight. I hope I got some good images. We had lunch at this spot before taking the trekking path back to the bus.
Along the path were much smaller falls but no less beautiful. We arrived at a swimming hole where more than mere swimming was available. There was one fall where people were jumping off the rocks by launching themselves as far out into the water as possible. There was also a rope swing providing an alternate scheme for projecting ones self out over the water for a drop into the water. Also along the path was a bear rescue enclosure containing a few bears.
What an adventure the elephant ride became. I was on an elephant with a member of our tour who wanted to “drive(?)” the elephant because he had bonded with said elephant. I don’t think the elephant knew it had bonded with said guest because it continually went off the path to try and eat some leaves. The real driver, who sat with me, continually persuaded the elephant to behave. It at least made for some amusement for the rest of the trekkers.
The next part of our day was to drive back to Luang Prabang and the airport for a short flight to Hanoi. We met our guide of the next few days and proceeded to dinner. The adventure here was crossing the street with all the cars and scooters that came along constantly. At the conclusion of dinner the whole restaurant staff escorted us back across the street.
We then drove to our hotel which is located in the old part of town.
A part of the story is to observe what is on the scooters. Any and every thing.
(1) Families…driver, small child sandwiched between driver and third person.
(2) Cargo…cases of beer, bags of groceries, stacks of about anything., pigs.
(3) People texting or talking on the phone.
(4) The driver holding young children by a hand behind the back of the child.
This hardly explains the experience, as the horns, fumes and being in the moment is required to fully realize what it means to be involved as an observer. (This is what M&M means when they say “You don’t just take a photograph, you experience it.”)
We packed and ready to leave the hotel at 9 AM. We first visited the Ho Chi Minh complex. The old quarter was visited next without the pedicab ride. Lunch was at a very nice restaurant with a waitress that pleased the male contingent very much.
The Ngoc Son Temple, the Sword Lake and the Temple of Literature were visited. At the Temple of Literature we encountered recent college graduates with the girls attired in traditional dress. The guys had many pictures made with the girls. One thing impressive about the girls was their ability to pose for the picture and really work the photographic session.
The next event was the Water Puppet Show. The theme of the show was the evolution of the Vietnamese people. At the end we were able to see how the puppets were manipulated.
We walked thru the town and had oodles of opportunities to photograph any and everything.
Dinner was followed by the trip to the train station. To get to our train we crossed several tracks to arrive at the platform. I had a private cabin.
Let me try to explain the traffic in Hanoi. There are 6 million people and 4 million motor scooters in Hanoi. If I wouldn’t drive in New York I certainly wouldn’t drive in Hanoi. I don’t think New Yorker’s would drive in Hanoi. There is a constant stream of cars, buses, motor scooters, pedicab, and every other form of motorized vehicle. We crossed the street by walking slowly with a hand raised to signal stop. We thus walked between the vehicles.
The train ride wasn’t too bad. I had a private cabin so there was a bit of space to put my things without sleeping with them in a top bunk and I could sleep on a lower bunk.
The day was rainy and some of the roads to the hotel were flooded (kinda). We arrived at our hotel and had our breakfast. By the time we finished breakfast our rooms were ready and we could relax until noon when we had our lunch before proceeding to our tour of the H’mong village. We took a mile and a half walk thru the village and saw many sites of village life.
We were met at the drop off point by many, many people offering to sell us craft items. “Buy from me” was their opening. We said “no” and they said “yes”. They followed us almost the whole way, asking where were we from and then our names, followed by do you have children, how many, boy or girl, do you have brothers and sisters. Occasionally more would join the group with “buy from me”.
We saw water buffalo, even one being walked on the highway. The man had just bought the animal for $1500. Ducks were feeding in the rice terraces. The landscape is wonderful, albeit marred by power lines…you just have to shoot between the poles. The women and girls were mostly dressed in native attire, so they made for great shots. It was just a marvelous entrée into another culture.
The motor scooters rarely bothered to stop at traffic lights and merged into traffic without looking at the oncoming traffic. They mostly avoided the people, other vehicles and any other obstacles in the road. Horns are sounded to let one know that a vehicle was approaching…not in anger.
The departure time was 7:30 AM for the Market at a village some 2 hours by car from Sapa. The drive took us along the Red River with China along the other side. The rice terraces were spectacular but the telephone wires and poles were not.
As we approached the turnoff for the market we met a funeral procession. The people who wore a white band around their head were relatives of the deceased. There were also people about a fire of the deceased one’s clothes. Nobody wants these clothes.
The market was small but contained what one might find at a swap meet plus food items. I finished the market early and went to the car. The driver suggested I wait under the roof at a nearby shop and sit in the hammock. I just lay down instead. I had a view of the road and could photograph interesting happenings nearby.
We had lunch at a nearby restaurant after which we walked up the road to view the roadside rice paddies. The were large tarps along the roadway with rice atop to dry. A woman was in the field cutting and bunching the rice stalks. We were told this was sticky rice, used for eating and wine.
On the way back we stopped by the border with China and photographed the crossing. As we neared Sapa there was an accident involving a pedestrian and a motor scooter. We stopped so Mike could see if we could help. From the vantage point of the van we saw the man lying on his back spread eagle with an obvious head injury. Against advice the people began moving the man. They picked him up and carried him to our van because they wanted us to take him to the hospital. As we were preparing a place for him in the van, the police arrived to take him. We were surprised there are not more accidents.
Today we had a 9 AM departure for two villages around Sapa. The area is mountainous and home to Black H’Mong and Red Dzao. We saw lots of rice terraces, water Buffalo, goats, pigs and people. We checked out of the hotel and had our bags stored.
While waiting for the trip to start I took pictures of three of the male staff. We also discussed my iPhones and cameras. My sun glasses came into play when the bus driver joined us. He liked my sun glasses and claimed he was “Number 1” and I was “Number 10” wearing them. I did not agree with him but he was insistent.
The first village was the Red Dzao and we had our usual contingent of women selling their wares. We walked thru the countryside and thru the village before heading back to our hotel for lunch. We did not get out of the car at some of the villages along the way – the ladies all but blocked the door and we almost felt accosted even as we sat in the van.
The afternoon found us in another village. Again we walked along the road for picture opportunities.
There were lots of children. Some of the younger children wore no pants. The younger Children were attended by some just a few years older. A lot of the children would hide their face when they saw a camera raised and some said “money”, probably the only English some of the children knew.
Back to the hotel to collect our bags and off to Lao Cai for the train trip back to Hanoi. Dinner first at a restaurant near the train station. I think I am in the same room as before. The light over my bunk doesn’t work.
Upon arrival we headed to the flower market. It is woman’s day in Vietnam and there was a big crowd at the market. The only woman in our group who received is married to the giver. I couldn’t convince the men to give all the women a flower or bunch of flowers to us. We did get the single man to buy a rose and present it to a young woman.
As I was waiting for the van I noticed a young woman taking a picture. I moved as I seemed to be blocking the shot. When I moved, so did the camera track me. As she walked past me, I asked to see the picture and she said it was me, so I asked to take her picture. I guess turn about is fair play…we have been taking their pictures continuously.
After the flower market we proceeded to Hoan Kiem Lake to see and shoot the morning exercises. Some of us were even inspired to dance a step or two along with the Hanoian dancers.
We now had our traditional Vietnamese breakfast of noodle soup at our guide’s favorite place. After watching the soup being prepared for several days it was good to finally try some. It was good.
We now had a four-hour drive to Ha Long Bay with a stop for coffee about two hours into the journey. Our stopping point was a very big store that sold jewelry, so naturally I spent most of my time in that section…and I even managed to get some coffee.
Along the road I was engaged in house observation. I want some images on the way back.
We made our way to our boat for our overnight voyage and had our lunch while in dock. We were late leaving the dock as the internet was down and the captain was not able to forward his passenger list to the authorities. The journey to the overnight docking spot was a spectacular view cruising among the uninhabited islets of mountains arising from the water. This totally reminds me of Phuket but as our guide says, this is number 1 and Phuket is number 30. I would give Phuket at least a 10.
Another delicious meal aboard the boat for dinner.
Yes, the snake is biting this boy on the chest! Floating Villages in Cambodia. This child was fearless!
This morning was very rainy and there was no visible sunrise. After breakfast we cruised to the site for the caves and inside-island grottoes but the rain was so heavy we opted to not risk getting our cameras wet. We cruised the bay and headed back to land. Before we disembarked we had an excellent lunch aboard ship.
As this is harvest time we saw many fields where the rice crop was being harvested. Several stops were made to photograph the harvest.
Our rest stop was back at the place where I obtained my bracelet. The clerk saw me and wondered if I were back for a ring or pendant. We only had a few minutes, so I was unable to get another look at the selection.
As we headed back to Hanoi we visited the pottery village, where they make the bone caskets. When a person dies their body is buried, but after five years the body is dug up and only the bones are left. The bones are reburied in smaller caskets.
I finally got an image of the houses. The houses are small in width and have very colorful and impressive facades. The sides are just gray plaster. I assume these houses will have others built abutting them. The lower levels contain shops or maybe a courtyard or garage.
Back to Hanoi for the night. On the way back we saw a terrible accident. A motorcycle was behind a bus . The bus suddenly stopped, the motorcycle slammed into the bus, and the rider (a boy or man) was thrown to the ground. As we passed the body it appeared lifeless.
As I prepared to leave my room for breakfast I had difficulty unlocking the door to my room. The troubles continued for some time and I worried I would miss breakfast. I called the front desk and told them I could not get out of my room. My room was on the second floor facing the street with a balcony and just down some stares to the front desk. Someone soon appeared to help with the unlocking but we were still unsuccessful. Next I hear a knock on the window and the door from the balcony opens and a hotel employ appears to unlock the door. He naturally had the knack of the door lock and soon the door was unlocked. Since I was packed and ready to go I took my luggage down…I wasn’t going back in that room. I called the young man “my hero” and declared him strong as Superman.
The trip to the airport was quick and we had to say good-bye to our Hanoi guide, Nguyen. It was sad to leave him as he was a very good guide and he took good care of us. The flight to “Saigon” was uneventful and we arrived and found our guide. On the way to the hotel we stopped for lunch at a nice buffet.
Checked into our hotel, we proceeded to the Reunification Palace and toured the museum. We picked up a young woman doctor and gave her a ride to the post office (a beautiful edifice) and Notre Dame Cathedral. While Buddhism is the largest religion in Vietnam, Catholicism is the second.
There are 9 million people in Saigon and 4.5 million motor cycles/scooters.
The night market is close by our hotel and some of the people are going after dinner. This market is not necessarily for photography, but for shopping.
The trip to Tay Ninh took about three hours and we needed to be at the temple by 11 AM in order to shoot inside before the 12 noon service. This religion is the newest in Vietnam and began in the 1920’s.
I left the service early and encountered some young people wishing to practice their English. There teacher was with them to help with translations when needed. They ask all sorts of questions. “What food do you like best in Vietnam?” “Where are you from?” “How long have you been in Vietnam?” “Where are you going next?” and many other questions. I asked them if there teacher was any good and I made him leave and move away so he couldn’t hear the answer. They all laughed and we continued the questions and answers.
The teacher brings his students to places where tourist gather and they like the Americans because our accents aren’t as difficult to understand.
We had a short flight to Siem Reap Cambodia and cleared customs and immigrations with ease.
The day started with an aborted sunrise shoot…it was raining. After breakfast we rode the van to the Banyon temple. Our entry passes consisted of our pictures on the three-day pass we acquired. We strolled thru the grounds taking images as is our normal activity. I finished early and proceeded to the meeting place. The Tourist Police and the ticket checkers invited to sit in a chair at their desk. The Tourist Police gave me his hat and I proceeded to direct the traffic to have their tickets ready. We had a good time until the rest of the group arrived.
Next we had our lunch of typical Cambodian food. We each had our own dishes as it was not family style. The food was very good even though a bit spicy.
The afternoon consisted of touring Angkor Wat. I got myself taken as I walked through. There is repair happening and the route is not as straight as could be. I was motioned by a guy to come that way and I was going slightly different. What he wanted was for me to light some incense and place on the alter with the proper respect. Then he wanted money…gee, will I ever learn.
Since I have contracted a cold and opted to go back to the hotel while the rest of the group headed for a sunset shoot on the Phnom Bakheng mountain. Dinner after while enjoying the Apsara traditional dance.
My room didn’t have water when I returned, but after calling the front desk I had water.
Our guide has asked the staff to get some ginger so I can have hot water ginger for my cold.
Another sunrise shoot that few attended.
After breakfast we visited more temples with lunch at a local restaurant. The afternoon was spent in rest and relaxation or free time.
Our guide likes our group. She said we are a guide’s dream…she may have meant nightmare tho.
Today is the last day in Siem Reap and what a day it was. The day began with a drive through Angkor. We said our final good-byes to the temples.
The boat ride through the floating villages on Tonle Sap Lake was exceptional. The floating homes are in close proximity to their neighbor. But if you have troubles with your neighbor you can easily pull up and float to another location. There was much activity on the lake and even a school.
The young boys until about 5-6 go naked and wear pants after that. The girls are covered as is proper. There are stores and restaurants about so you can row or motor over for what you need. We even saw a motor cycle parked at one home. After all you need transportation when you go on land.
We could see inside some homes and get some detail. The people were friendly and encouraged the youngsters to wave.
We were able to return to the hotel for a shower before checkout and our trip to the airport. It didn’t take long to reacquire the effects of the hot weather, but at least we shed the morning’s effect.
We said our tearful good-by’s to our guide and proceeded to check-in.
The trip began with a short flight from Siem Reap to Bangkok. On this flight I played hostess by conducting the emergency information segment of flight. By now I’m getting acting directions. Our luggage was checked to our final destinations.
The next leg was Bangkok to Hong Kong. We got our boarding passes here for the remainder of the flights and our luggage was noted.
The next segment was the longest and took us to Vancouver where we deplaned with all our stuff for plane cleaning. This gave us an opportunity to charge some of our electronics. The plane had outlets, but it was difficult to find and see the inputs. It felt like a universal plug.
The final leg was Vancouver to JFK or LA. The Vancouver to JFK was fairly short and we arrived in JFK about 6:30 AM…a tired but happy bunch.
I generally like to photograph land/seascapes, but this trip was a lot about people. I think I photographed more people in this one trip than in all trips before. What can I say about the trip? Great food, great people, great photography opportunities, and great guides. It was simply great. It was indeed a trip to remember and I may even have become a better photographer. I look forward to my next trip with M&M Photo Tours.”