Vietnam – everyone should visit at least once in their life

Ho Chi Minh Memorial

Canon 5d Mark III, Canon EF24-105mm f/4L IS @ 35mm, 1/100, f/9, ISO 400, Lexar Professional 600X Digital Film, Tiffen Circular Polarizer, BlackRapid Sport, Clik Elite Pro Express

Ho Chi Minh is the father of modern Vietnam.  His mausoleum is pictured above.  We make a few historical stops every year depending on timing and weather.  M&M visits Vietnam every year in October.  It is one of our most popular trips every year.  Through this post we hope to share a few thoughts, info, and images that will inspire you to visit and enjoy what we enjoy.

The Vietnam you may picture in your mind is different from what you will see when you visit.  Yes, there is a lot of progress to be made here and there has been a ton of progress in the last 40 years.  The people work hard, there are millions of scooters and 50cc motorbikes, and what awaits you photographically is a true wonder.  Let’s first learn a bit about the country.

Chinese writing at Hanoi Pagoda

Canon 5d Mark III, Canon EF24-105mm f/4L IS @ 105mm, 1/100, f/5, ISO 2000, Lexar Professional 600X Digital Film, BlackRapid Sport, Clik Elite Pro Express

The history of Vietnam goes back thousands of years – archaeological findings showing human settlements as far back as around half a million years ago and a cultural history of over 20,000 years.  The history of the country has always been tied to conflict both internally and with foreign powers.  In about 111 B.C. the Chinese Han dynasty conquered northern Vietnam’s Red River Delta and the ancestors of today’s Vietnamese.  Chinese dynasties ruled Vietnam for the next 1,000 years, inculcating it with Confucian ideas and political culture.  In 939 AD, Vietnam achieved independence under a native dynasty.  After 1471, when Vietnam conquered the Champa Kingdom in what is now central Vietnam, the Vietnamese moved gradually southward, finally reaching the rich Mekong Delta, encountering Cham and Cambodians.  While Vietnam’s emperors reigned ineffectually, powerful northern and southern families fought civil wars in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Watering the fields in Vietnam

Canon 5d Mark III, Sigma 70-200 f/2.8 OS @ 200mm, 1/250, f/8, ISO 100, Lexar Professional 600X Digital Film, Tiffen Circular Polarizer, BlackRapid Sport, Clik Elite Pro Express

Most westerners know of the conquest of Vietnam by France which began in 1858 and completed by 1884.  It became part of French Indochina in 1887.  Vietnam declared independence after World War II, but France continued to rule until its 1954 defeat by Communist forces under Ho Chi Minh.  Under the Geneva Accords of 1954, Vietnam was divided into the Communist North and anti-Communist South.  US economic and military aid to South Vietnam grew through the 1960s in an attempt to bolster the government.  In January 1969, the United States, governments of South and North Vietnam, and the Viet Cong met for the first session of peace talks in Paris, France.  These talks, which began with much hope, moved slowly.  They finally concluded with the signing of a peace agreement, the Paris Accords, on January 27, 1973.  As a result, the south was broken into a patchwork of zones controlled by the South Vietnamese Government and the Viet Cong.  The United States withdrew its forces, although U.S. military advisers remained.  In 1975 North Vietnamese forces overran the South reuniting the country under Communist rule.  Despite the return of peace, for over a decade the country experienced little economic growth because of conservative leadership policies, the persecution and mass exodus of individuals – many of them successful South Vietnamese merchants – and growing international isolation.

Weathered old man and beard

Canon 5d Mark III, Sigma 70-200 f/2.8 OS @ 200mm, 1/400, f/5, ISO 400, Lexar Professional 600X Digital Film, BlackRapid Sport, Clik Elite Pro Express

However, since the enactment of Vietnam’s “doi moi” (renovation) policy in 1986, Vietnamese authorities have committed to increased economic liberalization and enacted structural reforms needed to modernize the economy and to produce more competitive, export-driven industries.  The Communist leaders, however, maintain control on political expression and have resisted outside calls to improve human rights.  The country continues to experience small-scale protests from various groups – the vast majority connected to land-use issues, calls for increased political space, and the lack of equitable mechanisms for resolving disputes. Various ethnic minorities, such as the Montagnards of the Central Highlands and the Khmer Krom in the southern delta region, have also held protests looking for more rights and involvement in government.

Sapa market lady

Canon 5d Mark III, Sigma 70-200 f/2.8 OS @ 200mm, 1/500, f/5, ISO 400, Lexar Professional 600X Digital Film, BlackRapid Sport, Clik Elite Pro Express

We spend a lot of time photographing the people and their lives while in Vietnam.  They are so kind and patient with us and they appreciate the time we share with them.  We also contribute to their local economy by staying local, eating local and buying small gifts for family and friends back home.  The Vietnamese are working hard to build their lives and their country.  Tradition and family remain important to them in every region and you often find extended families living together and taking care of each other.

Kids in Sapa Vietnam

Canon 5d Mark III, Sigma 70-200 f/2.8 OS @ 200mm, 1/1600, f/4.5, ISO 400, Lexar Professional 600X Digital Film, Tiffen Circular Polarizer, BlackRapid Sport, Clik Elite Pro Express

Ceramic casket maker in Vietnam

Canon 5d Mark III, Sigma 70-200 f/2.8 OS @ 200mm, 1/250, f/8, ISO 1250, Lexar Professional 600X Digital Film, BlackRapid Sport, Clik Elite Pro Express

The woman above is one of my recent favorite images I’ve captured in rural Vietnam.  We visit a small pottery village every year and photograph and experience the lifestyles of the people.  This woman was painting ceramic reburial caskets – a local tradition for their dead.  Her eyes are so expressive.  The image below is her finished product – off to market it goes.  She painstakingly hand-painted every single one of the caskets you see.

Reburial caskets in Vietnam

Canon 5d Mark III, Sigma 70-200 f/2.8 OS @ 70mm, 1/250, f/8, ISO 1250, Lexar Professional 600X Digital Film, BlackRapid Sport, Clik Elite Pro Express

The last shot we want to share in this post is from the hills outside Sapa, Vietnam.  We get off the beaten path and visit several small local ethnic villages.  We are always greeted by children practicing their English (yes, they are all great salespeople) and the images we capture often show how happy kids are here.  This little guy was so happy to have scored two bottles of water from our driver and he was marching off with his troops to enjoy his spoils.  It was simply an awesome experience to witness a child so happy over a small thing.  The event brought a few of our guests to tears and they ran over to Mike G. planting kisses on his cheek to thank him and M&M for bringing them such an awesome experience – both photographically and life lesson wise.  As we say at M&M – “You don’t just take a photograph, you experience it.”

Marching with my water

Canon 5d Mark III, Canon EF24-105mm f/4L IS @ 105mm, 1/320, f/8, ISO 800, Lexar Professional 600X Digital Film, Tiffen Circular Polarizer, BlackRapid Sport, Clik Elite Pro Express

We hope you enjoyed the post.  Feel free to share it with your friends.  We look forward to hosting you all on an M&M Photo Tour soon.

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2 Responses to “Vietnam – everyone should visit at least once in their life”

  1. Hal Crosthwaite Says:

    Good description of what can see in Vietnam. It is a wonderful area of the world. Access to great photo opps. is made easy by M & M and their American speaking guides. I was with Mike two years ago and plan on returning.

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