The colours and patterns in Vietnam

Following my previous post about a long forgotten trip to Laos, below are the photos from the few weeks I spent in Vietnam in 2010. I started out from the hot and humid South, amazed at the variety of food and the number of motorcycles that could fit in Ho Chi Minh City. I continued my way up to the dunes of Mui Ne by the seaside and spent a short while in the lovely tailoring town of Hoi An. It offered me a moment to relax from the few months of “life on the road” and from the nasty illness I had managed to catch somewhere in Laos.

After a short stop in Hue, where I didn’t really seem to find much of interest, I took a long bus ride to Hanoi. I marvelled at the Ha Long Bay, even though I wasn’t blessed with the weather. It was a pity because what must be breathtaking in the sun was kind of grey and gloomy with the clouds. Not to mention that it was really cold and ridiculously crowded with tourists. Still, there was something really beautiful about the karst isles in the misty bay and I guess if you’d go solo and stay the night on an island, you could avoid the hordes of people too.

Next I arrived to the Sa Pa area in the North of Vietnam, a place I had long yearned to see. I went trekking in the villages for a few days, enjoying the breathtaking vistas and the quiet village settings. I loved the clothes the village people were still wearing on a daily basis. The bright colours sown together in intricate patterns and the wide, mysterious landscapes offered some good possibilites for shots, especially the Bac Ha market close to the Chinese border. I really enjoyed taking photos over there.

I have to say that a lot of the area in the close vicinity of Sa Pa has gone quite touristic though, and it was hard to make the same kind of personal contact with the village people that I had been able to make in Myanmar or some places in Laos or even Thailand. It was more about money in this region. But then again, I had also not seen other highland tribe villages in South-East Asia that took their culture with such pride and dignity, even if some of it was for the tourists’ sake. Perhaps a certain amount of reluctance towards foreigners is a good thing if it helps retain the cultural unity of a certain community.

I would go to the North of Vietnam again without a doubt. Next time, however, I would hire a personal guide to take me to more remote spots or get on a motorcycle myself and drive around the area. I would also go at the time of the year when the rice fields are the soft green colour and the weather is a bit warmer. And perhaps I would also connect it to a trip to the Yunnan province in China, where a lot of the tribes that live in Vietnam and in other places in South-East Asia actually originate from. In any case it is worth seeing now rather than later.

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There’s something about Laos

Approximately 2 and a half years ago I spent a few weeks in Laos trekking in the villages of the Northern part of the country, then flying from the sleepy Vientiane to the sizzling hot Ho Chi Minh City and continuing my way up to the Sa Pa area in Vietnam. Somehow I never came to publish the photos I made from Laos and Vietnam, except the ones I took with the Holga camera. But better late than never, I like to think, so here is Laos in photos.

Laos was an interesting country in many aspects. Most surprisingly it was the one country about which travellers didn’t seem to agree upon. Some said they couldn’t wait to cross the border from the landlocked Laos to its more fascinating neighbours by the seaside, some were puzzled how anybody could not simply adore this country. There’s something about Laos which is really “same-same” as they like to wrap up more or less everything in Asia but still something completely different that is hard to pinpoint.

Laos is full of contrasts and I guess that your opinion about it really depends on where exactly you go there. The country as I had imagined it to be, I found in the North of Laos. Looking back I saw some pretty amazing villages there where the ethnic minorities still reside as they did hundreds of years ago, living in their bamboo huts and depending on slash and burn agriculture to get by in their everyday life. One can only hope that the road to China does not affect their way of life too soon, since otherwise it would inevitably leave a mark on their cultural identity.

The photos below bring back the memories of these particular moments captured. The market in the early morning. Cycling around near the Chinese border and ending up going to a funeral in a hmong village. Admiring the small hills and the caves they hid inside, the lush green landscapes with water buffalos lounging in the river, the endless watermelon fields and the pink sun setting in the smokey sky. The French baguettes and the monks in their orange robes. And all the people in the rural villages and travellers I came across. It was a good journey.

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A glimpse of Venice

Even though this has been a blog in Estonian and for Estonians for some years, I recently found myself from a thought – what if I sometimes write here in English as well? The more I considered it, the more it started to make sense, given that many of my friends (and, indeed, some of the closest ones) can really understand nothing of what I’m writing about for one simple reason – they do not speak Estonian (yet).

I have to say, I’ve always been sceptical of people writing blog entries in English instead of their mother tongue. Sooner or later you’re making a mistake that you wouldn’t perhaps make in your own language and I’m sure it can be rather annoying to read any text if you feel like correcting grammar. Still, despite living in Estonia, I’ve grown accustomed to speak and write in English at least half of the time at work or after work, being fully aware that it doesn’t come error-free. So, I guess, I might as well give it a go here too.

When brooding over the above-mentioned thought, I happened to be in Venice for a long weekend. 7 years ago I used to live in Rome for 5 months, in the course of which I picked up some basic Italian. Sadly, not a lot of the language has remained with me from that time and even though I could still make out a lot of what Italians were saying to me, I couldn’t bring myself to respond in proper sentences. I was left dumbfounded by their miraculously sounding language, so smooth, fast and full of emotions.

Not surprisingly though, the best way of experiencing Italy is through speaking Italian, and the array of other languages you may also master does not really make up for it. Language is defining this country and its people, just as the sweetness of looking at life, along with good food and good wine. After some time I gave in trying to be considered as part of the inner circle of Italian language speakers and blended in with the crowds of thousands and thousands of tourists visiting the city claimed to be one of the most romantic in Europe.

As Italy is one of my favourite places to be in Europe, it is a country that I have visited most in this part of the world. I had been in the North by the Swiss border, seen the colourful Cinque Terre, witnessed the undefinable beauty of Tuscany and its surrounding regions and crossed the Southern part of Italy as well as Sardinia and Sicily, but for some reason, I had never been to Venice. Just like everybody else, I wanted to go there with someone special and was secretly hoping that the city would be every bit as charming as I imagined it to be when the opportunity would finally present itself. And it was.

Composing of more than a hundred islands in the Venetian lagoon that are separated by narrow winding canals and united by beautifully arched foot bridges, Venice seems to be floating in the sea. The rich and outstandingly well-preserved Gothic architecture has had influences from the East, characterized by a certain lightness of style. I was fascinated by the tall windows surrounded by oriental details and the abundance of colourful flowers decorating the majority of houses along the canals. Sooner or later you cannot help but wonder how did they manage to build it all on wooden piles?

What I loved most about Venice, is that it is so peaceful. In the central area, the only means of transportation is offered by boats in different sizes and the rest has to be managed on foot. Only later did I find out that apparently it is Europe’s largest urban car-free area. Staying away from the Grand Canal and the tourist buzz that has conquered the Piazza San Marco and the Rialto Bridge area, it becomes a whole new city. Escaping the harsh afternoon sun wondering along the narrow alleys, you may easily become disoriented but unlike any other place in the world, in Venice it is a nice pastime to get lost.

No doubt it can be romantic. Especially if you’re willing to pay the price for the “one thing not to miss in Venice” and take a ride in one of those traditional rowing boats. Even if you may witness some serious gondola jams in certain places, it is really quite nice to cruise around the quiet canals, bathing yourself in the soft evening light and sipping a cool Bellini. And contrary to what I had heard, the canals did not smell at the time I was there.

It is probably not the same thing when the weather is cold and damp and the streets are submerged under water with the autumn rains but it is hard to think about that at the moment when the sun is shining in the clear blue sky. For me Venice was such a pleasant surprise that I could even imagine myself living there. If anything, it is not so easy to find good eating places serving the food that Italy is really famous for in the centre. And after a while I would probably grow weary of all the tourists walking around. But other than that, the city of Marco Polo, endless number of masks and Murano glass kind of won me over.

Matk mägede südamesse

Sel kevadel Nepali nõlvadel matkates täitsin ühe oma kauaaegase soovi – näha Annapurna piirkonda. Endises kuningriigis veedetud kahest nädalast tervelt kaheksa päeva investeerisin ma retkele, mis viis mind pikkamööda otse Himaalaja mägede südamesse, kuni 4130 m kõrgusel asuvasse Annapurna baaslaagrisse.

Looduse poolest oli matk ootamatult ilus ja mitmekesine, pakkudes lisaks rododendroniõites metsaradadele, trepjatele rohelistele orgudele ja idüllilistele koskedele ka võimast panoraami üle 7-8 km kõrgustest tippudest, eesotsas Dhaulagiri I ja Annapurna I-ga. Kõige eelneva kulminatsiooniks kujunes varahommik Annapurna baaslaagris, mil seisin omaette, lummatuna sellest vaatepildist ja lõputust vaikusest.

Pildistamist väärivaid momente oli tegelikult sadu kordi rohkem, kui hetki, mil ma hoolimata väsimusest ja mägede heitlikku ilma trotsides siiski kaamera järele haarasin. Tuleb tunnistada, et ei ole lihtne teha fotosid ja samal ajal oma 10 kilost kotti ja kaamerat kanda ning mäest üles-alla rühkida. Ent mingeid hetki ongi parem lihtsalt kogeda ja mäletada, mitte jäädvustada.

Nepal jättis südamesse hästi hea tunde. See on üks nendest riikidest, kuhu läheksin veel ja veel tagasi. Nepali fotod: Annapurna Sanctuary/ ABC matk (läbi Poon Hilli), Kathmandu, Pokhara.

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Teekond, umbes täpselt selline

Jätkuks viimati avaldatud Varanasi fotodele, umbes täpselt selline nägi välja mu teekond Fatehpur Sikris, Agras ja Delhis. Need olid kohad, mida nägin, inimesed, keda kohtasin, ja hetked, mis mingil põhjusel mu kaadrisse jäid…

Sel korral Indias tunnetasin eriti selgelt seda, et pildistamine pakkus mulle võimaluse vahetu kontakti loomiseks kohalike elanikega, hoolimata sellest, et me üht keelt ei mõistnud. Läbi kaamera õppisin ma nendega suhtlema, tundma neile iseloomulikke liigutusi ning tajuma nende meelestatust minu, ülejäänud maailma või siis pelgalt nende fotole jäädvustamise suhtes.

Ma jalutasin tundide kaupa, rahvamassides ja üksipäini kõrvaltänavatel, tundmata end kuidagi ohustatuna. Vastupidi. Eneselegi üllatuseks tundsin hoopis uutmoodi sidet selle maa ja inimestega, milleni ei olnud ma jõudnud oma esimesel reisil. Sellisena lasi India mul end sel korral avastada.

Varanasi alleedel

The city illumines truth and reveals reality. It does not bring new wonders into the scope of vision, but enables one to see what is already there… – Diana L. Eck

Tagasi Indiasse

2006. aasta alguses veetsin kuu aega Indias. See oli mu esimene seljakotireis ja üldse esimene reis väljapoole Euroopat. Ja kuigi see riik tekitas minus vastakaid tundeid, sai just sellest korrast alguse reisikihk, mille ammendumise osas ilmselt niipea veel ohtu ei teki.

Erksate värvide, teravate lõhnade, kakofooniliste helide ja unustamatute maitseelamustega, uskumatu ning absurdi piiril laveeriv India jättis minus oma jälje. Edaspidi lootsin igast järgmisest kohast kasvõi killukest Indiat leida. Ent päris nii pööraseks, kaootiliseks ja kummastavalt kaasakiskuvaks ei ole õigupoolest ükski teine riik osutunud.

Nüüd, 6 aastat hiljem, on aeg tagasi minna. Kuid enne veel, kui võin end Põhja-India kaosest avastada, ootab ees paar nädalat vaikust ja rahu Nepaali mägedes. Nagu ikka on elu aga täis ootamatusi ja nii ka nüüd, kui viimasel hetkel selgus, et sel korral tuleb reis hoopis omapäi ette võtta.

Enne starti veel mõned filmile jäädvustatud fotod eelmisest korrast Indias.