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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