[Vietnam] Photography Guide to Vietnam
Joining tour groups by travel agencies is the easiest way to explore Vietnam. While this hassle-free, economical choice works for most tourists, it's not ideal for serious photographers. They pack too much travel into a short time frame without sufficient time to explore any spots thoroughly for camera angles. Traveling in a group also denies you freedom to explore on your own.
For photographers, it is better to move between cities on public buses and explore the cities on foot, buses, taxis or rented bicycles (if you can ride one)
Keep in mind that, although tolerant, people may be judgmental. Unfortunately you cannot expect hospitality at every turn and you may experience problems with petty theft and pick pockets. This is more prevalent in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Nha Trang. In other areas, especially in the north, reports of these activities are extremely minimal. It is not something to be paranoid about but be aware of your surroundings.
- Make an effort to abide by local customs. Vietnamese people are very appreciative They will be very forgiving even if you get it wrong or forget.
- If invited into a Vietnamese home, always remove your shoes at the front door when entering.
- Try to ask for permissions from people before you photograph them it doesn't always have to be verbal, try gesturing by nodding your head and pointing your camera.
- Take a hotel business card from the reception desk before leaving your hotel. This will make your return to the hotel in a taxi or cyclo much easier.
- Don't photographed any military installations, anything to do with the military or any important government or non-touristy buildings. This can be seen as a breach of national security.
Even photographing bridges may arouse suspicions by the police.
- Don't wear singlets, shorts, dresses or skirts, or tops with low-neck lines and bare shoulders to Temples and Pagodas. To do this is considered extremely rude and offensive.
- Never sleep or sit with the soles of your feet pointing towards the family altar when in someone’s house.
- Losing your temper in Vietnam means a loss of face. Keep a cool head and remain polite, you’ll have a greater chance of getting what you want.
Comparing my photography experience in Vietnam Vs Thailand
- poor transport system for self travelling.
- people seemed more reserved about having their photos taken, and worse, signing a model release
- Vietnam feels a lot less safe (in terms) of personal belonging safety. Perhaps I felt this way also because my friend who worked and lived there (and hosted me for most of my trip in Saigon) repeatedly warn me about how prevalent snatch thiefs are in stealing pretty handphones. So most of the time I was really worried to use my phone in the streets (even though I desperately needed to to find my bearings, or just to keep myself company while waiting for the right timing to shoot).
- again, related to safety and ease of travelling, Vietnam is a nightmare and scam heaven. If khao san road in Thailand is bad, Vietnam is even worse. Case in point, every travel agency blatantly claims that it's "Shin Cafe", the government's official travel agency, just to prey on unsuspecting customers. Its so bad that I don't even know which is the real one. The taxis also have the same kind of rigged meter as some thai taxis that jump uncontrollably at the control of the driver. Difference between thai and Vietnam is that when I expose the driver in thailand he's usually apologetic and I can get away with paying what I counterpropose. In Vietnam the driver will not admit he rigged the meter and insist that you pay the full fare.
- personally vietnam is very boring to me. The sights and attractions are no where near what Thailand could offer. Mekong delta was like some commercialized tour that had nothing interesting or photogenic. Related to the transportation problem, very few people can self travel across these places. In group tours I have no control of timing to shoot, so I end up having to follow a tight schedule and shoot at lousy timings. In terms of landmark there isn't really anything photogenic in both Hanoi and Saigon. Even the postcards show the same old places which aren't any beautiful.
- halong bay was good and probably more natural than any places that Thailand could offer. But problem again is that you need to get on group tour to reach the places easily. So again have little control over shooting timing and places.
- personally on hindsight I think Saigon and Hanoi are not the best places to shoot. Perhaps the more remote places like Sapa will offer more photographic opportunity.
- very developed transport system that can bring you to places easily
- people are very happy to have their photographs taken, and are very trusting (a little too much for their own good in my opinion) to sign a document they don't understand.
- felt very safe to travel around. No worries about equipment safety. Once I even had my misplaced tripod returned.
- because of the ease of travel, numerous beautiful landmarks, I can plan my shoot and timing easily in Thailand
- compared to Vietnam, Thailand's landmarks are way more photogenic than what you can find in Hanoi or Saigon.
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