Category Archives: Asia

Sa Pa, Vietnam

Sa Pa, Vietnam

 

I love Hanoi.   The frenetic pace, the incredible street food and the colonial architecture.   But after a week in Hanoi, I was excited for a more chill pace for awhile.   Sa Pa in northern Vietnam was the perfect antidote for my city overload.    It was one of the highlights of the trip for me.  The hiking was incredible and it was one of my favorite early morning market scenes in Vietnam.

 

Sa Pa is the kind of place that’s so beautiful, you have to pay your dues to get there.   Most people travel to Sa Pa on the overnight train from Hanoi.   Which sounds like a great idea: sleep on the way and save a night’s lodging but the reality is a bit different.   I’m sure there are people who sleep on the train and arrive fresh at their destination.  I’m not one of them.  With two Ambien and a couple beers, I’m still not one of them.  The train lurches around every corner, stops and starts in fits…it’s like the engineer is napping up front and his five year old kid is driving the train.   And conspiring with the five year old driving the train is the lady hawking snacks.   She seems to know exactly when I’ve just started to drift off because I’ll be jarred awake by her rapping on the door.

 

I stumble off the train at 4am into a sea of touts.  Sleep deprived and unsure of how to get where I’m going.  This is exactly how touts want to engage a tourist.  I end up paying three times as much as I should for the hour long van ride to Sa Pa.   My bad for not doing a little research on this before I arrived in Lao Cai.

 

The folks at the Sa Pa Unique Hotel were awesome.   I arrived long before check-in but they let me leave my backpack at the hotel and sent me off hiking to a nearby Hmong village.    I didn’t want to do any trekking tours and the owner of the hotel never pressured me to do a tour and he was great about recommending off the beaten path hikes.   I would hike all morning and never see another traveler, only locals going about their day.    I would definitely consider staying at this hotel on my next visit to Sa Pa.  The view from my room was stunning.  And best of all, they bring a tasty banana, chocolate dessert thingy to your room in the evening.

 

A lot of people who visit northern Vietnam bitch about the constant selling by the Hmong ladies.  True, the constant “buy something” gets old but I bought a few things off a couple super nice ladies.  Then I would just chat with them whenever I saw them around town after that.   I learned a lot about their way of life from these conversations.   They never pestered me to buy anything again and I just gave a polite “no” to sales pitches from other vendors after that.     Plus, their wares are all handmade and super reasonable.

 

Prints are available for purchase at BHI Prints.

 

All images were shot with the Fuji X-T1 and either the 18mm 2.0 lens or the 35mm 1.4 lens.

 

The trekking in the Hmong villages near Sa Pa was pretty incredible.

The trekking in the Hmong villages near Sa Pa was pretty incredible. No need for a guide. And if you get lost or tired, just flag down a moto and catch a ride back to Sapa.

A Hmong village near Sa Pa. I loved meeting locals when I was out hiking.

A Hmong village near Sa Pa. I loved meeting locals when I was out hiking. Like almost every place I’ve traveled, once you get out into the countryside, people are more friendly.

Travel photography in Vietnam.

So peaceful hiking through the countryside.

Hiking near Sa Pa.

A Hmong villager walking to Sa Pa.

The Hmong ladies waiting to sell their wares.

The Hmong ladies waiting to sell their wares.

A couple tourists ensconced by Hmong sales ladies.

A group of tourists ensconced by Hmong sales ladies.

My brother succumbing to the sales pressure. :)

My brother succumbing to the sales pressure. 🙂

Teenagers are similar the world over.

Teenagers are similar the world over.

Headed to market at dawn in Sa Pa.

Headed to market at dawn in Sa Pa.

Sa Pa market at dawn.

Sa Pa market at dawn.

At the market in Sa Pa, Vietnam.

At the market in Sa Pa, Vietnam.

Hmong at market in Sapa, Vietnam.

Sa Pa, Vietnam.

The daily fog in Sa Pa made for cool, moody photos.

Travel Reflections

Travel Reflections

 

Turning 50 seems like a great time to recommend some of my favorite places and share a few travel reflections and some lessons learned from my travels.

 

Here’s my number one travel tip:  travel as light as you possibly can.  Go with just a carryon.  I’m down to 20 liter backpack that weighs less than 8 kilograms when it’s fully loaded that will fit in the small overhead bins of  the regional airlines.    As a good friend told me years ago, all you really need to travel is your passport, a credit card and a little cash.  I’d add that you must have a camera, too.  But I’m a photographer : )    Here is a little known secret: other countries have washing machines and dryers.  Better yet, drop it off at a full service laundry and pick it up the next day.  All you really need is enough clothes for a week or so no matter how long your trip is.   Having a bunch of luggage with you is like carrying a millstone with you on your travels.  Be free!

 

Favorite completely touristy thing I love to do in Paris:

Climbing the Tower of Notre Dame in Paris.   Something amazing climbing up stone steps that are worn down by 500 years of foot falls.   And the view?  Stunning.   I do this every time I'm in Paris.

Climbing the Tower of Notre Dame in Paris. Something amazing about climbing up stone steps that are worn down by 500 years of foot falls. And the view? Stunning. I do this every time I’m in Paris.

 

 

Most Important Travel Lesson Learned…

Don't let the wine run out!

…don’t let the wine run out!

 

 

You can work out anywhere!

Even in the jungle in the middle of nowhere in Haiti!

Even in the jungle in the middle of nowhere in Haiti!

 

 

The best part of the journey is often just relaxing and taking it easy.

My buddy Tim shot this of me relaxing during our backpacking trip in Glacier National Park.

My buddy Tim shot this of me during our backpacking trip in Glacier National Park.

 

 

My favorite place in the world is still the North Shore on Kauai.  

Hanalei Bay, Kauai.  The incredible hiking, snorkeling, awesome beaches, and laid back vibe make the North Shore of Kauai a pretty amazing place.   And no snakes...did I mention no snakes?

Hanalei Bay, Kauai. The incredible hiking, snorkeling, awesome beaches, and laid back vibe make the North Shore of Kauai a pretty amazing place. And no snakes…did I mention no snakes?

 

 

Teenagers are similar the world over.

Hmong girls checking Facebook in Sapa, Vietnam.

Hmong girls checking Facebook in Sapa, Vietnam.

 

 

Havana is the best place to experience a time warp.

All the American cars from the 1950's make for a surreal vibe in Havana.   Cuba is one of my favorite places to visit for the photography, the people, and laid back vibe.

All the American cars from the 1950’s make for a surreal vibe in Havana. Cuba is one of my favorite places to visit for the photography, the people, and laid back vibe.

 

 

Angkor Wat in Cambodia is the most surreal place I’ve visited.

If I had to recommend just one place in SE Asia to visit, it would be Angkor Wat.  The ruins are amazing.

If I had to recommend just one place in SE Asia to visit, it would be Angkor Wat. The ruins are amazing. And if you get started before sunrise, you can beat the crowds to the outlying ruins.

 

 

But if you want to watch the sunrise over the main temple at Angkor Wat, you may have company.

I hate crowds but it was actually kinda cool being with so many people excited to take the same photo.

I hate crowds but it was actually kinda cool being with so many people excited to take the same photo.

 

 

Venice is the best city in the world to get lost in.

Even when Venice is crazy busy with tourists from the cruise ships, you can take a turn off the main streets, take another turn, and it'll just be you and the locals.  Stay lost for a few hours.  And when you're ready to get back to your hotel, just ask a local for directions.  Or better yet, flag down a water taxi.

Even when Venice is crazy busy with tourists from the cruise ships, you can take a turn off the main streets, take another turn, and it’ll just be you and the locals. Stay lost for a few hours. And when you’re ready to get back to your hotel, just ask a local for directions. Or better yet, flag down a water taxi.

 

 

This is what D Day and WWII are about for me…

...a French child flying his kite on one of the D Day beaches.

…a French child flying his kite on one of the D Day beaches.

 

 

The best gift I give myself before I travel is learning just a bit of the local language.

I met these two ladies in Moduli Village in Tanzania.  They got a kick out of my attempts at speaking Swahili.  And I got a cool photo I wouldn't have gotten if I'd been speaking English.

I met these two ladies in Moduli Village in Tanzania. They got a kick out of my attempts at speaking Swahili. And I got a cool photo I wouldn’t have gotten if I’d been speaking English.

 

 

“Strange Days is playing on the jukebox, the Amsterdam bar cat is waiting and the beer is great…where are you?”   This was the message letting me know my kids had arrived in the Netherlands and were inviting me to hang out at a local bar they’d found.   Evenings like that are the reason I travel.  The perfect moment you can’t possibly plan.

The Amsterdam bar cat.

The Amsterdam bar cat.

 

 

And the Honfluer collie…

Not as compelling as the Amsterdam Bar Cat but what a cute collie.

I shot this in Honfleur, France last year.

 

 

Cinque Terra – my fav place in Europe to hike, eat amazing food, drink tasty wine and relax.

Vernazza was my favorite village in Cinque Terra.   It's the perfect base to hike to other villages.

Vernazza was my favorite village in Cinque Terra. It’s the perfect base to hike to other villages. And if you have too much wine with lunch, you can just hop on a train back to Vernazza.

 

 

Hallstatt is the Austrian version of Cinque Terra.    Which means it’s cleaner and more orderly and the beer is awesome.  But the wine and food…well, it’s not Italy.   The train ride from Salzburg to Hallstatt is stunning and the hiking above the village is steep and beautiful.

Hallstatt

Hallstatt

 

 

Favorite National Parks.   Yellowstone and Grand Teton are my favorite national parks.  Killer mountains, grizzly bears, buffalo, wolves…no shortage of reasons to love YNP and GTNP.   YNP can be crazy in the summer but once you’re a few miles into the backcountry there is plenty of solitude.   And as stunning as GTNP is, it gets only a fraction of the visitors as it’s neighbor to the north.

Mustang  in the Grand Tetons.

Mustang in the Grand Tetons.

 

 

Elephants are amazing…

...and volunteering at Elephants World in Kanchanabari, Thailand was a wonderful experience.

…and volunteering at Elephants World in Kanchanabari, Thailand was a wonderful experience.

 

 

An African safari is even more amazing than you might imagine.

I was shooting a non-profit in Tanzania and I almost didn't go on a safari because I was so focused on the work.  I'm glad I did it.  Nothing like flying into the Serengeti and seeing elephants and giraffes below us.  And lions and tigers, oh my!

I was shooting for a non-profit in Tanzania and I almost didn’t go on a safari because I was so focused on the work. I’m glad I did it. Nothing like flying into the Serengeti and seeing elephants and giraffes below us. And lions and tigers, oh my!

 

 

St John is the best Caribbean island for snorkeling, hiking and killer beaches!

Kauai is still my fav island in the world but it's tough to beat St John's combination of perfect powdery sandy beaches, hiking and snorkeling.

Kauai is still my fav island in the world but it’s tough to beat St John’s combination of perfect powdery sandy beaches, hiking and snorkeling.

 

As much as I love to travel, it’s tough to beat Colorado in the summer!

Rocky Mountain National Park is one of my fav places in Colorado for hiking!

Rocky Mountain National Park is one of my fav places in Colorado for hiking!

 

Also posted in Africa Travel, Caribbean Travel, Europe Travel, Humanitarian, USA Travel

Hoan Kiem Lake – Hanoi

Hoan Kiem Lake – Hanoi

 

Hoan Kiem Lake was an oasis amidst the craziness of the Old Quarter of Hanoi.    Dodging motorcycles to get across each side street, and then the last obstacle is the road that circles Hoan Kiem Lake.  Whew.  But once I make it across, it is such a cool, vibrant playground full of locals.  Groups doing laughter yoga, locals working out solo or in large groups, their workout guided by music blasting from a boom box.   People running around the lake.  Mostly tourists are the runners.   But almost everyone else is a local.   The tourists start arriving after breakfast but a 5 am, it’s almost all Vietnamese.

 

The dancing is what caught my attention the most.   It was both surreal and beautiful to see couples dancing by the lake before the the sun even came up.  Vietnam, you’ve found a place in my soul.

 

All images were shot with the Fuji X-T1 and the Fuji 18mm lens.

 

I'm not sure i ever saw the saw while I was in Hanoi. Which is just fine. The overcast skies made for great reflections like in this photo.

I’m not sure i ever saw the saw while I was in Hanoi. Which is just fine. The overcast skies made for great reflections like in this photo.

Hoan Kiem Lake was one of my favorite places in Hanoi.

Hoan Kiem Lake was one of my favorite places in Hanoi.

I just didn't see the inhibitions in Hanoi that I see in the States.  People dancing in the park.  How beautiful.

I just didn’t see the inhibitions in Hanoi that I see in the States. People dancing in the park. How beautiful.

A shrine at Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi.

A shrine at Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi.

Folks praying at a shrine on Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi's Old Quarter.

Folks praying at a shrine on Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi’s Old Quarter.

 

 

Hanoi Travel Photography

Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi.

 

 

I loved the Old Quarter in Hanoi.   As a travel photographer, it was heaven.   So much going on.   Yummy smells wafting from a plethora of food stalls, cool colonial architecture, motos going every which way and Hoan Kiem Lake…an incredible vibe.   Other than the initial fear of crossing the street with all the crazy moto traffic, Hanoi is a wonderful city to explore on foot.  We hoofed it from our hotel to the Hanoi Hilton, Ho’s mausoleum, the war museum and out to Lenin Park.

 

Plan on getting lost every time you leave your hotel.  I’ve never been in a city where me sense of direction failed me so completely.  The winding lanes that change names every block are part of it.  The other factor may be that your using all your senses trying to get across the street that you lose all sense of direction.   That’s my theory, anyway.

 

Lenin Park was by far the most peaceful place I found in Hanoi.  It’s a huge park and it may be the only place in Hanoi that vehicles aren’t allowed.  I would consider staying near Lenin Park next time I visit Hanoi just for a quiet place to run in the morning.  Plus, it’s off the Hanoi tourist track.  I didn’t see another traveler at the park or even in that part of Hanoi.

 

I stayed a five minute walk from Hoan Kiem Lake.   Whenever I travel, I make it a point to be up and out the door before the sun comes up.  This usually means it’s just me and the few people getting an early start.  Not so in Hanoi.   The sun wasn’t even up yet and there were large groups at Hoan Kiem Lake doing aerobics, laughter yoga, running and working out.

 

This image was shot with the Fuji X-T1 and the Fuji 18mm lens.   Hanoi was an awesome place for travel photography.

 

Hanoi photo

Locals were out dancing by the lake in Hanoi. I loved it that folks were comfortable dancing alone.