Citadel in Huế, Vietnam

On the trip to Vietnam this year, one of the stops was Huế. I have to admit that Huế was not my favorite city we visited… it was exceptionally hot, and we were pretty badly ripped off on our first dining experience (how do you argue with an old woman yelling at you in Vietnamese? You don’t… you pay… and you vow to never go back to her stall), and by the time the sky even pretended to cool down, it was getting dark. So not a lot of photos were made there, but I was just playing with this somewhat drab image from the Citadel and added some texture to it in Aperture, and fairly liked how it came out.

Citadel in Huế, VietnamCitadel in Huế, Vietnam @ April 2011 | Canon EOS 1Ds Mk III & 50mm ƒ/1.2L @ ISO 200, ƒ/1.2, 1/15

Life on the Rails

The train ride from Mũi Né to Đà Nẵng in Vietnam (a little more about that here) rode through a few parts of the country that really show you how the other-half live. And by that I don’t mean the zillionaire half… I mean quite the opposite. Barreling full-tilt down the tracks is never a time for good photography, but I had to try. I opened a window, stabilized the GF1 camera as much as possible, set it to my customized high ISO B&W mode, and proceeded to time shots to hopefully capture some of the life on the rails.

These are all shot with the equivalent of a 35mm lens, and none of these are cropped. That shows you just how close the buildings — and in some cases, the people — are to the trains rushing by.

Life on the Rails; a train ride from Mũi Né to Đà Nẵng, Vietnam

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This is no back door. This is a door and a window and a place to hang laundry and put out potted plants. 

Life on the Rails; a train ride from Mũi Né to Đà Nẵng, Vietnam

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This chap has quite a nice garden going. If it weren’t 10 feet from the train, I’m sure it’d be lovely.

Life on the Rails; a train ride from Mũi Né to Đà Nẵng, Vietnam

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Most windows (well, probably all) are chain link fence or chicken wire, not glass. 

Life on the Rails; a train ride from Mũi Né to Đà Nẵng, Vietnam

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Don’t miss the woman in the lower right corner. She’s just going about her day, as if we aren’t even there. As if this massive, twenty-car train isn’t rushing by at top speed, an arm’s reach away.

Life on the Rails; a train ride from Mũi Né to Đà Nẵng, Vietnam

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Laundry, potted plants… normal life.

Life on the Rails; a train ride from Mũi Né to Đà Nẵng, Vietnam

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Getting closer to the station, you can see that the track has split, and even some train lights on the ground. And the old woman sweeping the train soot off of her ledge.

The Most Amazing Sandwich You Never Had… Bánh Mì

Since I moved into food yesterday (post-cooked, as opposed to the pre-cooked variety of the fishing village!) I’ll stick with that theme for a couple of days.

I’m a big fan of Anthony Bourdain’s show “No Reservations”. Truth be told, I’m a fan of all he does. I’ve enjoyed the most amazing burger of my life in the (formerly his) restaurant Les Halles in New York. Besides the perfect ground beef and bun and all the other normalcies of a stellar burger, it was topped with seared foie gras and served with a port wine reduction au jus, along with a side of the best frites outside of Belgium. I love his writing and have read all his books, and he’s probably number one on my list of people I’d Most Like To Have Dinner With. Hell, I’d even love to cook for him. Anyway, in the past I’ve made a point of checking out episodes of the show filmed in a place I’m preparing to visit, and with Vietnam, this was no exception. And in one of the episodes, he sampled the street sandwich known as bánh mì, which I immediately knew I simply had to find. After all, done exceptionally, it features something he and I both adore—a fried egg. If you don’t believe me, just watch this clip.

We had a few of these along the way. In fact these shots are from a sandwich stand in Mui Ne, and we went back there for lunch a second time, waiting nearly two hours for her to open. Fortunately, a café with an abundance of cold beer was stationed nearby.

Bánh mì in Vietnam

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Above our lovely sandwich lady is cutting open a fresh baguette. The bread in Vietnam is very French, but very not. The crust is incredibly crispy, and the insides extremely airy. They are delicious, but also suck all the moisture out of your mouth. It’s a curious way to do bread, and to be sure it was any good, we had to eat a lot of it while there.

Bánh mì in Vietnam

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The stall, as you can see, isn’t much. It’s a tiny little glass box on wheels with no refrigeration (that’s in a cooler behind her), and a hodge-podge of ingredients. Most people I’m sure tell her exactly what they want on their sandwich. We just sat there grinning and pointing and nodding. “Yeah yeah, that too!!”. There are meats and pattés, sweet pickled cucumber and I think carrots, one of those simple foil-wrapped triangle-shaped cheeses is spread on like butter to start the construction process, and a sauce that I guess is a fish sauce of sorts, but who really knows. And these vary from region to region. I think this documents our favorite, in Mui Ne. 

Bánh mì in Vietnam

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The fried egg is, I guess, not a regular option. We had to ask for it, and we only knew it was there because another customer (obviously a friend of hers) came up and made her own egg in that little pan. We saw that and it was game-over. Oh yeah baby, we definitely need one of those, too.

By the time the sandwich was done, we were so excited to get into it that the proper camera got put away. Therefore, the only evidence of its final glory was captured as Instagram photos…

Seriously?!?!

Chow, bella!

This sandwich is probably the number one reason I want to return to Vietnam. Really.

The Fabulous Food of Vietnam

In case you hadn’t guessed it yet, we like to eat. Alenka and I travel to eat, really. It’s a calling. I mean, someone’s gotta do it, right?

Since I displayed some lovely (or squeamish, depending on your proclivity) photos of sea animals on their way to dinner yesterday, today I figured I’d show the other side of the table. This is a glorious meal in Hội An, enjoyed from the front table on a wall-less building overlooking the water at a restaurant called Hong Phuc. Hard to beat.

A perfect meal in Hội An, Vietnam

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Those are grilled scallops, red snapper, and some sea greens that are just delicious with garlic. And a San Miguel. Because at some point, you actually can tire of Tiger beer.

Are you hungry yet? ;-)

Squishy Squid in Mũi Né, Vietnam

Back to the fishing village! I still have a few more shots to share from that morning that I’ll pepper throughout the next few posts.

Check out that basket of squid. Is that not a big pile of calamari just begging for a frying pan, some garlic and butter and parsley? Oh good, now I’m hungry again.

How anyone can look at a bucket of squishy, slimy, distorted sea creatures like this and thing “mmm, dinner!” is beyond me. Yet I do it. Oh yes… I do. Does that make me weird?

Squishy Squid in Mũi Né, Vietnam

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There’s something about this next photo that I really enjoy. I suppose it’s the symmetry of it; that’s what caught my eye in the first place. I fired off a sequence as people were crossing back and forth in front of her, and this was the one that came out best. There’s a lot I would change on this shot if I could; I should have shot it with shallower depth of field, and of course I wish the guy in the striped shirt wasn’t there, and the fellow in the checked shirt wasn’t reaching across and breaking the line of her leg, but whatcha gonna do. It’s the real world, not a studio, and sometimes you get it… sometimes you don’t.

A squid and a squat

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Regardless, I still like the photo, but I might be too close to it. What do you think? Keep it or kill it?

Lady in Red

As you photographers all know there are times when a color combination will simply leap out and grab you by the scruff of the shirt and demand to be photographed. This was one of those times.

Within the first hour of walking the streets of Hội An, after a deeply satisfying lunch of Com Ga (chicken and rice), we stumbled past these gloriously painted powder blue shutters on a pale yellow wall, and the lovely Alenka’s bright red shirt simply finished the story. A quick pose, a few shots and off we went. The photo looked great in camera, and even better on screen.

Alenka and the Blue Window

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This photograph was made with my “little camera”, the Panasonic Lumix GF1 with the 20mm ƒ1.7 pancake lens. This is my street camera, the one I’ll carry when I don’t feel like lugging the dSLR. I really enjoy shooting with it, but if you’re thinking of buying one, definitely pick up the electronic viewfinder for it. I do not like looking at the back of a camera to compose; I want to have my eye up to a viewfinder. The electronic one on this camera does not disappoint; my favorite feature is that it tilts, so you can look down into the camera—it’s somehow much less imposing when doing street photography. The price of this thing has shot way up for some reason. It’s probably discontinued now, and I know it was succeeded by the GF2. But I don’t like the GF2—I like the mechanical dials of the GF1, where the GF2 went more electronic and modern-looking.

If you’re not already, you should follow Alenka on twitter @AlenkaDesign, and check out her website, AlenkaDesign.com. She’s a graphic designer and is, like all of us freelancers, always on the hunt for new clients!

White Sand Dunes in Bình Thuận Province near Mũi Né, Vietnam

90 minutes or so outside of Mũi Né in Vietnam is home to two enormous sets of sand dunes; the Red Dunes and the White Dunes. These white dunes are found in the Bình Thuận Province and part of what makes them spectacular (to me at least) is that while it looks like you’re in the middle of a dessert, you’ll walk over a dune and find yourself staring into a lake. I couldn’t tell you if it’s fresh or salt water; usually you’d assume a lake to be fresh, but considering it’s proximity to the ocean, the water could be coming in, not going out. Whatever it is, it’s stunning. You can see where these photos were made on google maps.

In this first shot, you see the expanse of the dunes. Those tiny dots on the dune in the back are people, getting ready to go “sand sledding” on saucer-sleds down the dunes!

White Sand Dunes in the Bình Thuận Province of Vietnam

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And here, overlooking the water. It’s a pretty steep drop down; I’m not sure it’d be that easy to get back up!

White Sand Dunes in the Bình Thuận Province of Vietnam

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Tomorrow I’ll share the Red Dunes, with an extra special “surprise”. You’ll see immediately why the surprise made us very, very sad.

Would you go sledding down these dunes? It looked like a load of fun, but somehow the thought of picking sand out of my crevasses for the rest of the trip didn’t appeal. That and as it was, it took hours to clean the cameras!

Oh yeah, this is me, shooting… the wind was flying, fierce!

Fishing Village in Mui Ne, Vietnam

The same morning of the sunrise in yesterday’s post we visited the local fishing village. If you look closely in the first sunrise photo (which, by the way, was the clear favorite among you, thanks!), you’ll see fishermen in their basket boats making their way to shore to sell their catch.

The fishing village is, like much of Vietnam, organized chaos. Dozens (hundreds?) of fishermen and women come to shore, and hundreds of local families, merchants, restaurants and more clamor for the best catch. Everything you can imagine — and some you probably couldn’t — are available here. I’ll not spoil the fun and will post more photos in the future of some of the more surprising foods, but here’s a favorite shot of a pile of squid being dumped to be sorted and sold.

Squid caught in the South China Sea in Mui Ne, Vietnam

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There are so many things about this scene that I love. Most obviously, the pile of squid. Not laid out on a plastic matt, not put on a sterile table, but simply dumped in a pile on the sand to be sorted later. Next, the colors. On a recent education job in Canada, someone remarked that the colors in Vietnam appear so vibrant—that we wouldn’t see these colors here in North America; at least not in such abundance. And I suppose there’s some truth to that. Look at these common plastic baskets; the yellow and blue are so vibrant. The incredible red of the pants in the background. Even the red rubber glove holding onto the baskets. The colors assault the senses in Vietnam, competing with the flavors of the food. Flavors for your eyes, I suppose.