On a recent trip to Vietnam with Goway Travel, I discovered the diverse culture and lush landscape of the country. Beginning in Hanoi, I ventured through Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City, eventually arriving to the Mekong Delta to explore life along one of the world's longest rivers. One constant I felt during the trip was a sense of warmth, both from the people and the land. In such a diverse setting and with a long, tumultuous past, Vietnam holds a sense of peace in the present day that's unlike any stories you've heard. Explore the culture, the landscape and get to know the people that make Vietnam one of the most beautiful countries in the world.
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One constant in Vietnam is the access to temples in almost every village. While in Hanoi, I discovered one of the most beautiful temples during my journey. The Temple of Literature is dedicated to the philosopher Confucius. Founded in 1070, this temple is comprised of traditional architecture and the institution even housed Vietnam's first university, which opened its doors in 1076. The pagoda educated the sons of Mandarins, and the framework consists of five walled courtyards where original names of the schools first attendees adorn the walls.
Offerings can range from the typical to the more bizarre. At the alter, you can find everything from mangoes and bread to cigarettes and beer, as locals leave items they find useful in present day. It's not necessarily what you give to the temple, but what's in your heart when you give it. All religions and people from all over the world are welcome to visit all of Vietnam's temples, as the culture mixes buddhism and hinduism, among other religions.
Photography is permitted in temples, but do be polite to your fellow travelers and people visiting the temples to worship. Opt to quietly move throughout the landmarks, making sure to leave those in quiet exaltation undisturbed.
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Wander the Ta Hien Night Market
Locals zip by on vespas and a choreographed chaos ensues: You know you're in Hanoi when your main concern is whether you'll be hit by a motorized bike or not. But the risk of venturing out is well worth the reward, as the streets of Hanoi offer an unimaginable cultural immersion into what life is like in this bustling Asian country.
Nowhere is this more evident than Ta Hien Night Market. The entire street shuts down to traffic, and shops turn into outdoor, pedestrian restaurants, filling the pavement with kid-size stools, but this party is only for adults. Restaurants serve local beer, and you can sample all of the treats that make Vietnam a gourmand's dream.
Tinker with your camera settings to ensure you capture the best of the night market, and be on the look out for quiet, charming scenes like the one pictured here.
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Try Local Delicacies at the Ta Hien Night Market
Whether you crave deep fried donuts or a traditional bahn mi sandwich, come hungry to Ta Hien Night Market. For less than $5 US Dollars, you can try a selection of Vietnam's finest street food. There's no need to be in a hurry, as the people watching is as good as the food. Sit along the edge of an outdoor restaurant and enjoy the hum of a city constantly on the move.
To photograph the local delicacies, enlist your travel partner for some help. Holding one of the dishes up to the light and photographing it straight on offers a chance for the city night scene to blend seamlessly into the background, creating those electric scenes of cities we all love.
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Sky High Temples
Trần Quốc Hoàn is Hanoi's oldest Buddhist temple. Almost 1,450 years old, this pagoda is located on a small island along the city's southeastern shore. Passing the afternoons are easy in a temple as beautiful as this. People watch and enjoy reading more about the many religious facts in the area.
To get a sense of the temple's scale, try photographing the tall pagoda from below. Extending well into the sky, this angle shows how towering the structures can be, creating an even more reverential feeling to an already holy ground.Continue to 5 of 14 below.
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Live Offerings to The Buddha
Outside almost every temple in Vietnam, local purveyors line the streets to sell offerings for The Buddha. Ranging from beautiful lotus flowers to coy fish and baby turtles, the offerings are symbolic of life in the country and what the locals hold most dear.
Ask permission before photographing the offerings, as you may invite yourself to pay for a baby turtle or coy fish if you're not careful. And not to fear, these animals aren't sacrificed, simply kept in close quarters at the temple, adding the the beauty of the spiritual ambiance.
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Walking the Streets of Hanoi
Hanoi is a walkable city, full of endless charm and quiet moments on every block. The second largest city in Vietnam couldn't feel more quaint, and it's easy to get lost on the many winding paths. Locals use their homes as shops, with many living on the third or fourth floor of their town home. The bottom levels are used to house their commercial enterprises, which can range from automotive repair shops to spice shops and even restaurants. Explore the Old Quarter, where you can feel the remnants of Vietnam's European past. Once ruled by the French, the Old Quarter of Vietnam is home to fanciful facades and and new-age design, poetically coexisting together.
When capturing city life, try using a pancake lens while you're on the go. This lens is less intrusive and attracts far less attention than a standard zoom lens, giving you the freedom to be more agile while on the go.
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Always Say Yes to Street Food
In Hanoi, a beautiful night market descends upon the streets. From ice cream to fried donuts, you can wander the streets in search of the perfect meal. My friend Kait and I landed at a little roadside cafe, where we ordered a garlic chicken and veggie dish that served as one of the best meals of our entire trip. Try a local brew like the Saigon beer seen here. It's the perfect way to wash down a meal in Hanoi.
To capture the night markets in Vietnam, opt to take aerial shots of your delicious meals. This gives a sense of the entire dining experience, as it captures your dinner mate, the dish and the table in which you enjoyed the meal.
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Aquatic Life in Halong Bay
Just over three hours from bustling Hanoi is the beautiful expanse of Halong Bay. Home to a water-bound society and an endless array of craggy rock islands, Halong Bay is the postcard image of Vietnam every traveler imagines. Most trips to Halong Bay are done aboard a ship, as this is the best way to navigate the area. Although swimming isn't permitted in the waters, you can enjoy an afternoon of kayaking and exploring the many caves that are hidden within the islands.
During the day, locals will row up to your ship to offer you many delicacies on the water. These can range from candies to drinks, and capturing the local culture is a fascinating experience. Remember to always ask permission before snapping a picture of anyone. It's always a nice gesture to establish a personal connection before taking over anyone's sense of place. It's their home, and they're welcoming you in. This politeness will go a long way.Continue to 9 of 14 below.
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Island-Hopping in Halong Bay
Halong Bay is the perfect place to practice your nature and landscape photography. Because the islands are so immense and the vistas cascade far into the distance, capturing a ship within your image is the perfect way to provide a sense of scale to the other-wise endless scenery abounding.
Make sure to bring a dry bag when you explore Halong Bay, as you'll constantly be in and around water. In-between kayaking to the various islands, a dry bag will keep all of your equipment safe and unharmed from the rush of water that often penetrates your kayak while on the water.
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Outdoor Markets in Hoi An
Whenever I tell anyone I've been to Vietnam, they always exclaim that Hoi An is their absolute favorite city in the country. Situated along the Thu Bồn River, Hoi An is home to a small town with extensive culture and colors. One of the many ways to explore this city is by wander the central market stalls. Make friends with the locals and try many of the traditional foods of the area.
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A Beachside Retreat
Just outside of downtown Hoi An sits the beautiful Botique Hoi An Resort. This idyllic spot showcases a beautiful, crisp white architecture, opening up into a beautiful view of the sea.
Photograph the silhouette of islands in the distance, and make sure to stake your claim at one of the hotel's stunning beachside umbrellas.
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Hoi An's Early Morning Fish Market
Before the crowds awake, there's a hum of life already overflowing the streets of Hoi An. The Hoi An fish market teems to life during the early morning hours, and locals haphazardly slop loads and loads of fish into fresh buckets of water.
This is another location perfect for practicing your aerial photography. Put your camera on automatic focus, and position your camera above the scene you intend to capture. It's a great way to stay consistently moving through such a hectic scene such as a market, while the images capture the true hum of the place.Continue to 13 of 14 below.
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Cobra Snake Whiskey in the Mekong Delta
Legends abound along the Mekong Delta. Locals operate ships along the river, each adorned with the face of a monster at the front. This signifies the ship's place in the vast ecosystem, warding off any enemies - animal, human and spirt - that lurk amidst the water.
Try the infamous cobra snake whiskey and make sure to document the experience, as this drink is said to make you stronger and more powerful.
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Floating Along the Mekong Delta
Life along the Mekong Delta holds a peaceful quality. Water routes line the river, creating a canal system locals use to transport themselves from their canoes to their front doors.
Opt to eat local, and take a journey through one of the villages to explore what life holds in this exotic landscape.