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North Vietnam 2022: photo tour summary

2022 is well on its way and we have been celebrating our first photography tour post-pandemic! Here is a summary of what happened last week during our North Vietnam photo tour.

Day 0: Photography warm up in the streets of Hanoi

As most of the tour participants had arrived earlier in Hanoi, we met up for drinks, got to know each other and of course shooting in the streets of the old quarter. This was a great way for me to assess and meet the participants that were joining my photo tours for the first time (which was half of the group).

We talked about travel and street photography as Hanoi is a great location to practice!

In French, we say that we don’t change a winning team! So Fred was here once again to run this photography tour along with me.

7 participants, 2 photography instructors, and the mountains of North Vietnam: this promised to be once again an amazing photo tour!

Day 1: Welcome to the mountains!

After a 4 hours drive from Hanoi to Bac Ha, we spent the end of the afternoon warming up even more by visiting a local village in the area. This was, for many participants, the first introduction to mountain life and the ethnic minorities of North Vietnam.

Day 2: Our first ethnic market in North Vietnam

Time to move to the heart of the mountains and explore an ethnic minority market. Markets are great ways to practice and learn new photography techniques as it offers many different types of lights, background and subjects. And how could we take part in a North Vietnam photo tour without visiting the local markets?

Due to the very little number of tourists visiting this area, the people were very friendly and approachable. We saw some of the most amazing costumes I had seen before in the mountains of North Vietnam.

I finally found the smoked chilli I was looking for! We had a great time chatting with the ladies while buying chillies and taking photos!


After the market, we drove to our next destination: Muong Hum. We spent the afternoon exploring the valley and looking for human activities. We spotted a cute little village nested below a huge mountain and spent the afternoon walking around. We ended the day working with the great sunset light and practising panning shots.

Day 3: Muong Hum Market and a Hani festival!

As we were staying in a city hotel in Muong hum (if you can call that a city!) we were within walking distance from the morning market. We spent the morning walking around and meeting all the different minorities visiting this market (Dzao, Hani, Hmong, etc…). This market wasn’t easy to photograph but we worked on how to compose images using pockets of local lights. In the end, we found a great-looking construction site and walked in. Yes, when you learn how to take better photos, everything becomes a potential subject!

In the afternoon we drove to Y Ty. On our way up we were lucky enough to meet groups of people harvesting rice along the road. So we didn’t have to crawl our way into the mud to find them!

As we arrived in the village of Y Ty, there were still plenty of activities happening in the marketplace. The young Hani girls were all prettied up and walking around taking selfies, while the older ladies were selling their products in the market. At first, I felt that these women were very shy and would be difficult to approach and photograph, but they ended up being super friendly! After buying a few chillies and some unknown vegetables from them, everyone relaxed and we actually had a lot of fun with them.

We also hung out with a group of young Hani girls who wanted to be photographed with us (and mostly with Fred the giant!). Their costumes are quite amazing and we decided to stay the remaining of the afternoon hanging around this marketplace.

Day 4: A photo tour about rice harvests and a great homestay!

If you have a chance to see Y Ty the way we saw it, you are extremely lucky! We were there just in time to see all the beautiful rice terraces with all their shades of green and yellow. As we got to Y Ty the rice harvest had just begun, and the fields were still full of rice.

After a bit of landscaping around, we found a group of people working down the valley (literally 500 meters from the Chinese border!). The light was pretty harsh already at 10 am, but the vistas were just mind-blowing!

Later that day we drove to our next destination: Ta Giang Phin. Once again we were super lucky to meet a group of people harvesting rice just along the road. We followed them as they were climbing up the fields and had a great time taking photos, playing with the changing light that the clouds were offering us.

In Ta Giang Phin we checked in a brand new homestay called P’nue that I highly recommend if you stay there! Very beautiful! As we still had some time we drove to the village down the valley and had a great sunset walk.

Day 5: Photo review and village life

Even though we were doing photo reviews almost every evening, this was our first official review. Breakfast, coffee and photos in our beautiful homestay!

The afternoon was spent walking through the village and valley of Ta Giang Phin, which offers photo opportunities! The village is nested in a beautiful valley, surrounded by rice fields. It is a wonderful loop to walk, allowing us to meet the people and capture their daily activities.

We ended up with a landscape session, our feet in the cold stream, and taking photos of the five fingers mountain in Ta Giang Phin.

Day 6: The tea kingdom of Tan Uyen

It was time to head down from the high mountains and explore the beautiful tea valleys around Tan Uyen. This is still one of my favourite places to photograph in the North! The valley is huge and there are always a lot of activities happening in the fields.

We spent the first afternoon exploring the area and met a group of Tay people harvesting tea with machines. It is not something we often saw in the past so it was quite exciting. The light was still a bit harsh early afternoon, but soon the clouds and rain came.

As I often say, let’s take every opportunity! We took shelter in a little house close to the field and realized there were already many people taking shelter in the same house. All the workers then joined us and we could chat and hang out with them for about 30 minutes, waiting for the rain to stop. A great time!

 

Day 7: North Vietnam photo tour: from sunrise to sunset

This was my personal favourite morning in the tea fields. On the previous day, we checked with the locals where and what time they’d be working in the morning. We asked a group of Tay women in the fields if they’d be there the day after, and we had a date!

We showed up at 6.30 am and there they were. Incredible light, and misty mountains, it was all there!

The women were very chatty and friendly and we spend a couple of hours there, enjoying the cool morning air in this sumptuous background. You can’t go wrong when the elements are all together: incredible light, a stunning background and friendly subjects. Heaven!!!!! 

Later on, we drove to our homestay near Mu Cang Chai. We organized motorbike drivers to take us around the valley, visit villages and end in a great sunset spot. Once again we were alone there, away from the other “famous” rice terraces of Mu Cang Chai where so many photographers meet up to stage their classic photos. Our sunset was as beautiful as our sunrise, a wonderful day!

We drove back to our homestay and enjoyed a great dinner and a few drinks… to celebrate our last official evening together.

Day 8: Ending this North Vietnam photo tour with another great morning shooting and a final photo review

We left Mu Cang Chai and drove early morning to another village, on our way back to Hanoi. Once again, no tourists were in sight. We strolled down the village streets, met the people, chatted, and took some portraits. Such a great location and time to travel in Vietnam when the people haven’t seen tourists in a while.

We had our final photo review while driving back to Hanoi. Yes, I know, not the most comfortable type of photo review but we did have the time 🙂

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Etienne

Founder of Pics of Asia, Etienne is a teacher with a photography habit.

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