Barche vietnamite in Hoi An

Queste tipiche imbarcazioni in legno sono molto fotogeniche, soprattutto se guidate da una donna vietnamita con il tipico cappello conico. Ad Hoi An, lungo il fiume, se ne vedono molte e il momento migliore per fotografarle. è la mattina presto, quando i turisti in giro sono pochi e la luce è morbida e delicata.

Per queste foto ho utilizzato, sulla Leica M typ 262, l’Elmarit 90mm, per isolare meglio il soggetto, eliminando ogni elemento di disturbo intorno. L’acqua del fiume come sfondo, mi dava un senso di pace ed equilibrio alla scena. Inoltre, ero sul di un ponte e quindi non avevo la possibilità di avvicinarmi, ma avevo un punto di vista, dall’alto, molto bello.

 

Vietnamese boats in Hoi An

These traditional wooden boats are very photogenic, especially if guided by a Vietnamese woman with traditional conical hat. In Hoi An, along the river, you can spot many of them, and the best time to photograph. is the early morning, when there are only few tourists around and the light is soft and delicate.

For these photos I mounted, on the Leica M typ 262, the 90mm Elmarit f2.8, to better isolate the subject, eliminating any disturbance around. The green water of the river, as background, gave a sense of peace and balance to the scene. Also, I was on a bridge, and so I had no chance to get closer, but I had a point of view, from above, very nice.

Storia di un ritratto ad una donna vietnamita

Sono in Vietnam, nella splendida cittadina di Hoi An, e ho deciso di prendere una bicicletta per esplorare la campagna e i villaggi lontani dal centro.

Mentre attraverso un piccolo villaggio di pescatori, alla mia sinistra, vedo tre persone sedute davanti la porta di casa intente a riparare una verde lunga rete da pesca. La scena mi sembra subito molto bella, naturale e semplice, ma è la donna al centro quella che subito attira tutta la mia attenzione.

Prima cosa, osservo tutto, comincio a disegnare la foto.

In pochi secondi osservo tutto. Una donna anziana, seduta per terra, ripara una rete da pesca, verde. Ha lineamenti molto dolci e il viso segnato dalle rughe, ma si intravedono i segni di una bellezza che la vecchiaia non può cancellare.

L’anziana donna indossa, con semplicità ed in un certo modo anche eleganza, uno straccio di stoffa abilmente intrecciato sulla testa, aperto sulla fronte, lasciando intravedere i grigi capelli raccolti in maniera ordinata. Indosso, una magliettina leggera e raffinata, di un colore, lilla, che le illumina il viso e da un tocco di colore a tutta la scena. Sullo sfondo, un muro con bella texture chiara e segnata dal tempo, ed una porta marrone. Tutto è cosÌ bello ed equilibrato, nessun elemento di disturbo, per fortuna.

Probabilmente mi trovo davanti al soggetto piú bello che mi sia capitato fino ad ora.
La scena, nell’insieme è gia bellissima.

Dalla visione alla realizzazione della foto

Scendo dalla bici e cammino verso di lei, ma avverto un po di ansia perchè ho paura di rompere l’equilibrio di quel momento di vita, di interrompere la naturalezza e la spontaneità. Voglio esserci, ma allo stesso tempo vorrei essere invisibile.

Cosi, tornando razionale, so di avere a disposizione pochissimi minuti, dopodichè, tutto svanirà per sempre, perchè la fotografia di strada non è replicabile, non aspetta, il momento è unico.

Devo velocemente decidere quale lente da usare, non posso star li a cambiare focale rischiando di rovinare tutto e perdere l’attimo. Ne devo usare solo una. Voglio un ritratto della donna, devo decidere tra il 50mm e il 90mm. Il suo viso e’ bellissimo, ma non posso avvicinarmi troppo, con il 50mm potrei essere troppo distante, cosi decido di montare il Leica Elmarit 90mm f 2.8

Non sono ancora sulla scena, non mi hanno ancora visto. La prima cosa che faccio, per avere subito consapevolezza dello stato della mia macchina fotografica, è scattare una foto a vuoto. La guardo, la uso come punto di partenza e comincio inconsciamente ad elaborare tutti i valori e le combinazioni. Voglio avere lei a fuoco e lo sfondo sfuocato, cosi imposto il diaframma tra f4 e f5.6. Vorrei scendere a 2.8, ma avendo poco tempo ho paura di perdere il fuoco.

Ecco, sono sulla scena, ma prima di concentrarmi sul ritratto della donna, voglio fotografare tutto l’insieme, per contestualizzare i soggetti. Cavolo, ho il 90mm, sono un po’ stretto, devo farla prima di avvicinarmi. Mi fermo sul marciapiede, mi abbasso e, click, click, scatto un paio di foto e mi rendo conto che i tempi di scatto sono troppo bassi, ho bisogno di tempi piu’ alti, ho bisogno di piu’ luce.

Alzo gli ISO da 400 a 800, tutto in un attimo, mentre scatto. Non devo perdere tempo, è il momento di fotografare la donna. Faccio un passo di lato per fare prima un ritratto a figura intera, dato che sono gia alla giusta distanza. La donna mi guarda e mi sorride, ma continua a lavorare alla rete.

Ancora tre passi avanti

Bene, non ho interrotto il momento, per fortuna, ma devo fare in fretta, più tempo sono li, più alta è la possibilità che tutto cambi. É il momento piu’ importante, faccio 3 passi avanti e mi avvicino alla donna, nel cuore della scena, sperando che non si sposti o non cambi il suo stato d’animo o, peggio, la sua posizione.

Sono emozionatissimo e pieno di adrenalina.

Vedo solo lei nel mirino della mia Leica, ora siamo solo io e lei, e “vedo” la foto che poco prima mi ero costruito in testa. Mi concentro sul telemetro, giro lentamente la ghiera della lente, le due immagini sono ancora sdoppiate, altro mezzo giro e, si, ora combaciano, ecco, adesso è a fuoco, ma non è ancora il momento, voglio il contatto visivo.

Non posso chiederglielo, deve essere tutto naturale, ma la imploro nella mia testa… guardami, ora, ti prego.

Lei mi guarda, un attimo, con un piccolo sorriso che le illumina quel viso dai lineamenti orientali, gli occhi appena aperti, la luce è perfetta. Scatto. Click! Click!

Gia che ci sono, ne faccio una in orizzontale e una in verticale, ne vorrei altre, vorrei star li a fotografare ancora, ma sento che il momento è finito, la mia adrenalina si è scaricata del tutto, sento di aver ottenuto quello che volevo e che non posso avere di più.

La fotografia è la medicina dell’anima.

Sono strafelice, la ringrazio a mani giunte, una, due, tre volte, lei ricambia con altri sorrisi e riprende a lavorare alla sua rete.
Mi rimetto sulla bici e continuo a pedalare, sentendomi fotograficamente appagato. Non riguardo le foto, ho troppa paura di averla sbagliata, anche se dentro di me so di averla presa. Ma voglio continuare a godermi il momento, rivedere tutto nei miei freschi ricordi. Poi guardo la mia macchina fotografica, e con uno sguardo la ringrazio e la rimetto nella borsa, come fosse il più prezioso dei diamanti da custodire.

Ci saranno altri soggetti e altre foto da fare, altre emozioni da vivere, ma nessuna sarà mai uguale all’altra, e questo è quello che mi fa amare follemente la fotografia.

Ritratto di una donna vietnamita
(Leica M typ 262 con Elmarit 90mm f2.8)


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Story of a portrait of a Vietnamese woman

Vietnam, in the ancient town of Hoi An, it’s a new day of my trip and I decided to take a bike to explore the countryside and the villages far away from the city.

While cycling through a small fishing village, to my left, I see three people sitting in front of the front door, intent on repairing a long green fishing net. The scene seems just very nice, natural and simple, but is the woman at the centre that immediately catches my full attention.

First, I look around, starting to draw the photo.

Within seconds, I observe everything. An elderly woman, sitting on the floor, repairing a green fishing net. She has a very sweet face and  wrinkled, but there are signs of a beauty that old age cannot erase.

The older woman wears, simply and in a way also elegance, a skillfully woven cloth rag on her head, opened on the forehead, revealing grey hair, collected in an orderly manner. Wearing a light and refined t-shirt, in a colour, lilac, that illuminates the face and gives a touch of colour to the whole scene. In the background, a wall with a nice texture marked by time, and a brown door. Everything is so beautiful and well balanced, no disturbance, fortunately.

Probably, I am in front of the most photogenic portrait I’ve ever had, until now.
The scene, as a whole, is already beautiful.

From vision to realisation of the picture

I get off the bike and walk toward her, but I feel a bit of anxiety because I’m afraid of upsetting the balance of that time of life, and influence the naturalness and spontaneity. I want to be there, but at the same time, I would like to be invisible.

So, returning to be rational, I know I have only a few minutes, then everything will vanish forever because street photography is not replicable, does not wait and that time is unique.

I have to quickly decide which lens to use, I can not change focal while i’m in the action, with the risk to ruin everything and miss the moment. I must use only one. I want a portrait of the woman, I have to decide between 50mm and 90mm. I like her face, but if i use the 50mm, I can not get too close, so I decided to mount the Leica Elmarit 90mm f2.8

I’m not yet on the scene, they have not seen me yet. The first thing I do, to have awareness of the state of my camera, is taking a random picture. Then I look at it and I use it as a starting point. Unconsciously, I begin to process all the values and combinations. I want her to be in focus and blurred background, so i set the aperture value between f4 and f5.6. I would go down to f2.8, but as i have very short time, I’m afraid to lose focus.

Here I am, now on the scene, but before focusing on the woman’s portrait, I want to photograph the whole scene, so to frame all the subjects. Damn, I have the 90mm, I-m a bit too tight, I have to take the picture before getting too close. So I stop on the sidewalk, get down on my legs, and, click, click, I snap a few pictures but I realise that the shutter speed is too low, I need faster time, I need more light.

I raise the ISO from 400 to 800, all in an instant, while shooting. I must not lose time, it’s time to shoot the woman. I step to the side to get first a full portrait since I’m already at the right distance. The woman looks at me and smiles, but continues to work on the net.

Three more steps forward

Well, I have not ruined the scene, thank goodness, but I have to hurry, the longer I stay, the higher the possibility that everything changes. This is the most important moment, I do three steps forward and I approach the woman, in the heart of the scene, hoping she does not move or change her mood or, worse, her position.

I’m so excited and full of adrenaline.

I only see her through the viewfinder of my Leica, now it is just me and her, and finally I “see” the photo that just before I had built in my head. I focus on the rangefinder, slowly turn the lens focus ring, the two images are still split, another little turn and, yes, now they fit together, she is in focus… but it is not yet time… I want to have eye contact…

I can not ask her, it must be all natural, but I implore her in my head … look at me, now, please.

Yes, now she looks at me, for an instant, with a small smile that lights up her beautiful oriental face, eyes barely open, the light is perfect. I shoot. Click! Click!

I take the chance and I make a landscape and portrait picture, and I would like to continue for hours, but I feel that the time is up, my adrenaline is gone,, I feel I have got what I wanted and I can not have more.

Photography is the medicine of the soul.

I am extremely happy, I thank the lady with folded hands, once, twice, three times, she returns with more smiles and keeps working on the fishing net.
I get back on the bike and keep cycling, feeling photographically satisfied. I don’t check the photos on my camera, I’m too scared to have it wrong, although inside I know of have them right. But I want to continue to enjoy the moment, by reviewing everything in my fresh memories fresh.

There will be other subjects and other photo opportunities, other emotions to live, but none will ever be alike, and this is what makes me madly love photography.

Portrait of a Vietnamese woman
(Leica M typ 262 with Elmarit 90mm f2.8)


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Vietnam – Day 12 – Morning boat in Trang An, fresh seafood dinner in Cat Ba island

The day began very early and at last the sky was clean as every cloud. Dzung Buna made us a breakfast of fried eggs and orange smoothie while outside, already by 6, around the village, playing the high notes of the local news.

In Vietnam, the news is disseminated in the early morning, via radio, to ato fiodiffusione volume in the streets of the villages or the city.

The beautiful boat ride in Trang An

Discovered more recently, Trang An is taking more and more attention to the more touristy and known Tam Coc. And indeed there is more than one reason in favour. The boat ride, always on a small tin boat, but slightly larger, lasts about 2h30 and is much more scenographic and varied. It goes through several caves and the route is circular, does not return through the same path, except for the very last part.

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The boats can accommodate from 2 to 4 people (and they wait to fill them before leaving), so, the only way to have the boat all for you, is buying the empty seats, which we have done, given the still low costs (see below ), in order to be able to better enjoy the ride and to allow me to take pictures without interference or obstacles.

From Ninh Binh to Cat Ba, a journey in stages along 5 hours

After the hike, we returned by bike at the hotel where, at about 11 am, our dear Dzung, arranged a private car transfer, up to Ha Phuong, from where we take the speedboat to the island of Cat Ba.

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Goodbye my friend, Dzung!

So we got to Hai Phuong, an ugly and chaotic port city, and from there, we are transported on a scooter before, then by bus, then speedboat, then again by bus to finally get on the island, on the seafront in Cat Ba city, at 16: 30, hungry and without even an accommodation for the following two nights.

Cat Ba Ventures, a $ 15 hotel and an excellent dinner of fresh seafood at Quan Ba Cat Family

As often happens with unplanned and last minute things, we managed, in about 15 minutes, to book a day trip to Halong Bay for the next day (with the great agency, Cat Ba Ventures) and found a room in a good hotel at a ridiculous price!

Arranged all our things and blinded by hunger, we finished the evening in style with a fantastic dinner in the family driven restaurant, Quan Ca Ba Family. This place is really good and highly recommended. Grilled calamari and shrimp, served in a lemon sauce and garlic; grilled crab sautéed with butter and garlic, spring rolls, boiled rice and, of course, two very good and fresh bottles of Vietnamese beers. The perfect end of a long tough day!

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About my photography

My photographic activity was concentrated all in the boat trip in Trang An. Again, as it was mainly landscapes, I alternated the Summicron 28mm to the Voigtlander Skopar 21mm. The result was simply postcard style pictures, good for my stock photo portfolio, nothing original, but very sellable.


Useful information

  • Tam Coc or Trang An: much more beautiful and interesting the second one.
  • Trang An tour costs: 100.000VND per person, plus 50.000VND for entrance fee
  • Bicycle parking in Trang An: 15.000VND
  • From Hai Phong to Cat Ba with Huang Long bus”: Bus-Speedboat-Bus. Ticket price, 180.000VDN. Takes about 2 hours.
  • Sleeping in Cat Ba: Hotel White House, new, clean and spacious, just 15 USD the double room. Highly recommended
  • Eating in Cat Ba: fresh fish, shrimp and squid, i recommend the restaurant “Quan Cat Ba Family“.

The day in pictures (iphone 6s)

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Vietnam – Day 11 – Tam Coc e il mercato di Ninh Binh

Finalmente riposati grazie ad una bella e lunga dormita nel comodissimo letto del Limestone View Homestay, e dopo la buona colazione preparata da Dzung (Black coffee e pancake con banane), siamo saliti subito in sella alle nostre bici in direzione di Tam Coc, per la prima escursione in barca della giornata.

Sulla barca di latta, remando con i piedi

Arrivare presto a Tam Coc ( alle 8:30 circa) permette di godere meglio del posto senza la ressa e la confusione dei turisti che la invadono dalle 10:00 in poi. Parcheggiate le biciclette e fatto il biglietto ci siamo subito imbarcati nella esile e piccola barchetta di latta, per sole due persone, più la donna vietnamita alla guida.

La particolarità di questa navigazione è sicuramente la donna che guida la barca remando con i piedi. Il giro dura in tutto circa 1h30″ ed è molto rilassante, soprattutto grazie al fatto che c’erano pochi turisti, ma purtroppo non molto scenografico come presentato dalle foto. Non essendo nella stagione giusta, le risaie non sono floride e verdi ma al contrario sono spoglie e vuoti. Il cielo prevalentemente nuvoloso poi, ha reso il tutto ancor meno interessante dal punto di vista fotografico.

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Il giro non è circolare, per cui arrivati ad un certo punto si torna indietro facendo lo stesso identico percorso. Nel tragitto di ritorno, sono aumentate le barche di turisti e sono anche spuntate tantissime barchette di fotografi vietnamiti che affiancano i turisti cercando di fargli le foto per poi venderle. Questo rende tutta l’esperienza della navigazione molto meno rilassante e fastidiosa. Se a questo aggiungete le donne che cercano di venderti frutta o bevande a tutti i costi, il giudizio finale su questa escursione è tandenzialmente negativo.

Cielo nuvoloso, cambio di programma, si va a Ninh Binh

Il cielo grigio e piatto e le previsioni di tempo bellissimo per il giorno seguente ci spingono ad un fortunato cambio di programma. Decidiamo infatti di fare la seconda escursione in barca, quella a Trang An, la mattina seguente e di dedicare il pomeriggio ad esplorare il villaggio di Xuan Ang Noi e successivamente la città di Ninh Binh. Scelta che a posteriori si è rivelata fantastica!

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La raccolta delle lumache di mare nei campi di fango

Sulla strada per Ninh Binh, siamo attratti da diverse donne chine e con i piedi immersi in un enorme campo fangoso, intente a raccogliere qualcosa. Chiediamo ad un locale che ci dice che stanno raccogliendo “fish” ma appena ci avviciniamo scopriamo che si tratta di piccole lumachine di mare, presenti e migliaia tra il fango acquoso del campo.

La scena è molto fotogenica, così scendiamo dalle bici e passiamo un’oretta a fotografare queste donne ed osservarne i movimenti.

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Ad un certo punto un signore con una bambina in braccio, mi chiede di fargli una foto e ci invita ad entrare a casa sua. Qui, ci fa sedere ad un tavolino nel cortile e ci offre una tazzina di te (amarissimo), con un senso di ospitalità e gentilezza unico e tenero all stesso tempo. Ovviamente non parla una sol parola di inglese e, ad un certo punto, si allontana e torna con un mappamondo in plastica. Passiamo quindi qualche minuto a mostrare la nostra Italia, mentre lui ci mostra, fiero, dove si trova Cuba e pronuncia il nome di Fidel Castro, simbolo evidentemente di un paese con in loro stessi ideali politici e sociali. Mi chiedo se fosse gia al corrente della morte di Fidel avvenuta giusto il giorno prima. Per non deluderlo, decido di non dirgli niente.

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Ninh Binh, città anonima ma con un bel mercato

Continuando a pedalare, arriviamo nella città di Ninh Binh, abbastanza anonima e bruttina, ma ci imbattiamo per puro caso in un piccolo mercato locale. Dopo le prime bancarelle con la solita frutta e carne, si susseguono venditori di pesce e frutti di mare molto, in uno scenario molto rustico e quindi fotogenico. Inoltre la qualità è davvero ottima: gamberoni, calamari, pesci di diversa taglia, quasi come dalle nostre parti, in Italia. Addirittura, troviamo anche la cicale di mare o canocchie, per cui vado davvero pazzo. Per un attimo penso di comprarle per fare un bello spaghetto con i pomodorini, ma poi mi ricordo che qui nessuno vende spaghetti o pasta e non ci sono neanche i podomodorini, e nemmeno l’olio d’oliva. Ok, ci rinuncio.

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La donna e la tomba

Durante il percorso in bici, ho assistito anche ad una scena molto particolare e toccante allo stesso tempo: una donna vietnamita, con il tipico cappello, seduta i fianco ad una tomba, probabilmente di un suo caro, in totale silenzio. Non posso farmi sfuggire l’occasione, cosi’ mi fermo, scendo dalla bici e monto il 90mm sulla mia Leica. Non mi piace essere invadente e irrispettoso verso i sentimenti altrui, ma allo stesso tempo volevo portare a casa lo scatto. Cosi’, molto lentamente mi sono avvicinato e ho fatto un paio di scatti molto silenziosi. La donna si è poi voltata verso di me e mi ha fatto un sorriso, nonostante il momento cosi’ intimo. Ho ringraziato con il tipico inchino a mani giunte e sono andato via, contento di aver catturato un momento di vita cosi’ intenso ed inusuale.

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La mia fotografia

Nella prima parte della giornata, durante il giro in barca, avendo per lo più paesaggi, ho utilizzato quasi sempre il Summicron 28 ASPH f2.8 ( a f5.6 o 8) e il Voigtlander Skopar 21mm f4. Con quest’ultimo sono riuscito a fare anche alcuni scatti interessanti fotografando la donna che remava con i piedi, dl basso verso l’alto, con sullo sfondo le rocce carsiche. Non male…
Durante il giro al mercato invece, ho alternato al Summicron 28mm, il Summicron 50mm, per focalizzare l’attenzione piu’ sul singolo soggetto piuttosto che sulla scena globale.


Informazioni utili

  • Tam Coc giro in barca della durata di 1h30 costo a testa di 120.000VDN per il tour più 50.000VDN come tassa di ingresso
  • Parcheggio bici a Tam Coc, 10.000VND
  • Per un giro in barca più rilassato, arrivate sul posto prima della 9:00.
  • Durante il giro in barca, la donna vi chiederà probabilmente di pagare altri 100.000VDN per allungare il giro. Noi nn lo abbiamo fatto.

La giornata per immagini (iphone 6s)

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Vietnam – Day 11 – Tam Coc and local market in Ninh Binh

Finally rested, thanks to a nice long sleep in the comfortable bed of Limestone View Homestay, and after a good breakfast prepared by Dzung (Black coffee and pancakes with bananas), we went immediately riding our bikes in the direction of Tam Coc, for a first boat trip of the day.

On the tin boat, rowing with the feet

Getting early to Tam Coc (around 8:30), allows you to better enjoy the place without the crowds and bustle of tourists that invade it from 10:00 onwards. Parked the bikes and bought the tickets, we immediately embarked in the thin and small boat made of tin, for only two people, plus the driver, a Vietnamese woman.

The special feature of this navigation is definitely the woman who drives the rowing boat with her feet. The tour lasts around about 1h30 ‘and it is very relaxing, especially thanks to the fact that there were few tourists, but unfortunately not very scenic as presented in the promotional brochure. As we are not in the right season, the rice fields are not prosperous and green, but  they are bare and empty. Also, with the sky mostly cloudy, the overall look of the place was even less interesting from a photographic point of view.

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The tour is not circular, so we reached a certain point and came back doing the exact same path. On the return journey, there were already much more boats of tourists and also many boats of Vietnamese photographers who chase tourists trying to snap a photo and then sell them. This makes the whole experience of a lot less relaxing and annoying. Add to this, our boat driver was trying to sell fruit or drinks at all costs. At the end, the final judgment on this excursion is basically negative.

Cloudy sky, let’s go to Ninh Binh

The grey and flat sky and the positive weather forecast for the following day they convinced us to a fortunate change in plans. In fact, we decided to postpone the second boat trip, in Trang An, to the next morning, and to dedicate the afternoon to explore the village of Xuan Ang Noi and later the city of Ninh Binh.

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The collection of sea snails in the mud fields

On the road to Ninh Binh, we are fascinated by different women bent with their feet immersed in a huge muddy field, intent on picking up something. We ask a local guy who told us they were collecting “fish” but as soon as we approach we find out that the women were collecting small sea snails.

The scene was very photogenic, so we got off the bikes and spend an hour or so, on photographing these women and observing their movements.

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At one point a man with a child in his arms asked me to take a picture of him and invites us to come to his house. Here, he asked us to sit at a table in the courtyard and prepared a cup of Vietnamese tea (very bitter). I was honoured by this strong and unique sense of hospitality and touched by his tender kindness. Obviously, he did not speak a single word of English and, at some point, he went away and comes back with a plastic globe. He asked us to show him where we are from so we indicated on the globe our land, Italy, and how we got to Vietnam from there. Right after, he pointed the finger on Cuba and pronounced the name of Fidel Castro, an iconic symbol of a country with the same political and social ideals as well as Vietnam. I wonder if it was already aware of Fidel’s death, but to do not disappoint him, I decide not to tell anything.

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Ninh Binh, anonymous city but with a nice local market

Continuing our ride on fancy bicycles, we arrived in the city of Ninh Binh, quite anonymous and ugly, but we headed by chance, in a small local market. After the first stalls with the usual fruit and meat, there were a lot of other fishmongers and seafood, in a very rustic setting and so, photogenic. Moreover, the quality of the seafood was really good: prawns, squid, fish of different sizes, almost like in our country, in Italy. Indeed, there were also the mantis shrimp, for which I go really mad. For a moment, I thought to buy them to make a nice spaghetti with tomatoes, but then I remember that no one there sells spaghetti or pasta neither cherry tomatoes and not even olive oil. Ok, I gave up.

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The woman and the grave

During the cycling route, I attended a very special and touching scene: a Vietnamese woman, with the typical hat, sitting beside a family grave. I could not miss this opportunity, so I stop, get down from the bicycle and mount the Elmarit 90 mm on my Leica. I try always to be not intrusive and disrespectful to other people’s feelings, but at the same time, I wanted to get this shoot home. So, approaching very slowly, I’ve made a couple of shots. The woman then turned to me and showed me a smile, despite the moment so intimate. I blessed her with the typical bow with hands clapsed and I went away, glad having captured a moment of life so ‘intense and unusual.

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About my photography

In the first part of the day, during the boat ride, having mostly landscapes, I’ve almost always used the Summicron 28 f2.8 ASPH (at f5.6 or 8) and Skopar Voigtlander 21mm f4. With the latter, I managed to make even some interesting shots photographing the woman who rowed with their feet, from the bottom up, with the background of the karst rocks. Not bad…
During the trip to the market instead, I alternated the Summicron 28mm and the 50mm Summicron, to focus attention more ‘on the single subject rather than on the complete scene.


Useful information

  • Tam Coc boat ride lasts 1h30 and costs 120.000VDN per person for the tour, plus 50.000VDN of entrance fees
  • Bicycle parking in Tam Coc costs 10.000VND
  • For a more relaxed boat ride, try to arrive on site before 9:00.
  • During the boat ride, the woman will probably ask you to pay 100.000VDN more to extend the ride. You don’t have to, and we didn’t.

The day in pictures (iphone 6s)

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Vietnam – Day 9 – Sapa by motorbike, unforgettable moments and sadness goodbye.

The best way to explore the province of Sapa, admire the landscapes and learn about their tribes, it is with the motorbike, although the roads are in poor condition and full of stones, potholes, buffalo, dogs and chickens. All this, however, makes the guide fun and allows you to reach more villages in a day.

Refueling in Sapa

Before starting the scooter riding, we went from our village to the town of Sapa, to fill up with petrol. But to reach it, we have taken so cold, drizzle and fog, and a path not so easy because of the many holes also. Arrived at the station, there was obviously a ragged line of scooters served in turn by a man and, with 30.000VND, I’ve had fully refilled my scooter.

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Province of Ban Ho, rice fields, waterfalls and children

Finally, come out of the freezing cold and chaotic Sapa, our guide and now friend, Zi, has led us to Ban Ho, to discovery the Tay minorities. In addition to beautiful scenery covered with rice fields terraces, we treated ourselves to a short trek on foot along the river bed, to admire a small waterfall.

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The most fun and exciting part, however, came when Zi took us to a couple of elementary schools. So we played with the kids, first shy, then friendly and overwhelming, drawn doodles on the blackboard, attended classes in mathematics and English. When I find myself in these situations, I am literally hypnotized by the eyes and the smiles of the children and I want to stay all the time with them.

Then, when it’s time to go away, they look at you deeply, with those big eyes, a little happy, a little sad, as if they’re trying to tell you “do not go, stay with us a little longer.”

In fact, I go always with a touch of melancholy and sadness, because I know I’ll never see them again, and I rather greedily stole their emotions to show them to the world.

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Goodbye Sapa, goodbye Zi, with tears in my heart

It was tough to leave Sapa, even tougher greet the small and strong Zi, little mother of three children, but only 23 years. Zi, introduced us to Sapa, introduced and welcomed us into her family, took us around and told her country in a complicated English, almost cartoonish. Every day, at the end of the tour, she left us to our homestay, and then go home on foot, through the mountains, through a journey longer than an hour!

Before departure, she brought us yet to another school, one of her sons. It seemed to want us to see as much as possible in the last minute.

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Zi, then, she come with us in Sapa, to accompany us to the bus to Lao Cai. Before taking the bus, we showed us where to eat something, like a grasshopper hopped on the steps or on the streets, preceding our slow, tired and melancholy steps.

Upon boarding the small local bus, surprisingly, with a tender shyness, she pulled out from her pocket, two small metal bracelets, hinting a few words and saying it was her gift to us. Her gesture has sunk me literally, I hugged her, feeling her body so small and seemingly fragile. I sat on the bus and she was still there, on the other side of the glass, to look and smile at us, like a mother, indeed.

A final farewell, the bus started, in the cold darkness of Sapa.

Thanks, great little Zi. I have stolen your smiles and those of your beautiful people, but in return you took our hearts. I know that we will never see each other again, but I wish you all the good of this world!

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Back to Hanoi, within the King Express night train, VIP cabin

Arrived in Lao Cai, after a pleasant dinner with a nice Indian boy met on the bus, we got on the night train that would take us to Hanoi, arriving at 4:30 the next morning.

This time, out of curiosity, and to be able to rest without thoughts, I booked a private VIPcabin for two on King Express train. Certainly more touristy and expensive solution, but sometimes It is fun to try. The King Express, however, unlike the excellent Fanxipan, turned out to be a real disappointment: bad and very poor service!

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About my photography

This has been a day of outdoor portraits, especially of children. To catch it while making lesson or as they played, I used the Leica 28mm f2 Summicron, while to photograph their faces, I mainly used the Leica Elmarit 90mm with an aperture between 2 and 2.8, in order to detach them from the background.

I hope I’ve been able to capture all the emotions I felt in this busy day.

Usefull information

  • Repairing a flat tire costs only 10.000VND  ( happened to us too!)
  • From Sapa to Lao Cai, take the local bus, yellow and red, from the main square, near the church: it costs only 28,000 VND! Runs every hour with last run at 18:30
  • Night train to Hanoi: avoid the King Express, chose, if you can, thr Fanxipan!

The day in pictures

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Vietnam – Day 7 – Sapa and the Can Cau local market

 

The long night along the railways in northern Vietnam has gone very well, the comfortable cabin and pleasant conversations with our new Polish friends have relaxed to the point of having slept the whole time.

Lao Cai, arrival at the station

Once at this small station, we realized how touristic is this destination: just got off the train we were continuously bothered by people who wanted us to take a taxi or minibus to Sapa, an hour’s drive from here. Large groups of tourists driven on command by tour guides. All caged. Fortunately we had found a local guide, the gorgeous Zi, which together with the driver and the cousin, Thao, took us up to Can Cau Market, less known and truest of the famous Bac Ha. But we had to drve four hours more.

Can Cau market and the buffalo sale

Arriving in this market, we were the only tourists, and this immediately made me happy. As always happens to me, in these chaotic places full of photo opportunities, I took first a little ‘time to acclimate and to understand its dynamics. This allows me to take pictures with much more tranquility and quality. In the past, i start shooting right away, taken by the excitement and euphoria, but then I made disasters.

Every new place has to be breathed in and savored before taking the first pictures

In addition to classic products, from fruit to meat or fish, clothes, shoes and accessories, the most beautiful and most exciting part, photographically speaking, was definitely the buy and sale of buffalos. The view from the top was fantastic: the valley was full of these mammals and men, creating an almost surreal landscape.

In addition to the buffalo, then they were sellers of dogs, pigs, chickens, goats and scenes that had appeared before my eyes were beautiful, so real and so strange.

Night at Zizi homestay in the village of Hau Thau

With the eyes and camera full of unforgettable images, we put back on the road to reach the house (called homestay) of the family with whom we will sleep in the small village of Hau Thau. In between, a stop for a local lunch and a ride to the small but staggering Sapa market. Disconcerting because, for the first time in my life, I have seen on a counter, the dog meat and a dog’s cut head.

Obviously, I respect all cultures and obviously I will not post any pictures of it. Bad scene for us europeans.

Arrived by Zizi, they accommodated in a very basic and humid room. In the afternoon we had a taste of the surrounding countryside and villages. Mountains covered by rice fields, children everywhere, beauty at every turn. Already I could not wait to begin the long trek of tomorrow.

Later on, we had a nice dinner with the family and other guests, all travelers, who for two weeks, some for months. It is impressive to see how many more people decide to drop everything off, to begin to tr the world.


About my photography

Well, that is, the Can Cau market experience will always remain among my favorites. I love the markets, and this is, for sure, one of the most beautiful and spectacular I’ve ever seen. Even here, I have used most of the time, the Summicron 28mm f2, magnificent when it comes to capturing street scenes.

For the first time, however, I held onto the Voigtlander Skopar 21mm f4, from the moment I wanted to capture the valley full of buffalo and people. This lens is really high quality, and I enjoyed using it in the market where they sold animals, to capture the whole atmosphere of the place.

Details with 90mm Elmarit

At one point, trying to change the style of the pictures, I decided to put up the Elmarit 90mm to try to describe the place even through the details. The hands of the elderly ladies, the decorations of the Hmong clothes, feet and special shoes, hands through the baskets of vegetables or while they exchange the money. I must say, it was a great idea.

when you have no more inspiration, the best thing to do is to change the focal length and see the world with a new vision.


Useful information

  • From Lao Cai to Sapa, if you have not arranged a pickup, don’t surrend to the drivers in the station. Look for a lot cheaper and peaceful Local Bus, yellow and red colors. It only costs 28.000VND!
  • Sapa is pretty ugly, I do not recommend taking an accommodation there. Go to the villages around, you will enjoy a very different atmosphere and landscape.
  • Homestay Near Sapa, Hau Thau. Just search on google “Zizi Mekhoo homestay”, it’s two different ho,estays actually and they are both excellent, Mekhoo is a little bit cleaner and cozy tha Zi Zi and her house is just below it.

 


The day in pictures (iphone 6s)

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Vietnam – Day 8 – Trekking between rice paddies and Zhao tribes

Finally, this morning, we woke up with the sun and the blue sky’ and the scenery in front of us was just womderful: green mountains covered by rice fields, clouds blocked by the high peaks.

15km trekking, among the rice paddies and the Zhao minority tribes

The trek was long but very funny. During the walk, was alternating stunning landscape and local tribes, in a relaxed atmosphere, typical Sunday. We even attended a religious celebration in the church of one of these villages.

I really enjoyed photographing children, carrying with me some red air balloons that swelled and give away as presents along the way. Most of them are very shy and reserved, but when you get close and try to play with them, then they show you a wonderful smile.

Photo shoot at the Zi family

At the end of the trail, we had a wonderful surprise. The day before, I had photographed my guide, Zi, and then printed the photo with the Fuji Instax SP-1, in the little polaroid format.

Zi, he liked it so much that he asked me to do the same with his children. So, we went to the house of the mother and, in a fun and surreal athnosphere, I began to photograph all the family members and then print a copy for each.

This is where I took the most beautiful pictures of this trip. I sat on the ground and suddendly all children have surrounded me with their smiles and their overwhelming joy.


About my photography

During the trek we saw mostly landscapes and people. For landscapes, trying to always include the human element, I used the wide angle Skopar Voigtlander 21mm f4.

For the many portraits, today I finally used a lot, the Summicron 50mm f2, always trying to tighten on the subject but showing a bit of the background.

For the first time I have never used the Summicron 28 F2: this lens now, I feel perfect for streetphotography, where something happens and when I want to capture a moment of life.


The day in pictures

Vietnam – Day 8 – Trekking among the rice fields Sapa

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