Two weeks in Hanoi

Well, I’ve been here in Hanoi for two weeks now. I’ve walked the city in a few directions, got lost, got found, relied on Google Maps only at the end, and found places where a beer tastes mighty damn good at the end of 13,000 steps. I feel like I have a regular regimen now about doing things. i rarely get going for the day before 11am or later and find a place for breakfast and coffee. I decide to take off in a direction and spend some hours walking in a variety of directions. Around 2pm I decide to generally head back because I like stopping for beers at 3 or 4pm. its not really difficult to navigate here because the “court of last resort” is Google Maps which will always get me back. If I did not have a data plan on my phone, things would be more drastic I think. l have not walked down every street here too many times, but I have found the streets that lead me back to Hong  Kiem Lake which is handy. One could get by with a static map but lets face it for a few bucks US you can get a data plan for your phone.

I’ve heard a few questions about how long I plan on staying. I got a 6 month multiple entry Visa here for a reason. I plan on staying in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City that long. That’s not to say I will not take side trips or tours in each place. In a few weeks I will go to Halong Bay for some days. Then after will go to Hoi An. I think people come to this using business travel as a yardstick. Business travel sucks. I have done it way too many times. You go to a place and the business dictates your stay. It tells you how long and where and what to do. In effect, you are at the beck and call of the company and its requirements. Long and slow travel is different. You decide the length and what you will do. Its not about how quick you an fly out and back and take care of the meetings. Its about finding your way in a city of mystery with an exotic nature and settling down. To live. Business travel is not about settling down to live. You chalk up the frequent flyer miles and Visa stamps. Done deal. You have a plan that is the company’s plan. It tells you your start and stop. You are simply along for the ride.

No dear friends. This is not like that. This travel unwinds slowly and you find things of value that are up to you. Its completely different. If you want to plan a RTW and mark of countries on a list, great. At the end you will have accomplished a thing. Not for me. I’ve done the business travel. It was great when I had it. Now this is different. This is moving in and finding out the joys and mysteries of Hanoi or Phnom Penh or wherever you set your course.

One friend did not get it. I think he believed I had to have a goal. So many places in so many days. Truth is I only have two stamps in my new passport. One for Japan and one for Vietnam. Life unfolds slowly. There is no webex calls to do. There is only the ebb and flow of Hong Kiem Lake and the people that are moving faster than me.

Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum and other thoughts

Today I decided to walk over to the park and open spaces where Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum is. Its a pretty decent walk from the Old Quarter and I got there to find out its closed on Fridays. I’m glad I have sufficient time here in Hanoi to do repeat trips. Also the weather today was a bit bad in the morning so I took shelter as the rain fell at a Helio Coffee Shop wherein an Egg Coffee and a delightful conversation was had with a French couple. We discussed the best ways to see Vietnam and the cities and historic locales and they also walk. We agreed that taking a tour while it may be easier out of the gate was a limited advantage. One thing is that a tour only shows you what the tour guide wishes you to see. Another is you have only limited time so you cannot go left and right and doubleback and get lost. That’s a huge dealbreaker to me. I would prefer to just wander the city streets with the camera in hand. We discussed various places to retire and how I ended up in Asia and how he will go back to France and retire to a place like Spain or Portugal. It was a delightful interlude on a rainy morning. Only he spoke english so he translated for his wife as we went. As the coffees were getting done he let me know they were going to Sapa next which is a backpacking and trekking location. They will not go to southern Vietnam on this trip. They are also going to Halong Bay for a few days.

When we finished talking, the rain had finished falling so it was time to see the open spaces where the Mausoleum and park is. Its really nice to find a place wide open with grassy lawns and space to walk. The Old Quarter can get “hemmed in” with bikes, cars, and scooters at times.

The skies were kind of cloudy or misty out so I determined to take photographs after the rain event primarily and spent a few hours wandering around the historic locations. Here are a few frames from the various places in the Mausoleum complex.

As you can see the sky was rather gloomy out but the architecture and open spaces were superb to be freely walking in.

After some hours of exploration, I charted a different way back to Hoan Kiem district and the lake to do some reading and intake of a few beers. I have been very lucky here to put in over 12k of steps or over 5 miles all days. I was kinda wondering how I would do this since I am addicted to walking and I need the daily fix. Its been easy to walk here even if I don’t chart a destination like today.

Now its almost time for some Pho Bo for dinner right next to the hotel I may watch a movie and partake of a few beers in the room tonight. Its Friday and back in the states I would have a few beers on a Friday and watch old movies. I can still do both since there are old movies on YouTube I like to watch but its from my laptop.

This marks two weeks in Hanoi and I feel I have not really scratched the itch walking and exploring here yet. In a few weeks though, I will go off to Halong Bay for a few days and then will get back and go to Hoi An which is a heritage site. By the time those trips are done, my time here in Hanoi will be winding down to the weeks and it will be time for my Visa run to Hong Kong and then the train ride to Ho Chi Minh City and my stay there.

Today on the Streets and a new travel destination

I had decided before leaving the US I would take a few trips within Vietnam to see the marvelous country that is this place. One place I knew I had to go to was Halong Bay but then I started casting about for a place easy to get to by air, bus, or train and enter Hoi An. So today while having some morning coffee and pastry I started looking at how to get there. There are lots of ways. One could take a bus which is about 18 hours. I could ride the train but since i am already doing the train from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City I opted to fly. The way you get to Hoi An is flying into Danang Airport first and then the hotel you stay offers to arrange a car for about $15.  To find stuff for travel, i use two primary sites. one is 12go and the other is Agoda. 12go offers a great combination of all modes of travel but I used it to compare costs against booking on the airlines itself.

Agoda offers a nice comparison of hotels and often has special deals. I’ve booked most if not all my rooms on Agoda including here in Hanoi and before in Japan. Its just very easy to use and the mobile app works nicely too.

After all that tiring research, I decided to book the round trip air travel on Vietnam Airlines and I decided to go for three days. Three days was not some hard and fast rule. The hotel is only about $17 a night for a single room. I could have stayed longer I guess. The airfare came up to about $150 roundtrip. Seemed reasonable to me. To make the trip I figure without food or beer I spent about $200 for everything.

I am not on some hard and fast budget but what I do is to eat a variety of street food and sometimes a nicer dinner here. Like tonight I had Banh Mi which is a French baguette stuffed with great meat, veggies and stuff.  Last night I spent more on Indian food. I figure it all evens out in the end. I am somewhat a creature of habit so I find places I really like and end up going there. I will probably do Pho right across the street tomorrow night though to break that habit. The American Diner I like here has breakfast which is very American sounding and it dawned on me that I would like some pancakes so I think this Sunday its time for some “cakes”.

Heres a few pictures from today. I just rambled around wherever the urge took me. This city is great for that!

You’ll notice some pictures of inside this huge bazaar or shopping center. That place was incredible! I have never seen so many different vendors with clothing, backpacks, socks, ties, coats. I don’t buy a lot of souvenir type stuff since in the end I have to carry it out in my backpack but I will get something when I leave Hanoi. I think a T shirt is always something I can do.

So, now I have two trips booked which I think is good. I go to Halong Bay in a few weeks and then to Hoi An after that.


Halong Bay and Cat Ba Tour from Hanoi

One of the goals to my longer stay in Hanoi was to take the Halong Bay tour. Walking in the Old Quarter every hotel and street just about has a tour. So who to take? Walk down and turn left and pick one? Use my hotel? Flip a coin?

i decided instead to go with TripAdvisor since it was none of the above and for no additional cost they pick me up at my hotel in the Hoan Kiem District and transport me plus offering a one night stay at the destination hotel and one night on the ship. All told, I get two nights and three days to see the places and I don’t anticipate wanting to go kayaking or other activities. What I will do is eat and drink and sit like a royal couch spud on the deck and take loads of pictures.

I booked that travel today for April which looks like the last nicer month before it starts raining and getting hotter there. I will probably go somewhere in May as well that I have not quite figured out yet. Then in June, I take the Visa run to Hong Kong for some days and the train from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City for my longer stay there.

Its amazing I have been living in Hanoi now for two weeks. I go out every day and walk the city with the Fuji camera capturing and learning how the camera handles the light conditions here. I’ve learned that setting the camera to Auto does not really result in good pictures. The metering on the camera seems to not deal well with the foggy and sometimes misty conditions here and over exposes. The best I have found yet is to keep the camera on f/8 and step the exposure compensation down a bit. I’m still shooting in Aperture Priority Mode which I think gives me the best flexibility for quick shots. Yesterday I played with the TCL 100 Mark 2 telephoto lens and the Acros film simulation as you recall. Today I will shoot primarily with the WCL 100 Mark 2 lens which is a wide angle. I have some custom settings for Acros I want to try also. The great thing here is there no lack of urban and street photography including city scapes to test things on.

First off though I will find a place for some coffee and perhaps breakfast. Then will go stomping around the city for a few hours. There’s some walks I want to do either this week or next which take a bit longer but nothing really requires super human effort here. I just have to decide on the route I want to take and then do it. Decision making power has been waning of late though and I have tried to have no real accountability to that decision making.

I know. Its tough. But someone has to do it 🙂

After Pho and Spring Rolls — it all rules

This is a feel good post. I’ve written a few travel posts and some introspection posts. Retirement is such a change and especially to whisk away to Hanoi. Not have a car, debt, insurance or even an address in the Bay area. I sat at the usual place and imbibed a few beers and watched the Hanoi afternoon slowly spiral to evening. There’s a certain life quotient in Hanoi I seem to have been missing in the San Francisco Bay area. Maybe its the mix of people I see. Oldsters, youngsters, tourists, ex-pats and I get a sense that people here enjoy the food and the beer and the weather. I hear lots of laughter and people enjoying perhaps sitting on a street corner. Much like the 10-year old girl told me that she was happy learning. A novel concept. Happy learning. Coming from 20 some years doing IT and having projects that immediately went to RED its a concept worth drinking a beer or two over. The happiness concept. The retirement concept.

It dawned on me this morning as I woke up a few times and fell back asleep. This has to be the best thing in a long time. The main questions are not what is going to fall apart today on the project but instead what coffee shop should I try.

In the evenings, after three beers I settle in and listen to Google Play Music. The same playlist I carefully built for walking before. Its still the music I love. And I sit here wondering and sometimes catch myself opening Google Maps to look at what I should do tomorrow. Answer: there is nothing to do tomorrow. I can walk in any set direction and see whatever I want.

So I wonder. Wonder how good this all is now. Hanoi and Vietnam. The food and beer and the people. Away from the life that was led from 2009 to 2018. Amazing.

In other News…

Today I played with the camera a bit and a few things. One is the TCL100 Mark II telephoto lens. This lens subtly changes the character of the included lens. I decided to shoot with it all day today. I also delved into the camera’s Acros simulation which lets you get some really high quality black and white that is punchy, edgy, and contrasty all by itself. You can dial in more but its fun to just play as it is. So I shot around the Lake in Acros for awhile. Walked the 12k steps or so which I ended up with. Sweated a bit. It all felt good.

Here’s some samples using the Acros sim and some regular shots using the standard Provia film simulation.

This camera. Wowsers. What a fun camera to play with in a place like Hanoi. I get all the street photography I could probably ever want. Here’s a few shots of some people as well. Its a great camera for those urban moments.

Perhaps the thing so likable is the stealth mode. I really enjoy the candid nature of street photography. Some of that goes away with the telephoto lens since this huge lens thing is poking off the front of the camera. So when I really want to get things on the street, the camera is naked.

Tomorrow I’ll play with the wide angle lens. Stay tuned. More to come.

Another Fantastic Day Getting Lost in Hanoi

I have been working on seriously getting lost in Hanoi and not pulling my phone out to look at Google Maps until some number of left and right turns go by. I’m convinced that for capturing daily things here its best to just pick a direction and then wander. Today I did have a goal to reach the area around the Presidential Palace and explore. It seemed like I would be able to walk about 5 or 6 miles total given some routes I had found. Little did I know my propensity for getting completely turned around. I did establish a few landmarks to help me like the Hanoi Water Tower which is a landmark site in Hanoi and the palace area. That was just to help me focus on getting to a point though.

There is so much to see in Hanoi and I am so glad to have the time here to be able to hopefully say,

I gave it my best shot!

But the photography today was good too. I saw wide open streets, foggy lakes, and historic sites. Really an excellent day. Ended up back the same restaurant and lounge right on Hoan Kiem Lake for beers.

Without further ado here are a few things I saw today as I worked at getting lost part of the day and then getting found as the time was getting closer to 4pm.

I feel fortunate and thankful I secured a longer tourist Visa even if I have to leave half-way and go to Hong Kong for some days. I wanted to slow the pace down and not do the usual three days and out I have done before. Now the days seem to go by as if on wings and next thing I know I am at the usual place by the lake for beers and some people watching. Its fun to watch the other tourists as they speed by. Perhaps they only have a week or so here. Maybe their time is limited to only seeing a few of the sights here. I wonder if they wander the city with no real goal in mind or if the travel has them hemmed in with only a flight to come and a well-planned agenda.

I particularly wanted away from that so having these months of careful exploration or sometimes sleeping late and having a leisurely Hanoi Egg Coffee is a wondrous thing.

Tonight a new place close to my hotel for dinner and perhaps a beer there. Then back to relax in the peace and quiet of the room. I get tired at night as these old legs put on 5 to 7 miles each day of wandering.


Three Weeks on the Road – An Introspection

If you are not into personal introspection type blog posts, stop now and go elsewhere. i think I’ve mentioned that oftentimes blogging feels like a 5 pound chicken trying to lay a 10 pound egg to me. This is one of them. If you have followed along for the last month give or take you know I left end of February for Japan. I spent two weeks in Japan and the goal was to get back to photography, burn some of the work carbon out of the engine, get very long walks in every day , and eat and drink and repeat and rinse as necessary. I knew it would be difficult going from working 12 to 16 hours per day, with back to back webex calls, project review meetings, get to green meetings to simply stop. You don’t just turn the switch to the off position. Then there was family stuff. My daughter wanted to exit to be with her boyfriend in Florida. She designed and defined a strategy which try as I can I simply cannot agree with. Its dawned on me though leaving it just don’t matter whether I agree or not. Why? Because I am fucking gone. That’s why.

So it came back to the retirement thing. The feelings of goods and bads doing it. Truth be told many days I get up and want a set of things to get done. I catch myself making up lists of todo items. Perhaps I do some of them or just change the date on them to the next day or sit with an Egg Coffee and wonder about them. Its hard though to simply turn off those project management things.

I’ve spent three weeks at it and i think its gonna take longer. Its like a spring was wound up somewhere really tight and when i back off on it, there is a bit of slack in it. Each day there is less as I sit at the Lake and read more or sleep in later and do email or read things about the camera in the mornings.

Does one ever get done though I wonder with the work things? At first, as I flew to Japan there was some guilt. I had simply not finished what I set out to do even though I finished the project and did what they wanted. I knew it was my “swan song” and that I would exit no matter what. There was simply no gas left in the tank after the project. It was fully loaded, completely focused, loss of holidays time getting it done. People doubted it would get done so I felt I had to prove a thing. They doubted our vendors so I enabled them to be successful.

Then I left.

All of that remained behind and its been touch and go some days reminding myself its okay to have left. People were thankful for what they had of me at the company. I only did two projects in two years for heaven’s sake. Both were risky, stressful, done over holidays.

Then I left.

Now I’m gone and I introspect the things still after a beer or three or some Pho. And I have come to realize there is a tiny irritating piece you never lose. Its a little piece of a thing in some dark corner which reminds you then and again. Meanwhile, I am outdoors walking over 12k steps each day and feel good. I sit drinking a few beers each day after and I feel better. I know that retirement is meant  to soothe that ego and produce a new state. I have come closer to the state.

Perhaps when I turn a corner in the old quarter one day it will truly sink away. I will be like new with no guilt or introspection bubbling up. I doubt it though. But lets do this. Lets make a deal. I’ll do the walking wherever I go, take the photographs, eat and drink. You read. You never have to “LIKE” a thing or comment. Not expected or desired. As I have mentioned I don’t write this for you.

The egg has landed.

Photography is not elitist!

There are no rules with doing photography besides you have to have a camera and perhaps a subject that you have decided to shoot or one that presents itself or perhaps some random thing which you happen across. No one can tell you that you must,

  1. take a photography class online or at some studio.
  2. walk through some years of practice until you still have not engaged.
  3. pay your price by doing some kind of study or rigorous definition of post processing or shooting RAW or using Photoshop or Lightroom.

You can buy that camera now, head on out, make mistakes, learn, make more mistakes. What’s the goal with photography anyways? You looking to become professional? There’s another track for that. You wanna astound your friends with the photography-foo? Or perhaps what you want is what I want. I want a recording of the places I have been in some kind of evidence or placed in some cloud repository for my enjoyment. Perhaps I want to look back when I am in Cambodia or Malaysia and remember what Hanoi was like.

I only mention this because there are photo sharing groups on facebook and other places where I feel you have some dues to pay before you contribute. So I am here to say there ain’t no dues. You buy the camera, the lens, the bag. You travel. Notice all the You’s. There are no They’s. You may not enthrall millions but the people that matter  are not them.

I bought a camera not to become some world-class photographer. I bought a camera because its a mix of art and science. Its the triangle of things to learn and mistakes are okay. Its okay to over-expose and wonder why. Its alright to back up the photos to some USB drive and always see them but gauge how you have learned or what you spent a evening reading in your hotel room preparing to go the next day. In the spirit of that endeavor, I am the learner forever and the error prone guy that backs everything up to Google Photos. There is no right way to do photography.  The only one way I know of is you have to have that camera. You have to be curious and full of wonder about all those elements like aperture, ISO. But you can set the camera on auto or pick one method like Aperture Priority and get on out there. Sure the mistakes will mount up. Imagine if you don’t though and its all a wanna be moment.

Lost, forever lost.

I only mention all this because I am the consummate learner. I want to learn how to do it. But I want to learn by doing it. I don’t want someone telling me theory of light and shadow. I wanna make my mistakes, make more mistakes; but with the camera in my paws.

So here I am in Vietnam and i joined this or that photo sharing group on FB. Ignore them. Do what feels right to you. I spent the money on a FujiFilm X100F because I felt it was a good learning tool but it also had a great set of references, reviews, and I could buy guides and study.

I think the only way really to learn this stuff is to go out and do this stuff. Now I have been in Japan and am in Vietnam. The opportunities far outweigh the liabilities. If you want the camera, go buy the camera. Buy the memory cards. Do the thing.

I’m happier, more frustrated, reading at nights. Its the way I want it.

Some travel to come

Since I have to do a Visa run exit in mid June, I had to make a few changes to other transportation bookings to accommodate that. One thing I had booked was train travel from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City in June. I will have a little under three months to see Ho Chi Minh City all told before my Visa runs out. Here’s the map of the rail trip.

The trip takes approximately 30 hours and I would get to see everything from where Hanoi is all the way to southern Vietnam where Ho Chi Minh City is. The Vietnam Rail folks wanted to make sure I understood the time the trip takes so I confirmed that I will board the train on the 18th of June and will probably arrive sometime in the afternoon on the 19th.

To me, this is one of those train trips to see an entire country that one should do. Its like the Amtrak across the United States or the rail trip across Canada. To me, there is only one real way to see a thing and its not driving. I’ve tried driving while living in the US and road trips are good but nothing can beat the whistle and sound of the train hitting the rails and the people that gather. While in India, I rode the train from Chennai to Mysore and back. That was an overnight trip and a lot of fun including the morning call for coffee and Dosas. I have ridden Amtrak to San Diego, Santa Barbara, and up to Oregon a few times. There is a quintessential thing about the travel by rail missing in all other methods. Its that progression and sound and feeling that you get as the train propels itself to new places around each bend.

As you probably know, I also took the Shinkansen trains this last few weeks in Japan. i rode in quiet comfort from Tokyo to HIroshima and then from Hiroshima to Osaka. The bullet trains in Japan are nothing short of fantastic. I love the attention to detail on those trains, the speed and the efficiency of the system while still allowing you to see the sights that go past your window at a few hundred miles per hour.

I can’t wait for this trip. Another one interesting is to ride the train from Bangkok Thailand to Singapore. You have to book that one in segments. Just for interest, here are a few interesting travel sites perhaps to consider if you feel that train urge.

  1. This is a great resource for any train travel. The Man in Seat 61 prepares you for voyages just about anywhere by train.
  2. Interested in booking a combination of train, rail, bus trips in Asia? Best site I have seen is 12go. You can make immediate travel plans on the go. it works equally well on mobile devices. You can combine rail, bus, and air if you want. Want that trip from Thailand to Singapore? You can do it at 12go.
  3. Want that train trip in Vietnam I booked? Heres the Vietnam Railways Site.
  4. Amtrak does a nice job of showing US train travel with how to connect as well.
  5. Want to book the Shinkansen but you are not yet in Japan? I have you covered. You can book Shinkansen tickets here in advance and they will mail the tickets. Have no fear with this system. I used it and it works.

I started awhile ago gathering resources I would find that make it easier to travel in Asia. Bus travel is probably one of the greatest ways to get around. While not specifically rail travel as those are focused above on, Giant Ibis provides a very nice booking resource for bus trips in Southeast Asia. Give them a whirl if you want to also do what I am doing after Vietnam which is riding a bus to Phnom Penh Cambodia.

Thanks all! Happy travels. Try the train wherever your travels avail. No disappointment



A Garden of Delights in Hanoi

Today I wandered for almost 6 miles by getting completely lost in Hanoi. Let me just say the streets are named and you can find your way around if you want. I did not want. I wanted to turn at streets, do photography, find different little things. Street photography in Hanoi is insane. Its like a garden of delights for the enterprising urban photographer. So today went forth on my lack of a mission and spent steps upon steps seeing the garden of delights that is Hanoi.

I started by coffee and a donut at Starbucks because I’m spoiled and I like their large brewed coffee. I watched these young fashionistas come in and gather and borrow a chair from me. I will say that these people are polite and fun. I like the people here. But on to the show!

Here’s a group of today frames from a great day out experiencing the wonder of Hanoi City streets, the old quarter, wider blocks with nice stores. This place is a bounty of different looks.

I fixed a minor issue with over-exposure on the camera after studying various approaches last night. The camera basically does not meter the type of light very well so in most cases you have to use exposure compensation and dial things down. I also found a method of testing with the camera. I put the camera in automatic and it gave me an aperture it thought was right. I would then change to that aperture but the show appeared over exposed. Then dial down the compensation by 2/3ds and the shot came right along. You have to test though in the different lighting so when things got wider open on city streets, I would repeat the check but still had to dial down the exposure compensation.

Its worthwhile here to test and find the correct settings by taking a frame or two and seeing what it gives you back.

By getting lost I became found and ended up back at the lake in a bench reading and then walked some more and got to the usual place for beers and people watching. Beer first though!