Two Weeks give or Take in Hanoi

Two weeks left in Hanoi. Hard to believe that the time has gone by so quickly. Travel next few weeks includes a 5 day trip to Hue starting on Saturday and returning on Wednesday. Hue is a city steeped in history and getting 5 days there to walk around, take a day tour, and eat the local foods is great! I’ll fly down Saturday morning on Vietnam Airlines and start exploring the city that day since I cannot check in to the hotel right away but they will store my bags for me while I go.

Once I get back from Hue I have a week left and then its time leave Hanoi. I’ll fly off to Hong Kong for 4 days and see the sights there. When I get back, its only for a night at the airport and then the rail trip from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City on the 18th of June. That trip will take 30 hours but as I blogged before I get to see the entire length of Vietnam and I’m a train guy so am really looking forward to the pace and the sights.

I have a homestay place in Ho Chi Minh City which includes free meals each night and I’ll stay there through September when my Visa runs out. Then I cross over to Cambodia. I have some basic plans for different places to see based on a month schedule but as I go, I can change the schedule as I want and not pay a penalty for the hotels I rented. The plan though is to end up back in Phnom Penh around January of next year and rent an apartment for up to 9 months which is what I will have left on my retirement visa there. From there, I can travel easily to Laos, Thailand, Malaysia. All of that is rather fuzzy but I do know there are places I will get to. India beckons. Malaysia has been asking to see me. Thailand and the train from Chiang Mai to KL are some things I have wanted to do.

I really appreciate everyone reading along and watching me see Hanoi. Its been a lot of fun to do the project I set for myself which was to record my daily walks with my camera. I will be closing that project on the 14th of June and will go through the google photo albums and publish the links for all the albums so you can get a sense of the walking in Hanoi. At the same time, I have been experimenting with my FujiFilm X100F camera. Finding the sweet spots for shooting that I like. Playing with depth of field and aperture settings. Since I am nowhere near a photographer, I use these things as self learn goals and only to try to improve and learn the camera. I am not after doing post processing or shooting RAW files. My only goal is a personal and sharing one. I make mistakes and learn and then apply things I read or suss out about the camera.

You’ll get to see all those things in all their glory.

So walk a bit with me. See the remaining days of Hanoi sights. I still have bucket list places I need to go to so when I get back I will be applying myself to get there. Some require a cab or longer walk. Most I can get to easily by taking a day and dedicating it to that walk.

Its been fun living in Hanoi. I’ve enjoyed the people I’ve met, some friends at local coffee shops that have treated me well. The kindness and generosity of the Vietnamese people I will not soon forget.

The Roads Traveled and The Change Met

I believe that the desire for change, to hit the road, to see things and not be held by the mundane rules goes back for us generations. I think we dream, strive, want and often read those travel websites claiming a place in the sun at the 10 cheapest destinations where life can be fantastic. I happened to read a blog which I follow on WordPress by Jasmine Eclipse this morning about her upcoming adventures on the road. A few kindred thoughts were sparked by her desire to see and do. I’ve read others too many to link to in the WordPress reader of people old and young hitting the road to find a thing, lose a thing, or become something different. I’m sorry I cannot link to you all but there is a common thread I want to call out here:

People think by having it all you have it all. This is patently untrue. A nice car, a good neighborhood, fantastic job, decent commute, wonderful relationships, stability, a person to share your life with. All are good things. Each has a place in the fabric of searching for a thing and perhaps each has a place. We often believe we could never leave all those behind for a life on the road yet others I read and correspond a bit with do this like Roger and Amy at Lets Vagabond. Both of them have an interesting life story as well.

But the interesting thing is the desire to get away, to change, to find a new way of relating to things. The underlying thing I believe here is Change with a big C. We need change in our lives. The mundane, the regular, the expected only go so far. For some perhaps that Change is a new career and job profile on LinkedIn. But for others they see through the chimera of the job and profile. There is a more fundamental thing that lurks under there and you can read the fabric of it on the two websites I’ve linked to. Its not only Change but the concept of something New. Perhaps something New and Unexpected. A thing to do which stretches the boundaries and lets you see something without the rose tints on of the expected.

For me too. I had dreamt this dream since probably 2014. A time when I could walk the cities I wanted, not have the mundane around me or the expected. Live a life of glorious exploration but done slowly. My own desire was to travel slowly but only a portion of this wide and wonderful world for now. I can only think a country ahead of Vietnam and then it gets fuzzy. Cambodia comes to me in September but its reality must wait.

So I applaud and think when people reach the end of the life support system they carefully built they know beyond it is Change. And we need that change as surely as Jasmine will drive each state in the United States or my friends at Lets Vagabond leave for places and adventures unknown or I more slowly travel my way through Vietnam.

Maybe, just maybe, this is not your idea of the next thing. My friend Free could not see how I would want to do these things while he still lived. He divorced and moved to Oregon and found the thing of his dreams. A thing he had waited on for years. Sometimes while the Change is rapid, getting there takes a long walk. It was Robert Frost who told us,

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

—Robert Frost

We all know that we have a road less traveled by. Sometimes it takes challenges and panic and unhappiness to find it. It may be completely different than the life of a vagabond on the road. I do think we turn to the life of the traveler when the Change we have tried does not really reach the mark. Then we search the road less traveled.

Fujifilm X100F Camera Explorations and Fun in Hanoi

Back to camera exploration today in the Old Quarter and the lake. My goal this time was to test out a few F stops for sweetness and use. I focused today on F5.6 and F4 later in the day. I think both of these do really well on the camera. It seems like others have reported the the real sweet spots of the camera are F2.8 to about F8. Today I played more with F5.6 doing street photography.  I also cropped images in the camera. I think I’m arriving at a cool departure point where the F5.6 aperture in Aperture Priority mode works very well.

Later in the day I decided to try F4 around the church. After looking at those images I have to say that the FujiFilm X100F seems to do best above F2.0 and below F16 much like what I’ve read. Tomorrow I’ll play at F4 and F8 around the southern part of the city where the city scape shots are better.

What does all this mean? Good question. In my never-ending exploration of the camera I’ve focused on a few things. I really like what is called the Provia or standard film simulation most times but moving over to the custom Acros Red is fun. The real thing it means is that the camera is fun and the learning is fun. I’ll share a few images now to show the street photography from today using F5.6 in aperture priority mode.

I cropped this image in the camera. I think there are nice details and sharpness of the image.

No cropping here. Really great sharpness I think at F5.6

Again shot the at F5.6 today.

Final image shot earlier today at F5.6

Now lets look at some images shot at F4 later in the day after some beers over by the church.

I like this one!

This was shot at F4 later in the day.

The cathedral in F4. I like this one.

Another one shot in F4. I wanted to look at the sharpness of the image a bit shooting at F4.

The last one of the day’s exploration. Also shot at F4

Some interesting findings at least for me.

The FujiFilm X100F shoots the best in the range of F2.8 to F8 and maybe some F11 at times. The most open and closed F stops are not so good. Perhaps this makes it easier to do Aperture Priority with Auto ISO enabled.

Secondly, I cannot see ever changing and shooting RAW files. I like the instant gratification and the film simulations with the SOOC JPEGs too much.

I’m interested in stretching things out a bit tomorrow and moving to using F8 around French Colonial architecture south in Hanoi. The areas are more open so it presents a different kind of fun and testing to do.

I don’t really know of any other way to learn more with the camera. I sure am glad though I got the Fuji camera. Between it and the walking and the ability to set off in any random direction in Hanoi and see things, its never boring :-).

Other News…

Of course there’s other news. My time here in Hanoi is shrinking away. I will go to Hue this weekend and through next week and then only have a week left here. On 14 June, I fly to Hong Kong for a few days and then its down to Ho Chi Minh City until September.

I have trips planned from Ho Chi Minh City and I have my lodging booked at a homestay place that will also give free dinners and is highly rated.

I think staying longer times is the key to being able to feel stable in a place. I get the knowledge of the city, find restaurants that I feel like a regular at, and also learn a bit about the people, culture, history. If you have a choice you should consider staying longer in places. Each of us though travels to our own drumbeat and we know how we feel the best. For me, the slower paced travel has been the best. I knew I would not stay long in Japan when I went due to the cost of living there. Vietnam is a different story though.

Give it some thought when you travel. If you find the desire to stay longer, I have found no shortage of places to stay here and in Ho Chi Minh City. Cambodia too! I have that next trip defined a bit from here!

Sunday Fun Day — no real goals and all day to get there…

Miles of walking heroic distances not today folks.

Today I was lazy and it was Sunday so I took the camera for a little stroll to capture the usual and unremarkable and daily things.  Often the daily things are interesting through the lens of the camera. Its like you can capture the perfect sunset or beach or city at night but sometimes the perfect day is finding unusual occurrences or fun things to see and let the camera do its thing.

Hanoi is a fun city to let the camera go but today these feet did not want to go to longer distances. I captured a few things which are only submitted for your enjoyment and fun.

Swinging,eh?

Fanny Ice Cream. No comment.

The open bench.

Right after the picture, they turned around and started laughing after the pose because I caught them right before another person was ready to take the picture. Lots of selfie country around the Lake most days!

So there you have it. Some Sunday fun day stuff.

The Temple of Literature Day Trip in Hanoi and Other Notes

The Temple of Literature in Hanoi is a day trip in and of itself so I wandered there as part of my walk today. I did not actually know I would end up there when I started this morning after breakfast. What I knew was that I had to walk. I had to feel the sweat running and my feet moving and the camera doing its thing. Where I ended up is the Temple of Literature in Hanoi. Its a nice walk if you are into walking from the old quarter but I took a circuitous path there as in most of my meanderings.

Its a great place to wander around for some hours and easily accessible. You will see a lot of steles and other works of art and learning in the Temple. The grounds are very clean and easy to navigate and the pamphlets and learning include being able to get audio presentations if you are inclined. I wanted to wander the grounds with the camera instead.

There are also students that graduate that get their pictures taken at the temple at this time of year so you get to see the historic and the present day all at one time. To walk the temple grounds is to find yourself both back in the past and in the present which is a delightful mix. The beauty of the grounds are in the level of maintenance and upkeep the park has and all of it is open and available for photography. After paying your 30k VND you can wander the grounds as you wish.

What I enjoyed most was the people who visited. I always get a lot of hello’s from Vietnamese when I am out walking and seeing things. I really enjoy that part. But at the temple the cameras are out and people are wanting to get memories taken.

If you go to the temple in the summer months, stop at the last little store and get ice water. Mine was ice cold and was even partially frozen in the bottle. I went back for seconds :-).

The access to the temple grounds is through a gate where you pay a 30k VND fee and get access after that. Walking the grounds is interesting but get off the main pathway and look at the beautiful ponds with what I think were water Lillies and the smaller buildings off to the sides. As is usual, you can find gems in the side paths at this park.

A lot of tourists perhaps buy a day Hanoi tour and end up at the temple for some time. I saw tours come and go but I stayed around to photograph things as the people ebbed. My photography of the Temple is here.

Just another reason you should come visit Vietnam. Hanoi has so much to offer.

Talking English with Mom and Daughter…

Then I ended up after 2o minutes or so walking back at Hoan Kiem Lake and a young lady asked to talk with me. We sat there discussing literature, music, history, her teachers, travel for over an hour. She had great command of the language and could talk with me about books in English she had read, travels she wanted to do, what it was like in different states  and in California. Her mom had to come get her after the hour plus because she had a party to go to. I was amazed at her command of the language, history, and the ability to discuss literature, history, mythology. Simply amazing. The mom was no slouch in the English department herself so we messed around with taking photographs together.

Just an enjoyable day. I fear I am going to miss Hanoi terribly when I leave in a few weeks. The longer stay has been exquisite and being able to leave for day trips or longer like to Halong Bay and Hoi An have been great but I have to say that Hanoi is an amazing place. So much to see and do. Food to eat. Its been a grand time here. Hard to believe I have been here since March 16th.

But time marches on and my Visa will end in September. At that point, I will have done more tours and trips in Ho Chi Minh City to beaches, back to Danang because I want to see it, and then probably day tours.

Its all interesting to this old retired guy who has spent three months almost in Hanoi. I love this city and will miss it.

Day Tour of Bai Dinh Pagoda and Trang An Open Space Preserve

One of the easier things to do is book a day tour here in Hanoi. I found one that I booked that would take me to the largest Buddhist Pagoda and an ecological zone. The Bai Dinh Buddhist Pagoda is the largest pagoda in Vietnam and one of the most ornate. I was able to walk through a lot of the pagoda today and enjoy both the beauty of the pagoda plus the natural space its in. As you walk the pagoda, you gently incline up steps down long hallways with beautiful artwork surrounding you. The pagoda is a popular day tour destination so there are a lot of people yet due to the size of the pagoda you feel somewhat alone at times. Photography is allowed and they do not seem to enforce some clothing standards like long pants thankfully because today was really warm!

Trang An was the next stop which is a beautiful ecological zone with emerald green river waters and wondrous limestone karsts much like Halong Bay. You ride in 5 passenger rowboats through grottos with low ceilings, wave at other boats and as I put my hand in the emerald green water, it was warm! I could not help but think it would have been truly nice to take a swim in it. All around you as you cruise, you see the limestone karsts poking up, beautiful blue skies, and lush vegetation. My other boat passengers were quiet the entire trip but other boats had friendly Vietnamese tourists which would yell “Hello” at me and wave.

After about two hours of cruising this beautiful ecological zone, we returned to the boat dock and then slowly headed back to our tour bus. Here are the pictures from today’s trip. I think that it was a great one day tour to take so if you have an opportunity and you are in Hanoi, give it a shot.

Just a word about day tours…

Now just a word about day tours. I booked my tour through a very nice travel agency at the Hanoi Old Centre Hotel in the old quarter. They were very responsive to my needs and answered all questions and ensured I was happy before with the proposed itinerary and after with follow-up emails to ensure that the trip went well. The tour guide we had spoke very good English and was very familiar with the history and geography of the areas we went. The tour cost included full transit including the Bus and boat rides and lunch. It does not include beer or drinks with lunch but for the cost of these I did not feel that it represented a large fee. I bought a larger water bottle for 20,000 VND and a beer after the boat ride for 15,000 VND.

I think other tours do things about the same as far as the services and support go but I felt that the staff at the Old Centre Hotel took pretty good care of me. When I took the Halong Bay tour, I felt more like a number and we had no ability to change the tour activities. Everything was rushed and mornings came early because they felt we had to have X number of activities. You may want to enquire with the tour operator on the flexibility to make changes as you want.

I am looking at a tour on the Red River next week which I would do right before leaving for Hue. I don’t really want another long bus ride type thing and this would be closer but still let me see the Red River past one quick look when I was out walking.

My advice FWIW for tours here is to check a few. Don’t just book Viator because I have found they do not cater to solo travelers at all and their itineraries are fixed. You can find local agencies that are reputable by simply searching and then sending the tour company email about what you would like.

I spent $55 today on the tour and I feel like I got plenty of value. Transport and activities were reasonable. Food was excellent! Our tour guide also ensured we knew the timings for things and how long it would take going there and returning to Hanoi. You can expect a longer day since by evening you will hit the evening Hanoi traffic around the old quarter.

If you get to Vietnam, hope you consider a tour for a day trip. I think they are very good ways of getting around to see things.

Warmer Day, Side Street Thoughts in Hanoi

Warmer day today and I felt a bit tired this morning from yesterday’s walk. I ended up sleeping in until almost 10am which was quite nice and then breakfast and a muffin at Starbucks. Around noon I decided to go for the day’s perambulations. I started around the Hoan Kiem Lake which is kinda sorta my base of operation but soon walked south turning down whatever street took my fancy or seemed to look interesting.

The area to the south of Hoan Kiem Lake is pretty interesting. There are skyscrapers and small shopping districts and open air food stands all coalesced into the same areas. Walking through those areas you see a variety and randomness truly astounding. I also don’t see any tourists for the most part when I walk south of the lake. Its only when I get closer to the touristy Lake areas do the numbers pick up.

There are also so many little side streets that I could never run out of places to see. Many of these have elegant little shops like boutique clothing, hair salons, and small toy stores. Cars do not go down these too often but scooters are forever present. Even if you think you finally have a street to yourself sans scooters, the reverie is soon busted by the sound of the horn behind you wanting you to move out of the way. The pedestrians down these little side streets tend to walk in the middle of the little road. Discussions are had as the they walk down past the other mostly present shop in Hanoi — the coffee shop. Coffee shops are interesting cultural and social things on the streets. Young people gather in the morning and sit outside often carrying on long conversations and I often get myriad “Hellos” as I go. These people have to be some of the friendliest. Then past the coffee shop you will see the other little shops. Many of these are elegant little affairs. I’ve decided to branch off with this and spend a day walking these and capturing the elements of as many side streets south of Hoan Kiem Lake that I can do. I will never get down all of them or find them but the walking and photography should give you an idea what’s its like in the little social and cultural areas between large streets. I like them a lot!

Tomorrow I take off for an all day tour so should have some things to share other than city pictures of Hanoi. I do another all day tour on Monday all day. I’m trying to get some things done before my end date of 14 June which is fast approaching. Next weekend I fly to Hue and then about a week later I leave.

Here’s some photos from the day’s adventures. Thanks for reading along.

Walking to the Beat in Hanoi – West Lake and New Places to See

Today was a longer walk that was really not intentional. I had set out to confirm an all day tour for Monday but the steps took over. Turn left, right. See new parts of Hanoi. I ended up farther up West Lake than before.

I ended up after about 16k steps at this brewpub I like going to after walking through beer street and not succumbing to stopping. I don’t really like beer street in Hanoi so I don’t stop there.

Today was a great day for walking and I think the photo album kinda shows that. Beautiful blue skies, puffy cloud things, and warm temperatures. Then at the end kind of beery out.

Now I am sitting in the room and thinking about two tours coming up that I’ve got for Friday and Monday. I’ll go see historic and archeological locations, beautiful country, and also enjoy some time away from Hanoi. I guess I am feeling that my time is starting to ebb away in Hanoi. I’ve been here since March 16th and with the day tours and my trip to Hue coming up, my days are shrinking.

I’ll be leaving for Hong Kong to get the visa run thing done and then ride the 30 hours on the train from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City. I have trips planned from there too. I’ve paid for flights here and there once I get there.

But now its today and here are some places I saw today. I really love this city. Its been really good to me and its reaffirmed the idea I had that I wanted to stay longer in places to get to know the locations, the people, the restaurants.

Hope you enjoy the photographs! I had a great time taking them today.

The Day in Hanoi and a hunt for time wonderful time

One of the many things I realized after retiring is that I would have time. Precious time to do a few things which I did not seem able to when working. I wanted to read more on my Kindle and I wanted to do more photography on my Fuji X series camera. Both of these things were retirement goals. As I mentioned, I also set a private goal and project to walk the city of Hanoi each day getting in 12k steps but also doing more photography in the city. A final goal had to be creating more content on my blog. I aspired to creating new blogposts on a daily basis which would cover my day’s activities. Perhaps be mile markers to the walking and the photography.

But I did not want these things to be like the projects of yore that I managed with milestones and tasks and due dates. I wanted the project to be a flexible self guided thing that would have me wanting to do it every day.

For the blogging, I realized that there are lots of people who look to blogs for different reasons than I do. There are as many different reasons to blog as there are bloggers. I believe though we all do it at a basic level for self-expression and sharing of information. Perhaps that information is painful and its a recording of the hells of life. Maybe its more professional life and your challenges met. The reason you create this weird content is important but the real thing is that you do it. The final part of the blogging thing for me was the community I would find. A group of bloggers that perhaps traveled, liked history and anthropology, a dabbling in technology.

So circling back around to the realization of having time. Time is exquisite. For years I watched as the 18 hour days at work went by and even on getting to my room, my work cell phone would be ringing. More issues. More frustrations. Delays or problems. I heard that for two multi-million dollar projects for two years. I dealt with it. But moving on meant no more of that. I had sweet time.

Today I walked and these thoughts went cycling through. I started sweating because its warm or perhaps warmer. Sometimes its also humid and the sweat creeps down the back and on the arms. That 1.5 liter of cold water from the convenience store is like sweet wine. I sat today under a railroad bridge and felt that seminal feeling of time.

Now I can share the day’s album with you. My attempt to taking time and carving it up a bit to do things I want. Consider when you write these things what you are really trying to do. Is it making money or creating optimized blogs or are you wanting to reach out to others. Share with them an idea or two. Try to find a commonality or uniqueness in your experiment of one. Give it some thought when you write a blogpost.

Personal Project – Record the Streets of Hanoi. A Report

Since I arrived in Hanoi on 16 March, I’ve been doing a personal project to capture the streets of Hanoi with my camera. There are no real rules to the play and work except for these:

  1. Walk at least 12000 steps each day
  2. Photograph whatever I happen to see with my Fuji X Series camera
  3. Purposefully do not record the locations

The idea of the project is to be a visual undertaking of sets of walks in a variety of directions. The streets of Hanoi are full of change, people, cars, scooters, and activity. Hanoi is a dynamic city of old quarter, French quarter, West Lake, Long Bien. It goes on and on.

I’ll be continuing the project until 14 June when I leave Hanoi. At that point I’ll publish a blogpost with all the photo albums linked here and perhaps people will get a sense of just what a great city, how random it is, the places that can be seen by simply walking. Hanoi is a relatively safe city as long as you do common sense things. People may say that the traffic seems crazy but the reality is that there is a flow to it and you have to be part of it. There is a dynamism of the people and the businesses. Stately old buildings and consular offices. Government buildings. The beautiful parks and monuments around the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. All of it can be walked to from most locations in the city.

I don’t know that will I continue to do the same project in Ho Chi Minh City but I will be walking with the camera each day recording things. I also publish separate photo albums for the cities and tours I do to separate them and more easily share with friends and family, twitter, Facebook, Google Plus. If you do use Google Plus I publish a collection of photos there that I update because its the easiest way I know to share photos.

I’ve taken over 1000 photos of Hanoi itself that I save off to Google Photos. Thank goodness its free! My photographs are done simply with no post processing, no RAW files, etc. I don’t have strong views on post processing of photos using Lightroom or Photoshop. If that’s your boat, float in it. I much prefer to use what Fuji gave me and make mistakes, try correcting them and immediately share the JPEG files. I may not be a photographer and I’m okay with that. What I am is a person that enjoys doing the act of it. The learning of it. But I really like the outcome and being to have a record of things.

The project recording the sights and sounds of Hanoi has been a lot of fun and its meant that my contributing goal of walking over 12k steps a day has been fully realized. I checked the pedometer app history and I have walked over 12k steps for 30 days in a row. That means I have also taken photographs with the FujiFilm X100F those same days.

Some good, some over exposed and under. Its all grist for the mill. I have been to some places numerous times and I still find new things, new views, new endeavors to record.

I would ask you all. What is it you expect to gain doing photography when you travel? Is it a record of the things you have seen or perhaps more of a personal reflection. Maybe you don’t share photographs at all. None is right or wrong except when you get involved at a level that it stops being fun and learning. Then it becomes some plodding duty and you feel that the effort is not worth the outcome.

I’ll be sharing the Hanoi albums in the next three weeks when I leave here.  I will really miss Hanoi. I’ve met people here that either I have typed my name into their Facebook account, met Vietnamese friends at restaurants and coffee shops and helping them practice English. Its all been good.

One final note with some sadness. My friend Mikka Luster has stopped maintaining his blog which was one of the few away from the wordpress.com community I liked to read. For a lot of reasons. His abilities at putting words next to each other, lovely photography, and the mix of introspection along with long hikes and reviews of tech will be missed. Thanks Mikka for the blog. I hope you can find a way to continue writing.

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading!