6 Months in Asia – Travels, People, Thoughts

Tomorrow I will have reached 6 months on the road. I left California and work on 1 March and flew to Japan. I’ve been in Vietnam now for just shy of 6 months and have made my way from north to south starting in Hanoi. I have pretty much stayed a month in each place besides Hanoi where I spent three months. I did that to give a bit of stability to the traveling and to allow me to really see that sprawling, wondrous and captivating city where old and new battle each day. The old quarter ends in many directions and you see sedate bigger streets with government buildings, museums, shopping centers and wide sidewalks.

Traveling south I next went to Ho Chi Minh City for a month. I really loved it there. I stayed in a homestay and was treated like family with home cooked Vietnamese food for dinner, free beer and water bottles, ice cream, laundry service. I walked around all those days and pretty much feel I did not see a lot of the city because its so big. If you go to the Saigon Skydeck you can get an approximation about how massive the city truly is.

From there it was to Da Lat in the central highlands for cooler temperatures and the chance to visit waterfalls, coffee plantations, flower farms, and embroidery factories and artisans.  I stayed in Da Lat for 30 days and had a great time there. Its a slower pace and there is not a traffic light in the whole city. Its also cooler and I needed a jacket for the evenings as it dipped down to the 15s and 16s temperature wise. It started raining more as my time was getting done. I departed for two nights back in Ho Chi Minh City because I had changed my plans to get to Da Nang to see among other things the Ba Na Hills and the fabulous Golden Bridge. I did those things and am on my last two weeks here in Da Nang. I have one more tour and then will get a Grab and go to the Marble Mountains for a day.

I also took side trips. While in Hanoi I went to Hoi An and Hue. In Saigon, I went to Vung Tau on the Saigon ferry for a few days. Finally while in Da Lat I went to Nha Trang for a few days. I’ve tried to do at least one side trip to a place each place I have spent the month or longer. Its worked out really well for me.

But now my time draws nigh and I am in my last two weeks in Vietnam. On 15 September I fly back to Ho Chi Minh City for one night and then the next day fly to Cambodia. I’ll be touring Cambodia for 4 months. A month in each place I want to visit. My plan is in February  or so to fly to Thailand or Malaysia and tour around.

I will have a year long multiple entry retirement visa in Cambodia so I can use there as a home base and float out to other places while coming back every so often. Travel within the region is very cheap and the multiple flights I will want in February will run about $300 US for all of them.

A few things changed for me as my time in Vietnam has gone on. I have met some of the most wonderful, charming, gracious people here who are now my friends.

So the travel as a solo traveler has been very good! I have not felt depressed or anxious but did feel alone and lonely one time in HCMC. Ice cream and a mall helped out quite a bit. I’ve felt welcomed and accepted here for what I am. I am not a round the world traveler or a digital nomad or a reset or gap year person. I am just traveling to places I want to go at a very slow pace. I have nothing that requires my attention in any one place besides Vietnam. Nothing holds me or bars me going where I want. Each place has been a positive sum game for me and I have felt refreshed and invigorated from a rather stale 20 some years of doing IT and program management. The leaving and retiring has also meant that all debt and property not needed is gone. Not having debt is a huge thing given that for 10 years I was horribly in debt. Divorce came along and struck really hard and there were some years which were really horrible for me. The spirit though is indomitable and I guess through persistence, some luck, and a bit of help with the debt, I came out the other side in 2017. I knew then that I would retire and leave after one final frustrating project I did for the company. A 7 month project was condensed to only 3.5 months due to stakeholder requirements. We did that and met it but in the process having two service vendors and cloud data center providers, new identity management and security requirements, new load balancers, something that had never been done before using all those; left me completely wiped out. I told my group VP when he asked me almost daily to re-think my retirement it was no good. I was just burned out and the tank was empty.

Now I find myself on the cusp of another change. I’ll leave Vietnam and begin another chapter. A slow meandering chapter which will have me settle in Cambodia for a year. Do the things I love doing. I am not into how many visa stamps I can get or countries to visit. The

Asia has become home for me. Its what I expected and suspected before. Its a simpler life. Things cost less and sometimes things don’t work. Wireless access sometimes is hit or miss in some places. It does not matter. Its all there for me and the path slowly wanders and me, being the vagabond, sees how it turns and where it goes but its up to me to just follow or change it.

I hope you enjoy the next chapter of this thing. It will be interesting, fun, sometimes painful, and with plenty of good food and beer along the way. Its with a new camera now and less possessions since I minimized yet again and dropped down to half of what I had. Getting things like laundry done for $2.00 a week means I don’t need a lot of stuff.

So welcome and I hope you find a thing that fits and maybe as your time goes, you will see life on the road is not 45 countries and 3 continents. Its not a week in one place and then 20 others. At least for me, its not. For me, its that slow and gradual movement that gives me the best feeling. I don’t need more passport pages or visa stamps. What I really need I have found. The solo traveling has become the most important and then finding this select group of people that are there for me. That has been one of the nicest finds on this journey.

Perhaps you too will look at the road with yearning and take the path less traveled on and maybe that will make all the difference!

The Rush of Time is not Real

Sometimes one must reach for the quiet times. Walking the cities often includes busy streets, rushing cars and motorbikes. Lots of pedestrians each going a certain way that you may not be going. Traffic often moves at a pace far quicker than you may want but you have to fit in the pattern. Crossing streets here like I posted is not a thing you do to stop in the middle. One must go.

But sometimes a person needs a quieter moment and Vietnam aims to please there too. There are quiet neighborhoods where the dogs bark, the children sing, the people sit over coffee at the small shoppe. There, you can hear laughter and perhaps talking the gossip of the day. Down the street is a nail parlor where the beautiful young lady sits on the porch admiring the day. Customers will come I bet for her but she takes a moment to admire the handiwork of the universal creator. If you don’t like the word God I’m good with that.

Quiet neighborhoods are all over. One must just know where to look. Down that side street ahead are groups of smaller streets. Each holds promise and mystery. Perhaps one will show you the greatest discovery of all time. But I can tell you the greatest discovery. Its to have time. Time in a day to see a street that has no blaring horns or motorbikes or tall buildings. Its the serenity that perhaps you have missed in your flight to the places. We seem to take the rush of time to see the museums, the galleries, and pagodas. I have done this too. It doesn’t help that Vietnam is full of wonders and some work best with a tour package. Often though what you need is the unplanned moment. Perhaps you find a street curb or building closed to sit on and watch the slow progression of another kind of life.

Maybe you see something like this around you.

Just a quiet block where the hurry has not reached. A moment of time you have to slow down to the speed of the street you are on. All the countries and continents matter not. What matters is what you have seen in each one. The rush of travel the rush of the tour, the rush of the dinner. The rush. Time seems to spiral downward to a least common denominator which is not enough of it.

We seem to lose track that time is not really real as James Taylor pointed out. We just use it to try to understand something so big, large, and complex that normal ideas just don’t work. So we create these things. Time and space. We need them to place ourselves down that small block.

What happens if you stop though? If you move slower than the cosmic race. Suddenly you fall outside and you are a wanderer like me. Time ceases to be important. Days are not units of time divided into seconds, minutes, hours. They are bigger. They are moments to use and when you run out of one another shows up. How about if you when you travel you slow down? What will be the harm at only seeing two countries instead of fifteen? Lesser passport stamps and Visas. Maybe when you get back people will say,

you only saw two places? You had three months. What’s up with that.

Then you have some hard explaining to do. You have to tell these well meaning but harried friends that time did not count there. The watch spring unfolded and stopped. Time and space became immaterial and the days in Vietnam unfolded as they should instead of according to the rush of the hour.

Give it some thought. Perhaps you have more time than you think. Or maybe time really could care less and you are the one imposing your own limits. If you want to be the round the world traveler; how about starting with a single place seen and reported on and tell me about the people you met. I have met a few here in Vietnam that have enriched my life a few fold. Its meant the difference as a solo traveler. Would I have accomplished the same on the rush to meet time and space? I doubt it. It took a different method of counting and it took slowing down to a pace where hours and minutes and seconds were not the force. Neither are the countries I have seen or passport pages used up. Instead of your twitter profile saying

45 countries in 180 days and three continents

What if it said

five countries where I met a person that mattered in each one

Give it some thought. You have time.

its the Walking Way that Gets Me

The walking way is something I’ve given thought to and about more than a few times. My friend Mikka Luster walks the Camino and records in a delightful mix the day in photographs, stories, and travel content that mix both. Very cool to read since I consider Mikka to be a rather wonderful story teller. Oh, to have him at a open fire in the desert hearing him discuss his walks both on the Camino and in the states!

But lets descend for a minute to the daily walking with the camera which is what I do. My goal each day is to get lost in whatever city I happen to be in, record that getting lost part with my erstwhile buddy the Fuji camera and then consider the reward which usually is an iced drink be it coffee, tea, or smoothie. Here in Vietnam, the art of smoothie making has had a serious upgrade and the fresh fruit and wonderful taste really excels.

There’s a number of ways to get around here in Da Nang. One can ride a cab or grab bike or car, one can rent a motorbike, one can walk. Walking requires one to agree that the heat is not an enemy but a thing that will test you a bit. I’ve felt the sweat literally streaming down in Hanoi when it was F’ing hot and humid and then in Saigon when not so hot but F’in humid. Then in Hoi An where it was both. Now we get to Da Nang. The city streets a wondrous mixture of small alleys, two lane roads (where no one really agrees on what the lanes are for), bigger roads, and then 4 lane roads with traffic lights and a semblance of control. I do admit that here in Da Nang people stop at red lights for the most part. Motorbikes are probably the least committed to red light discipline and they also will ride just about anywhere. You have to be careful walking on the sidewalks because those are extension lanes for motorbikes to go either way. Also if you are walking its common to see them going the wrong way down one way streets. I don’t think that people going the right way give it much thought until there is a “mix up” where the wrong way bike strikes a car or bike going the right way. Yes, this happens and have seen it when out walking.

Walking here though is not really that dangerous if you don’t zone out. You have to keep your wits about you. Observe always the traffic but look the wrong way for those obstinate bike drivers that believe its okay to go the wrong way in order to get to the right place. Also remember that red and green lights are subjective and a lot of people really pay no attention in most places save what I have seen here in Da Nang. Crossing a street either in a crosswalk which is another optional thing that no one pays attention to or in the street requires some basic skills that you learn here.

  1. Motorbikes do not want to hit you.
  2. Cars do not want to hit you
  3. Buses I think care less whether they do or don’t
  4. Trucks are merciless and will blare their horns at the slightest hint of pedestrian malfeasance.

So how to cross? I have watched visitors try to wait for a break in the traffic. There is no break. You have to just start across the street with purpose in your stride and watch both ways but once you start just continue to go. Bikes will swerve around you, cars sometimes will slow down. Trucks and buses don’t care and you will wait for them. They are at the top of the highway food chain so care should be taken around them. When you reach the mid-way point its important to not just stop. If you stop you will get stuck in the middle of the road because the motorbikes will not break for you and cars will continue. So you must just go.

I have never been even close to being hit in six months here in Vietnam but it can be rather frightening at times and once a Vietnamese police officer waved down a motorbike riding on the sidewalk when I walking down a wide street in Hanoi toward the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and was shaking is finger at the guy and finally pulled out his ticket book. I guess I walked by smirking.

So there is justice on the roads sometimes. There are motorbike accidents where neither wants to give the right of way. Cars do hit each other. Buses and trucks seem completely oblivious to all this. They know they own the road.

Back to Walking…

So with all this set, and going out every day to get a walk in with the camera, there is no real goal. I know I will just walk and turn on various roads, get away from the tourists and the shoe shine guys and the people wanting me to ret a cyclo or a motorbike. When I get there, there are what I call the real people. Those people smile and say hello 9 times out of 10. I think Vietnamese are some of the most gregarious, fun loving, and friendly people on the planet. Young children, when I am out walking, all wave and say hello. Adults and teenagers often stop and ask how I am and want a picture taken. They never get the picture back but its just the act of the picture I think. I walk through all this and do not zone out. Because I still am conscious of the traffic around me. The camera becomes an outlet to feelings, art, and views for me. I want to capture the ordinary on the streets. The woman selling fruit. The Banh Mi stand. The older people. Buildings and construction sites and wagons and a variety of things are grist for the mill.

Its the most basic of human transport and one I enjoy most every day. It stopped being let me get the walk done after work and became let me see the place I find myself in. Each place, Japan, Vietnam, Hong Kong and a whole bunch of others in the past has had a charm and vitality and wonder as I do my steps. I sweat and look for a Circle K or Vinmart for water. I usually find one and settle down for about 30 minutes with a 1.5 liter water bottle.

But soon its back up again and the road beckons and my feet answer. Perhaps I am more than half done and I kinda sorta figure out a way back and then a cafe with cold drinks like those smoothies or an iced Vietnamese coffee. I will sit and watch and carefully observe the others because here in Da Nang are lots of tourists from Korea and Japan. Its fun to see people as they travel across a landscape.

Soon the walk is over though and I’m back to my room. Perhaps I get the photos copied from the SD card and weigh in how I did that day. How was the walk? Did I see and feel? Yes! Most times I did. Some days I realize I just want the lesser steps so the walk is shorter. Most days though I do somewhere around 6 to 7 miles and at the end is the feeling.

The feeling of goodness. The feeling of a life spent one step in front of the other. I think as my friend Mikka would say, its not the end that grabs you but its the getting there. Stories unfold, blog posts are planned, photographs are looked at. Perhaps I look at google maps for an approximation of where I went. To be honest though, it does not matter if I was there or not before. Each day in a city like Da Nang is new. The city is reborn and offers you a new look at its wonders.

Cars and motorbikes and people and businesses and lives all are born again. And so am I as I see their worlds. I silently thank them for letting me be that fleeing part as I walk through.

Know where you are and where you are going…

I was thinking this through during my beach walk and return this evening. What are the necessary and required things of a life? My mentor RWR only told me a few pieces of life advice. I think he thought what would work for someone else would probably not work so well for me. He told me to

always know where you are and where you are going

I carried this with me from the days of doing prehistoric archeology in the Mojave Desert both during work as a Project Archeologist at Edwards AFB, CA and on the weekends when he and I escaped to a butte or lonely dirt road wandering through those mysterious foothills north of Edwards heading perhaps toward Bakersfield or Tehachapi. Its where the desert meets the foothills and the ecology starts ramping up. You can tell there is more water there and less people disturbance.

I always struggled to know where I was going. I knew I never wanted to give up archeology (then). It was like he told when asked that it was the

most fun you can have with your pants on

But the practice of it when I got let go at Edwards was pretty nomadic. Especially with a wife working at a hospital then and a baby that would come later. I was driving all over the state for an environmental engineering company. Working in Barstow and east of Sacramento and all points in-between.

So I knew where I was but where I was going?

That was kinda hella tricky. I just had no grasp of what would happen next besides the beer blast on a Friday after work at the hotel with all the archeologists, the biologists, and the ultimately crazy guys our geologists.

So what does this have with being on the road you ask. What possible connection can it have with travel which has been the predominant thread that this blog has spoken to? It has a few. One of the things that doing archeology professionally led me to was stopping in the late 1980s or early 1990s and moving for some God forsaken reason to IT. One of the advantages though was I suddenly knew where I was going. I knew I hated doing Program Management of complex projects my last few years and I knew I would leave. If you have done IT you probably know that it sucks. If you don’t, you should. I did multi-million dollar infrastructure and data center recovery, relocation, virtualization projects that drove me crazy at the last place. So for sure by that point, I knew where I was going. I was getting the F outa there.

My main message here is that often we travel through times in our lives without really knowing. That beer in the evening in the middle of the Mojave Desert with a bunch of like minded individuals while not yielding the where I was going part gave me this sense of wonder. If you have never done archeology in a field class or as a profession you will have no idea. Its not work really but it has sometimes a really bad impact on the body. Witness the RSI in my elbow from digging up human remains all one summer for PGE. Those damnable dental picks and the fragile human remains and my friend telling me to be careful all the time until we got tanked up at the hotel on beers.

It all helped me find where I was going. Now I know where it all led. It led to a room in Da Nang Vietnam and thinking back on the travels and travails of a life spent in a passion and another part spent laboring in IT. Now I know the rest of the story about what RWR told me.

Am I finally happy? Yes. I lived through IT and loved through archeology. One a passion and damned hard work and the other sometimes boredom and drudgery and horribly hard work as my projects went GREEN to RED with no stops in-between. I hated that. But it took me to 2018 on 1 March and leaving all of it behind.

So sleep well dear readers. If you know where you are and where you are going, you got it made. RWR said so.

Explorations Continue in Da Nang – another bridge walked to today!

Today I walked to either the first or the last bridge along the Han River depending on your perspective. I walked until I could not go any further. Its a holiday here in Vietnam so the streets are quieter but most restaurants and coffee shoppes are open. Once I got away from the touristy areas I did not see any more visitors. The walkway to the bridge I wished to see is pretty nice but people just are not out there. I guess because there are not restaurants and bars and markets. Its kind of a solitary place with fishing boats and a small marina with faster looking boats.

The enjoyment part is always getting away from the downtown to find places that are not popular. I had walked today in the downtown area and took a street at random and walked it until it ended. I was still learning the new camera so I wanted to take a variety of photographs with different light and shadows, with people and regular things like windows and bicycles and buildings. I shot most of the day at F5.6 with Auto ISO so I could just focus on the shooting and not worry about all the configurations and settings. I also used two or three of the film simulations just for fun and personal profit.

The FujiFilm XT2 is completely different from the X100F as you can imagine. Its bigger yet when you hold the camera it seems to meld itself to your hand. I felt that the X100F was small and light and was easy to stash. While the XT2 is not huge like some Nikon or whatever, its still heftier and you know you are holding a camera that has some weight and feel to it. I also have the 18-55 kit lens which seems a very nice lens for travel. I think its a great starter lens and if I want to go to something else, I can always pick up another lens. I just don’t see the need for what I do. I don’t do big time landscapes or wildlife. I like to do the street type photography but what I call urban photography which focuses on the cities and people and roads and buildings and stuff. Since I am always walking when I do the majority of the photography, the 18-55 lens seems adequate to me to capture the events I see around me. The last thing I really want is a hugeonormous camera bag with lens popping out. I went to Fuji cameras because I wanted a single thing but since moving to the XT2, I wanted a single thing with a lens that would also be a single thing. I did quickly look at a second lens and I could go get one at the camera store because they have lots of great Fuji gear. I just cannot see a need given what I do.

After this really nice walk today I ended up with a peach smoothie since they taste really good after walking and sweating in the heat here. I sat there and watched the folks that work in the cafe having fun and laughing together and their manager just smiled and shook his head. I sat for an hour or so with the smoothie considering that the next walk I do will be across the bridge toward the ocean. I’ve seen all the stuff on this side of the river I want to see now. Tomorrow I will have breakfast at a new place and then take off for the beach and spend the day there. I may go to this burger place for lunch tomorrow that I heard about on twitter. Not sure.

One additional note for you folks that like to see notable things. The Golden Bridge in Ba Na Hills will be visited on Monday all day on a tour I got. This was one of the reasons I came here so will see it and a pagoda the opposite way on a day tour on Monday. Cannot wait to take the camera and get pictures of the bridge.

Here’s the link to my Da Nang photo album if you want to see what I’ve done thus far. Its been fun learning the new camera and wandering on this side of the Han River the last week. Tomorrow off in a different direction to explore!

Camera Woes, People Highlights, Vietnam Astounds Me!

Sometimes being human really irritates me. Today while packing my backpack to move to another place, my beloved Fuji X100F fell out of the bag and onto concrete about 5 feet below. This camera has been rained on and soaked and had condensation and gone to places with me here and there. But it would not power back up. I replaced batteries, left the battery out to hopefully let it do a cold start, but nothing revived it. Facing my daily walks with no camera was not a good thing. Part of the routine of this Mike is photography for my own edification and learning. I don’t want to just take photos with a smartphone. There is no learning there. I find something with the iPhone and snap away. Its all good. I want the learning. Like:

  1. How does light affect the triangle and what should I set for an aperture on a cloudy day but with mist, a blue sky day, an evening at the golden time. With no camera I cannot experiment with light.
  2. How does setting an ISO besides auto ISO affect the images? I am still experimenting and learning to move off Auto ISO
  3. When and where to use exposure compensation? Another thing which requires experimentation and play.
  4. Finally when to shift the camera to manual focus and zone focus on an area and then wait at a market or store or park and let people come to me.

Here are my needs and then I will tell you what I did. I need a camera that I can learn on but is configurable, fun, funky, and has soul. The X100F had all those things for me. It was very forgiving of weather, condensation and fogging, and rough treatment in a carry on bag on the road. I also need a camera that will do travel photography. So what in the world is travel photography you may ask? I believe its recording the sights, places, people you come across when traversing a city, park, whatever. I want to do street photography at times. I like capturing people at their essence. So a Nikon with a 12 foot long telephoto lens will just not work. I want to be unobtrusive and not have the LED light over my head saying ‘TOURIST AHEAD. Finally, I want something to grow into. I want to feel that the camera represents a move ahead for me. I want to find things that challenge me and make me read about how it works.

So enter another camera. I bought today a new FujiFilm XT2 with the 18-55 kit lens. This camera is a step up to a new place on the stage for all the photography I like to do while remaining consistent with Fuji’s design philosophy of making a camera that’s fun to use and learn. Its a bigger expense but I judged it to be worth it. I will get years of enjoyment from it traveling and vagabonding the world. It gets me away from the soul free iPhone photo taking approach. Grab a selfie stick, snap away. Its all good.

The XT2 also has interchangeable lens so if I ever wanted something other than the 18-55 kit lens I can do that too. The camera shop here in Da Nang treated me well and tossed in a tripod, a bag, extra batteries, an SD card. They are a nice group of people. Hit me up on the contact page if you want their information. They also provide the standard Fuji warrantee and offer discounts and the guy did everything for me including upgrading the camera firmware to the latest and showing me all the knobs and dials and made sure I was happy. Even with all this, the price of the camera was on par with the states and I think I got the best post sales support ever from these guys. My salesman wore the FujiFilm team shirt as well as the camera shop logos. He knew the camera really well and used one to take a picture of the sale.

So now, I have something new. A thing to start learning on like from the start and I have weeks in Da Nang to wander and learn and have fun with it. I will never edit images, will never shoot RAW files, will never get Lightroom. It simply is not worth it. If you cannot produce an image from the camera that you like, why go to all that to get something from some editing process you may like? For me , I do photography for my own benefit. If you see an image and you like it great! If you don’t, sue me.

The Fuji X system produces some of the most beautiful JPEG images with the fun and funky film simulations and now I have a camera with inter-changeable lens if I want. I probably don’t. While in Da Lat I talked with this amazing young guy who does street photography and spent weeks touring Vietnam north to south doing that with the XT2, and he only had the one lens. But having the freedom to experiment and learn is priceless.

I gave this thought today while eating at a wonderful place my friend Ha told me about, meeting her best friend, and then arranging to have that person be my friend on facebook. It was all so much fun and spontaneous. Smiles and hugs and welcoming me like a long lost friend to the restaurant. I sat there and considered how it all works. How my workflow or lack of one works. I want immediate photo gratification. I want to switch on the Classic Chrome Simulation or Acros or whatever and see the result. I don’t wanna pour over the images in Lightroom. Its immediate gratification for me!

There you have it. I’m just a rank amateur but I know what I want. Photography is not some mystic science of arcane applications that take RAW files and transpose them. Its an active thing. Its you and the street and the scene unraveling before you. The building with the wonderful shades and shadows that you know would look great with Acros+Red because of its contrast rules. Or the beauty of the waterfall done in Velvia.

Then there’s the other things I discussed. The other things important besides spontaneous travel photography with no editing. I want a few quality relationships that tide me over long distance on the road. As it happens sometimes, the people in your blood family are not the ones that fulfill it. I have a philosophy and belief about that. I personally think we are meant for greater things than blood families. The ties that integrate us are bigger webs that stretch sometimes sight unseen into new worlds and places. So the other thing has slowly become something more. But I also want the solo travel. The no demands travel where no one captains my ship and tells me which way to turn on a day. The days I want solitude, I want it. If I want Pho and she wants Bun Cha and we cannot have both at the same restaurant, I am not the captain of my ship. So, what happens instead is you keep the treasured family but you add more people to an extended family. Here in Vietnam, I’ve found the keys to that in the long, slow travel I do. I’ll put in a final plug for the second thing. Consider staying long in places. Get the longer visa. See the places a month at a time if you can. If you only count the countries where are the people? Nothing will change in September when I move to Cambodia. That will even be slower because the visa laws are different and I automatically qualify for a retirement visa for multiple entries for a year.

So there are the things to recap. Enjoy what you do to capture your moments on a camera whether its a phone or something else. If that enjoyment means editing RAW files and you are really into photography for a more serious reason, great. But, if you are like me, and the photography is only a personal statement, that is good too. In one case you have yourself and perhaps others to satisfy. In the other, you have only yourself. I’ll be honest though. What I hate to see are photographs that are obviously highly edited to bring out something in such a significant manner that its overwhelming. Sometimes I think I can spot these quickly. I guess people feel that by bringing out the blue in the ocean to an overwhelming level, putting a bison in a photograph that was not there before, adding curves to sharpen things to such a point that its obvious, is the way to go.

The final recap is the personal one. Be the way you want. I am a solo traveler first and foremost. I travel not to arrive but to see. I move slow because I can. A day in Da Nang can be wondrous at this level. I sit here now in my bed in a cheap hotel room, listening to the horns honking on the streets below. There is no place I have to be. But… I also have this new family thing which has become just as an integral part of things. Its this quality of Vietnam I feel. It has a certain characteristic of people and belief that makes me happy to have found it. Then there are the wondrous and open and funny and friendly people that make it up. All of this meant that I have made friends from Hanoi south. Many are on facebook with me.

So, in rather lengthier blog, there you have it. Camera, travel, people. Each one touches the other I think. My final advice? I have none. Sorry. Not my day to give advice.

Walking the Cities – There is no means to this end

For the last six months I’ve been walking with the Fuji camera for about 5 to 7 miles each day. I have a basic goal which is to get over 10k steps and have a simple pedometer app on my iPhone to help me along. Truth is most days I do more. Yesterday I went about 6 miles walking and Monday it was over 7 miles. I really don’t notice though because I’m doing this as part of my mission to see the cities I am living in by walking them. Instead of doing photography out of a bus or train window or whatever, the walking to see things lets me also stop along the way at interesting or unusual stops. I really admire my friend Mikka Luster for walking the Camino walks the way he does! Linking to his German Hiking Blog which I shamelessly have chrome translate. Please read his blog on his travels and walking. I find it very interesting and wonderful how he combines pictures and words into a compelling story! Thanks Mikka!

I think the main thing for me though is the movement each day that I do. I don’t have some challenge to overcome and I have taken days off after longer walks. One day in Hanoi did almost 10 miles in a day which was a bit much for me. Now normally its about 5 to 7 miles a day. I also most days only eat dinner as a real meal though I may have a smaller breakfast or some days go a bakery or pastry shop which in Vietnam is really well done! Dinners here are usually cheaper Vietnamese food although last night I had an interesting Pad Thai dish that was a cross of Vietnamese and Thai. I do succumb to burgers, pizza, and other stuff here because believe it or not across Vietnam it is very easy to eat all kinds of food and not just the Pho or Bun Cha or whatever. I’ve had a variety of other foods too here and especially in Hanoi where street food rules and coffee holds court!

I wanted to discuss though that the real way to see a city and get the sense of it is to walk it. Take a direction, find a map, get your smart phone camera or your real camera all charged up and just go. If you get lost, you can get found again. The touristy areas in Da Nang are nice at times and I admit to enjoying a beer out at some nice bars. But seeing the city streets, hearing the greetings from young and old make you realize that there is more to seeing a place than walking the tourist haunts. Almost like believing all there is in Hanoi is the Old Quarter. Each city, like I’ve said about Ho Chi Minh City, is a city of cities.

Walking though brings you to another level with the city. You get to see it around you and you can stop, watch things, take photographs and continue. The best camera is the one you have for this. There is no real need to buy some expensive DSLR that pokes out 5 feet with its awkward telephoto lens to be unobtrusive and try to blend in so you get real photographs of real people doing what they really do. I like capturing the photo’s with the FujiFilm X100F but if I did not have it, it would be my smartphone camera. I saw this one guy in Saigon taking street photos with the huge lens on his Nikon or Canon or Sony or whatever. I always wonder why people do that. But, hey, each person to their thing I guess.

The walking though lets you travel through the life of a city. Its like arteries and blood flow and resources and stuff. Consider that streets are like the arteries of the city. They are small and narrow or broad passages from place to place. Sure you can travel on the tour bus and see a stop or two but the best way is to get off the bus, get some comfortable shoes and clothes on and go. I would not recommend jeans except perhaps in the central highlands like Da Lat. Its way too warm here. Just get cheap knock off North Face cargo shorts for like $7.50 per pair if that and go. Shoes are important. They are the layer between your cute little feet and that ground below. I would not wear flip flops on long walks. Sidewalks are uneven, sometimes it rains. Oftentimes you are navigating places where shoes with a grip are important.

Also find yourself a backpack which you can use to securely hold your stuff. Do not flash smart phones or expensive cameras or hold in them in your hand. The camera should go around your neck on a strap or across your body. The phone should only come out when you are sure of the security of the location. If you are out walking a city, do NOT TAKE WALLET AND PASSPORT! I put this in caps because its important. Wallets and passports can be lifted no matter what city you are in. In Vietnam there is no requirement to carry your passport. Leave it hidden away or locked up. Same with your wallet.

Finally, book a day tour when it makes sense to book a day tour. Some things like in Da Lat I had to. The gain from that was immeasurable for some personal reasons which perhaps one day I will try to write about again. But gauge what you will accomplish with the tour. If its just to drive city streets what is the point? I also stay away from the motorbikes because they only take you where they think you want to go. I prefer riding in comfort seeing places anyways so I pay more. Its your time though so go forth and enjoy.

Walking the last six months has meant the difference in so many ways to experiencing the cities up front and personal. Its the most basic method to transportation we have. It gets you out into the world and you see the bridges, people, roads, stores at a new level. One foot in front of the other. The world opens up and lets you see a new view of it hidden when driving or on a bus.

Danang City during the daytime and sunset – simply beautiful!

The heat of the day and the cool of the evening in Danang requires some beer drinking to be happy I think. Today I walked during the daytime over one bridge and back over the other. I stopped and took photographs on the other side of the Han River from my hotel and enjoyed the views of everything from a couple getting marriage or engagement photo’s done to just the pace of people and the beauty of the scenes I happened to find.

Danang is a pretty city folks. It has the Han River and then the ocean and beaches. I have not seen that part yet. Everything comes in time and my way of doing things is to walk gently to places, record them with the camera, and then plan out the following walks to see even more.

Today was good during the daytime and evening and I managed to capture both for your vicarious thrills. This has to be one of my favorite cities. I know, I know. I said that about Hanoi and Hue and Ho Chi Minh City. But this one really has this wonderful view with lights at night, bars and restaurants along the riverwalk catering to those that wish to indulge, and carts of street food all over. Then there are the horns honking and drivers almost daring you to cross the street. Of course, I do and dare them back. No one wants to hit a pedestrian but the motorbikes have their way on the streets and sidewalks. The best way is to just go and have it in your mind to cross the street no matter what. I have done this in every town and city in Vietnam.

So now, back in my lair and planning tomorrow in a completely different direction to a city park and then to see the downtown parts of Danang. No riverwalk tomorrow and evening views. I’ll leave them here for you all to see the beauty of an evening along the Han River.

Hello Da Nang! – Gonna walk your streets and feel the beat

Today was a transit day. First a cab from the hotel in Saigon to the airport and then a nice flight on time on Vietnam Airlines. Shameless plug! If you want to fly around in Vietnam or even outside, consider Vietnam Airlines. They work hard at being on time. Its a no frills type of thing but frills ain’t needed on an hour’s flight.

Once getting to the Da Nang airport there were lots of choices but I admit to just taking a cab to the hotel instead of the shuttle to the city center and then walking in the 36C heat to the hotel. I paid the entire three weeks and some up front for the room I have. The room has some advantages like being a block from the Han River, the bridges and great walking paths. The bad part is wifi. Wifi just dies randomly so I pretty much know I have to share the network with my iPhone. Thank goodness I have the rock solid Viettel LTE SIM card and plan. This one thing has been the best thing for access and sharing internet yet. I share it with my kindle too so I can download books I buy.

But back to Da Nang. The city during the day is pretty warm and then right at dusk, the lights come on, the people come out and stroll by the Han River and gaze at the dragon bridge. I will take some evening shots tomorrow night and get those shared in the album as well. Da Nang is much different than something like Nha Trang. Not so touristy but still has these great restaurants for both local and western food depending on what you want. Tonight I splurged again and had this amazing burger and two tall Tiger draft beers.

Tomorrow, I will walk perhaps to Vincom Center or some other direction across some bridge. I love bridges! Each one gives a great view of Da Nang. Here’s the start of my photo album for Da Nang. I’ll be adding stuff to it every so often.

Tbis is my last city in Vietnam and I have until 15 September in Da Nang to see the city, walk the streets, drink some good beer, and eat. Nothing really changes with the photography.

Ho Chi Minh City for a day and then off to Da Nang!

One day in Ho Chi Minh City! One day to explore again. I had planned the departure from Da Lat to include some time in the city because I could not get an earlier flight to Da Nang which is my next port of call. So I decided to spend two days in Saigon to see the city. Here’s an interesting thing. Nothing ever stays the same! Even though I wandered 30 days before here I felt like I was seeing the city for the first time but only had a day to see it.

So after the hotel free breakfast of noodles and eggs I departed. I walked and sweated and drank water through the day. Its hot here! Finally after one day I judged as a success I made it back to the hotel room. I uploaded my photos from the day and here’s the album from a day of wandering in this amazing, strange, and wonderful city.

What did I learn? I learned that nothing stays the same. I also saw different things in the same things from the last time here. I saw light striking a building differently. Saw the cart with the Banh Mi sandwiches looking differently. Saw the tourists walking with purpose on the square. I did not make it to Vincom Center for Ice Cream but that was okay. Instead I went to a really nice brewpub with some kicking double IPA and Blonde beers and ate and drank for awhile.

Tomorrow a new city and I’m pretty excited to see another big city here. Its my last city and I’ll be leaving Vietnam on 16 September for Cambodia. I will return to Hanoi for a few reasons. People there want to see me and Hanoi has this certain cosmic tug on me. I think it will be after TET New Years when I go. I have the rest of the year planned out in Cambodia pretty well with hotel reservations and bus tickets already ordered.

I know though that Vietnam has a certain tie to me at so many levels. Luckily none of the places are that far from other places here. Flying from Phnom Penh to Hanoi is easy. Getting a 30 day tourist visa for Vietnam is easy. Online does it!

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I have 30 days to play in Da Nang next. A big city with bridges and parks and coffee shops and brewpubs and all the things that make Vietnam fun. Stay tuned. Reporting on Da Nang write around the corner!