Having fun in Ho Chi Minh City – glad you are not here

Its been a good almost week now for this retired kid. Been walking and playing with the new camera in a city that stretches all the boundaries of photography and fun. This city has it all for photography. Beautiful parks, wonderful skylines, lots of people if you wanna reach your street photography soul, and finally beautiful old buildings that blend old and new together into a fanciful mix of life and history.

In walking the city on a daily basis, one can see so many different sights and get lost in the moments on the streets. Going down a block here or there one can find the little alleys and side streets with the small coffee shops that are always inviting, little Pho or Bun Cha places that have the wondrous aromas moving all around, and businesses that do everything from fashion to camera or phone supply stores. People move slowly down the alleys perhaps stopping at each place to do a bit of business. I stopped this morning for an iced milk coffee at a nice little Pho place and sat at the aluminum table for some priceless moments of reflection while the city thrums and hums its business soul all around me. I came to a few conclusions about life in general which always seems to happen when I have the moments with the coffee and no place to be:

  1. life in general is pretty fucking awesome now. I have no place that requires my presence so if I sit for an hour with the coffee or move to the park to watch the children playing, its all part of the moment or moments I have.
  2. blogging has been fun and that’s a good thing for me. In the past, after 20 some years of doing it I grew tired of the ebb and flow of a blog. Back in the late 1990s, it was about things like authority and referring to another blog by linking or amplifying what that blog said by referring to it by its perma-link. That’s all changed and as a friend would say most likely for the worst. Its always been the case though that I have not blogged for anyone else but just for me. I do this for the creation of the words next to each other. If you get joy out of that or you disagree such is life. I ain’t doing this for you though nor do I care whether you read or not. I will continue to write my drivel whether I have a single page view or not. This has brought joy back into mudville for me.
  3. travel and tourism is not what I do. I’ve come to realize reading a few things that what I do is is different at a seminal level than the travel and lifestyle bloggers, the backpackers, the gapyear-ers. I don’t need to have a “back” to go to at all.
  4. fun and profit and good times are important! Why do things if you don’t have these and this has become even more important to me. Things like photography, walking, writing content that perhaps no one reads, is all done for its own sake. I also compile a daily diary for a different audience. Namely me. I have had fun and profit and adventure doing this exactly this way for over 20 years using many of the parts of things.
  5. finally, YMMV. You may do any of the things for different reasons and I’m good with that. You can read this to mean I don’t give a damn. For one thing, I pay for this space and I write these words and you pay for your space and you write your words. If you write your words to make someone’s lot better, good for you.

Realizing the 5 things over coffee this morning and then considering it on a taxi ride later and a walk back to the hotel made me realize how doing what I do in the five areas has enriched my life in so many ways. Its like someone said once though,

if you depend on someone else to make you happy, to challenge you, to get you going, you are fucked

Perhaps that was me. I ain’t sure. So sue me. I also will just continue to do this so if you follow along on the voyage, I’m glad to see you. If you don’t, I am glad to not see you. What makes me the happiest is seeing words on a page which takes things from here to there. Whether they are personal words in a diary or drivel I write here; only matters to me.

Those are the things that Ho Chi Minh City gave to me today and why I’m glad you are not here. You’d probably gum up the works.

Just kidding 🙂

Some scenes here and there in Ho Chi Minh City

Some scenes here and there around the beautiful city. I simply love wandering HCMC and seeing so many wonders that the city offers.


I don’t edit photographs so these are right out of my brand new FujiFilm X-T30 camera using the Classic Chrome, Provia, or Acros+Red black and white film simulation.

Nice day out for walking and looking and seeing this and that. Had a fantastic day!

Shopping in Saigon

There are many and even more than many things to do in Saigon (whoops! I mean Ho Chi Minh City) Vietnam. Here is my list of little things you can do:

  1. eat. we all love to eat and eating can be fun in Saigon. From food stalls on the streets to the Ben Thanh Market food stalls, food is everywhere. Do you like to eat? If you do like to eat, I bet you would like Vietnam.
  2. coffee. Do you like coffee? I do. I like Vietnamese iced coffee in the morning at a small coffee shop where the barista is glad to see me and immediately makes a superior drink for me. If you like coffee I am betting you may like Vietnam. Coffee is one huge deal here.
  3. shopping. I sometimes like to shop. Other times I like to look. When I get to Ben Thanh Market and its rather wondrous aisles with so much stuff, I like to do both. I can find cheap t-shirts, knock off North Face bags which work fine for me, other stuff like jewelry I am not interested in, souvenirs, and what I will call brick-a-brack stuff like little wooden animals and stuff.
  4. watching other people. I like doing this. Sometimes I combine activities and do 2. above at the same time in Saigon. Saigon has its share of characters and if you sit in one spot long enough you can see them go by your place of choice. You can also see the universe of millennial backpackers that studiously avoid eye contact and seem fixated on a far horizon. What far flung future are they looking at I always wonder?
  5. sightseeing, picture taking, walking. I like these things too. Often I combine the 4. above with this one and engage in some street photography with the new camera or my iPhone. Sightseeing and picture taking and walking is a joy in Saigon but you have to exercise a bit of caution because motorbikes could give a crap less about you and your sightseeing.

Today though I wanted a few things. I needed hygiene stuff which is easy to find in the neighborhood stores and markets and I also wanted to find this camera shop and look at the camera straps and bags. It turned out the shop did not have a bag I wanted but I got hold of a nice camera strap which is much more comfortable so I had the nice Vietnamese owner install it for me. I then navigated to Ben Thanh Market and found a very nice North Face bag which will do nicely carrying all my stuff for my days out and traveling on buses or planes or trains or tuk tuks or whatever. Its like a mini messenger bag with lots of compartments and a deep main compartment for the camera. There is room for the iPhone, money, pens, papers, kindle and even passport and stuff. Very handy bag and it will replace two bags and make things much better for traveling for me. I spent about $20 on the bag. The stall owner and I haggled a bit and I talked her down from the original price a bit but we met in the middle. Its all good natured and she was laughing and asked where I was from. She told me this young guy working for her was from Cambodia too.

i also took care of the eating one at the Market and had some nice bbq pork with noodles for about $2.00. Nice price! It was rainy off and on but by the time I was done, it had cleared up quite a bit so I headed back to the hotel. Now its a nice afternoon after getting out to see just a little piece of Saigon. I’m not after museums and attractions this time. I just want the day-to-day things and to enjoy the slow pace of my travels.

Tomorrow I will post some pictures from the FujiFilm X-T30 camera of my fun and frolic out seeing things. Good days in Saigon.  I mean Ho Chi Minh City. Its just easier to write Saigon :-).

Minor or major updates

Awhile back met my buddy Johnson here in Phnom Penh. Johnson owns the only FujiFilm reseller here and is a good guy. He had let me know he was getting stock in for the new XT30 camera with the 18-55 kit lens. I had already embarked on my iPhone photo exploration but he made the deal sweet for me. So I went yesterday and bought the camera with kit lens.

I had pretty much decided to not get another dedicated camera until I touched and played with this camera. It’s small, easy to pack, elegant in use, and it costs what an iPhone XS would.

So the day before finalizing things my friend came through with new stock and I liberated one of them. I don’t know why really. Today I go out and play with the new toy. These really are expensive toys to me. I don’t count on doing much with cameras and photography besides enjoying myself. I could have gotten by with the iPhone.

But why? Should I not just do what makes me happy? My ex wife thinks so. I think so. My buddy Johnson thinks so too 😁.

Traveling to Vietnam

Tomorrow I fly off to Vietnam for almost three months to do whatever I want to do there. I think the first thing is to have a bowl of Pho at this small stand down the street from the hotel I am at. I don’t have a list of things to see or do there or attractions that are must see places. This is more of a day to day thing there just enjoying the hustle and bustle of a truly remarkable city. Enjoying coffee in the mornings at a bakery or Vietnamese coffee house. Eating at different places. If you have not been, Ho Chi Minh City is wonderful for food and you shop until you drop across the city. Vincom Center is nice when you need an AC break and Bud’s Ice Cream will build something nice for you while there.

So many different things to sample, delights to find down a street of a walk and its one of my favorite cities to just get lost in with a camera. Each place I decided to visit I wanted to get back to or they are places I have not been. I just built the itinerary on a whim with no real desires to reach X or Y place besides the obvious. Here’s a sample of the obvious and not so obvious in each stop of my trip:

  1. Ho Chi Minh City – Just a wonderful city to wander but getting to the beautiful colonial architecture, the churches, the parks, and just seeing the city streets with skyscrapers somehow mixed with small streets of local businesses makes HCMC a wonder to visit to me.
  2. Can Tho and Phu Quoc Island – Have not been so will wait.
  3. Da Nang – My favorite city. It has all the components! A beautiful river runs through it and there are myriad dining and drinking spots along the river. Across the river are beaches to visit. The less traveled paths though are away from the main street of the Han River and to the local streets with small restaurants serving delicious noodles and soups. Coffee shops dot these streets and you can find the neat little places where the baristas welcome you with gusto and the coffee is the same. You can spend a week there and not run out of unique coffee spots that also feature foods. Also it seems that the people of Da Nang have this essence of friendliness and fun that I love to see with the camera. They truly enjoy seeing people that see their city and I have had some great times getting away from the downtown areas to small parks.
  4. Hanoi – Some will say its the Old Quarter but its not. The Old Quarter is only a part of the city and its usually the part I tire of first. Its just too busy with cars, bikes, scammers sometimes that seem to want to fix your shoes, give you a ride on a Cyclo, or tell you of some wondrous tourist deal. Its better to walk north of Hoan Kiem Lake for about half mile to the access road to the historic Long Bien Bridge and spend time north. Then walk over to West Lake which is simply beautiful and is the largest lake in Hanoi. From there a walk to the Mausoleum is very possible and walking on beautiful tree-lined streets. South of the Hoan Kiem Lake one can find the French District with beautiful old buildings, malls, restaurants and coffee shops. Lets just spend a moment on coffee though. Coffee and Vietnam! Its like a wondrous combination that is shared throughout Vietnam but Hanoi makes it all come alive. One must make it to the The Note Coffee Shoppe by the Hoan Kiem Lake and have an egg coffee. Its not the only place but it is unique and full of friendly, boisterous, and wonderful staff and team members.

There are so many other places but if you are designing a trip to Vietnam, simply asking what you can do in a week is counter-productive. A week to see Vietnam is like a day at Disneyland. Its possible but why do it? More time is needed to experience Vietnam and see the other places I have not mentioned that are day trips away from the cities. Take Ba Na Hills where the Golden Bridge is. It takes a day to see it and feel like it was time well spent. Ignore the Instagram ignoramuses and twitter tweeps that tell you to visit quick and get that visa stamp. Vietnam is not meant for a quick weekend. It offers so much but some of it is hidden almost in plain sight. Strike away for days from the tourist enclaves and find other worthy places. Walking, while challenging sometimes, is a very good way to explore the cities and not add to the confusion of cars and cyclos and buses that jam the tourist areas.

I love Vietnam and its people and the cities and the parks and the natural sights that are there. Can you see it all? No. Hell no. Why even try. A place worthy of exploration should be explored more than once. Stop counting your passport stamps and find the places worthy and settle down to day by day and watch. You will see so much more and perhaps find that street that leads to wonder.

Part II – Extending the Basic iPhone Photography Toolkit

I have been spending time on the basics and learning a bit of the included iPhone camera application. It does a lot by itself but there are some things when you wish to extend the toolkit it will not do. If all you want is the processed JPEG images you can stick with the default app. One of the nicer things not present on regular cameras though are applications you can get that extend the envelope a bit to maximize different parts of the photography experience. I’ll focus on two basic things and then build them up in followup posts. Since I am just a beginner at this, I start at the basics:

  1. Halide App. The IOS Halide App is pretty easy to use and setup. Purposefully I think its so. It will take regular photographs in processed JPEG images and save them to your camera roll. It lets you change exposure and manual focus and gives feedback at a haptic level when the camera view is level. Here is the biggest thing for the beginner though. It shoots in RAW format by default. RAW means you can take the basic images from the camera without processing and apply your own customizations with an application that does that. Halide also supports “depth” shooting for photographs of people and things that will suitably blur the background in some nice bokeh. It even works with the iPhone XR which out of the box does not do depth photography for dogs, plants, flowers. It will only do people. What this leads to is a second application that will take the images that are RAW or processed JPEG images and let you edit. The most intuitive application I have found has some integration with Halide and that’s Darkroom.
  2. Darkroom App. The Darkroom app is pretty easy also to setup and use. It wants some permissions and also has some custom filters you can buy into which I did. It will let you tone the image, use curves, crop the image, and export and save or mark the RAW image as one being edited. There is much more to it but this is all I have explored. The app is a one time purchase and for me suits the purpose more than a Creative Cloud Adobe subscription which costs over and over again.

My take is that with these two apps that are premium apps and can be bought on the IOS App Store, you can extend your photography to some new levels, apply filters, edit the images, save them off to the camera and then be able to share the images as you wish which is my final goal. There’s nothing inherently complex or detailed about either app and Halide basically satisfies some basic simplicity rules for me that I should be able to hit the ground running or walking in my case and shooting photographs. There is the thing you accept that you may want to then edit the photographs that come out in RAW format on some device or other. For Darkroom, I suspect the iPad app is very nice! Its very tempting to move toward something like the 2019 iPad Air with the keyboard instead of a Macbook.

Extending the photography on an iPhone is not terribly daunting. One of the features is the difference of applications you can find. I will be working with ProCamera next which does a lot!

If you have ever thought about simplifying the use case and what you carry and your needs can be satisfied with a camera on a phone, this is a good time to make the move. Camera on smartphones are just so good these days and lots of professional and amatuer and other people like me that noodle around with an iPhone 7 Plus want a simpler thing to take photographs suitable for sharing on a blog, on Instagram, Facebook, Mastodon, or whatever.

I’ve only featured two apps and I decided that I would move to a camera app which offers more functionality, a learning curve, and also pairs up with an editing app that I could learn. There are others like Snapseed and you could grab a creative cloud subscription for Lightroom Mobile or use a laptop or an iPad or something. It really depends on your workflow or lack of one. Here is a sample workflow that i have adopted and even documented a bit on Bear Notes (BTW, plug for Bear Notes if you are on the Apple ecosystem!)

Workflow basics

My workflow is in only a few parts and I’ll try to write it up that way without creating undue complexity in what I do.

  1. Photography with an application that I choose. I have chosen for day to day use the application Halide on my iPhone 7 Plus. I will go out and take between 30 and 50 photographs each day of things I find. I just shoot the images with the defaults because I know I can do things with exposure, brightness, contrast later. This frees the first part of the workflow to just being somewhat creative.
  2. Stop for lunch or a smoothie and review the RAW images and decide which ones I would like to work on. I don’t edit everyone of them. Some just appear good to me as is but others there is something there like the play of clouds and buildings, a small boat on the river shadows, or highlights or color I wish to subdue or bring out more. I may work on the images at the coffee shop for awhile. I then export the image to look at the processed JPEG image. If I don’t like it, I go back and play more. I should mention I have the 128mb version of the iPhone so I have some room to play.
  3. I get back and look again on the iPhone at the images in RAW format that I have chosen to edit and then review those I did not. I do not delete images right away but some are obvious mistakes like a picture of my hand or fingers which leave. I may edit a few more images or work on the edits I have already done. I export the images to new files and review them again.
  4. I then switch on wifi and back up the images to Google Photos which is my home for everything since its unlimited and the IOS Google Photos app works very nicely to backup and sync images and even delete those already backed up.
  5. Share the images I choose to my social media sites. This only includes Facebook, this blog, and Mastodon. I chose to give up Instagram and Twitter and I’ve explained that before. Once the images are shared, they are backed up, images are deleted from the phone, I’m done.

Now I can repeat the same thing day after day. I may create new photo albums and share the entire album or I may just share groups of photos on Google Photos. For me, Google Photos is idea for my workflow. For you, something else may be.

Summary of Part II Basics

The ability to replace a dedicated camera with a smartphone camera may not be for you. You may have a desire to take photographs for audiences that purchase those photographs or there are effects or complexities which work on your needs. Or conversely, you may desire or need to carry a mirrorless or other camera. I decided I did not need to carry a camera for my basic needs because the needs were met and even exceeded with taking photographs with the Halide App and then editing and finally sharing the images as in my workflow above. Yours may not be amenable due to desires you have to learn a digital camera. Each one of us has drivers and limitations.

If you are interested in iPhone photography, consider checking out the default camera app first. It will do for you and I have gotten some nice photographs with it. For me, I desire to learn another step so I started looking for IOS apps that extended the framework, let me do different things, and also explore how well an iPhone camera can work to take travel photographs. For me, it works very well but I have no desire to sell, have my images on National Geographic or travel magazines, or maintain a professional visibility and call myself a photographer.

You have to answer the questions for yourself and see what will work. It’s also okay to use a combination of things as long as you feel good about it at the end of the day. The whole thing to me is being happy with the results. No one else’s satisfaction even matters to me any longer. I am in this to only record what I see and then share it on some social networks I have selected.