Category Archives: Vietnam

Hang En Campsite

This is the first campsite on the way to Son Doong, just within the entrance to the Hang En cave. The trail leads down the rock slide you see in the foreground to the wooden bridge on the lower right. To get to the campsite, you wade across the underground river.

Hang En Campsite © Harold Davis

Hang En Campsite © Harold Davis

In the rather elaborate campsite itself, if you look closely you can see the tents of the paying participants in a line on the left, the dining pavilion in the center, and the cooking cluster of the porters on the right. The trail onward and through the Hang En cave leads along the river the curves to the right, and into darkness.

I made this photo with the late afternoon light coming through the cave opening, on my way down to the campsite and to a much needed swim in the lake!

Exposure info: Nikon D810, Zeiss 15mm f/2.8, five combined exposures with each exposure at f/8 and ISO 250, exposure times from 2 seconds to 30 seconds; tripod mounted; processed in Nik HDR Efex Pro and Photoshop.

Also posted in Landscape

Respite, Restoration, Catching Up and Moving On

I got back from Vietnam earlier this week. Tomorrow (Monday) I leave for France. So this has been a brief respite with my family here in California. Maybe time for mind over matter considering the substantial time-zone shifts in two different directions! A time for catching up and being together, and also a time for catching up by processing a few of the images from my recent travels.

Entering the Hang En Cave

To get to the Son Doong Cave you must first enter Hang En, then pass through the cave to exit into the hidden valley that contains the entrance to Son Doong. This panoramic composite shows the entrance of Hang En, looking out from just inside.

Inside the Entrance to Hang En Cave © Harold Davis

Inside the Entrance to Hang En Cave © Harold Davis

Mountains of the Far North

The otherworldly aspect of the mountainous landscape in the far north of Vietnam is partially offset in this image by the farm and fields sown int he foreground.

Mountains of the Far North © Harold Davis

Mountains of the Far North © Harold Davis

Related story: Mountains near Meo Vac.

Hmong Girl

I had fun photographing this girl beside the road, who was very friendly and I believe about the age of my daughter Katie Rose.

Hmong Girl © Harold Davis

Hmong Girl © Harold Davis

Related story: Flower Hmong Girl.

Floating Restaurants

These restaurants are in the bay opposite Cat Ba Island’s largest city. You call them, and they send out a launch. Photographed from the rooftop bar of our hotel in Cat Ba.

Floating Restaurants, Cat Ba Island © Harold Davis

Floating Restaurants, Cat Ba Island © Harold Davis

Related story: Cat Ba Island Sunset.

Fishing Boats

I photographed these fishing boats with a moderate telephoto focal length along the estuary in Dong Hoi, a provincial capital.

Fishing Bats, Dong Hoi © Harold Davis

Fishing Bats, Dong Hoi © Harold Davis

Related story: Yesterday and Tomorrow.

Saigon Fine Art Museum Stair

The Fine Art Museum in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) houses an undistinguished collection that is poorly displayed. However, the buildings themselves of the museum, although badly in need of some maintenance, have some quite interesting French IndoChine architectural touches. The spiral stair in the building housing the antiquities part of the collection is shown here in two iPhone images.

Saigon Fine Art Museum Stair (Down) © Harold Davis

Saigon Fine Art Museum Stair (Down) © Harold Davis

Saigon Fine Art Museum Stair (Up) © Harold Davis

Saigon Fine Art Museum Stair (Up) © Harold Davis

Vietnamese Viagra

When a guy in Vietnam feels the need for an increase in, shall we say, manliness, potency, and virility, he reaches not for a little blue pill but rather for a concoction of snakes fermented in alcohol, such as the blend shown in a glass jar in the image.

Vietamese Viagra © Harold Davis

Vietamese Viagra © Harold Davis

If you want to try this at home, note that King Cobras are best. Thanks to my friend and traveling companion Eric Ryan for his wit, and for this caption. To the best of my knowledge these are farmed snakes (the Vietnamese army runs a snake farm in the Mekong River delta, where we photographed this jar of snakes), rather than wild or endangered species.

Also posted in Bemusements

Entrance to the Warlord’s Palace

In the early years of the twentieth century a Hmong warlord ruled in the remote and high mountains in the triangle between Vietnam, Laos, and China. Opium poppies were the source of his income and power.

Entrance to the Warlord's Palace © Harold Davis

Entrance to the Warlord’s Palace © Harold Davis

There’s some confusion as to who built the palace for the “King of the Hmongs”. The guidebook says it was built by the French. Our local guide credited the people the warlord ruled, as a kind of tribute. In any case, the warlord was clearly sought after by the great powers, and also handled all issues of life and death for those who lived under his sway.

Incidentally, like many a building of the rich and powerful, the entrance to the warlord’s palace is far grander than any of the chambers on the inside.

Also posted in Monochrome

Yesterday and Tomorrow

Danang is the third largest city in Vietnam, following Hanoi and HCMC (“Saigon”). The beach strip to the south of the city, across the road from the former US Army base, is being rapidly developed with high-end hotels and developments. Soon it will be a Vietnamese Miami Beach, or maybe Las Vegas.

Han River, Danang © Harold Davis

Han River, Danang © Harold Davis

The photo was taken from the walkway of the Dragon Bridge, which crosses the Han River above the port of Danang. The dragon snorts water! It exhales fire! Yes, it does! But only on Sundays and holidays. It is a post-modern stylized metal dragon.

The colorful fishing boats represent the fishing port Danang used to be; the modern bridge and buildings in the distance represent the future rushing to overwhelm what is past and soon to be gone forever.

© Harold Davis

Dragon Bridge © Harold Davis

Field Trip in Hue

At the tomb of the last king of Vietnam, near Hue, I saw these cute kids on a school field trip. It’s amazing how kids are kids the worldwide, regardless of cultural variations!

Field Trip © Harold Davis

Field Trip © Harold Davis

Regarding Scale and Wonderment

There’s something very tricky about creating images that capture a truly vast wonder of the world such as the Grand Canyon or the Son Doong Cave. The sense of scale is literally mind-boggling, so it is very hard to make a photo that allows the viewer to take in what is being portrayed; and, even if it can be taken in, it is hard to convey the emotional content of the scene when viewing it “for real”.

Scale and Wonderment © Harold Davis

Scale and Wonderment © Harold Davis

The typical way to deal with this scale problem is to forget about the wonderment. If you throw some people into the mix, the scale of the phenomena becomes visually obvious. Unfortunately, the resulting images are banal, commonplace, and usually look like travel brochure ads. 

My goal is to go for the wonderment and the sense of the spiritual. Although this image uses human scaling to some extent (if you look closely you can see the tents of our expedition, and the porters around their kitchen) the proportions and scaling would work without the human element. With or without the tents, this is an image that requires careful visual analysis to discern the clouds far below (the cave generates its own weather system) and the sizing of the distant mountains, valleys, opening to the sky, and other topographic features.

Also posted in Landscape, Photography

Portals

Son Doong Cave—Wind River Cave—is located in the impenetrable mountainous jungles along the old Ho Chi Minh trail on the Vietnamese side of the Vietnam-Laos border. To get to the cave, you have to slog down a jungle mountainside, up a river bed, then through another vast cave. The exit on the far side of this first cave opens on the otherwise inaccessible valley that is the starting point for entering the Son Doong Cave. We were told by our expedition leader that fewer people have been to Son Doong than have been to space.

Portals © Harold Davis

Portals © Harold Davis

Within the cave, there are vast areas open to the jungle above. These never scaled heights let in shafts of light, unusual flora, and the occasional monkey descending on vines.

To get the picture, think one part Avatar, one part the glittering caves of Aglarond from the Lord of the Rings, one part Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Tarzan of the Apes (the original books, not any of the film versions)—with an added pinch of Eustace’s adventures on the Dragon Island in the third book of the Narnia series.

Also posted in Landscape, Photography

Eric in Son Doong

Son Doong is the world’s largest cave, located in the remote mountains along the Ho Chi Minh trail on the Vietnamese side of the Vietnam-Laos border. This photo shows Eric in Son Doong on top of an unnamed formation in Doline 2 within the cave. In caver’s lingo, a “doline” is an breakthrough opening to the outside world above, in this case the untrackable and wild jungle.

© Harold Davis

Eric in Son Doong © Harold Davis

Tom Toa Church Steeple

On a quiet, gray day Eric and I walked along the banks of the Nhat Le River. This river bisects the city of Dong Hoi, a provincial capital in central Vietnam.

Pretty soon we came upon the steeple of a ruined church (shown below) in a fenced enclosure in a small riverside park. It has been preserved in its ruined state, according to the plaque at the site, as evidence of the war crimes of the American aggressor when the church was bombed into ruins in 1965.

Tam Toa Church Steeple © Harold Davis

Tam Toa Church Steeple © Harold Davis

Also posted in Monochrome

Construction Fence, Halang City

This photo shows a construction fence in Halang City, Vietnam. The fence is hiding some of the mammoth construction that is going on here. Not only does the fence hide the construction work site, it also hides the waters of Halang Bay, replacing them with paintings of an insipid beach scene. Behind the fence, the viewer can see the incredible karst formations of Halang Bay and Cat Ba Island. The dramatic and distant landscape on the other side of the bay is still wild, but from this vantage point it is hard to know it as such, between the fence paintings and the orderly row of tame plants in the foreground.

Construction Fence, Halang City © Harold Davis

Construction Fence, Halang City © Harold Davis

Also posted in Landscape

Nets in Halang Bay

Amid the vast floating towns of Halang Bay, everyone seems to be casting nets. In some cases these are part of the floating homes themselves. At night, the lights go on, the nets go down via a winch, and the fish wander into the nets and are caught. Fishing boats, like the one shown in the photo, are tied off to the homes and operate in a bit more open water in much the same way.

Nets in Halang Bay © Harold Davis

Nets in Halang Bay © Harold Davis

Earlier today, Eric and I hired a small boat to take us around the floating villages. This was fascinating. The boatman even took us into his own floating home. There will be many more images to follow!

Cat Ba Island Sunset

The day started slowly. The drive from Hanoi to Halang City seemed interminable. We passed endless rows of the gritty Vietnamese version of strip malls, factories, and Soviet-era coal-fired power plants, all in an overcast haze compounded by the emissions of millions of motorcycles and diesel trucks. There didn’t seem to be a single green park, or anything untouched by development-in-a-hurry on the whole four hour drive.

Cat Ba Island Sunset © Harold Davis

Cat Ba Island Sunset © Harold Davis

Once in Halang City, the pace picked up and things got beautiful in a hurry. We loaded our bags over the drop on a jetty to a small speedboat, and crowded in. We were off across Halang Bay, and through the maze of karst rock formations to Cat Ba Island. Once settled into our hotel on Cat Ba, we took another boat (there’s an iPhone shot of Eric and myself on this boat at the bottom of this story), followed by a sort of ship-to-shore water taxi to Monkey Island. In my mind, the most striking thing I saw on this leg of the trip were the floating communities we encountered on the way back—cities of ocean dwellers in their own boats, tied together for a while then ready to go off on their own.

Commercial Fishing Pier at Night, Cat Ba Island, Vietnam © Harold Davis

Commercial Fishing Pier at Night, Cat Ba Island, Vietnam © Harold Davis

After dinner, when it was dark, Eric and I photographed the commercial fishing pier area on Cat Ba, looking for an impressionistic effect. All in all, a very fun day!

Harold and Eric at Sea © Harold Davis

Harold and Eric at Sea © Harold Davis

Also posted in Landscape

Lady in a Local Market

Driving the long route back towards Hanoi from Meo Vac there was a vibrant market going on in a dusty hinterland Vietnamese mountain town. Eric and I asked our guide and driver to stop our car, and wandered the market with our cameras. Evidently, this was not a place on the beaten track. We were as much curiosities as curious, photographic subjects as photographers. Several market goers wanted to take selfies with me, and Eric gathered a small crowd as his tattoos were much observed and admired.

Lady in a Local Market © Harold Davis

Lady in a Local Market © Harold Davis

As is well known, the camera is an instrument of flirtation, and I flirted shamelessly with a bank of women “of a certain age” standing along one wall dressed in their tribal colors. This mischievous lady enjoyed what I was doing a great deal, finally getting a little bashful with me, then asking to see the photos of her—and enjoying them very vociferously with gestures, since we spoke no language other than photography in common.

Mountains near Meo Vac

The mountains near Meo Vac are in an area untraveled until recently that abuts the Chinese-Vietnam border. These mountains are unusual and spectacular, with high and narrow roads. A permit is still required to visit the area, and there is no public transportation.

Mountains near Meo Vac © Harold Davis

Mountains near Meo Vac © Harold Davis

I have many impressions of this dream-like landscape, and will be posting more images as I can. Right now, our driver and our guide have been plying me with a clear, home-made corn liquor that is very potent, and a spicey dish made from goat, so one image is all I can manage before I head to bed and get ready for more adventures tomorrow!

Also posted in Landscape