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

Posted in Vietnam

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

Posted in Vietnam

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.

Posted in Landscape, Photography, Vietnam

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.

Posted in Landscape, Photography, Vietnam

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

Posted in Vietnam

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

Posted in Monochrome, Vietnam

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

Posted in Landscape, Vietnam

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!

Posted in Vietnam

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

Posted in Landscape, Vietnam

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.

Posted in Vietnam

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!

Posted in Landscape, Vietnam

Flower Hmong Girl

We drove along the mountains roads in the northern tribal country of Vietnam. Whenever there was a particularly nice vista of distant mountains and terraced rice farming, we’d stop for a photo (of these photos, more later!).

Flower Hmong Girl © Harold Davis

Flower Hmong Girl © Harold Davis

Often, Eric and I would set up our tripods for the landscape images. We met many local people while doing this, mostly Hmong (the Flower Hmongs are one the three tribes of Hmong peoples). Most Hmong, like this handsome young woman, were very friendly with smiles, and mostly glad to have their photos taken and interested to see the results on the LCD. Maybe we were a welcome break from the harsh realities of life as a farmer in a steeply terraced environment.

Posted in Vietnam

Rice Paddies with Reflected Tree

Rice Paddies with Tree Reflection, Vietnam © Harold Davis

Rice Paddies with Reflected Tree, Vietnam © Harold Davis

Posted in Landscape, Monochrome, Vietnam

Hmong Street Vendor

Sapa is a hill town in the mountainous north of Vietnam fairly near the Chinese border. It’s been known as a resort since the French founded a military sanitarium here around 1900 as a relief from the tropical heat of most of the Vietnamese country. The rugged area around Sapa is home to a number of Vietnam’s ethnic minorities, including the Hmong peoples.

Hmong Street Vendor © Harold Davis

Hmong Street Vendor © Harold Davis

While I expected Sapa to be somewhat touristic, I didn’t expect the crazy cultural dissonance we’ve found. There’s more construction going on here than anywhere I’ve seen recently, up to and including the west side of Manhattan. There’s a street party going on right now that could be Times Square. From one side the noise of the partying on the streets meets loud Karaoke coming from the other.

Meanwhile, the tribal Hmong people are reduced to a kind of side show of street vendors (like the beautiful “black” Hmong shown in the photo) and persistent hawking of ersatz crafts by Hmong young and old.

It’s hard to see the construction boom here as anything other than a bubble fueled by easy money, and it is hard to see all this as ending well for the Hmong and other ethnic Vietnamese minorities.

More photos to follow!

Posted in Vietnam

Thap Rua

Thap Rua—Turtle Tower—is a structure in the middle of Hoan Kiem Lake, an island of peace in the bustle of downtown Hanoi. The Turtle Tower is linked to an ancient legend of a magical sword, a powerful Dragon who helped defeat Chinese invaders, and the protective Golden Turtle God.

Thap Rua (Turtle Tower) © Harold Davis

Thap Rua (Turtle Tower) © Harold Davis

Posted in Monochrome, Vietnam