Vietnam is certainly a photographer’s paradise. The idyllic waters Ha Long Bay, endless vibrant rice paddies of Sa Pa or just the beaming, ever radiant Vietnamese people. Even the traffic chaos of Hanoi seems to catch the photographers eye. I’ve put together a list of my favourite places to visit from a photography perspective. It’s certainly not exhaustive, but it should be a useful guide for a first-time visitor.
Hue, in central Vietnam, was Vietnam’s Imperial Capital from 1802 until it was changed to Hanoi in 1945 under French Occupation. The Imperial city of Hue still dominates the central area of the city and although much of it was destroyed during the Vietnam war, it slowly being restored to its former glory. It’s imposing walls, long boulevards and rambling imperial courtyards certainly catch the photographers eye. Also within Hue is the Tomb of Tự Đức, a mausoleum of one of Vietnam’s great rulers. Although smaller, I found this site to be tranquil but also more authentic than the Imperial city. My memory card got a through workout by the time I left. The Hue region is also the birthplace of Vietnam’s conical hats and the long flowing white dresses that you’ll often see local woman wearing. You’re likely to see people wearing both prominently through the city.
Vietnam’s Capital is certainly an assault on the senses. Being the Headquarters for the Vietnamese Communist party prior to reunification, it certainly has a lot or soviet style architecture which may or may not float your boat. The city doesn’t have the style or Saigon but what I loved with the chaos of the place. There are ever pulsating markets and absolutely mind mending traffic on the roads (which can make for some fantastic long exposure shots in the evening).
Possibly Vietnam’s most beautiful town, and an UNESCO World Heritage site, Hoi Ann certainly a little snapshot of the Vietnam of old. It’s a rare jewel on a continent that rarely preserves buildings outside of its important temples. You can lose yourself for hours in the narrow central Hoi Ann laneways and the flowering trees and slowly crumbling buildings make fantastic photography fare. Unfortunately, the town has become somewhat a victim of its own success. Although you’d think the limited local accommodation would keep visitor numbers to a minimum, recently large Chinese tourist groups have started visiting on day trips from nearby (and much larger) Danang. All the tourists aside, it’s still an amazing place and if you get up early you can still have the streets mostly to yourself.
Ha Long Bay
Most people would have seen photos of Ha Long Bay, just north of Hanoi. Think calm turquoise waters punctuated by imposing limestone karsts that jut high into the sky. There are surprisingly few beaches in the area but it’s stunning none the less and best seen on a sleep aboard boat. I highly recommend trying to do some kayaking in the area. There are also a lot of caves and grottos in the area. Some of them are a little over lit but you can still get some great photos if you’re lucky enough to visit the right ones.
Be aware that most people either do a day trip or one night overnight boat trip to Ha Long Bay. While these are fine, consider doing a two or three-night boat trip as this will allow you to travel further along in the bay and away from the masses a little more.
Sa Pa is one of the most accessible locations to see the picturesque rolling hills and tiered rice paddies that are so closely associated with Vietnam. There are also some excellent treks in the area. If you want to capture those amazing photos of the radiantly green rice paddies then just be aware that the paddies are only like this for a very short window, just prior to harvest. This window occurs between mid-October and mid-September each year.