Pic of the Week

Pic of the Week 24: Impressions from a Vietnamese wedding

At a wedding in Hue, Vietnam

At a wedding in Hue, Vietnam. Caught the bride in a moment lost in thought.

After a more than 24 hour train ride from Hanoi to Hue thanks to a huge delay caused by a typhoon which had just passed the coastal region, we finally arrived in the former capital of Hue. On our first day we were headed for the Citadel and the old forbidden City as we passes by what seemed like a wedding. Loud music and laughter was sounding from the nicely decorated venue across the road. Curious as ever we wanted to have a closer look. As we were snooping around the entrance we were all of a sudden approached by a man who belonged to the wedding party. As we later found out, it was the bride’s father. Apparently he wanted us to come in and after a bit of hesitation, he insisted and pulled us in. We first had to sign the guestbook and put a little bit of money in what seemed like a donation box. Once inside, we realized that this was actually a big event with probably more than 200 people there, live music going on and the pretty couple giving a little speech on stage. We were a bit overwhelmed but our host took care of everything. We were placed at a table with about 6 other people, all men and all of them a little bit tipsy already it seemed. I instantly had to drink glasses of beer with all of them – a custom which then continued throughout the entire party.  Shortly after, the waitresses started bringing out the food. It was traditional Vietnamese with a touch of Chinese with more than 5 dishes being served one after another. And every single one was so good. After cutting the cake and pouring champagne into the glass pyramid, the couple went to every single table to thank the guests for their attendance. It was a great time, a lot of laughter, singing and lots of drinking. It was great to get such an authentic insight into the Vietnamese culture.
As I roamed around the venue, taking pictures and drinking glasses of beer with other guests, I saw the bride caught in a moment of contemplation. For a split second she seemed detached from everything else around her. With the most important part of the ceremony behind her, she was perhaps imagining what her new life will be like. What do you think? What was on her mind in this moment?

Categories: Culture, Photography, Pic of the Week, Vietnam | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Pic of the Week 23

Invited for lunch with a local family -  somewhere in the Northern Vietnamese province of Ha Giang

Invited for lunch by a local family – somewhere in the Northern Vietnamese province of Ha Giang

How come the people that have the least are the most generous and hospitable? This phenomenon has been accompanying  me during my entire trip and once again in Vietnam. We had set off for a three day motorbike excursion into the far Northeast of Vietnam. A remote and mystical region named Ha Giang, a region characterized by sheer limestone walls, granite outcrops, hanging valleys and often referred to as Vietnam’s final frontier. It was on the way from Ha Giang town to Dong Van when we took a hidden side road which led us across a rusty bridge into a traditional village. After exploring for a bit and playing with the village kids we noticed a house at the end of the little main road. Smoke was rising out of the chimney and loud laughter filled the inside of the house. Driven by my usual curiosity I wanted to see what was going inside and had a peek through the door. As soon as the family inside spotted me all hell broke lose. Everyone was talking to me and dragging me inside instantly. It was a big family with kids, their parents, grandparents and what seemed like aunts and uncles, all gathered in one big room. To officially welcome us, we were offered some homemade rice wine. Strong stuff, especially at midday. We didn’t want to be impolite and had one, then two and then a few more. The grandmother was pretty assertive about it so refusing was no option here. Already a bit tipsy, we tried to have a basic conversation which wasn’t even too bad thanks to my phrasebook and a loose tongue due to the rice wine. Meanwhile the mother of the kids was cooking food for the whole family on an open fireplace. The house was filled with smoke but it smelt nice. After a bit we thought it would be best to leave since we didn’t want to impose ourselves on the family as they were about to eat. But no way, everybody was shouting, pointing at the floor and insisting that we would stay, sit down and join them for lunch. It was incredible. These people were living in a simple wooden house, cooking their food on open fire and did not even have running water. But they still invited two foreigners inside their house to share their meal with them. It was a really humbling experience and I couldn’t help myself but asking if something like this would ever happen in our developed societies back home….

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Pic of the Week 22

Sunset in the mountains of far Nortern Vietnam, close to China.

A local bus crawling up the hill in the mountains of far Northern Vietnam, close to China.

After my amazing trip through Myanmar, my next destination was Vietnam. My plan was to travel from the far North all the way down to the South into the Mekong Delta. Big parts of this journey would be done by motorbike, supposedly the best way to explore this beautiful country. This picture was taken during one of these bike trips. It was a three day tour along the Chinese border through Vietnam’s far North. Still very rugged and untouristy, the region around Ha Giang and Dong Van offers a scenery which is hard to match in South East Asia. The loop took me along narrow and windy roads, carved into the gigantic mountains, past vast rice paddies and through villages which are seldomly visited by tourists. We were running late on the first leg of the tour but couldn’t help but stop to enjoy the sunset dipping the surrounding mountains in warm pastel colors. One of the few local buses plowing the route Ha Giang – Dong Van was just crawling up the windy road which, for a moment, almost looked like a snake making its way up from the valley below.

Categories: Motorbike, Photography, Pic of the Week, Vietnam | Tags: , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Pic of the Week 21

A Burmese Beauty.

A Burmese Beauty.

After almost a week in and around Hsipaw in the North East of Myanmar, I was headed for Inle Lake in the heart of the Shan State. Myanmar’s second largest lake is home to a great variety of ethnicities who mostly live in simple houses on stilts made of wood and bamboo. The majority of them are self sufficient farmers. In order to trade and exchange goods, Inle Lake features a traditional market which is held daily but the locations rotates through five different sites. I took a boat to one of the bigger markets, a little bit further South than most of the other ones. It was incredible. The locals, dressed in their traditional garments, gathered from all around to offer their goods and produce or to shop for what they needed. It was a pleasant hustle and bustle without too many tourists present. At one point I was just silently standing in the middle, observing what was going around me when I spotted this beautiful lady. She was sitting on the ground, having her produce, I think it was peanuts and herbs, spread out on a blanket in front of her. With my few words of Burmese I asked if I could take a picture of her and luckily she didn’t refuse. She seemed to be far away for a moment – far away from the market and its hectic bustle. I wonder where she was …

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Pic of the Week 20 – Merry Christmas

A night in the monastery.

A night in the monastery.

I thought this one would be nice for Christmas although it has been taken quiet some time before. Aris and I did that two day trek up in Hsipaw when we discovered a small, picturesque village on our way back. Since we were with a group, we couldn’t stop there for too long. Hence decided to go back to the village the day after and spend the night there. We had nothing arranged, just packed our bags, rented a motorbike to get up the first stretch and then hoped to find our way back to the village and of course to find a place to sleep. The latter was easier than expected and turned to be one of the most unique experiences of my whole journey. We were greeted by a group of monks who invited us into their monastery and offered us a place to sleep in their main hall. During that night, we joked with the novices, showed the pictures we took in the village during the day and had some midnight snacks and tea. There was no electricity and just some blankets to sleep on. But with all the candles illuminating the big hall, it was very special and, once again, a truly magical and unforgettable moment. More on that whole side-trip in the upcoming post.

Until then, I wish all of you, wherever in the world you are right now, a merry Christmas and a relaxed time with your friends and families.


Categories: Myanmar / Burma, Photography, Pic of the Week | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Pic of the Week 19

Our trekking guide in Hsipaw - Sandi from Namshan.

Our trekking guide in Hsipaw – Sandi from Namshan.

After Mandalay I took the 11 hour “Dancing Train” to the little mountain town of Hsipaw. The place was said to be great for trekking and less crowded than other trekking destination more south of Mandalay. It was a bit out of the way but I guess that’s what it takes to venture a little bit off the beaten track.
In Hsipaw I joined a group for a two day trek through the mountains of the Shan State including an overnight stay in one of the traditional villages up there. There are two things that can make or break an organized trek like that: The people in the group and the guide. We couldn’t have been more lucky in terms of the latter. Our guide was Sandi, an older man from nearby Namshan. He was a happy and funny guy who spoke good English and enjoyed to practice English pop songs and teach his group Burmese. He was super friendly and made the trek a great experience. In the picture you can see him during our first break on day one. It was early but so hot already, hence the shirt off. I don’t even remember if the coke was cold at all but could surely go as a Coca Cola commercial…

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Pic of the Week 18

View from Sagaing Hill, outside of Mandalay.

View from Sagaing Hill, outside of Mandalay.

I was out on a day trip with one of the many motorbike riders offering their services in Mandalay. Since the legal situation of renting yourself in Myanmar is still not clear, going with one of these guys seemed like a good idea. We had left Mandalay City and made it across the Ayeyarwady River over to the city of Sagaing. Sagaing is one of the main Buddhist centers of Myanmar and one of the three ancient cities of the area. Sagaing Hill and its surrounding are home of about 600 stupas and monasteries, 100 meditation centers and more than 6.000 monks and nuns.

I had climbed the steep stairs up the hill where the majestic Soon Oo Ponya Shin Pagoda is located. From up there the surrounding views were marvelous. With  a cool breeze going and a blues sky dotted with white clouds, it was so nice and serene. There were only a handful of tourists who had also made it up the hill and it was quiet and relaxed.

Mandalay is hot, dusty and busy but yet so charming and authentic. The city itself is very interesting with a lot of things to do and explore. But the true highlights are just outside the city. More on that will follow soon …

Categories: Myanmar / Burma, Photography, Pic of the Week | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pic of the Week 17

The Shwedagon Pagoda by night. Just magical...

The Shwedagon Pagoda by night. Just magical…

Camera stolen and a lot of great pictures lost… I am still frustrated and depressed but as people have been telling me, I have to keep going. It is hard right now but I want to start writing about one of the highlight countries I have recently visited – Myanmar. And a good way to do so is to start of with another Pic of the Week. I know this category actually doesn’t deserve its name anymore since updates have been coming rather regularly. But I still like it and don’t want to abandon it. Maybe one day I find the time and concentration to actually post on a truly weekly basis.
Anyhow, the image above has been taken in Yangon, Myanmar’s capital where I started my journey of this amazing country. Pictured is part of the famous Shwedagon Pagoda. It is Myanmar’s most important sacral building and represents the religious center of the Myanmar. It is regarded as landmark of the entire country and represents one of the world’s most famous stupas. It is a sacred place and every Burmese should do the pilgrimage to the pagoda at least once in their lifetime. I went there during the evening and stayed until it was dark. The atmosphere was magical with candles lit around the stupa and the sites around illuminated by warm lights. I could sense, that this place is special to the Burmese Buddhists sharing that moment with me. People wandered around it devoutly, silent and respectful only accompanied by chanting coming from some of the surrounding halls. Magical is what describes it best and magical is what the whole country would present itself to me during trip.

Categories: Myanmar / Burma, Photography, Pic of the Week | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Pic of the Week 16

A butterfly living on the edge. Thrill-Seeker.

A butterfly living on the edge. Thrill-Seeker.

This one was taken at Paradise Bar in Labuan Bajo, Flores. I already mentioned the bar in my last post on the Komodo Dragons. I was having my well deserved sun downer on their beautiful terrace as a cute cat jumped onto the balustrade to also catch some warming sunrays. I watched a butterfly flying around when it all of sudden flew very close to the lazy cat. At one point it appeared as if the butterfly would play with the cat, aiming for its nose. The cat wasn’t too sure what to do and finally swung its paw a couple of times at the speedy butterfly. It was a moment of tension and everybody seemed to watch the cat and the butterfly for a split second. Then the insect took off again with the cat left behind, wondering what had just happened. It didn’t seem to be bothered though since it just resumed its previous activity again – snoozing in the last light of the day.

Categories: Indonesia, Photography, Pic of the Week | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

Pic of the Week 15

A Komodo Dragon approaching. Better make way for this bad boy!

A Komodo Dragon approaching. Better make way for this bad boy!

Again, I am late with the Picture of the Week. Too much going on, too less time and too less places with proper internet. Time to pick it up again. This was taken on the small island of Rinca in Komodo National Park. I did an excursion to hike and hopefully spot the dragons from Flores, just two hours by boat. Originally I wanted to go to Komodo Island itself but unreal prices for the boat and actually less chances of seeing the dragons made me decide to go to Rinca instead. And it was well worth it. We did a two hour hike across the island and all of sudden this bad boy of a Komodo dragon came down the path. Even our guides were a little nervous and kept highly alert when it was passing by. For me, it was exactly what I came to Rinca for and it wouldn’t be the last specimen we would encounter during our hike. More details about my stay in Flores and around Komodo will follow soon.

Categories: Indonesia, Photography, Pic of the Week, Trekking | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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