Vietnam Photo Tour Spectacular
June 18 – July 2, 2018 (2019 Dates: June 16 – 30)
w/ Renowned Vietnamese Photographer
Nguyen Vu Phuoc
Price: $6750 (Great value for money @ $450 per day!)
Hotels: 4 star (Best available in remote locations)
Highlights : *Spectacular Rice Terraces and Colorful Tribal Groups *Exotic Ao Dai Model Shoot in Old Hanoi* Overnight 4 Star Photo Cruise in Ha Long Bay *The Surreal Salt Ponds of Khanh Hoa *Old Hoi An World Heritage Site *Limestone Formations & Rice Paddies of Idyllic Ninh Binh * Hue and the Imperial City w/ Ao Dai Shoot *The Sand Dunes & People of Champa *Delicious Vietnamese Cuisine!
Sample Itinerary – Luminous Vietnam – June 18 – July 2, 2018
Please note that only major locations/dates are written in stone. Our photo tour itineraries are always evolving to bring you the best image making opportunities possible. There will be a number of happy surprises and great photo ops not shown below.
Flights are via Vietnam Airlines and ground transport is in late model, air conditioned vans or mini-buses with plenty of space for you and your gear.
Old Hanoi with its amazing street life and fantastic backgrounds makes for a photo rich environment to be sure, but that’s not to say it’s easy. David & Phuoc will isolate some subjects & backgrounds here and there, but you are free to photograph as you will. Sunset shoot either at Hoan Kiem Lake, or West Lake. Special welcome dinner at one of the best restaurants in Hanoi.
Day 2 – Hanoi – Ninh Binh (Karst rock formations, rice fields, canals)
Rise before the sun today to hit the colorful Long Bien Bridge Morning Market. Free shooting and/or follow David & Phuoc around to see what kind of set-ups they can cajole from the busy locals. It’s a fascinating place, as Vietnamese markets always are. Return to the hotel for breakfast and then hit the road to idyllic Ninh Binh for an afternoon and sunset shoot amid rice paddies and temples.
Early this morning board tiny sampans on the gentle river, rowed by hearty Viet ladies. You’ll glide through a cave and out onto a stunningly beautiful scene of rice paddies and limestone rock formations. The best angle on this scene is an amazing one, but it requires the willing to do some climbing. David, Phuoc and Diep will be there to assist you and help with gear. It does not take long, but it is steep. For anyone not quite up to it, you may shoot from river level and/or continue to other locations down river. They will catch up with you!
Fabled Ha Long Bay and the much less visited yet spectacular Bai Tu Long Bay contain more than 3,000 karst rock formations rising from emerald waters like dragons in the mist. Your luxury junk has great food, service and amenities, but more importantly, a smaller vessel to explore and shoot from water level. If we don’t see fishermen in tiny boats & traditional dress working in the foreground, we’ll arrange them! Sensational rock formations include Cap La, Tra San, Cong Do, and we will visit a traditional floating village. In the evening anchor in a beautiful lagoon and dine on deck. And yes, they have a bar! Sleep well in the comfort of your well-appointed 4-star cabin.
Day 4 – Ha Long – Hanoi airport – Hue
Rise for sunrise or sleep late, with breakfast at your leisure. Today’s sail & shoot takes you past Mat Qui (Monster’s face) islet and other marquee formations of Ha Long, including high angle seascapes and an interesting cave to get creative in. The cruise concludes after a memorable lunch gliding through the bay and docking back at the wharf at about noon. Return to Hanoi for dinner followed by a 19:05 flight to the “Imperial City” of Hue.
The ancient Imperial City & the Tomb of Minh Mang are almost to good to be true, like something out of a Hollywood spectacle. The fantastic Vietnamese architecture and backdrops, along with our elegant Ao Dai models, will make for some truly stunning photographs.
Late morning head south along the coast on a scenic 3 hour drive some say is the most spectacular in the country. Pass through modern Da Nang to the UNESCO World Heritage site of old Hoi An, another rich environment for photographers. Our historic hotel in the Old Quarter is perfectly located to photograph on foot at your leisure.
David and Phuoc will take you out in the afternoon when the Old Quarter and river are at its photogenic best. You will be able to shoot freely, and there will be specific portrait and culture-in-action backgrounds/scenes with impromptu and/or arranged models. The colorful Japanese Bridge at twilight is simply gorgeous. Who will capture it best?
At sunrise photograph fishermen and catch the sun in their enormous nets as they raise them from the bottom of the river where it flows into the South China Sea. (Please note this could change if the fish are not running). There are fish smoking chambers and other activity along the waterfront as well. Return to hotel for breakfast and free time. This would be a good time for optional image review, editing, or even to learn some of David’s Photoshop techniques he uses for maximizing the look of his signature images.
In the afternoon we have a special treat for you, as for only the third time in his career, renowned French photographer and Hoi An resident Rehahn, will lend his expertise and inside access to a photography tour! Enjoy a long lunch at Rehahn’s restaurant and while he holds court and shares his Vietnam experience and insights, then visit his gallery and museum to check out his work and find out how his career has taken a moonshot in recent years. It’s a great story, and no you won’t be asked to buy anything! (Although, you may not be able to resist:))
Then it’s off for the highlight of the day, to Rehahn’s neighborhood and favorite Hoi An portrait subjects in semi-rural locations. Meet the lovely people and watch how he works his charm in Vietnamese, while you work with him in the afternoon light…
Participant’s Choice Morning – get caught up on your sleep and enjoy free time, or David and Phuoc will take you to the morning market and then for some street shooting and/or interior/exteriors with impromptu models. Check out of the hotel about 11 and drive to Da Nang to catch a 12:50 pm flight to Nha Trang, a well known beach resort town. Seafood lunch at Nha Trang – then drive up the coast. Check into the hotel and enjoy free time, or explore further north along the beautiful coast for seascape opportunities. Get to bed early, for tomorrow’s photo spectacular begins well before sunrise!
Day 8 – Sunrise Salt Harvest Shoot – Phan Rang (Champa People) – Sunset Sand Dunes
At Luminous Journeys, every photo tour endeavors to bring our guests to at least one very special, off-the-beaten path location. The Salt harvesters normally start work at 3 or 4 am, finishing by 9. The very best shooting is right at sunrise, and you’ll be there for it. Of course the scene continues to be excellent for another hour or two, and it’s hard to get enough! You may take more shots on this one morning than any other entire day, excited to capture that perfect Decisive Moment. Return to the hotel for breakfast, the drive south past Nha Trang to Phan Rang, inhabited by the unique Champa tribal group. Late afternoon and sunset shoot on the sand dunes, peopled landscapes and portraits. Wow, what a day!
Early Cham villages shoot, culture in action, plus environmental portraits of blue eyed Cham families. Return to the airport for an afternoon return to Hanoi. This afternoon/evening would be good opportunity for more image review and/or Lightroom/Photoshop tutorials for those interested. Or to get to bed early!
Day 10 – Hanoi – Lim Mong Rice Shoot – Khau Pha Pass – Mu Cang Chai Afternoon Rice Terrace Shoot w/ Locals
Today begins the expedition into the legendary rice terrace regions in the mountains of Mu Cang Chai and Ha Giang. Depart early to arrive at Khau Pha pass for the first shoot, moving on to Mu Cang Chai for an afternoon mountain rice-scape session that will have everyone in awe. Overnight at a lovely Homestay in town, our best option here and a chance to experience some homey Viet hospitality.
Day 11 – Mu Cang Chai – Morning Rice Terrace Shoot– Lu & Red Hmong Villages – Sapa
Another early morning to another stunning area of Mu Cang Chai, where local tribal people will provide some scale to your gorgeous rice-scapes. The scenic mountain road to Sap also offers some excellent landscape opportunities plus exclusive (no tourists) visits to Lu and Red Hmong tribes.
Day 12 – Sapa – Rice Terraces & Local Villages
Sapa is the heart of the northern mountains, and it’s easy to see why with such a stunning location. Even though its growth over the years is largely due to tourism, we still love the place as a gorgeous respite with great food and a lot of charm. Plus it’s surrounded by myriad rice terraces and tribal villages!
Day 13 – Sapa – Cau Cau Mountain Market – Bac Ha
It will be Photographers’ Choice for the first shoot today – either be on the road to the best most missed market at Cau Cau before dawn, (near Bac Ha) or shoot at Red Dao and Tap Phin villages more locally, heading for Bac Ha late afternoon.
Day 14 – Bac Ha Mountain Market – Hanoi – Farewell Dinner to Remember
Morning shoot at the Vietnam’s most well known tribal market, followed by the drive back to Hanoi. It will be tough to leave, but we must! Arrive back in Hanoi by mid-afternoon. Free time at our gorgeous old quarter hotel until your Farewell Dinner to remember.
Day 15 – Hanoi Departure
You’ll be driven to the airport according to your departure time and given a fond farewell. You’ll be tired and probably ready to go home, but part of you will miss not getting up in the morning for another shoot!
w/ David Lazar & Nguyen Vu Phuoc
June 18 – July 2, 2018
$6750* (10 persons max)
Single Supplement – $970
Minimum Deposit – $1500
Local Leader – Nguyen Vu Phuoc
Guest Leader – Rehahn
Photo Tour Director – Benn Stevens
Two pro photographer guides + Top Rated English speaking local guide
All Accommodation during tour dates
All Meals, except arrival/departure days
All in-country tour transportation
Airport welcome and send-off
All entrance, zone and camera fees
Model & Set Fees
Ample bottled water throughout
Donations to Luminous Journeys Charities
any private transportation
drinks @ meals other than water
personal purchases and services
hotel porter gratuities
driver or local guide gratuities
end-of-trip gratuities for photography tour leaders
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Nguyen Vu Phuoc
Praise for Luminous Vietnam and David Lazar
“My Luminous Vietnam Journey was far and away the best photo tour I have been on. It was more than a photo tour, it was an investment in myself as a keen photographer, it gave me the opportunity to engage with ordinary Vietnamese people and some extraordinary professional photographers in David and Phuoc – I have visited 42 countries and been on enumerable holidays and tours – this one really was the trip of a lifetime.” – Lindsay Earle, Zimbabwe
“To spend two weeks totally immersed in photography was a dream. Sharing it with other like minded individuals was fun. Having the tuition, guidance and encouragement of two amazing photographers (David and Phuoc) was a privilege. Being presented with the opportunities to meet and photograph the lovely, gentle Vietnamese people (as organised by the efficient and unflappable Diep) was an honour. All seamlessly organised under the Luminous Journeys umbrella which made for an unforgettable photography experience and vacation. And the Vietnamese food was both delicious and healthy! I cannot thank you guys enough :)” – Roz Johnson, New Zealand
“We feel very privileged to have participated in “Luminous Vietnam”, and would highly recommend it to anyone who is a keen photographer, especially those wanting to take some distinctly different images to give an edge to their portfolio. Our photographers and the itinerary provided so many opportunities for fantastic and unique photos which would be impossible to get on our own.
David Lazar was always patient and kind in offering his expert help. He didn’t monopolize the best shooting position, ensuring everybody had their turn. Expert Vietnamese photographer Nguyen Vu Phuoc was persuasive with the locals, creative and a genuinely nice guy. The friendly positive atmosphere and good humour contributed to the wonderful time had by all.
We enjoyed the trip so much that we are considering doing Luminous Journeys Bali photo tour in 2017. In the meantime we will continue to speak very highly of your company and of our amazing experiences. Thank you Luminous Journeys for providing us with the photographic opportunity of a lifetime!” – Lyn Vernon, Australia
“David Lazar is a wonderful, charming and eloquent travel companion. With his fine humor and graciousness he offers all participants breathing room for personal development. He does this in such a way that the group dynamic develops spontaneously and helps create new friendships in an atmosphere of mutual inspiration and support.
It was always fascinating to watch how David interacted with the local people from a photography standpoint. He was very natural and relaxed in his approach, even gentle, and would smile and use a few words in their native language. You could see them relax and very quickly develop a sense of trust with him. This paid off time and time again throughout the tour, both during focused photo sessions and free shoot situations. David loves to teach and pass on his knowledge and experience to participants. He taught me a lot about how to approach a shoot. Like how to see light with more discernment, and then find the best possible compositions to take advantage of that light. This was followed up on later with image review and editing, which he was always more than happy to do.
In short, David is a first rate photographer with an ideal personality for travel work and leading photo tour workshops. This along with the perfect organization from Luminous Journeys made for a truly unforgettable and rewarding experience.” – Renate Szinyei – Switzerland
“My photo tour with Luminous Journeys and David Lazar was an amazing experience. Everything was organized perfectly so we could concentrate on photography. Besides being a great photographer David is also a really nice person and always willing to help. It’s really inspiring to see him work. I came back with the best photos I’ve ever taken” – Jani Uljas, Finland
“Our Vietnam photo tour with Luminous Journeys was a fantastic trip… (It was my second photo tour with LJ, after Myanmar in 2014). David was charming as expected and Phuoc was a very nice surprise – active, creative and a fun person to work with. Some of the set-ups were simply astonishing, and the locations were amazing… Logistics man Diep Van was perfect – a real gem.” – Benny Hanigal, Israel
“Having been on several organized trips to Asian destinations over the past few years I have found Luminous Journeys trip to Vietnam June 2016, to have been the best value for money organized tour that I have been on. The opportunities to take unique photos of people and landscapes could not have occurred without the professional organisation of the tour leaders. Their expert photographic guidance meant that all members of the tour were able to capture shots that were technically accurate and artistically composed. We were guided to areas and local villages that are not accessible to the ordinary traveller. I was happy to go on this photo tour and will be more than happy to do Luminous Journeys photo tours in the future.” – Robbie L, Australia
“I like to travel and I love photography. Luminous Journeys Vietnam photography tour offered me an opportunity to combine the two. The tour was perfectly organized and run smoothly by the resourceful Diep. We had multiple unique shooting opportunities arranged by David Lazar and the playful Phuoc. If you love travel photography I definitely recommend this tour.” – Matty Karp, Israel
More about our Luminous Vietnam Photo Tours
Vietnam is much more than an exotic, pretty face and a must visit photography destination. It has the fastest growing economy in Southeast Asia, believe it or not. They have always been and enduring and industrious people, and after all those pent up years under strict communist rule following the American War, the government finally saw fit to grant the Little Tiger a longer leash. And it’s begun to roar. This is most evident in Saigon (mostly only government apparatchiks prefer to call it Ho Chi Minh City) where Hi Tech and other industries are taking off and the standard of living has risen significantly over the last decade. But higher living standards and Industry, unless it’s an ancient form of rice farming, salt harvesting, fishing, weaving, pottery making, etc., is not what we have on tap to photograph.
The photo tour design by David Lazar and the very talented and experienced Viet snapper Nguyen Vu Phuoc, will guide you to as many of the most awesomely photogenic locations that can possibly fit into a 15-day expedition. They will always endeavor to do so in the best possible light for a particular shoot. In the harsh light of midday, it’s time for lunch, interiors, shaded areas and travel.
The Vietnamese are a very friendly and hospitable people, but they can also be camera shy with the wrong approach. So – not only will you be learning by various means about professional image making from a technical perspective – camera settings, lenses, light, creative composition, processing – but also the manner by which to approach and get the photogenic best out of subjects who do not share your culture or speak your language. The value of this is very high indeed, and both David and Phuoc are exceptionally good at it.
Luminous Vietnam is open to all skill levels, and we make sure novice photographers never feel left behind or in over their head, and advanced photographers never feel less than inspired. The mere fact that you are hanging out with David and Phuoc would make that impossible!
It should be noted that no Vietnam photo tour with Luminous Journeys is cookie cutter. Almost all the major competition goes to the same old places as everyone else, tired and over-touristed. Just have a look around the Net and compare their itineraries with LJ’s. Now obviously some places are must visits, but how we work and what we shoot within tourists zones makes a huge difference. Being cookie cutter would be a disservice to you. And it would bore our photographers to tears! So rest assured – LJ Vietnam photo tour workshops have you light stalking for the kinds of professional quality images that are just as inspiring for your highly experienced leaders, as for the first time visitor!
Photography Locations in Vietnam
The select shooting location notes below are by no means exhaustive. They cover only some of the shooting locations within a particular city or region. Much of what we do on our Vietnam photo tours you will never see detailed, even on the itinerary. The reasons for this are: 1) No two LJ photo tours in Vietnam are exactly the same and are always evolving; 2) We put a lot of time and effort into making local contacts throughout the country. They are essential not only for getting the best access in off-the- beaten path locations, but also for getting the best access within beaten path areas. And these change and evolve as well. One thing that won’t change is where the June tour will start – Hanoi.
Hanoi – The old quarter of Hanoi is the most photogenic, especially for street focused travel photographers. But it’s also the most challenging. The motorbike swarms are not as large as in Saigon and move slower in the narrow streets, but they must be dealt with. The best way to work is to find your background, a safe place to wait for your subject to enter the frame, and hope to capture it cleanly at the luminous instant.
And/or find your subject, complete with background, such as a flower seller wearing a non la (conical hat). Wait for the frame to clear of motorbikes and whatever else, hoping it does so while the subject is looking interesting. Street shooting is never easy, and while Hanoi’s old quarter is quite challenging, it also offers some wonderful rewards for the patient and observant photographer.
Note there are numerous lanes much more quiet than others that are worth exploring. Chinese temples dot the quarter, and some of the interiors are quite beautiful, complete with worshipers and burning incense. Bring a map, because even though the area is not all that large, you will get lost! Our favorite market to shoot is Long Bien, which begins under the Long Bien Bridge before sunrise.
Ninh Binh – If you were making a Hollywood movie and were looking for an idyllic, quintessentially Vietnamese set, Ninh Binh would definitely be on the short list. The Ngo Dong Canal, fed by the Hoang Long River, winds through the dramatic karst limestone formations, caves, rice paddies, pagodas, and the stunningly gorgeous Tam Coc grotto. Despite being a tourist location, most tourists are Vietnamese and the numbers are pleasantly modest, except during festivals and just before the rice harvest.
Although the Tam Coc grotto is the star attraction, there is no shortage of great photo ops in the area, including some great portrait subjects we know, tiny hamlets and beautiful rice fields.
Ha Long Bay / Bai Tu Long Bay – The legendary Ha Long Bay comes with a price – a lot of tourists. Most these days are from China, which may explain the construction of a massive new bay front theme park in Ha Long City! Thankfully, it’s still a few years from completion and good distance from the main sailing areas. Ha Long Bay presents a bit of a quandary for LJ in terms of its inclusion on a Vietnam photo tour itinerary. Not because of the tourists, (the area is plenty large enough when you include Bai Tu Long, so that is not a major issue), but because of the difficulty in coming away with compelling images. To the eye it’s fantastic stuff, and a great experience even without a camera, no matter the weather. Well OK, a major typhoon might be an issue! For the photographer though, dull grey skies washing out the colors of the bay makes for difficult image making.
Reliably good weather can only be had a couple of months of the year (including June). Another issue is the matter of perspective and scale from water level, along with suitable foreground subjects to bring out the grandeur of the rock formations. So if you are going your own, good luck! If you’re going with us, rest assured we will create our own luck. This means bringing along lovely Ao Dai models from Hanoi, and hiring fishermen if/when necessary. Unfortunately and for the time being, the Vietnamese government makes it almost impossible to explore outside the approved routes in Ha Long and Bai Tu Long Bays, where there are more many splendored droves of rock formations, islands, un-visited floating villages, and zero tourists. But we’ll keep working on it!
Hue – The one time capital of a unified Vietnam (1802 – 1945) under the Nguyen Dynasty, Hue is located in in the geographical center of the country in Thua Thien-Hue Province, with the Perfume River providing easy access to the South China Sea. There are a number of picturesque Vietnamese pagodas and other monuments arranged according to the five cardinal points of east, west, north, south and center; the Five Elements of earth, metal, wood, water, fire; and the Five Colors of white, yellow, red, blue and black. The Imperial City, along with the remarkable grounds of Emperor Minh Mang tomb, are two more of those fantastic Vietnam “movie set” locations that provide an abundance of exotic photo opportunities, most especially if you have the “actors”, or in our case, beautiful models clad in elegant Ao Dai, as subjects.
Hoi An – The present day UNESCO World Heritage site of old Hoi An was founded by the Champa Dynasty in the late 1st or 2nd century. It was then the largest harbor in Southeast Asia, and because of its strategic Thu Bon River and South China Sea location, became a fabulously wealthy center of the Asian spice trade that lasted for over a thousand years. Once the Vietnamese took over, Hoi An was opened to traders from China, Holland, India, Japan, Portugal and more. The photogenic “Japanese bridge”, or Chua cau, was built by the Japanese in the 16th century, and is the only known covered bridge with a Buddhist temple attached. It’s especially striking to photograph during twilight. But there is much more to lovely Hoi An than the bridge, and on the June photo tour, famous French photographer and Hoi An resident, Rehahn, will introduce you to some of his favorite places and people!
Salt Fields of Kanh Hoa – This mid blowing scene is exhilarating to photograph. It’s almost surreal, like a tropical arctic, its waters mirroring salt & sky, the mostly female workers seemingly walking on water with baskets of “snow” slung across their shoulders to deliver their bounty. Getting into position and timing your shutter release as the baskets are poured onto large mounds is critical to bagging that particular trophy shot. The work day starts well before dawn, and so we will be there too, waiting for the first shards of sun to break across the scene. About two hours later, cameras smoking from frenetic overuse, it will be time to say our goodbyes. And leave before getting “salt-blindness!” No other Vietnam photo tour we know of will take you here, at least not yet!
Phanrang & The People of Champa – The once mighty Cham who dominated the South China Sea trade for more than a millennium, have over time become a largely forgotten people. But not by us! Their seat of power in Lam Ap Pho (Champa City, present day Hoi An) was pushed south toward Nha Trang and Phanrang beginning in the late 14th century, before all of Champa territory was finally annexed in 1832 by Emperor Minh Mang. Today the Cham in Pangrang (and another significant population living in the Mekong Delta) number only about 160,000, and live as a poor and neglected, (by the government), mostly Hindu ethnic minority. With their ancient traditions still intact, along with many of their temples and other religious shrines, they are a fascinating group to visit and photograph. There is also a rare and mysterious strain of blue eyes among the population, which make for striking portraits.
Mu Cang Chai Rice Terraces – To say Mu Cang Chai is one of the most beautiful rice terrace regions on the planet, is to say Mu Cang Chai is one of the most beautiful rice terrace regions on the planet! Its 2,000 hectares of vertical rice lay in the lower reaches of the Hoang Lien Son mountains in Yen Bai province, about 1,000 meters above sea level. Half the fun is getting there, driving over one of the great Northwest passes, Khau Pha, which begins with some amazing rice fields of its own. The most well known terraces, recognized by the government as National Landscapes, are La Pan Tan, Che Cu Nha and Ze Xu Phinh. But we think they missed one or two better ones, and we will guide you there.
Bac Ha / Coc Pai Markets – Bac Ha, and more specifically the town’s Sunday market, is the largest and one of the most authentic markets in the region, especially in June when there are few tourists. You will see a few different tribes, but overwhelmingly you will see Flower Hmong and their very colorful dress. Even more authentic is the Saturday market at Cau Cau with it’s great backdrops, and is almost exclusively Flower Hmong. If you are in the area early on a Saturday it’s most definitely worth a photo trip. The market that has the most varied and rare of the tribal groups is Coc Pai, about one hour from Bac Ha. Coc Pai is not as large as Bac Ha and now that it has moved off the streets of the town and under roof, not as photogenic as it used to be. But it is still worth the trip if interested in documenting ethnic minorities.
Ha Giang Rice Terraces – Ah, Ha Giang! It’s probably even more beautiful than Mu Cang Chai, especially around Hoang Su Phi. There are a couple of other great rice terrace areas here as well, which we will photograph on the June photo trip. Most places you can shoot from one road or another, others you’ll want to climb either up or down the terraces for better vantage points. For this you will need to have good balance, as sometimes the terrace berms are no wider than a balance beam – with a three or four foot drop to the next terrace!
Main Highlights on Tap for June 2017
The tour itinerary is a photographic feast – from a professional Ao Dai model shoot at Hanoi’s ancient Temple of Literature, to a 4-star photography cruise on legendary Ha Long Bay, to beautiful Ninh Binh and its ethereal green rice paddies framed by karst limestone formations, to the Imperial City of Hue, the World Heritage Site of old Hoi An, the surreal salt harvesters of Khanh Hoa, the sand dunes and vanishing Cham people near Phanrang, the jaw dropping mountain rice terraces and colorful tribal groups of the north, and yes, more! If you can find a photo tour in Vietnam that offers more, we want to know about it!
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