Taking Pictures of Strangers While Traveling

Flower Lady in Vientiane

Flower Lady in Vientiane

This is one of my favorite pictures from my trip to Southeast Asia.

Unedited, unfiltered and no cropping.

The glowing offering of marigold flowers, a halo of rusty umbrella spokes and the two o’clock, Beer Laos drinking, family social hour frame the flower lady perfectly. Her face radiates serenity and pride even on a balmy day on the side of a polluted bus station road in the capital city of Laos, Vientiane.

I always hesitate to ask locals for photos when traveling. One, because I’m shy. Two, because the last thing I want to do is make strangers feel like I’m on a cultural safari and “oh wouldn’t you mind being my next subject?”

But they are by far my favorite photos. Glimpses of culture diversity and universality muddled into 5 x 8 inch reason to travel. And so I muster my sweetest girl-next-door-who-lives-out-of-a-dirty-backpack smile and point to my camera, begging for a photo of a busy Laotian flower lady. Her family giggles and claps at the novelty of a falang wanting a photo of their daily routine. The flower lady gives a small smile before confidently grabbing a bouquet of white daisies and freakin’ works it, giving the camera all she’s got.

Because that’s what makes a damn good picture.

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Traveling is Hard (But Worth It)

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Bus Station Bathroom in Thailand

My mama said there would be days like this. And there always are more than a few traveling.

The main point of my blog is to get people to travel. Plain and simple.

So I do my best to highlight the best of the best in my writing. But I would be lying to you if I covered up the hard parts.

The gross bathrooms. Hot and sticky buses with snoring travel mates. Having no idea where the hell you are. The stress of trying to figure out where you are going to go next (Planning, how I loathe thee.) The constant haggling. Crappy weather. Paying for one thing and getting another inferior thing. Waiting. Lots and lots of waiting.

Sometimes it just doesn’t seem worth it.

To the point where I’m asking myself “Why do I do this again? What part of this am I really enjoying?”

But one of the most import lessons I have learned from traveling is to be resilient and constantly grateful for what you have. Because:

#1 I have the opportunity to travel in the first place. (Read Burma/Myanmar post.)

#2 It’s ok to be annoyed by a boring/crappy day. Shit happens. But you should still see the beauty in being somewhere you’ve never been before. A bad day due to a motorbike flat tire accompanied by encounters with leeches and thunderous rain storms can all be rectified by a delicious green curry and a cold beverage in Muay Thai Fighter beer cozy.

At least, that’s what I think.

Moral of the story: Go somewhere. Anywhere. It’s worth it.

Notes from Traveling in Vietnam

We absolutely loved Vietnam! In the 10 days we spent there we only scratched the surface of things to see in the north of the country.

Photo taken by hyperactive 5 year old Vietnamese child.

Photo taken by hyperactive 5 year old Vietnamese child outside of Sapa. It’s one of my favorites.

Where did we go?

1) Hanoi – A great place to start our trip. The busy streets scream “Welcome to Asia!” and waking up to delicious phở for breakfast makes the lengthy flight across the Pacific Ocean 100% worth it. Dodging the city’s 5 million motorbikes kept everything chaotic and interesting. You should eat all the street food you can get your hands on. Fresh mint, limes and green onions are included with everything. It’s delicious.

2) Halong Bay – TOURISTY but beautiful. Limestone islands rise out of aqua blue (& mildly polluted) water creating a peaceful zen feel. And you get to see it all from the deck of an old wooden boat.

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As much as I generally avoid organized tours like the plague, a package tour is probably your best option to organize the ferries, boats, kayaking and lodging. We did the 3 days/ 2 nights in Halong Bay, staying the second night at Monkey Island Beach Resort which was well worth it. If you go, DO NOT stay in Cat Bat City. It is gross.

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Aquamarine floating fishing villages keep the place from being a total tourist trap.

3) Sapa – My favorite place in Vietnam. The first thing you notices are the rows and rows of bright green rice paddy terraces.

Sapa-VietnamSapa is also famous the various indigenous groups that live in the area including H’mong, Black H’mong, Red Dao and others. Many of them make very intricate embroidery work which they shameless hawk in sweet high-pitched voices “You buy from meeee?!” (It’s more of a command than a question.)

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Trekking is the most common way to see the countryside, but we decided it was well worth it to get on a bike. Of course it poured rain the night before which made for slippy, muddy downhill trails. We were able to get a little further off the beat and paths, catching a small glimpse of daily life and startling bored children sitting on front porches.

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Since daily life generally involves water buffaloes and rice farming, three gringas on bikes always generated a sweet “HELLO!” while jumping up in the air.

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What did we spend? My Budget for Vietnam

So my initial hope of $30/day didn’t quite work out too well since Vietnam is more expensive than other countries on my itinerary and honestly, I was too excited to be watching my budget closely.

  • Daily Budget: $50 Day
  • 30 Day Visa for Vietnam, Multiple Entries: $95
  • 3 Day Halong Bay Tour: $102
  • 2 Days Mountain Biking in Sapa: $90
  • Round-trip Night Train between Hanoi & Sapa: $62

Next stop Laos!