Without an H

Photography from south-east Asia by Jon Sanwell

Posts tagged ‘chau doc’

Streets of Chau Doc (part 3)


My five day stay in Chau Doc in early August was one of the most rewarding periods I’ve had with my camera – everywhere I looked there seemed to be a picture waiting to be taken.  Everything seemed so easy – the weather was perfect, the people were friendly and my mood was good.  Looking back, I wonder why I didn’t stay there longer.

This is my final set of pictures from my summer Mekong trip: three and a half months of travelling from Yunnan province in China, through Laos, a tiny bit of Thailand, and eastern Cambodia, and then into the Mekong delta in Vietnam.  I came back from the trip with some great memories, ruined sandals, the nearest thing I’ll ever get to a tan, and – I think – some of the best pictures I’ve taken.  Just as I enjoyed the journey, which came to an end at the beginning of September, I’ve also enjoyed the process of going back through my photo catalog over the last few weeks and posting the pictures that didn’t make it onto the blog while I was travelling.  At the same time, I’m glad that process is now finished, so that I can give more time and energy to taking pictures in Hanoi, where I’m living now.  So this post is my way of drawing a line under the Mekong trip – for now at least – and moving on.

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I wrote before about how Chau Doc has an interesting mixture of Vietnamese, Khmer and Cham Muslim people. These pictures were taken in a Cham fishing village on the Bassac river, just outside of Chau Doc in the Mekong delta in southern Vietnam, in August this year.  There are many villages like this one in the delta, as well as in the Kompong Cham area of Cambodia, and it’s one of my few regrets from my summer travels that I didn’t spend more time in these communities.

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Water’s edge


When I come to look back on this trip, some of my best memories will be from Chau Doc. It’s a riverside town, sitting on the banks of the Bassac – also known as the Hau – river, a branch of the Mekong (which gets very complicated round these parts). Many families depend on fishing and river trade for their livelihoods, and whole communities live in stilt houses that hover perilously over the water. These neighbourhoods look ramshackle and fragile from a distance, and life here is certainly far from luxurious, but there’s a tangible sense of community in these narrow alleyways. I guess that you have to get along with your neighbours when you live so close together, and the climate obliges you to spend much of your time outdoors. Hammocks are suspended in porches, a mirror image of their opposite neighbours, just feet away. The exterior walls are made of corrugated metal, but the homes inside are spotless and the people houseproud.

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The alleyways themselves are built on stilts and sway slightly underfoot.

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Loitering at the dry land end of one of these alleyways, camera in hand, I suddenly found myself with a new friend. The nice man above gestured for me to follow him. He showed me his home, and introduced me to his neighbours. The camera creates wonderful experiences for me sometimes.


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Streets of Chau Doc


Don’t tell everyone, but Chau Doc is one of the finest places in Vietnam. Near the Cambodian border, it’s a riverside market town with a mix of Vietnamese, Khmer and Cham people. The buzz about the town is recognisably Vietnamese, but is tempered by a distinctly Cambodian laidbackness.

You can taste the blend of cultures in the food. The town’s signature dish, bun ca (a fish noodle broth, sold in Saigon as bun ca Chau Doc) is Vietnamese street food with a Cambodian twist. I ate some every day. Cyclos are a common sight and, unlike in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, where they are now mainly the preserve of newly arrived tour groups, in Chau Doc they are commonly used by local people as a way of getting from A to B.

In some places, you have to work quite hard to get people pictures, but not in Chau Doc, where the people are some of the warmest and most hospitable that I’ve come across. I’ll be posting some more pictures soon; this first post concentrates on the people in the market and on the streets.












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Pink portraits


I’ve interrupted my Mekong trip to make a quick detour back to Saigon, so that I could say goodbye to some good friends who are leaving Vietnam to go home to Scotland. One of the best things about the expat life is the friends you make. One of the worst things is having to say goodbye to them. Ian and Helen, this one’s for you.

These portraits were taken in Chau Doc, my first stop back in Vietnam on this trip. It’s a market town in the Mekong delta, just over the border from Cambodia, and a fantastic place for people photography. This super-friendly mother and son not only were very happy to be photographed, but also insisted on me joining them for a sit down and a cup of iced tea.