Without an H

Photography from south-east Asia by Jon Sanwell

Posts tagged ‘mekong delta’

Metal Street


Every town and city in Vietnam has at least one metal street, where you can buy engine parts, rivets, girders and other metal things I don’t know the names of.  Can Tho’s metal street is actually two fairly short, very narrow intersecting alleyways, a stone’s throw and a million miles from the scenic waterfront. Sparks fly. Buzzing and clanging sounds fill the air.  Tiny, cramped booths offer all manner of hardware for sale, and men – it’s nearly all men – saw, weld and solder in open-fronted workshops.
















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I could post a whole series of pictures of men playing checkers in the street – and perhaps I will at some point – but for now, here’s just one photograph from Can Tho.

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.

Mekong Delta portraits II

A sequel is usually a sign of someone running out of ideas, and this post, I’m afraid, is no exception.  In the absence of anything new to post from the last few weeks, I’ve plundered my archive for some more pictures from my Mekong trip in January this year, to create a follow up to my original Mekong Delta portraits post.  I like all these pictures – I wouldn’t be posting them otherwise – but I wish that I had something new to share.  I’m spending next week in Hue, and I’m hoping that a change of scene will provide some inspiration.  We’ll see.  In the meantime, please forgive the navel-gazing and enjoy the pictures.

More from the Mekong

Water isn’t really my element – I can barely swim – but there’s no getting away from the stuff in the Mekong Delta.  I went on a few boat trips during my week there, but taking pictures from a moving boat isn’t easy, especially if you’re a big wuss who’s worried about falling in. The problem with water, a wise man once said, is that it’s wet and it moves around.

The area might be best known for its floating markets, but back on dry land there are plenty of street markets to visit.  Wandering around the market in Chau Doc early one morning, I thought to myself, “I could spend all day taking pictures here.”  So I did.

My trip coincided with the build-up to the Tet holiday (the Lunar new year, which is the most important holiday in the calendar for Vietnamese people).  With two weeks off work, I spent one week travelling through the delta, before taking a boat upriver from Chau Doc into Cambodia for another week.  Although I was out of Vietnam for the holiday itself, for weeks before the streets were full of symbols of Tet; red and gold decorations, yellow and orange flowers, and kumquat trees were everywhere.

When I first saw this picture, I thought that a pesky cyclist had ruined a good panning shot. When I saw it again on the big screen, I decided I quite liked it. I’ll just have to pretend that I had it all planned.

Rush hour in Chau Doc is a little quieter than what I’ve become used to in Saigon.

And to finish, a sunset.

(Coming soon: a post or two on Cambodia.)

Mekong Delta portraits

A week in the Mekong Delta in the build-up to the Tet holiday.  A week of friendly people, fresh seafood, very few cars, floating markets and flower-lined streets.  A week that wasn’t long enough.