Without an H

Photography from south-east Asia by Jon Sanwell

Posts tagged ‘mekong’

New photobook: Downriver


Five countries, four months, one river.

In the summer of 2013, I spent four months following the Mekong river through south-east Asia. From the Xishuangbanna region in China’s Yunnan province, I travelled into northern Laos (making my apologies to Burma), crossed the river for a brief visit to Thailand, then continued down through the southern tail of Laos and into eastern Cambodia, before finishing my journey in the Mekong delta region in southern Vietnam. This book is a collection of my photographs and thoughts from the trip.

The 136 page book is available as an 8×10 in softcover book or as a PDF download. Click here to order or to see a limited preview.

Mekong views

130524-277-editedJinghong, Yunnan province, China

Looking through the pictures I’ve posted from my Mekong trip, I noticed something missing: there are hardly any pictures of the river itself.  There are a few reasons for this, I think.  I naturally incline towards pictures of people – they’re the pictures that I’m best at, and that I most enjoy taking, but I do sometimes feel the need to broaden my repertoire a little.  I don’t have many regrets about this trip, but one of the few I do have is not getting more good landscape and river shots.  I remember being on a long bus journey in Laos, between Savannakhet and Pakse, speeding past rice paddies in the rain.  As the rain stopped and the late afternoon sun emerged, the fields were lit up in the most beautiful, soft, warm light.  You’ll have to take my word for it, because I didn’t get a picture.  As I said, I was on a bus at the time, and that bus wasn’t stopping for anyone.  I spent a few days in Pakse after that bus journey, but never saw that beautiful light again, so that rice paddy image only exists in my memory.  This is just one example of a great picture that I didn’t take, along with the countless early morning street scenes that I was too lazy to get up in time for.   So I’m a little disappointed with the landscape pictures that I actually did take – they’re just not as good as the ones in my head, or perhaps it’s just that they don’t grab me as immediately as my best people shots.   Whatever the reason, I neglected to post many Mekong landscapes (riverscapes?) while I was travelling, so I’ve collected a few together to post now.  These pictures were all taken between May and August this year.

130611-005-editedPak Beng, Laos

130613-089-editedLuang Prabang, Laos

130615-078-editedLuang Prabang, Laos

130619-045-editedFerry across the Mekong (1), Luang Prabang, Laos

130627-086-editedView of Laos at dusk from Nakhon Phanom, Thailand

130718-371-editedStorm clouds gathering, Kratie, Cambodia

130807-255-editedChau Doc, Mekong delta, Vietnam

130821-056-editedVinh Long, Mekong delta, Vietnam

130821-062-editedVinh Long, Mekong delta, Vietnam

130821-173-editedFerry across the Mekong (2), Vinh Long, Mekong delta, Vietnam

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.

Blue skies and green fields


At the southernmost point of Laos, the Mekong river widens and splits into countless channels and streams as it encounters thousands of small islands in its path. It’s like a dress rehearsal for the Mekong delta to the south. The exact number of islands varies with the seasons, as the water level rises and falls, but the area is known as Si Phan Don, or Four Thousand Islands.

There are several little tourist enclaves dotted around the waterfront areas of the islands, particularly on Don Det, while inland there are tiny villages, and acres of rice paddies. I spent my days reading and relaxing, sheltering from the sun, before venturing out for some late afternoon cycle rides. It was the perfect way to say goodbye to Laos before heading on into Cambodia.

130711-005-edited 130711-011-edited 130712-048-edited 130712-056-edited 130713-013-edited 130713-034-edited 130713-047-edited 130714-029-edited 130713-056-edited 130714-048-edited 130713-111-edited

Mekong sunset


I thought it was about time I posted a picture of the sunset over the Mekong. This was taken in Savannakhet in southern Laos, looking over the river at Thailand.

Border country: Xishuangbanna


Sometimes it seemed like China was disguising itself as other countries.  Yuanyang reminded me of northern Vietnam, while in Xishuangbanna, it often seemed like I had already travelled into Laos.  It’s border country.  Jinghong, the region’s small main city, is only a few hours drive from both Laos and Burma.  Thailand is not so far away either and exerts a strong cultural influence.  Eating a Thai red curry and drinking a Beerlao on my second night in town, I had to remind myself what country I was in.  It wasn’t the only time.  Jinghong has a distinctly south-east Asian feel: the people are relaxed and friendly, the food is spicy, the temples wouldn’t be out of place in Luang Prabang, and elephant imagery is everywhere.

Jinghong is also where my Mekong journey really got started, as it’s where I joined the river, known in China as the Lancang.  My friend Chris would argue that this is a pretty half-hearted Mekong trip, since I’m not travelling all the way down from the river’s source in Tibet in a canoe that I fashioned myself from bamboo and recycled plastic.  But starting in Jinghong a) is easier and b) gives me the chance to spend plenty of time in the places where I stop, rather than rushing from one town to the next.  I was able to spend about a week in the border country of Xishuangbanna, without feeling rushed or hurried.  As I say, very south-east Asian.








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.