Bao Loc Dawn

It’s dark. It’s pretty cold. There’s an icy wind from the North West. I can’t see, but I guess there’s low cloud overhead. Maybe even some rain on the way. It’s just past three in the morning and I’m blindly feeling my way around the hotel car park, hoping to find my rented motorbike. I’m in Bao Loc, Lam Dong Province, Vietnam.

There are those who think that travel photography is all about staying in luxurious hotels or romantic resorts; shooting a few frames and then relaxing by the pool while sipping a cocktail… the James Bond school of photography. The reality is very different. I’ve been in Bao Loc for three days. Up at three every morning to capture a mountain sunrise. This is my fourth morning. I still don’t have the shot I want.

By luck rather than design, I find my little rented Honda Cub: I step out into the dark and fall over the damn thing. My fingers search out the ignition (I really can’t see a thing) and I try to slide in the key. It’s the wrong way up. It’s jammed! I’m tired. I don’t need this kind of hassle. A few four letter words and a minute later I give the starter a good kick and the ancient engine splutters into life. I’m off!

Bao Loc is a beautiful little place surrounded by green forested hills and misty rugged mountain peaks, just off highway 20, about six hours North of Saigon. For the last three mornings I’ve headed West into the wild highlands around the famous Dam’bri falls Today, I’m trying something different. To the East of town, on the other side of a deep valley littered with coffee plantations, there’s a solitary mountain with a peak which seems to always rise above the morning cloud. It’s my destination today. Only one little problem… I’m not sure how to get there.

I putter out of town on the road towards Da Lat, the tiny light on the Cub feebly attempting to illuminate the road for a meter or so in front of me. After about two klicks I realize that I must have missed the turn off I’d been looking for and turn around. There it is! If I follow this road the whole way I’ll end up at the beach in about ten hours, but that’s not my plan this time. The road twists and turns as it descends to the valley floor. It’s too dark to see, but I know that just a meter to my right there’s a sheer two hundred meter drop. I go slowly. It’s much colder on the valley floor. My teeth are chattering and my fingers are frozen stiff – god help me if I have brake quickly.

After about 40 minutes I make another turn to the right. Now I’m on a dirt road passing by dark and silent coffee farms. Even the chickens are still asleep and the dogs (more intelligent than me) are warm in their kennels. The only sound is the put-put of my little Honda. The road starts to rise and narrows to a track just wide enough to walk on. The bike is struggling to move upwards in second gear. The overhanging bamboo casts strange ghostly shadows. I’m back in the clouds, icy water runs down my face and soaks my shirt. Still the path winds upwards.

It’s getting harder now: guiding the bike between large stones I can barely see. The Honda slips to the right. The front wheel connects with a small bolder and the handle bars are violently twisted from my grip. Over I go! It’s not a bad fall, as falls go. I’m a little bruised and the skin had been scraped off the knuckles of my left hand. My ‘trigger’ finger if fine, so no real damage done. I upright the bike, kick the starter and climb back on… oops! There’s no light. I try the switch a few times. Nothing. I smack it a few times. No joy. I attempt to feel my way around the wiring to find a broken connection. Nada!

It’s almost five. I’ve been climbing an almost non-existent path in the dark for the past half hour. The bike is propped up against a tree some three hundred meters below me. I know already that there is no way I’m going to get to the top of this little mountain by sunrise. Now I’m looking for some vantage point from where I might at least get a few photos of the valley and distant peaks as the sun gives birth to a new day. Off to the East there’s already a noticeable lightening of the sky: a beautiful deep velvet blue where only minutes ago it was an impenetrable blackness.

The sky is now quite light. I have to find somewhere to shoot soon. Through the misty grey gloom I can see an open area off to the left. I force my way through a thick clump of wet bamboo. My left trouser leg catches on something and I give it a good tug. My soaked khaki pants rip apart from just above the knee to the hem. I tug again, but they’re caught fast. On closer inspection I find they are hooked up on some rusted barbed wire. I can’t be bothered with this now. I reach for my knife and cut off a large patch of cotton. I’m free. Let’s get a move on.

As the light improves I realize that I’m on the forward part of a spur, not yet high enough to see the distant mountain peaks. Now I’m pissed off with myself. Should have planned better. Not that it would have made much difference, anyway. The cloud is so thick there is no sunrise. All I can see is a faint pink glow on the other side of some bamboo and small trees. Well. I’m here, so I’d better photograph something! I unpack the tripod, set up the camera and wait for better light. I wait. And wait. And wait. After almost two hours I have… nothing! No landscape, no interesting subject, no beautiful light. Nothing! I shoot off a few frames anyway, and set off on the long trip back.

Such is another morning in the life of a travel photographer. Sometimes it works… and sometimes it doesn’t. It doesn’t matter that much, really. Here in Vietnam there is always tomorrow and somewhere wonderful to go. Even more than that, however, is the joy and excitement of ‘what’s next?’ A morning like this is not a disaster. It’s a great memory. It’s a reminder that I’m alive. It’s all part of what makes up my work and my life. I love it!


Binh Thuan Travels (Part 1)

Five fifteen in the morning. The first light of dawn catches the tops of the cities tallest buildings. I’m waiting for a friend, Adam. He and I are heading a few hours up the Southern coast of Vietnam. He just wants to visit some new places, well off the beaten track, and get some nice photos. I’m more focused. I want a picture of the Mui Ke Ga lighthouse at dawn. I’ve been wanting this shot for years. The lighthouse on it’s island backlit by the first pink flush of the new day… a long, long exposure to flatten out the sea leaving it an infinite mirror of pastel glass. I’ve tried for this shot half a dozen times and never gotten it. Today I’m on my way to try again.

Our plan is to take a slow ride up the coast from the resort city of Vung Tau, passing through Long Hai and then on to LaGi, in Binh Thuan province. From there it’s a mere forty minutes to Mui Ke Ga the next morning. Things go wrong almost immediately. We cross the Saigon river by ferry and set off across district two. But the road we want to take isn’t there! It used to be. I’ve traveled it many times. This morning, however, we are confronted by a massive new six lane freeway which is not yet open to traffic. It takes us another fifty minutes of frustrating searching until we are eventually able to connect with the old Dong Nai road.

Within the hour though, we are speeding up a beautiful new traffic free road. On our left are the high forested dunes and deep jungles of Binh Chau. A few meters to our right, the turquoise waters of the South China sea gently lap endless dazzling white sands. The sky above is a deep blue and the breeze is cool. This is more like it. We stop for a drink at a beautiful little wooden hotel and restaurant, almost invisible amongst the trees of the jungle. It’s quiet. Not a sound except the wind rustling the dry forest leaves and the odd bird call. I’m starting to unwind. This is where I belong. The countryside. I can see that Adam is also starting to shed the stress of city life. He’s starting to look excited at the abundance of photographic opportunities we’ve passed.

We arrive in the little fishing town of LaGi by mid afternoon, book into our hotel, and immediately set out looking for somewhere to photograph the sunset. A few kilometers North of the town we follow a little track until it ends in a tiny village hidden in the sand dunes. We make our way along a series of winding footpaths until we arrive at the beach. It’s a vast expanse of sand stretching for kilometers in both directions. Apart from three unused basket boats and one or two locals we are alone. Perfect! Perfect that is, except for the dark clouds which race in behind us and obliterate the sun. That’s it for the day. No light. No photographs. Oh well, it’s nice just to be here. Indeed, the sense of wellbeing brought about by the beauty of our surroundings easily compensates us for the loss of the odd photo tonight.

We make our way back into town and a lovely little coffee shop which I know quite well from previous visits. After carefully setting down assorted camera bags, backpacks loaded with equipment, tripods, reflectors and the rest of our kit, we collapse into comfortable chairs and order two ice cold beers. We are met with a guilty silence before the waitress explains that they have no beer. No beer! Our jaws fall to our ankles and the look of horror on our faces tell the whole story. The poor girl looks like she wants to kill herself on the spot. She flees. There’s an urgent discussion in the kitchen and after a minute or so two ice cold cans of Heineken arrive (followed within minutes by two more) Turns out someone ran up the road and bought them for us from a nearby store. Can’t beat service like that!

Next morning long before sunrise, we’re up, loaded with kit and on our way to Mui Ke Ga and ‘my’ lighthouse. Adam and I were halfway there by the time it was light enough to see the low cloud being blown over the flat sandy landscape. This didn’t look good. Let me add quickly, that I like clouds. I love clouds! They can add so much drama and depth to a photo. Unfortunately these were not those sort of clouds. These were a featureless dull grey from horizon to horizon. Guaranteed to blow out in photograph. Didn’t look like I was going to get my shot today. Once again… Mui Ke Ga 10 – VinaPix 0! Still, Adam had never been here, and it is a truly beautiful spot in it’s own right, so we pressed on.

You always arrive at Mui Ke Ga as if by accident. There’s a single lane road lined with coconut trees weaving it’s way through rice paddies. Clustered around a sharp corner are a few houses, a general dealers store and the odd coffee shop. Both sides of the road are littered with vendors selling vegetables, fruit, fresh seafood and almost anything else you might need. Almost totally obscured by stands of bright yellow pineapples and pink dragon fruit is a tiny sandy footpath. It’s so unremarkable you would be forgiven for riding past without ever knowing it was there. This little path continues for about fifty meters before it, quite literally, turns into the beach. This is Mui Ke Ga.

Before you is the ocean, dotted with wooden fishing boats painted every color of the rainbow. A few hundred meters to the left stands a small rocky island, looking pretty much like the two humps of a camels back. Rising from one of the small hills is the French built light house. It’s not, by any stretch of the imagination an attractive building. It is, however, a unique and imposing structure. The beach itself is a hive of activity. Hundreds of people gather around the incoming fishing boats. Cargoes of fish are offloaded, sorted, weighed, haggled over, sold and bought, repacked and then carted off on the backs of ancient motorbikes. It’s like this every morning… a gold mine of photographic opportunity: boats, people, activity, children, fishing nets, old weather beaten faces…

Adam is positively jumping up and down with glee as he surveys the vista before him. I sit under a large tree and order my first coffee of the day as he excitedly unpacks his camera and disappears into the mass of activity on the beach. Later as the sun cautiously breaks through the clouds, adding a little color and depth to things, I take a stroll. I’m able to grab a few shots before the clouds once again put an end to everything. Nothing exciting or earth shattering. I eventually find Adam amongst a group of woman. He’s pulling the strangest faces to try to get the attention of a young child. All he succeeds in doing, however, is making the unfortunate infant cry. Much to the amusement of the little girls mother and friends. Hours have passed. It’s time to head back to La Gi.

It’s hot. The heat is oppressive, pressing down upon the earth with the weight of all the heavens above. There’s an old farmhouse on the side of the road. It’s a lovely faded pastel blue color. The front yard is littered with bright yellow hay. The entire right side of the house is buried under a massive bougainvillea plant, awash with flowers of purple and white. To cap it all, above the front door a red Vietnamese flag with it’s victorious single gold star showing, hangs limply from a stick, as if the heat and humidity have drained it of all pride and life. Adam wants a photo. He knows the sun is too high. That the gray clouds will burn out horribly. But he wants to try. I don’t try to dissuade him. If it works it could be a great capture.

We wander into the yard, wave to a young boy sitting under a tree. Adam’s scratching around in his bag for his graduated ND filters. Already I can see he’s struggling. The sweat is pouring off him. He actually looks unsteady on his feet. Rather than offering the assistance a real friend would, I flee to the shade of a nearby tree. There isn’t a whisper of breeze. Sound seems muted. I’m not sure how long I can last. The heat is killing me. Adam courageously assembles his filter unit and positions himself for the shot he wants. He can’t take it though. The sweat is flooding salt into his eyes. He can’t even open them to find a handkerchief. His shirt sleeve is soaked through and dripping, absolutely useless. He seems to sway on his feet. He kneels for the first shot. Clicks the shutter release. I’m not sure he will be able to get up. But he does. He takes four more shots before he stumbles back to his motorbike. Totally exhausted. He may not be a professional photographer, but this guy sure has the heart of one!

I’m not sure quite how we got moving again. Even the wind caused by the bikes did nothing to alleviate our burning skin, parched throats and heat induced dizziness. We’re both in a bad way. Only a few hundred meters down the road we call a halt. Stumbling into a roadside drink stall and order glass after glass of crushed sugar cane juice. It takes another twenty minutes before I even begin to sweat! Dehydration can be a killer… but we’ve both had a great morning and lived to shoot again. Now we can swap photographic war stories and bore our friends with tall tales back in Saigon. Next on our list are the fishing boats of La Gi harbor, but that’s tomorrow morning… and another blog.


An Empty Chair

I have a friend. In fact, I have more than one friend, but this friends name is Binh. I’ve known him for about seven or eight years. He works for a tour company here in Ho Chi Minh City. That’s how we met. I was doing a shoot for his boss and, as the accountant, he had to pay me. For some reason which I’ve never thought about too deeply, we just seemed to hit it off. The first suggestion of meeting sometime for a coffee, was followed by the odd night out on the town enjoying more beer than was good for us. Before long we were getting together every second week or so to drink, eat, chat or go somewhere. I remember the first time he invited me back to his home. That was when I first met his mother, Ba Hanh.

Binh’s mother had been born in the mountains North West of Na Noi. She’d had a hard upbringing on a poor farm. Her father owned a little land, but not enough to support his family. Like many, he worked the lands of the village nobles during the day light hours and struggled to till his own small plot before dawn or after dark. Old Mrs. Hanh once described to me how the family suffered when the French colonial regime conscripted her father to work on a road in a nearby province. With no income, and unable to work the lands she and her children survived by slaughtering and eating their few chickens and ducks… after that they were reduced to scavenging for snakes, frogs and snails in the rice paddies around their village

In 1941 with the world at war, the Japanese entered Vietnam. Four years later the Japanese army confiscated the rice harvest to feed their own troops and famine spread across the land. People were reduced to eating grass and old leather. Over a million Vietnamese perished. Among them were Mrs. Hanh’s two youngest children. The family walked, and at times even crawled, to the city of Ha Noi in the hope of finding food. But there was none. One evening her husband went out to search for food and did not return. He was never seen again. Over the next few months her two remaining children grew sick, and died. A family of six, reduced to one. After the Japanese came the Chinese, who stripped the city of everything of value and transported it North.

And then… the French returned. President Ho Chi Minh had already declared Vietnam to be a free and independent country, and established a popular government. The French, however, humiliated by the Germans in Europe sought to reclaim their colonial possessions. The result was what is generally called “the First Indochina War” which ended. as everyone knows, with yet another humiliating defeat for the French army at Dien Bien Phu. Following the Geneva conference in 1954 the country was divided into two. The family that Mrs. Hanh had been working for fled to the South, and almost by default she “inherited’ their small dressmaking business. It was five years later, that she married again. He husband had been a soldier at Dien Bien Phu, and after the war had returned to the capital to resume his career as a teacher.

The marriage was a good one. Two older people, both of whom had seen the worst that life had to offer, were more than content with their simple, peaceful existence. They had three children, the youngest being my friend Binh. The years of peace, however, did not last long. By the early 60’s the population of the South was resisting the ever increasingly dictatorial rule of Ngo Dinh Diem, and the North began to send men and munitions to the South. American marines landed at Da Nang in 1965, and the stage was set for another bloody conflict in a land that had known war for over a thousand years. Mrs. Hanh’s husband had wanted to “go South” but was deemed to be too old, and her children were two young. She did, however, volunteer to help at a hospital near their home.

Binh doesn’t remember much from the first years of the war, and by the time he was old enough to remember he had already been evacuated to the countryside. Old Mrs. Hanh remembers it all. She described the tiny bomb shelters build along the streets in which she would cringe alone in the dark as the bombs fell. She told me about the rationing, the shortages and about the sense of pride and purpose she and her neighbours felt in keeping the city running. She laughed as she explained how she kept shutting her eyes as she was taught how to load an anti aircraft gun on the roof of a nearby apartment building. She once told me, with tears running down her old wrinkled cheeks, about the day she went to work at Bach Mai hospital… only to find it wasn’t there. Obliterated by bombs from a B52. It could very well be the same way that Binh’s older brother died in 1973. Missing in Action somewhere on the Ho Chi Minh trail.

Long after the war ended, after finishing university, Binh found a job in Ho Chi Minh City. He brought his new bride and his then widowed mother with him. Every time I visited, old Mrs. Hanh would be sitting in her favorite chair in the corner of Binh’s small living room. Most of the time she watched TV, she really loved TV. No matter what was on, her failing eyes and thick glasses were glued to the screen. Sometimes I’d find here playing with her two grandchildren, telling them Vietnamese folk stories and snippets of family history. And sometimes, she would just sit there. Her mind filled with memories I could not even begin to imagine. I always joked that one day I’d photograph her, and she would always reply that that would be one photo I’d never be able to sell.

Old Mrs. Hanh’s chair is empty now. She died last winter. I never did photograph her. And you know what? I’m glad I didn’t. No photograph, no matter how good it might have been, could ever portray the struggles, personal calamities and pain she had to overcome and survive. No single photo could ever have done justice to the wonderful, courageous and kind soul that she was.


Nha Trang

Maybe I plan too much? Maybe it's not a good thing to do if you're a photographer... I mean isn't photography all about waiting for that exact moment when whole universe comes together to provide that 'perfect' image. Don't the gods of photography smile on those who randomly wander the surface of the globe with camera in hand and hunger in their eyes... waiting with their trembling finger on the shutter release for that one defining vision of the world to smack them in the face?

I mean, take for example, my last trip to the beautiful coastal resort city of Nha Trang. Here in Vietnam one of the most important factors for a photographer to consider is the weather: when it's sunny in the South it's raining in the North, when the sky is blue in the mountains we have cyclones on the coast. My year is planned out even before most people a thinking about scratching around in the attic to find last years christmas tree lights.

For those of you who might be considering a trip to Vietnam a rule of thumb is to visit the South (Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta) between November and March, to visit the North (Hanoi, Ha Long and Sapa) around June or July and to visit Nha Trang at almost any time of the year. The warm waters and golden beaches of Nha Trang enjoy over two hundred and fifty days of sunshine a year. It's almost impossible to go to Nha Trang at the wrong time of year

I had booked my air ticket to this tropical paradise and then sat down to plan out my 'script'. This involves creating a day by day schedule of where I want to be at what time, what I want to shoot and from what positions or angles, an idea of how many shots I think I'll need in landscape or portrait format, wide angle or detail... whatever might be relevant to ensuring that at the end of the day I have a complete collection of beautiful, interesting, informative and descriptive images.

Something else I always do, naughty little boy that I am, is that I make time (usually late at night with a small glass of whisky) to spend hours trawling through popular online stock libraries (Getty, Photoshelter, Lonely Planet etc.) looking at what other happy snappers have shot of Nha Trang. This gives me an idea of what those evil individuals collectively known as the 'competition' have been up to, and almost always provides me with a few new ideas about how to approach, compose or light a well known subject. Seriously, this is always time well spent.

Anyway the morning of departure arrived and I woke in a great mood, brushed my teeth, packed my bags... clothing and toiletries 3.5kg, tripods 7.5kg, camera and equipment bag 12kg... and set off for Tan Son Nhat airport and a wonderful week in Nha Trang. The flight took less than an hour and as the airbus flew over the coast of Cam Ranh bay I could see nothing but blue water, kilometers of white beaches backed by green mountains. Here and there white walled houses showed through dense coconut trees, fishing boats ploughed through the ocean leaving long white wakes and close to shore I could see the darker lines of coral reefs and sandy bottomed lagoons through the crystal clear waters of the South China Sea.

Cam Ranh airport is about thirty minutes from downtown Nha Trang and after five minutes I had cleared baggage collection and was tearing down the new coastal highway. On my left rugged mountains cloaked in dense jungle rose to meet the deep blue sky and on my right lay untouched coves and rocky little peninsulas which jutted out into the endless blue of the sea. Although classified as a city, Nha Trang is in reality a small town with only one main road which runs along the beach. I stayed at the same hotel where I always stay; two stars for $14 a night can’t be beaten, and it’s only a two minute walk from the beachfront. By the time I’d booked in, unpacked and had a shower it was mid afternoon… time for a walk.

I took my beloved little Fuji S5 with a nice f/2.8 wide angle lens, slung my small tripod over my shoulder and eagerly set off. The main public beach runs for kilometers on either side of the city; a 50m belt of clean white sand bordered by landscaped gardens and coconut trees. Here and there are clusters of thatched umbrellas to provide shade for overweight lobster colored tourists. Every few hundred meters or so, set well back into the trees, are rustic cafes, bars and restaurants. As a matter of tradition I wandered down to my favorite; the Nha Trang Sailing Club. This place is a Nha Trang institution.

The Sailing Club consists of two large thatched areas open to the beach, the one is a bar and lounge with comfortable sofas which make you want to sit there all day, the other is a more formal restaurant complete with an amazing wine list and romantic lighting in the evening. The service here is as good as anywhere I’ve ever been. It wasn’t long before I had a delicious ‘sinh to’ or Vietnamese fruit smoothie in front of me; a tall glass of fresh apple and blueberry mixed with crushed ice and cream. Having missed lunch I also gave into temptation and ordered a light smoked turkey breast salad with crisp bits of crunchy bacon and blue cheese… it’s a hard life sometimes.

By about 16h30 the sun was low over the mountains and the light was nice, clear and warm. I took a stroll along the beachfront. A short walk provided a few standard stock images of white sand, deck chairs and blue water. A few minutes later my week and life almost came to a rather unplanned and abrupt end. A rather large American tourist had been parasailing over the bay, and the crew were struggling to land him on the beach. The speed boat had tried twice already and was now slowing for the third attempt. The service crew were out in force to catch the now nervous and cursing tourist, and bring him back to earth without too much of a thump. I’ve watched these same guys do this hundreds of times, and it was obvious that even they were getting worried… I mean who wants one hundred and twenty odd kilos of panicking Westerner to land on you?

Well, with the white sand, turquoise ocean, deep blue afternoon sky and the vibrant reds and whites of the parasail I just had to get a shot. I rushed in and tried to compose a portrait format picture with the parasail filling the top two thirds of the image. Blast! Wide angle lens… not the best thing for this kind of work. I moved in closer… click… click… One of the service crew I knew flashed me a rather sick smile which didn’t reach his eyes. The speedboat cut it’s engine and the parasail lost lift, he was coming down… click… click… hands reaching up to grab his legs… click… click… Suddenly the day grew dark. I was in shadow. He was coming down right on top of me! I scrambled backwards and almost tripped over myself in haste. The guy was down and on his feet, A perfect landing. It wouldn’t have been had I still been there… he landed on the exact spot where I had been standing!

Now everyone was smiles. The American was patting the crew on their backs and laughing. I casually turned and walked slowly away. I’d just made one of the oldest mistakes in the book. When viewing the world through a camera lens perspective changes. A wise photographer always keeps his other eye free to get a better view of reality. Well, no harm done. I thanked my lucky stars, however, that he hadn’t landed on me… I mean I would never have lived it down. To have survived combat, firefights, riots and all manner of extremely angry wildlife, only to be taken out by an obese American falling from the sky. My friends would die laughing if that’s the way my obituary read.

Further down the beach I found a nice spot. Set up my tripod, composed a picture; dark palm trees, sand and sea with Hon Tre island in the distance and a large sky just waiting to turn every pink, red and gold in the rainbow. This is the reality of most of what I do. Find the spot, get ready and wait for the light. Light is everything. If you are prepared to wait, to sit around for an hour or two doing nothing, to let nature do it’s thing in it’s own time you always get the shot you want. Only one problem this time. It never happened. The sky went from a beautiful pale blue to dull gray. Storm clouds had moved in over the mountains behind the city and the sun was gone for the day.

Oh well. That’s the way it goes. Nothing to worry about. I had another week to get my sunset shots. I packed up and contentedly wandered back up the beach. My favorite sofa at the Sailing Club was free, so I sat back, a smile on my face and ordered an ice cold tiger beer. Ahh… a soft chair, a balmy sea breeze, the sounds of quiet jazz and the distant crash of waves… and a good larger. Almost an hour later a summoned up the energy to move, only to walk a few minutes into town to a restaurant I’m rather fond of. So the day ended with another salad and a delicious sweet and succulent lobster. Seafood is so fresh and cheap in Nha Trang (along the whole coast, to be honest) this is not the extravagance it might seem to be. And I do love lobster. After that it was off to bed… I had plans to be up early the next morning and head out to the Hon Chong peninsular for some shots of sunrise over the sea.

I’m a morning person. Around 05h00 everyday my eyes pop open, I’m wide awake and can’t wait to get out of bed. Today was no exception. I rose and made my way through to the bathroom… halfway, I stopped… what was that noise? No! It can’t be…. yes it was… rain! I stood on my balcony beneath low gray clouds and stared at the colorless vision before me. After muttering a few choice words which would have done my Australian friend Peter proud, I headed back to the bathroom. I’m nothing if not persistent. Twenty minutes later I was crouched under a dripping beach umbrella waiting to see what the day turned up. Morning cloud is not uncommon along the coast, and by eight or so it’s normally been burnt off by the hot tropical sun. But no sunrise shots today. No problem, I have a whole week…

…My eyes blinked open, and almost closed again. Today was Monday, in five hours I’d be back on a plane and heading towards Ho Chi Minh City and home. In the last week there had not been one clear, cloudless sunrise or a single decent sunset. Sure, there had been a few hours of sun here and there that I’d been able to use, but the score was clearly: Nha Trang 10 - VinaPix 0. I had spent more time reading cheap paperback novels and drinking coffee than anything else.I had even been reduced to watching terrible cooking shows in Spanish on the hotels cable TV. I was fed up.

Lethargically I made my way to the balcony and parted the curtains to behold a dark, but cloudless dawn. Not today! My last day! What have I ever done to be tormented like this? No shower…forget the teeth… grab the camera… oh… don’t forget the tripod… where’s the bloody light meter? Go… go… go… By the time I reached Hon Chong the sun was already above the horizon, but it was a beautiful morning. The air was cool and clear, the sea a gorgeous translucent turquoise and the sky an infinite canopy of rich blues. Find my spot, Set up my tripod, bracket my shots… click…. click…click. Nice, now where’s my polarizer? Where’s my polarizer!!! (On the table in my hotel room where I’d left it after cleaning my gear last night). Took the shots, then I was racing a few kilometers up the coast as fast as my rented scooter would take me.

I captured most of the shots I wanted. Not as nice as I had hoped, and not as many as I needed, but usable. A weeks worth of work crammed into just under five hours. Not the first time I’ve had to do it, and probably not the last, but it was done and the images were safe on my compact flash. I made the airport just before final call, and as I sat on the plane and gazed out the window at the beautiful clear waters and endless, unspoilt white beaches of the Vietnamese coastline, I wished that I’d brushed my teeth.