By now, we were getting the hang of the country by a tiny bit, the people felt more approachable, and the beer felt much more palatable. Our next destination was the imperial city of Huế. All about the city and its sights, that ll come in the next post, but this time, let me tell you about the journey.
From Hoi An, there are two budget and recommended ways to get to Huế, take the bus or the train. You can always hire a motorbike, join a bike tour or hire a private car for the journey. This website, I Love Hue Tour is a good source of the information and one can never plan a trip without active use of Seat61. We took the comfortable way out, and booked ourselves a coupe in the soft sleeper in the SE2 train, which runs from HCMC to Ha Noi. The coach was air conditioned, and quite comfortable. Not the Indian trains’ first class type comfortable, but good enough; a bit cramped though. For a travel time of about 3 hours, we had each paid 1600 INR. We may have had a thought to grumble about the cost, but it was laid to rest within the first 15 minutes of the journey.
The entire route of the journey is through the hills, which hug the coastline. The view was amazing. The train chugs along slowly enough to take photos all the way. The aisle is generally filled with tourists and locals alike, taking in the sights and clicking away happily. I was no exception to this 🙂
The views continued to keep us mesmerized, spaced with dark spells through the numerous tunnels.
Soon we had reached plain land, and it felt very much similar to train journeys back home. Rolling fields with paddy, men and women working, etc.
And then, all of a sudden, we were in Huế. So, we picked our bags, and hopped off!
All about Huế, coming up shortly in the next post.
As with any trip, there ought to be proper planning. This time, it had to be much more detailed.The scope of winging it in a foreign country was limited.
Visa: Vietnam offers Visa On Arrival (VOA) for Indian citizens, if they have the approval letter already. Obtaining the letter was not a difficult job to accomplish. We searched for visa to Vietnam on Google, and then it was just finding out the cheapest option. We went ahead with this website. We had to pay 8 USD per person for the approval letter. The letter arrived within a couple of days, along with a copy of the form that we would have to fill. A mandatory visa stamping fee of 25 USD per person is to be paid during immigration at the point of entry.
Flights: We had booked our flights, to and fro well in advance. This may appeal to the mass, as it did to us. Make it a point to book the tickets from the airline company’s website. ENSURE that each booking are on a single PNR. Since the flights have a stop invariably, which will either be in Singapore or Kuala Lumpur, having the booking on a single PNR ensures that you do not have to go through immigration at the intermediate country and that your luggage is counted as a through baggage, so you check in your luggage at home, and retrieve it right at the destination. In case you have a long layover and want to check out the country, make sure you have a visa prior to your arrival. Do not depend on a VOA. Flights within the country is fairly easy and cheap. Make sure that you are at the airport at least 2 hours prior to the flights for the domestic flights while it should be minimum 3 hours for the international flights.
Hotels: We also had our hotels booked at the places we would stay. It should be noted that if its just you, or max two of you, staying at the backpackers’ hostels is the best way to go. You get to meet people of various countries, interact with them and make friends. While if you are travelling in a bigger group, it is better if you book hotel rooms. The cost per head will be similar, but you shall have multiple bathrooms at your disposal. This is preferable if you guys need to leave at the same time. Since we were 4, we had hotel rooms booked. While booking the hotels, we tried to go go for the ones which have been vetted multiple times by travellers across the world and were within walking distance of the tourist hub. I shall tell more about the hotels we were in as and when we reach each city.
Trains: Vietnam has a limited number of train plying their reunification route, starting right from Ho Chi Minh City ending at Hanoi. It passes through picturesque routes, hills, sea shores, markets and even doorsteps. We had ours booked from Da Nang to Hue. You can book the tickets from the Vietnamese Railway’s website. Do check out this website for a treasure trove of information about the travel.
Food: You must understand that vietnamese people are primarily meat eaters. Beef and pork are the most commonly available kinds of meat. Chicken is a rare find. Egg is common though. In the week that we were there, I did not spot any place serving lamb or goat. If you go to places like Da Nang or Hoi An, which are beach towns, you can get ample sea food. Fried food is not common. Most of the food is baked or boiled. Noodle soups or Pho, are most commonly available. A food that kept us alive, for it was healthy, readily available and cheap on the pocket was Bahn Mi. It is a baguette with shredded meat and some sauces and comes mainly in beef, pork and egg variety.
Drink: Packaged drinking water is fairly easy to obtain, but it does not hurt having some sort of water purifying options along. Beer is cheap and plentiful to choose from. The most common were Bia Ha Noi, Bia Saigon, Bia Huda and Heineken. The beer felt toned down, and I would feel more fuller than being tipsy at all.
Clothes: Restrictions on what you wear exist at the religious spaces where it is expected that one would wear clothes which are not revealing. Other than these places, we didn’t see any signs or reactions which would suggest that the people are remotely bothered of what you wear. I suggest you have a look at the weather forecasts and pack accordingly prior to your trip. In case you want new clothes, night markets are present in the tourist places, which are amazing places to get stuffs cheaply. Do remember to haggle about the price.
Currency: The local currency is Vietnamese Dongs. 1 INR = 350 VND roughly. Do not get excited about the exchange rate for the minimum denomination we came across was a 1000 VND and it was not enough to buy a bottle water. So often you shall find yourself moving about with millions of dongs, just be careful with the money as you pay. It is easy to confuse a 10000 VND with a 100000 VND. With a little practice, it shall be fine. Also, the big shops have card swiping options. Do note, the cards swiped do not require a pin to complete the transactions, they just make you sign the slip, so hold on to your cards real tight. You shall need to convert INR to USD here, and then use them to convert to Dongs at Vietnam. You can pay by USD, but you shall be overcharged invariably, hence, stick to Dongs.
Now, that you have a back ground about the country, we shall continue post the arrival at HCMC.
Feel free to reach out to me for any doubts and clarification that you may have till now.
On the way back, the train was quite empty. The train stopped at SNL for a minute and people all around were getting very excited that the Falls was coming up.
One advantage you may get, if you have a camera and can play the part, is that people would let you have a good spot if you request them just a bit.
So, I secured my spot by the door and waited.
I wasnt too bothered about the falls this time round, for I already knew what I would get to see and that had already been shot in the best possible settings. So, I shot the other way.
As the light faded, this rock feature came in to view. Probably, this is where Castle Rock derives its name from.
Soon it was nightfall and we retired to our respective berths.
The sun rose at about 0615h and so did we. We got busy clicking photos of the fall.
Next we took a safe, albeit a tad scary route to the bottom of the falls where the water makes a pool, before gushing further down. Now, this is a spot where one DOES NOT get in the water. No mater how tempting it may look to be, or how amazing swimmer you may believe yourself to be, DO NOT go into the water.
We lazed around and were nagged by the feeling of being watched constantly, and soon the watchers came into clear view with evil motives. They wanted our chocolates, and we would not part with them without a fight.
So, we had a stand off, 4 of us versus 3 of them. Without incurring any casualty on either side, we climbed back to the top, to the railway tracks.
Here, we waited for at least one train to pass by, so that we could venture into the tunnel and walk on towards Sonalium (LIM) and ultimately towards QLM.
Once the train passed by, we went into the tunnel, only to hear the whistle of the second one approaching from the other side.
With the other one gone, we knew we had a lot of time to walk to the second view point. Its about a kilometer walk to the viewpoint, located directly opposite the falls.
We waited on a cement bench for a train to pass by the falls. We waited for an hour, and then….
Now, we had the following options: one, we walk to LIM, then find transport and go to QLM; two, we walk to QLM; three, we hail the train and take a lift to QLM. We took option three.
Thus, we visited the Dudhsagar Falls and then hitched a ride on a goods train and made it to Kullem. The return trip was scheduled at 1635h from QLM and it was just 1045h yet. So, we went to the town, a tiny one that is and had breakfast. Then we lazed about and made our way to the station and waited for our ride back home.
On the way back, we saw something quite beautiful too…find out in the final part of the trip 🙂
So, with the planning done to the details, we were ready. The Friday arrived and we made our way to the Pune station. Goa express was 1h and 30 minutes late. So, we spent the time lazying around in the station. Then, finally, at about 1800h, the train ambled in. Since tickets were booked already, no hassles, we found and occupied our seats.
We were scheduled to be at QLM at 0435h the next day, and that it would cross Castle Rock (CLR) at 0350h. Now, CLR+10 tunnels, gets us to DDS. That’s the calculation one must follow at pitch darkness.
I dont manage to sleep properly in the train, hence, I was up and about since 0300h. As we reached CLR, I woke up the rest of the team and we got ready. The train made an unscheduled stop at DDS station, and without further ado, we were off. We had arrived at the Dudhsagar station at 0400h in the morning. One must walk on the tracks to reach the falls from the DDS station, and at that time, one must not expect a lot of light. There is also a tunnel en route that one must cross.
With the huge moon above our head, and the torches to light up our paths, we walked to the falls. By about 0430h, we were at the waterfall. We could hear the falls even before we first saw it. It was like a sheet of water tumbling down the slopes, at immense force with a growl.
Since there was not a lot of light around to shoot with, we waited there, enjoying the cool breeze coming from the direction of the fall, which would sometimes spray us with cold water too. A couple of goods trains roared past us.
By this time, we were hungry. Out came the chocolates. We found some spots to sit and lay down, and we waited, for sunrise, which was still a couple of hours away. Honestly, we were desperate to shoot at and the falls, I was, I know for sure 🙂
Street photography is always recognized as a challenging and equally rewarding venture. Its an adventure and often requires a certain skill to get the shots right. It is difficult to put into words what shall make you a successful photographer on the streets, but practice and patience are a couple of sure shot ways to learn.
My experience in street photography has taught me a few things, which I would like to share here, which, I hope shall be of use to you , my dear reader.
It may sound very obvious, but is the first rule, nonetheless. Keep the lens cap off, the camera set in a probable setting, or be in a position to adjust on the fly and fire away. The opportunities present themselves at unexpected times, you must be ready.
Keep an eye out-
Look out for frames, people, settings which can be used to tell a story. Often, a nicely composed shot, can speak more than a thousand words.
Try to blend in the crowd. Have a lens that is inconspicuous and is not cumbersome. I mean, yes, a 150-600 is an amazing lens, and can be used to isolate your subject effectively, but imagine using it right in the middle of a bazaar. People will actually be wondering if you are shooting them. The local police might be interested too. So, be realistic. Have a small, versatile lens on you. One that makes you comfortable, and doesn’t scare your subject away.
There will be instances where you are better off not letting your subject know that they are being shot. Be at a distance, be camouflaged and shoot. You ll get the best shots if your subjects are in their natural environment.
Have a smile on your face, and be ready to show the shots to your subjects. Do not creep your subjects out. Some may want to look at how they appeared, oblige them. Some might want not to be shot, heed them. If possible, ask for their permission if you really want the shot, and once you are done, show it to them. Often, they ll be ready to give you another shot, if the first one was not good enough.
There shall be many missed shots, composition fails and angry glares too, but you ll have to skim them off and cope with the constraints, and once you manage to adjust, you ll see a whole world of opportunities opening up. Good luck.
Hi all….another iteration of my toys story! But this time, its the ones that went chugging and am sure, in some point of time we were all fascinated with the train engine, and to have a look within the engine, it was a huge thing of joy, for me, it still is, even today!
For the ones who had a look on my page, Showing Off, the star effect in the first photo has been achieved by the use of the same star filter that has been shown in the DIY. So you see, they do work pretty fine.
Go out there and relive the happy moments that you miss, and dont forget to experiment a bit too!
Until next time…