Vietnam Landscapes

Landscapes in Vietnam; From the mountains of Sapa in the North, to the lowlands of Mai Chao and then the magic of Ha Long Bay, Vietnam has misty but colourful landscapes where the rice fields can bring out a green lushness against the sometimes bleak and pale skies.

A hut in the foothills of Sapa

Rice fields in Mai Choa

Mountains provide a stunning backdrop to the rice paddy fields 

A farmers hut stands alone overlooking the rice fields.

Big machines carve out the hillside in Mai Chau at a white granite quarry

Rice paddies in the Cat Cat Valley, Northern Vietnam

Lao Cai village by the river

Banana trees at the edge of a rice paddy field.
A rice picker takes a break in the muggy heat after a hard few hours work since 7 am when the sun rose and the morning air was cooler.
A lone boat in Ha Long Bay

Dao Titop Island Pagoda in the magical Ha Long Bay 

Sunset at Ha Long Bay


The TaPhin Games

A ‘Push of War’ takes place in front of the cheering crowd.

      As London was getting itself ready for the 2012 Olympics earlier this summer, in the northern province of Lao Cai, Vietnam, the locals have their own version of the Games.  In the small village of Ta Phin, about 30 minutes from the market town of Sapa, villagers take part in a variety of sports, challenges and events. Day to day it is a small hillside village, humming with the  bustle of trade between the local tribes and traders from the bigger towns. But in late January, people from the surrounding hills and tribes all come together to celebrate the end of the Tet festival. Over 150 people came to watch and compete in the various games undertaken in the rice fields surrounding the village. In this region, the two main ethnic tribes are the Black Hmong, and the Red Dao. Each with their distinctive, traditional clothes, they add a flare of colour to the games as the hills and valley are shrouded in fog. 

A prize awaits the boy as he climbs to the top of the bamboo - the only one that day to reach the goal.

     The Tet, or Lunar New Year, is the most important festival of the Vietnamese year, and usually starts in late January, depending on the Lunar calendar. During this time, many people who have moved away to the big cities travel long distances to come back to the hillside villages, and the communities swell again as everyone returns home for the festive period to eat, drink and be merry. As families sit together and share meals and stories from the past year, even the deceased ancestors are welcomed back to join the family in the festive fun.  

A Black Hmong archer who won this years competition, proudly displaying his bow.

     The atmosphere is playful, everyone watching the games and the whole community seems to be in attendance. From snotty nosed and sticky fingered babies, to village elders, all have turned out to see the fun. I met a group of Red Dao women who were five generations of one family, all cheering on their men who took part in the sports. Goat chasing proved very popular, and a cheer went up from the whole crowd as a young boy shimmed up a bamboo pole to reach a bag of sweets at the top.  Bamboo arrow archery, tug of war and ‘push of war’, bamboo balance, target throwing and many more games are organised on small patches of muddy ground.  Children in bare feet or sandals run amongst the adults watching the games, and even some Vietnamese ‘tourists’ from Hanoi try not to get their high heels stuck in the mud.

A line of Red Dao women, with their baskets full of goods to trade after the games.

     Some games are for selected athletes, and some a free-for-all as the crowds participate in the fun. Throwing beanbags at a flag, dancing and singing, and even the stilt race all take place in the rice fields surrounding the village, and the crowds are maintained by one local policeman with his truncheon.

A group of Hmong girls stand by and watch the muddy pole balance from a distance.

     There is a simplicity to these games which is a lovely thing to see.  It’s about being together, having fun and joining in the celebrations. As a Red Dao lady sings in the main arena, boys try their hand at the bamboo balancing pole with slippery, muddy feet, and the goat chasing pen is alive with laughter and excitement. People are enjoying good, clean (but muddy) fun, from simple games and activities - many of which help practice important hunting and survival techniques. There is a calm order to the proceedings, no one seems to be in charge, but everyone knows what’s going on when and where and crowds move from one area to another to watch a new game. Spectators cheer on the challengers, little food stalls sell hot potatoes and drinks, and it all seems to flow smoothly.

Two Black Hmong girls watch the archery from a small hill.

     After a few hours, the final of the bamboo stilt race, marks the end of the festivities.  People slowly disperse back to their homes and surrounding villages. 
“This year was a lot of fun” says one passer by, “Maybe next year you will play too?” I laugh at the prospect of a westerner trying to catch a goat in the muddy pen. Well I guess it’d be entertaining for the locals at least.

It’s mostly the small boys who challenge themselves on the bamboo balance.  The mud certainly made it entertaining.

Marrakech Street Photography

The Gentle Approach

These are a few selected images from a recent Frui Photography Trip to Marrakech, the Red City of Morocco, where I led a group of photographers around the city. The winding alley ways in the souks, the bustle of the people and the traffic, and the splashes of colour everywhere you look, make this an incredible Travel Photography destination.

Beggar woman in the souk

Once you get used to avoiding motorbikes zooming down dark, narrow streets, the challenge of photographing the locals, and the "Just later" from every shop, you can start to concentrate on achieving some amazing shots. It takes a considered approach, either parting with some change, buying a gift, or just spending some time with someone tends to make them happier for you to take their photos. Maybe spend the first day wondering about, speaking to the locals and buying a few small items without a camera, show them you are not just there for a quick photo and make that initial connection.

I see this man every time I visit Marrakech, this is from first photo shoot.

My experience of Marrakech has been that generally Arabs and Moroccans don't like their photo being taken. As a photographer, this is a major obstacle you have to overcome. For beggars, street performers and sellers, a small tip is usually fine. What's a few £'s to you if you manage to engage with an interesting character and get some great shots out of it? Be sensible, don't flash too much money, but be respectful too..why should they let you take their photo if they don't gain from it? Shop owners are much happier if you make a purchase from them first become more amenable to the idea of photography. This can be a challenge, but the more time, effort and respect you put into your approach, the stronger your photography will be and the less you will appear to be just another tourist with a camera. You will find you can get past the tough facade and closer to the heart of Marrakech.

A local lady with traditional Berber tattoos 

Sweet stall, sweet guy.

A boy runs through the narrow streets

Women walk in the Badia Palace

The homeless sleeping on the cold, dark streets.
One way to explore a different side of the city is to see it at a different/strange time of day. Getting up before dawn, wondering the empty streets, and seeing the city wake up and come to life is a magical experience and can make for some great photo opportunities.
Deserted alleys at 5am.

A city asleep
On the way to the Mosque

Dawn break over Jamaa el Fna square

This city, it's people and the stunning locations never cease to inspire me, to push me to further my photographic styles and techniques, to challenge myself, step outside of my comfort zone and still deliver images that I am proud of and stand up by themselves.

The grand Koutoubia Mosque
Stalks at the el Badia Palace
Rooftop Palm, Derb Halfoui
Be brave, be respectful and be friendly - 3 approaches that will let you get out there and take some great shots, so good luck.
For more information on the inspiring photography holidays I host with Frui please contact 0207 241 5006 or email  or
 All photography © Filip Gierlinski


Irish Landscapes

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Irish Landscapes, a set on Flickr.
Some recent Landscape Photography from Kerry, Ireland where the weather hed out and created some magic light in these stunning landscapes.