Laos, Cambodia & Vietnam trip - the intro / by Neil Alexander

Long exposure shot of Monks in Luang Prabang by Neil Alexander

You will have guessed from my previous post that I'm not actually in the UK at the moment. I'm on a workshop with MM Photo Tours and guest pro Adam Barker and it's been so full on and short of decent internet connections that my posts have backed up a little.

I set off from Manchester Airport on the evening of Thursday 8th and arrived Luang Prabang Saturday morning. It was quite a slog….The travel was pretty hassle free, just long and tiresome. The rest of the group flew out of LAX, and I met up with them in Seoul for the flight to Hanoi where we spent an overnight in an airport hotel. We then took the short hop up to Laos and set up base for the next few days. Luang Prabang is quite an exceptional place. It’s been designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, and as a result there’s a distinct lack of the Westernisation that you see most other places across the globe these days. Ok, so everyone has a cell phone, but there’s no McDonalds, and no buildings more than 2 storeys high, apart from the temples of which there are plenty, and not a whole lot of internet connectivity. The people are exceedingly friendly, and there’s certainly no shortage of photo opportunities. The first day we arrived, we hit the ground running and spent pretty much all afternoon into early evening shooting along the banks of the Makong river. The second day we covered the market and a couple of temples - Wat Visoun, the shrine of Wat Aham and Wat Mai. We then climbed up to the top of Mount Phousi , the hill that overlooks the city with a magnificent view of the surrounding countryside before back down for a quick hit of the night market before returning to our hotel to download, eat and crash. For those uninterested in gear, skip this paragraph... Before we left I ummed and aahed over what gear to take for an eternity. I did a trial pack and then another and another. I wanted to maximise the gear and minimise the accessories (clothes and the like). Eventually I managed to pair it down to 2 bodies, 5 lenses, 2 strobes and assorted memory cards, batteries etc etc. I packed 90% of the gear into a Think Tank Airport International, as I figured that this would be the easiest way to travel with the gear and I also wanted to avoid having to check it in. Inside my suitcase which I did check, I threw in one of the new LowePro AW 400 rucksacks, and an old Hasselblad photo vest that I’ve had for years, but rarely used. Once on the ground in Laos, I switched all my gear over from the Think Tank to the LowePro and planned on taking this out with me to shoot. However the first day was just so damned hot and humid that I opted for the vest. The second day I started out with the LowePro and had to come back to the hotel, ditch it and head back out with my vest instead. I found that using a rucksack in situations like these when you’re in constantly changing shooting environments was just too inconvenient, and the damn rucksack was just too big. I would miss shots just because I couldn’t face peeling the rucksack from my back to get a filter or a lens out, and then trying to force it back onto my soaking t-shirt. The vest made things far easier – everything was instantly accessible. MM kindly furnished us all with the new Black Rapid straps on day one (incidentally the R7 is a vast improvement on the previous one I had), so it meant that I had a spare which I could attach to my tripod and sling over my neck. So I quite literally had everything to hand.

young monk at the top of Khouangsi waterfall by Neil Alexander

One of the first things that hits you in Luang Prabang is the pace of life. It's slow and relaxed. Nobody hurries anywhere. There are so many temples and there are monks everywhere of all ages. They're really friendly and more than happy for you to shoot them, providing you show them appropriate respect. In Laos, many young boys are encouraged to become monks in order to keep them off the streets. The temples are also a place where the poor and needy can go and get hand outs. As a result there are no beggars or malnourished on the streets. It truly is a remarkable place.

young monk on the streets of Luang Prabang collecting alms by Neil Alexander

More to follow soon, and then off to Vietnam and Cambodia...