Saigon Diary #3: Motorbikes, Vietnamese Coffee, and Night Shooting


Today was another beautiful day in Saigon.

However, I did wake up pretty exhausted. The light from the morning light was nice, getting me up at around 8am. I slept probably around 1:30am (staying up to write Saigon Diary #2). But I think no matter how tired I am, I want to keep up this daily diary.

Anyways, went to the gym– lifted some weights, took a quick shower, and then woke up Cindy. We headed down to breakfast in a rush (at around 8:40– as breakfast ends at 9am). We enjoy our morning meal, and I practice some more Vietnamese to the chef who makes me my morning eggs.

Today is exciting because we meet up with Minh, a friend of a friend of Cindy– who teaches English and agrees to show us around town on his motorbike. I never rode a motorbike before, and am quite excited.

We take the elevator downstairs, and I take a photo of Cindy and her cute hat for the day:


We then meet Minh and his friend, and jump on their motorbikes. We speed off to get some lunch, and I seriously have some of the most fun of my life. There is nothing more exciting and exhilarating than riding on a motorbike through Saigon. The wind blows against my face and it feels amazing.

Cindy also takes some photos of me with her Ricoh GR like a boss:


While I’m balancing on the back of Minh’s motorbike, I’m taking photos of people in the streets (drive-by street photography). I take a series of images that might be interesting:


The first two shots don’t work, as there is too much clutter on the far left of the frame and shot too much from the side:



The next shot is a bit more promising, as I like how I got three subjects in the frame– pretty evenly spaced in the shot. I also filled the frame better. I like the man on the far right smoking his cigarette and looking straight at me, and the woman in the middle looking away.


However I don’t think the shot works, as the guy in the far left is too disconnected from the scene. It is still quite cluttered.

The next shot works the best out of all 4 shots I took:


I like the shot because the frame is now filled, and the guy in the center is looking straight at me. I like the background, and the textures of the shot.

What distracts me is the black bike in the background which merges with his body. Still a bit cluttered around the edges, and the photo isn’t a “hell yes” image.

One quick editing tip: Only decide to keep photos that you feel “hell yes” about. If a photo is a “maybe” — it is a ditch. So I ditch this shot.

We have a nice quick lunch, and then Minh teaches me a lot of great Vietnamese words and phrases. I jot them all in my notebook– and we discover we both have a passion for coffee. He knows a really great place, so we jump back onto our motorbikes and head out.

After a nice ride, we arrive at the place. And it is amazing. Oh, my gosh. It is like we stepped into some sort of fairy wonderland:


We walk across the waterfall and stepping stones, and I take a photo of Cindy:


Some other views of the place:




Minh entertains us with some great stories:


We enjoy some nice iced Vietnamese coffee, and I suddenly see a good photo opportunity to my right. There is a statue, and I use it to fill the right side of the frame. I try to photograph some of the workers in-between it:


The best shot is somewhere in the middle, when the boy looks straight back at me:


I like his hand over his shoulder, and looking straight back at me– and the framing and depth of the shot. I wish his head didn’t overlap with the black frame around him too much – some more separation might have been better. Also his face isn’t too interesting — but his look and hand gesture is pretty good.

But my gut still says it might be interesting, I will hold onto the image for now.


Oh yeah, and if you’ve never had Vietnamese coffee– it is absolutely phenomenal. The way it works is it drips slowly on top, and the result is that the coffee is nice and thick, smooth, and tastes like chocolate.

DSCF8151 We enjoy some coffee, and get high off the caffeine– and take some snapshots and head out:

DSCF8157 DSCF8159 DSCF8162

We then go back on the motorbikes and hit the town. Here is a selfie of me:


Cindy also takes a photo of me:


One of my main goals this summer in Vietnam (besides taking photos here) is learning Vietnamese. My ultimate goal is to be able to just speak enough conversational Vietnamese to speak with Cindy’s family.

Cindy enrolled in a summer intensive Vietnamese course as well (she is fluent, but wants to learn more advanced vocabulary) and I followed along– and took an introductory course.

Here is the teacher (awesome guy) sharing all the different pronouns and tones in Vietnamese.

Vietnamese is an incredibly difficult language to learn — because there are 6 different tones you can pronounce (which totally changes the meanings of the words). However through the challenge it has been a lot of fun.


However after sitting in an hour and a half of class, I figured I wanted to try learning more Vietnamese by myself before continuing to do a formal class. I prefer to learn things on my own– rather than sit in a classroom setting.

Here are some notes I took during class, taken by Cindy:


So we go back to our hotel room, I load up some Vietnamese learning apps on my iPad, and start studying. Cindy takes some photos of me studying some YouTube videos of basic conversational Vietnamese:


Sexy calves, no?

After studying a bit and doing some work, we head out to grab some dinner. On the way out, I bring along my x100s and crank up the ISO to 1600 and we go on a walk.

Cindy points out a good scene, she sees a sign that says: “Rich”:


I immediately jump up and start working the scene. I like the concept of the man sitting outside of the “RICH” night club– with all the pretty women inside. The juxtaposition between the poor security guard and the party that is happening on in the inside?

The first shot doesn’t work too well. I like the “Saigon” sign in the top left, but the room on the far left is a bit distracting. The frame seems a bit too cluttered.

I take a bunch of photos from different angles, and also play with the exposure compensation to -1 in order to get the “RICH” sign properly exposed. The guy sitting outside isn’t moving anywhere– but I wait for the women in the background to move into more interesting positions (or do interesting hand gestures):


Probably my favorite shot of the scene is the one below:


For this photo, I framed it a bit more to the right– which has a more balanced composition. I like how I also go the “RICH CLUB & KARAOKE” sign on the far right.

For me the “cherry on top” (or the small detail I really liked) was the hand mysteriously coming out of the door. I didn’t see this when I was shooting, but discovered it when looking through my shots:


To me the hand adds more surrealism to the image– and perhaps more story-telling too.

In terms of the shot itself, I quite like it. I like the darkness and mystery of the shot. Interestingly enough I rarely take photos at night anymore in general (when shooting film, I only shoot Kodak Portra 400 at 400 ISO). So if I generally shoot at night, it is at a close proximity with a flash.

But with the x100s, I hope to do some more night shooting. Saigon really becomes quite magical and lights up at night.A

We grab some dinner, duck into a cafe– and do some work. Cindy is quite exhausted:


We do some work, are ready to pass out– and head home.

Here are some words I learned in Vietnamese from the day, basic yes, no, thank you, counting numbers, and days of the week.


Thank you guys again for listening. I didn’t really take any interesting photos today, but the “RICH” photo at the end might have some promise. Note to self: shoot more street photography at Saigon at night.

Vedran Perse also suggested perhaps we could vote on some of the images I include in this articles.

So for the “RICH” photo, would you keep it or ditch it? Share your thoughts in the comments below, and any other additions/comments/suggestions you have for these ongoing “Saigon diaries.”

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