Friendly Planet Blog

Picture Perfect Vietnam

Close your eyes and imagine Vietnam… Do you see an endless green landscape of stepped rice terraces? Do you picture a vivid pink and orange sky and the sun dipping below turquoise waters? Or, do you envision smiling locals with conical hats offering their wares of snacks and souvenirs at bustling markets? This incredible destination offers all of that and more.

We’ve rounded up 10 of the most photo-worthy spots in this magical corner of Southeast Asia, as seen by the lenses of some of our team members, so get your camera ready for an unforgettable adventure!

1. Vietnam’s Verdant Countryside.

Left: A woman plants rice in a field in Vietnam | Right: photo by Peggy Goldman

“You’ll see seemingly endless rice paddies with whole families tending to the magic grain that feeds the nation, plus green tea plants in the highlands and lush forests in the lowlands. At times, the country seems like nothing but an emerald blanket draped over the contours of a sleeping giant.”  —Peggy, President & CEO

Most of the people in Vietnam live in a rural setting. The rice paddies, vividly green, seem to go on uninterrupted as far as the eye can see! Life is slower in the country side, without the demands and bustle of city life. Religion is very important to the country’s rural communities, who still practice their faith the way their ancestors did, sometimes at the very same ancient temple or pagoda. As you travel the winding roads, keep an eye out for farmers (and water buffaloes!) among the rows of growing rice.

Photo Tips: Getting the best shot of this beautiful aspect of Vietnam is all about composition. Try to include as much of the landscape as you can in your shots so that viewers will get a sense of the size and vastness of the rice terraces. For an extra challenge, try to focus your shot on some of the local farmers in the field, donning their iconic non la hats.

2. Mekong River Culture.

Left: Market Vendor by Davidlohr Bueso/Flickr | Right: Mekong Life by Elizabeth Hutchins

“Vietnamese culture is always fascinating to me, but it especially shines on the Mekong Delta. This river, bringing life, commerce and beauty to the region, is always a sight to behold. As we casually sailed on a small boat, we were immersed in daily life. I especially loved the hand painted boats carrying fresh and local fruits and vegetables.” —Elizabeth, Product Development Department

The Mekong River Delta (called Đồng bằng Sông Cửu Long or “Nine Dragon River Delta” in Vietnamese) can be found at the very southwestern tip of Vietnam, where the Mekong River empties into the South China Sea. The river delta is extremely important to the culture and life of the local communities there. When you are there, you can’t miss all the boats! Given the vast number of channels, boat travel is extremely common. Vendors, farmers, laborers, and visitors regularly travel the waterways on small boats or junks–winding down narrow lanes flanked by mangrove trees. Over the centuries, the river has even become a common character in folk stories and songs!

Photo Tips: Try shooting in black and white to get a feel for the way the water creates shadows on the surrounding objects! You can increase the contrast in post-production and editing too.

3. Minh Mang Tomb, Hue.

Minh Mang Tomb, Hue. Photos by Judy Poliva

Minh Mang Tomb, Hue. Photos by Judy Poliva

“The light drizzle didn’t take away from the beauty of this complex, in fact, it seemed to exaggerate the colors of the foliage, stones and tiles as we wandered through the extensive grounds and buildings of the Minh Mang Tomb. Today, the remains of the citadels, homes and gardens of the Nguyen Dynasty emperors blend with the modern bustling city of Hue, filled with motorbikes, tri-shaws, and multi-level markets selling everything, crossed through by the Perfume River.” —Judy, Product Development Manager

One of Vietnam’s grandest and most beautiful royal tombs, the Minh Mang Tomb, dates back to 1840 and features more than 40 palaces, temples, and pavilions–all in perfect symmetry! This stunning complex is located in An Bang village on the west bank of the Perfume River. The grounds are a treasure trove of sights and a photographer’s dream, including an extensive forest setting, ornate buildings, beautiful gates, and gardens. As you travel the winding, country roads, again, keep an eye out for farmers among the rows of rice.

Photo Tips: As one of the country’s most splendid temples, shooting this location is so much fun! The details make great photos so seek out elements like the three stone bridges that span the Lake of Impeccable Clarity, the large pavilions, and the dragon banisters that lead to Minh Mang’s monument. If it’s raining, as it was during Judy’s visit, focus on the way water looks as it drips form the awnings and ledges as well as the way the structures look reflected in rain-dripped ponds or puddles. (Also, carry an umbrella!)

4. One Pillar Pagoda, Hanoi.

One Pillar Pagoda by Staffan Scherz/Flickr

One Pillar Pagoda by Staffan Scherz/Flickr

“The One Pillar Pagoda was fascinating! The surrounding area was beautiful and serene. I was surprised at how many people were lined up to go inside. I am a huge fan of Vietnam—the people are incredibly kind and welcoming—so getting an inside look at the historic and religious buildings like the pagoda gave me a better appreciation for everyday life there.”  —Harry, Systems & Air Ops Manager

According to legend, aging Emperor Lý Thái Tông (ruler from 1028 to 1054) frequented many temples across the land praying to Buddha for a son. One night, he dreamt he was given an audience with the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, a manifestation of the compassion of all Buddhas, who was seated on a giant lotus flower in the middle of a square pond. The bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara was holding a tiny baby boy that he gifted to the emperor. Months later, the queen gave birth to a little boy. With great joy and gratitude, the emperor commissioned the One Pillar Pagoda in 1049 that would resemble a giant lotus emerging from the water.

Photo Tips: There are rows of colorful lanterns hanging from the pagoda, which stand out against the muted colors that surround it—so line those up in your shot! Shoot the building from a low angle and you’ll get the full effect of the “lotus-shaped” roof the designers intended.

5. French Architecture.

eft: Old post office Ho Chi Minh city by DronePicr/Flickr | Right: Ho Chi Minh City Hall framed with flowers, photo by Elizabeth Hutchins

Left: Old post office Ho Chi Minh city by DronePicr/Flickr | Right: Ho Chi Minh City Hall framed with flowers, photo by Elizabeth Hutchins

“Ho Chi Minh City is always bustling with thousands of motor bikes zooming along at all hours. It’s nice to take a break and enjoy the quiet green spaces the city offers, like this park outside City Hall. This building is a great example of French Colonial architecture, and is equally gorgeous when flood lit at night. “ —Elizabeth, Product Development Department

Vietnam’s architecture is incredibly diverse! Traveling throughout the country you’ll find everything from stilt houses, community homes, and ancient temples to grand public buildings complete with manicured gardens. But it’s the ornate French colonial influence that stands out from the rest. A result of decades of occupation, these buildings are scattered across cities like Ho Chi Minh City (previously called Saigon) and Hanoi. Ho Chi Minh City’s old Post Office and City Hall are spectacular examples. Hanoi’s Opera House (built 1901-1911) was modeled after the Palais Garnier, the older of Paris’ two opera houses, down to the stately columns and elaborate trim.

Photo Tips: To snap these beautiful spots relatively undisturbed, try getting there early in the morning. This way you can take advantage of fewer tourists as well as early morning ambient light which is perfect for flash-free photography. Also, as Elizabeth did, try your hand at manipulating perspective by shooting from a low angle and framing the edges of the photo with flowers or foliage.

6. Halong Bay.

Left: Halong Bay by SlippySlappy/Flickr | Right: Greg checking out Halong Bay, photo by Rachel Jones

Left: Halong Bay by SlippySlappy/Flickr | Right: Greg checking out Halong Bay, photo by Rachel Jones

“Taking a traditional boat out into the limestone karsts and turquoise waters of Halong Bay is one of those amazing tourist attractions that actually lives up to the hype. When you turn the corner around one of those enormous rock towers to discover a hidden golden sand beach in a tiny alcove, you feel like you’ve discovered a travel secret only a select few know about.”  —Greg, Marketing Manager

Your trip to Vietnam wouldn’t be complete without a stop at Halong Bay! Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, the bay is dotted with thousands of limestone karsts and isles, but it is the legendary history that makes this site worth seeing! The legend goes that when the country was forming, invaders came from the North. The Jade Emperor sent the Mother Dragon and her offspring down to Earth to help the locals fight and keep their land. The Mother Dragon incinerated the enemies with divine fire and rained down giant emeralds that eventually became the scattered outcrops that still protect the bay today. “Halong” literally means “descending dragon.”

Photo Tips: Be sure to adjust your camera to take into account the color of the sky. Changing the white balance will help make sure that the karst mountains stand out against the background. Try shooting in wide-angle or landscape so that your composition includes as much of the scene as possible. Here would be a great time to try panorama or 360° photography if your camera has those options!

7. St. Joseph’s Cathedral, Hanoi.

Left: St. Joseph's Cathedral, photo by Bonjin/Flickr | Right: Hanoai Cathedral, photo by Rachel Jones

Left: St. Joseph’s Cathedral, photo by Bonjin/Flickr | Right: photo by Rachel Jones

“One of the most fascinating aspects of visiting Vietnam is discovering the influence colonialism has had on the country. In Hanoi, you’ll notice the history of French imperialism most prominently in the food and architecture. When you visit the Hanoi Cathedral, it’s hard to not notice the more than passing resemblance to the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.”  —Greg, Marketing Manager

Built to resemble it’s French counterpart (Notre Dame de Paris), construction began on St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Hanoi in 1886. The oldest church in Hanoi, it has seen its fair share of conflict. In the 1950’s the church was shut down during a period of war and occupation and it wasn’t until Christmas Eve in 1990 that mass was permitted to resume. Today, the church holds services several times a day. On Sunday evenings the large crowds spill onto the street and the hymns are broadcast on loud speakers for those who can’t fit inside.

Photo Tips: Shooting from the outside–use the columns, buttresses and sharp angles to help you line up shots that have interesting composition! Don’t skip snapping the little gargoyles, angels and relief figures that adorn the building. If you are permitted to shoot photos of the interior, don’t forget to look up! The roof and arches naturally draw a viewer’s eye in. If your camera has manual settings, adjust to a higher ISO which will make the camera more light sensitive. Be careful though, if the ISO setting is too high – the photos will become grainy. Practice with a variety of settings until you find the right one! Important note: please be respectful of requests regarding photography. Flash is often not allowed inside older buildings and churches (particularly those with art or murals) as it can be damaging.

8. Bustling Marketplaces, Hoi An.

Vietnam's Bustling Markets Collage, photos by Rachel Jones

Vietnam’s Bustling Markets Collage, photos by Rachel Jones

“The markets in Vietnam are colorful, frenetic and full of familiar and foreign foods, and it’s an immersive adventure just to walk through and snap some shots. Grab a Vietnamese coffee to go. Eat some street food from a road side stall. Have a glass of bia hơi, the local brew. Shop for souvenirs, and consider tasting some of the more eclectic regional delicacies.” —Greg, Marketing Manager

The colorful market-town of Hoi An is perfect for the avid shopper! In the past, this was a major port with many ships arriving from around the world. Silk, sugar, teas, ceramics and more were traded daily. Don’t forget to take a moment and enjoy the ancient architecture that has been preserved throughout the city–allowing for a unique look at the classic and traditional Vietnamese culture.

Photo Tips: From an array of tropical fruits and veggies to rows of souvenirs and staples, focus on the colors! This is a great place to practice with the way light reflects on a rainbow of hues and surfaces. Also, the packed shelves/stalls and friendly vendors make this a perfect opportunity to photograph the little details for an up close and personal look at Vietnam’s everyday life.

9. Cultural Performances.

Left: Fishermans Dance by Chris Feser/Flickr | Right: Cultural Performance, photo by Peggy Goldman

Left: Fishermans Dance by Chris Feser/Flickr | Right: Cultural Performance, photo by Peggy Goldman

“The theatre performances of a country are a terrific way to discover the deep history and rich culture of the its people. In Vietnam, performances span the gamut from telling the creation story of a local tribe to an allegory of strike and resistance against imperialism and war.”  —Peggy, President & CEO

Vietnam’s history with traditional dance goes back centuries as ancient engravings found on Dong Son drums (dating back as early as 600BC) reveal.  Dancing and music in Vietnam can be divided into a few broad categories including opera and theater, festival performances, and royal imperial court dances. Inspired by the Chinese, the lion dance takes on many forms in Vietnam including honoring the Lunar New Year (Tếti) and the Mid-Autum Festival (Tết trung thu) as well as the opening of new businesses. The Fisherman’s Dance relays tales of the God of Whales and the Fisherman and Princess of the Sea. Imperial Court dances have been meticulously preserved and require great skill as the costumes and props are elaborate. Some popular Imperial Dances include the fan dance, lotus dance, incense dance, and the scarf dance.

Photo Tips: This is all about movement! You’ll likely be shooting in an indoor setting–so be prepared to adjust the ISO in search of the right amount of light sensitivity. Once you find the right settings to account for how lit your scene is, this is a great opportunity to practice with shutter speeds. If your camera allows it, speed up the shutter to try and capture a single framed moment in time. Or, slow it down a little to allow for some motion blur that will really convey the flow and moves of the performers.

10. Motorcycle Culture, Vietnam.

Motorbikes in Vietnam Collage by Judy Poliva

Motorbikes in Vietnam Collage by Judy Poliva

“Motorcycles are a way of life in Vietnam. Entire families travel together on one little bike. Shopping is done while sitting on a bike and talking with the vendors to buy supplies, all of which are piled onto the bike in ingenious ways. Helmets and face masks become fashion statements. It is quite amazing to see the streams of bikes on every street, from the larger boulevards to the narrow winding streets of the older parts of town. And crossing the road can be a challenge!” —Judy, Product Development Manager

According to the Ministry of Transport there are more than 45 million registered motorbikes in Vietnam! This is the most popular form of transportation among locals and even visitors can’t resist hopping on two wheels to explore the winding alleys, busy cities, and lush countryside. It’s not uncommon to see a sea of helmets and scooters flood the cities’ major streets. It’s fascinating to observe because everyday business is conducted right from the driver’s seat as folks regularly pull over to chat a moment with the vendors or snag a quick snack or everyday necessity. Without much attention to the road’s painted lanes or lights, drivers zip through and around each other like a ballet of revved engines and blinking tail lights.

Photo Tips: Photographing something that moves as quickly as the motorbikes in Vietnam can be a challenge! To capture them as they move (with a blurred effect in the background) try panning your camera and rapidly shooting as it moves. The key to this method is moving your camera at the same pace and on the same path as the moving subject. If your camera allows for burst or continuous shooting, this would be a good time to give that a try. Sometimes though, you’ll want the bike to be blurred leaving a cool trail of lights in the finished photo. To accomplish this, use the manual settings on your camera to lengthen the shutter speed. Keep in mind that to get a clear final image you’ll need to hold the camera as still as possible!

Bonus: The Food in Vietnam.

Left: Elephant Ear Fish, by Shankar S/Flickr | Right: Frying Banh Tom (Shrimp Fritters) in Hanoi, by Greg Willis/Flickr

Left: Elephant Ear Fish, by Shankar S/Flickr | Right: Frying Banh Tom (Shrimp Fritters) in Hanoi, by Greg Willis/Flickr

“My favorite meal in Vietnam was at a bamboo hut bridging a distributary of the Mekong Delta. Cut into the floor were two large holes, through which our servers fished elephant-eared fish from the water directly below. A quick fry and the fish were on our table with rice paper and all sorts of fillers to make our own summer rolls. We finished it with fresh, juicy lychee and a visit from a monkey.”   —Ley, Sales Representative 

From the abundance of fresh fruits and seafood to the infusion of French flavors, Vietnam is the ultimate in East meets West cuisine! Sample everything from crusty baguettes and strong, sweet coffee to fish grilled right in front of you. The array of colors is just as eye-catching as the way the smells hit your nose and the explosion of flavors on your tongue. The food in Vietnam is incredibly fresh, full of flavor and inexpensive so be sure to sample everything at least once!

Photo Tips: In today’s Instagram world, it is not uncommon to see folks snapping photos of their food to share… and you can too! Use natural light wherever possible (the flash will wash out the colors at such a close range). And for an added bonus, try to incorporate the way the food is created. A lot of food in Vietnam is prepared with fresh ingredients and made to order. The process of creating or serving your delicious meal is just as photo-worthy!


If these tips have you ready to grab that camera and head to Vietnam, we don’t blame you! But get ready—this incredible country offers experiences you won’t soon forget!

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