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Covid-19 and Travel Photography in Hoian

As the contamination is now officially declared as a pandemic, travelling becomes more and more difficult, especially for nationals of some countries. In those conditions, obviously, having “a good time” becomes a question and the practice of travel photography, as we understand it -travel and human experience- will have to face some unexpected changes in what is an unusual atmosphere in Vietnam. 

What is it like in Hoian during Corona?

Hoian is getting quieter. Reading here and there that it’s business as usual, well hum, it’s not!

It doesn’t mean that all the city is shut down and everything is closed. There are still many options to eat outside, have a drink, relax and enjoy. But it would be a lie to say that everything is as usual. Many small businesses are closed or about to, due to a lack of guests or virus fear. The first places to shut down were the ones relying mostly on the Korean and Chinese tourists. Though, step by step, some streets are getting very quiet.

Markets are still busy though, a sharpened eye will notice here and there some people missing but for most of the people visiting for the first time, the atmosphere will still appear busy and interesting.

Let’s be honest, if we only consider the beauty of Hoi An old town, the amazing architecture, the fantastic colours and the local way of life; it is now a perfect time to enjoy it, creating a touch of exclusivity, as the massive crowds are now absent.

For those we’ve seen the Old town flooded by waves of tourists waves, the current situation seems almost surreal! 

But Hoian is not just about looking at buildings, rivers and walls! People are the soul of this magical town.  Travel and travel photography, make sense if we connect, understand, discover, learn more. 

With the current situation, we have to face it: it’s more complicated! 

A balance to find? 

In fact, it might not be the best time to travel the world, and Vietnam has now banned many countries from entering its territory or from getting any visa. This in order to stop the virus to spread and to offer a safer atmosphere to all the people being here, locals or foreigners. 

From the beginning and until now, the measures taken in the country have been very efficient. All the population is being involved in the plan, and it’s easy to understand that they expect the same kind of behaviour from people visiting. 

As the local economy in Hoian/Danang relies mostly on tourism, the current situation is a real challenge. Small businesses struggle and need to find a balance between safety and incomes. Visiting the country now is a good way to support local activities. You might need extra flexibility and be ready to change your plans at the last minute. But holidays are made to get rid of any schedule, aren’t they? 

Yes, Hoian is still superb and visiting now is possible and might even be more enjoyable in some ways.

What about photography in Hoi An during Covid-19? 

Less people = better photo ? First of all, it depends what you’re looking for. If you aim to capture “clean” shots  (ie without being photo-bombed by a flock of tourists wearing pineapple shirts), it’s definitely going to be a great time for you. For daily life, just as usual, follow the local habits. The early mornings offer an incredible atmosphere while Vietnamese people go to the market, ride their bicycle/motorbike on their daily commute… Sunrises and sunsets are not less impressive and the countryside is covered with shades of green. You could even find some unexpected things happening, like the numerous kites flying over the rice paddies between Hoian and the beach at the end of the day. A good way for families to spend some time outside and entertain the kids staying home all day as schools are closed. 

So there is no doubt we can find good subjects in Hoi An.

On the other hand, if you were looking for super busy situations to practise some street photography, you might find it a bit more challenging compared to crowded afternoons Hoi An used to know.

You’re likely to end up with more face-masks than usual on your images but well, it’s also a way to share the current atmosphere in town. In fact, many Vietnamese are wearing face masks all year long, mostly as sun protection. 

Getting close to people is a more complicated exercise as, especially being a foreigner, you might be seen as a potential threat. I think it’s good here not to try to go too deep into the explanations, as those reactions are based on fear. People hear and read from the media: new cases confirmed being travellers, western countries having quick increases of patients,… All of that brings a feeling of suspicion toward the “others”. 

The fact that most travellers visiting the town are not wearing masks, when most of the population is, doesn’t help to ease the situation. 

Once again, it’s pointless to debate here about the efficiency of the mask when most of the locals have already adopted it. Fear is not something reasonable and trying to show that we have a “stronger scientific/medical understanding” won’t help. 

If I try to explain to anyone who has a “snake phobia” that “it’s stupid to be afraid of snakes” while handling a big viper just in front of their faces, I am pretty sure to fail in getting any attention.

Finding a way to make the situation more “comfortable” for everyone is the first step for better communication. 

Travel photography is not about shooting everything from far with a super-telephoto lens but instead, being into the action, stepping “inside” and finding the right interaction. Getting closer is usually the way to create images. But it’s going to be more challenging and for some time, it might be even wiser not to explore some areas in the countryside. First, as a safety precaution but also to respect people there. Also, imagine how difficult it is to take photos of people who might be afraid of you…

Wearing a mask in crowded places, for example, busy markets is a positive sign you send to people around, blending a little more into the local habits. Focusing on places where tourists are already here is a good choice as people there are not badly surprised to see you hanging around. 

Remember as well that popular places, usually packed with tourists, are currently much more quiet than normal. The overall experience will be anyway interesting for you. Hoian Old town hasn’t been that quiet for years but its magical atmosphere hasn’t gone! 

Stay open and positive (maybe with an extra plus), be flexible and remember those good photos opportunities come naturally when you have a good experience. Grab a mask, draw a big smile on it and make yourself become a source of jokes instead of fear, definitely a good and welcome change in a suspicious atmosphere! 

Article by Jean Ramiere.

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