Vietnam: Through the Lens

The 2014 Photo Tour will be taking place in Vietnam from April 6th – 19th, 2014 and I couldn’t be more excited. We have an absolutely fantastic itinerary in place combining workshops, hands on photo experience, the main cities and sights with loads of free time to explore at your own pace.

In planning the itinerary, I spent great time and effort on making sure that activities would coincide with the best times of day, and special events. It is no accident that we will be in Hoi An for Full Moon Festival and I can’t wait for the night photography workshop and to explore the pedestrian-only streets at night with camera in hand to capture the colourful display of lanterns, the folklore and festivities.

This photo tour is for you if:

You love to travel.
You have an interest in photography at any level – beginners with a digital SLR camera are welcome.
You would like to stop using automatic and learn the full potential of manual.
You want to learn to take better photos and look at the world from a different perspective.
You want to explore a new country with a group and take beautiful photos, but don’t want to feel like you are holding anyone up or that you don’t have enough time to get the photo you want!

Vietnam: Through the Lens – Full Itinerary Details

Feel free to contact me to answer any of your questions or concerns.
902.482.8000 ext 2306 (Monday – Friday – day time hours)
902.402.7646 (evenings & weekends)

Vietnam Visa

Surprise surprise … My Vietnam visa arrived this week. The turn around was WAY faster than expected. I had it back in seven days (maybe less … I hadn’t checked my mail for a couple of days).

Here’s what it looks like (minus the big thick red / black lines that block out my numbers)

Vietnam Visa
Vietnam Visa

I’m pretty excited that now I can get ready to send off for my Myanmar one! Hopefully it’ll come back quickly as well and I’ll be all ‘legalized’ to go on my next big adventure!

Traveling Visas

So far in my travels of 12 different countries I’ve been very lucky to not have to apply in advance for any visas. In fact, being a Canadian citizen makes us very lucky as there are fewer visas that we need to enter many countries. I guess technically in the Dominican Republic I probably had a tourist visa as I was there for 7 weeks and I feel like I also had a tourist visa for the Galapagos Islands, but both were done right at the airport. You paid for them, and then went on my way.

Now I’m entering a new realm of travel …. South East Asia …

With a little research on the Government of Canada Travel Website I was able to relatively quickly find out the visa situation for the countries that I will be visiting.

Burma – Visa needed in advance
Vietnam – Visa needed in advance
Cambodia – Visa needed – pay for it at the border when you enter the country
Thailand – No visa required for stays under 30 days if you fly in, or for up to 15 days if you travel overland from a neighbouring country (which is what I will be doing).

At about 11-12 weeks before my departure, I called the Burma Embassy to ask for the requirements / application and fees. The nice lady said she would send it out be email, which I promptly received.

I also called the Vietnam Embassy to get the requirements and they pointed me in the direction to print the application form.

It took me at least two weeks to get around to having my six passport photos taken and filling out the applications. Now, I can only send one application at a time because each one has to have my physical passport at the Embassy to place the visa inside. I must admit, I’m excited to see what they look like, but sending your passport away via mail is SCARY! Of course, it is sent by Xpress post or FedEx so that you can track it, but still … it’s a little scary. And, because they have your passport, you can’t do any out of country traveling while you are applying for visas. Not really an issue for me, but I can see it being an issue for someone who regularly travels to the US on business, or people who live in border towns and shop ‘over across’ on a regular basis. No passport = no other country than Canada for that period of time.

On June 20th, I made my way to Canada Post to get the required money order for payment of the Vietnam visa in the amount of $93. I had the paperwork filled out and the required passport photo, so I was all set. The directions clearly said to send it via courier and include a return pre-paid courier envelope (preferably FedEx).

So, off I went downtown to FedEx. I explained the situation to the staff member and he told me firmly that FedEx does not do any kind of prepaid return envelopes. That I could not in any way purchase something and pay for it in order for them to send me back by passport. I tried to explain that the visa application specified FedEx, but he stood his ground and told me I would have to do it by Canada Post.

I nearly lost it. But, I took a deep breath, walked out and returned to Canada Post. They were more than happy to help me both send the package and include a prepaid return envelope … both of which are trackable. Phew!

20 minutes late arriving to work that morning, but seeing as the trip is part work, I guess that will be forgiven.

Now the waiting game is on. They say 10 business days from the time they receive the application. So, here’s hoping that I will have my Vietnam visa in my hands by July 9th or 10th. I then quickly have to turn around and send off for my Burma / Myanmar visa that same week as it takes up to 15 business days. Yikes! That’s cutting right in to the beginning of August and I leave on August 14th.

I already have my money order for $30 purchased, although they could only fit TO: Embassy of Myanmar on it, not the required ‘Embassy of the Union of the Republic of Myanmar’. Hope that doesn’t cause any problems, but there’s simply not room for all of that on the Money order! Just a matter of finishing the application, getting a letter from my employer and heading back to good old Canada Post to send everything off.

This stuff is a little bit stressful! Sending your passport by mail … running around … paying the visa fees, the courier fees and the return courier fees as well. So much easier if you live in Ottawa and can just hand deliver everything to each Embassy. And, then, the worst part is the waiting … is everything filled in correctly? Are they going to approve the visa or will it be declined for not dotting an I or crossing a T somewhere along the way.

I sure hope it all works out in the end because I only have seven weeks to departure! Yikes!

I will keep you updated!

My summer adventure in Asia

Earlier this year on social media I spent some time talking about how much I wanted to do a cycling trip in Vietnam or Burma. I even joined the gym and started biking. Yay me! You know … until it wasn’t YAY me anymore and I fell off the work out train just like 75% of people who join in January.

Well, I’m still going once or twice a week … I guess that isn’t horrible. And, I’m trying really hard to get back in to it for the next 8 weeks before I head out on my first ever trip to Asia.

So, why Asia?

Initially it started with an interest in Vietnam. Funny enough, not the history which is what Vietnam is often noted for. I was interested in the amazing photo opportunities and I had heard that cycling through the countryside in Vietnam was breath taking. So, Vietnam went to the top of my wish list.

Then, through work at The Adventure Travel Company I began to take an interest in Burma. It’s a country that has only opened up it’s borders in the past few years to tourists and is just slowly gaining enough stability for people to want to travel there.

Near the end of March, I found out about a great opportunity to go Burma on an agent trip. It’s not free, but it is discounted and it sounded like an amazing adventure to a place that is little known and not well traveled. I put in my application and was immediately accepted and my place was held.

Then I took off to lead the Peru Through the Lens photo tour for two weeks and didn’t have time to think about my ‘next’ adventure because I was busy living an adventure. Tough problem to have don’t you think?

As soon as I returned from Peru, I confirmed my spot on the Agent trip to Burma with Tucan Travel and a few weeks later, booked my International flights. All the while, trying to figure out what else to do in Asia! There was NO WAY I was doing 24 hours of travel time in each direction just for a 9 day trip in Burma. Despite how fantastic those 9 days are going to be … I wanted to make the most out of my international air fare and excruciating travel time!

Since Vietnam was at the top of my list, I decided I would go there as well … and the hunt was on for the perfect trip that would fit within my dates.

I searched high and low … Tucan Travel, G Adventures, Intrepid, Travel Indochina … Nothing seemed to fit my dates and my desire for Vietnam. Through all of the searching, repeated trips including Cambodia came up and I started looking more closely at them because I wasn’t having much luck with just Vietnam. And then, I fell in love with the idea of visiting Angkor Wat. After a lot of searching through trips with different companies and trying to match them up with my dates, here is my itinerary for my super South East Asia trip this summer.

August 14 – Depart Halifax in the morning.
August 15 – Arrive Bangkok, Thailand close to midnight.
August 16 – Transfer from the International airport to the regional airport for my early morning flight to Yangon. Check into my hotel and sleep. Hopefully I’ll have enough energy to explore a little as well, but mostly, sleep.

August 17 – 25 – Blissful Burma – Tucan Travel – Agent Trip
August 17 – No planned activities – Explore at leisure.
August 18 – 19 – Shwedagon Pagoda / Overnight bus to Mandalay. Mingun / cruise up the river. Yadanabon market.
August 20 – 21 – Guided bike tour of the Temple ruins of Bagan. Optional hot air balloon ride at sunrise or sunset. (This is not optional for me … it is the part I am most excited about. I may even pay to do it at sunrise AND sunset!)
Aug 22 – Visit local villages and the Elephant Conservation Centre where I’ll get to wash and feed the elephants. EEEEEEEEKKKKKK! I’m super excited about this. There’s also opportunities to ride the elephants and trek into the jungle with them.
Aug 23 – Inle Lake visiting floating gardens and sampling local tea. Visit markets and a cheroot factory.
Aug 24 – We fly to Yangon and spend time exploring the markets, colonial buildings and the Yangon river. We also return to the Shwedagon Pagoda to see it illuminated at night.
Aug 25 – I will depart Yangon and fly to Bangkok. After several hours layover, I’ll be on my way to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam.

Aug 26 – 27 – Currently I have no specific plans. I suspect I will spend some time in my hotel blogging and catching up with friends and family back home as I expect to be without internet and cell service for most of my stay in Burma. Other than that, I might try to do a Mekong Delta home stay, a city tour or cycling tour in the countryside.

Aug 28 – Sept 5 – G Adventures – Cambodia Experience (this is for myself. I will simply be traveling with a group, not leading it, not responsible for anyone, just seeing the sites for me!)

Aug 28 – No planned activities. Sight seeing in Saigon.
Aug 29 – Mekong Delta, Vietnam
Aug 30 & 31 – Phnom Pen, Cambodia
Sept 1 – 3 – Siem Reap / Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Sept 4 – Bangkok, Thailand
Sept 5 – Departure day
Sept 5 – Arrive home in Halifax late at night.

Ideas to save money for a Photo Tour

So many people say they are interested in taking a photo tour, but don’t have the money. Now, now … that’s not true. You can find money to travel if you prioritize it! Most people think it is just a pipe dream. Something that would be nice, but they will never do. They wonder how come others can afford it or wish that they could go. Well, why not change that attitude and make it happen?

I’ve compiled a few easy ideas that you can implement immediately to help save money for one of my Through the Lens photo tours.

1. Find an empty jar or container in your house and cover it with the Itinerary of your dreams … or random photos of the destination. Then, every time you have spare change, no matter how small, pop it in this container. It is amazing how much spare change we have around. And, you won’t miss that quarter or loonie out of your pocket or purse. It’ll add up fast!

2. Christmas is coming. Why not make a calendar ($15 – $25), or frame prints of your favourite images to give as Christmas gifts. Every year as Christmas becomes more and more commercial, I enjoy homemade and from the heart gifts much more than store bought! And, 5×7 or 8×10 prints are less than $5 each! Save yourself a bit of money this Christmas and give from the heart!

3. Do you have a few really great photos that people are always saying they’d like a copy of? Don’t give it away for free! Your friends and family should be happy to pay you a reasonable price for a piece of art that they can hang in their home. In fact, why not post those photos ‘for sale’ on Facebook, your blog or website … or around the office and take orders for prints!

4. Run a family or pet photography special for your friends and family. This is a great way to practice your photography skills, make a little money and reconnect with friends & family. You reconnect when you send the email out to let them know about your fundraising efforts, then you get to see them in person! And don’t forget, you can provide photos on DVD, or for downloading online. There is relatively no cost to this for you, just your precious time. But, what’s a few hours of doing something you love to save some money to travel to your dream destination?

5. Take photos for your co-workers, friends or family who are participating in Movember. Donate half of the money to their Movember campaign and keep the other half for your travel fund!

6. Cancel your cable. I haven’t had cable for almost four years. I don’t watch a lot of television shows, so I keep up to date with them on my own time, online. Cable can be $50 – $100 / month. Give it up from now until after you return from your trip. Make sure you take the money you are saving and stash it in your travel fund though so you see it piling up! Six months could equal $600 or more. And, I bet after six months without it, you won’t even want it back!

7. Do you like to bake? Sell baked goods to your friends & family. I don’t like baking. If you offer me a dozen cookies, I would pay you for them! Spend all day one Sunday baking and have people pick up their orders from you that night. Make sure you remember to price accordingly for all of your supplies including however you are packaging them!

8. Take part in a local flea market by renting a table (usually $20-$50) and do Spring or Fall cleaning. Get rid of all of the items in your house that you don’t need. Or, sell them on kijiji! Put the money toward new camera gear for your trip, or trip costs themselves!

9. I can’t remember where I heard this idea, but I won’t take credit for it … Take orders from family & friends for photos that you WILL take while you are in destination. That’s right, you make a commitment to them to take a special photo for them … it can either be something specific that they request, or it can be a random photo of something that reminds you of them while you are in destination. It’s a great fun, inspiring challenge for while you are traveling!

10. Check your Air miles, Aeroplan or Avion points. Maybe you have a free flight waiting for you! If not, maybe with a some strategic planning of where you grocery shop or buy gas you can get enough points in the next few months!

11. Get your deposit in to The Adventure Travel Company right away and then make regular deposits until you are all paid up! Or, pay it all in advance on your line of credit and let the pressure of having debt encourage you to pay it off even quicker!

Need help with any of the ideas above? Just ask!

There are a million ways to save money for anything that you put your mind to. These are just a few that I think would be relatively easy and quick to implement.

Don’t forget to get your deposit in to The Adventure Travel Company right away to hold your spot and you can start saving money to tick a new destination off your bucket list! (2014 – Vietnam)