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.
info@sharitucker.com
stucker@atcadventure.com
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.

Preparing for Adventures in South East Asia – 1

I’ve known since before I left for Peru that I would be going to South East Asia in August, but I’ve kept it fairly quiet and haven’t said much because I’ve been too busy to finalize the plans. I mean really, until flights are in place, a trip doesn’t really seem real!

All of a sudden, I’m only 2 months away from departure. Yikes! I just realized that this second and it totally freaked me out!

About a month ago, one of the superstars that I work with at The Adventure Travel Company found me a super deal on flights. Everything that I was finding was pricing at $2200 .. yuck. Mind you, I did have to get from Halifax (where we have crappy flight choices) to Yangon, Myanmar … which has even crappier flight choices. We wiggled the dates around a bit and worked with Bangkok instead of all the way to Yangon and there we have it.

In the end, I secured flights from Halifax to Bangkok, Thailand for under $1600. People keep asking me how long the flight is and what route I’m taking. Well … it was one of many options for routing and although not the shortest, it really isn’t that bad.

On August 14th I fly Halifax to Washington to Japan to Bangkok (arrive late at night August 15th).
Travel time over 27 hours.

Then I have to transfer from the Bangkok International airport to the regional one. This should be an adventure at midnight in a new country after 24 hours of travel. I’m sure I’ll be top of my game! ha ha ha

I fly out from the regional airport on August 16th early in the morning and land in Yangon, Myanmar a couple of hours later. I’ll either be totally wiped and barely awake, or excited beyond belief to see this amazing less discovered country.

A few weeks back I wrote a blog posted called I don’t want your tainted point of view … And, I completely stand by that. I have done very little research into where I am going, other than enough to know about safety, health and accommodations. I’m not by any means ‘winging’ the trip. I’m traveling with an organized group for almost the entire time I am away. However, I am being very careful about what I read and take in from others who have travelled to these areas. I really want to see it through my own eyes first. That’s what I love most about traveling to new destinations.

What I have done so far is the following:

Checked the Canadian Government website for visa requirements for Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand.

I’ve contacted the embassies of Burma and Vietnam to get my visa application paperwork. Thailand doesn’t require a visa because I will only be there as a tourist for a few days. And, the Cambodian one I will get at the border when I enter the country.

I visited my family doctor and contacted Napier Travel Health to discuss if I need any new vaccines or medications for my travels.

I have booked all of my international flights (United), my domestic flights (Air Asia), my two group tours (Tucan & G Adventures) and three nights of hotel stays in Ho Chi Minh city when I will be on my own.

I’ll soon be posting blogs with information about each of those tasks as they are not as simple or as fast as you may think and I’ve discovered all kinds of interesting tid-bits along the way.

So, watch for posts coming shortly about the process for applying for visas, domestic flights and low cost carriers and my super exciting itineraries!

It’s my first time heading off to Asia and I’m super excited! A little scared too … my comfort zone is Latin America of which I still have much more to discover! But, no time like the present to get my adventures in. Young, child-less, not married and relatively healthy … I may never be all of those things at once again!

Here’s to my life being one big adventure. I hope you’ll tag along for the updates!

2014 Photo Tour Possibilities

The results are in from lots of people who are interested in joining me for photo tours in 2014 & 2015. Thanks to everyone who responded to my quick survey.

As I am only 19 days away from Peru Through the Lens 2013 photo tour, you can imagine I’m very excited! I hope you will follow along with my adventures as I will be blogging regularly while on the photo tour! Sign up for blogs to come direct to your email on the right hand side of the screen where it says ‘Get my blog posts direct to your email’.

I am also in a place where I am starting to make plans for my 2014 adventure.

A LOT of people have expressed interest in a photo tour to Asia or Eastern Europe. Although not at all finalized, I am looking for a little bit more feedback from anyone who has a serious interest in joining me on one of my photo tours. I’d like to know how you feel about the following destinations and if you would be interested in visiting either of these destinations with me in 2014.

CROATIA

A country that is gaining popularity quickly, but is not yet main stream. Beautiful architecture, a Unesco World Heritage site (Old city of Dubrovnik) and stunning vistas, right on the Adriatic Sea. Lots of nature, possibility for visiting various islands and a home stay. Best to visit between May and October. I would likely look at May/June or September/October. If I decide on this option, it would likely be a 7-10 day photo tour, with the option, on an individual basis, to stay in Croatia or visit more of Europe on your own, or on another type of tour for additional time. Tour price is likely to be in the $2000 – $3000 range, depending on length of tour. Plus flights which will be in the $1600 – $2100 range, or you can fly on Avion / aeroplan etc to off set that cost. (and you have a year to save the money & build the points!)

I might also consider adding The Bay of Kotor in Montenegro and Sarajevo / Mostar in Bosnia & Herzegovnia. Or, I may simply arrange this as an add on tour that you can opt-in to for after the end of the photo tour.

VIETNAM

Well known for it’s beauty and history. Many a photographer has dreamed of visiting Vietnam to take photos of the rice fields, the friendly people, the food, the Mekong Delta and the floating markets. Not to mention OH SO BEAUTIFUL Halong Bay. And the vibrant Ho Chi Minh City. I would be looking at a 10 – 14 day tour here because it is further to go and so much area to cover. Price is likely to be close to the $3000 mark because several internal flights would be needed to ensure we could see everything (but hopefully not above $3000) + international flights which range from $1800 – $2300. Of course, we would certainly make a strong effort to get them as cheap as possible, or you can off set flights with Avion or Aeroplan points.

I might also consider adding Angkor Wat, Cambodia for 3 or 4 days as an optional add on at the end of the photo tour.

With either option, I will be looking into a home stay experience as well as some kind of volunteer photo project. I feel that these are two strong features that make my photo tours exceptional and unique instead of average and they are two parts that are close to my heart.

If you could kindly leave a comment below express your thoughts on if you would be interested in either of these locations for 2014, I would greatly appreciate it. Or, you can send an email to info@sharitucker.com.

If you would like to keep up to date on the latest photo tour news, as well as photo tips and tricks and destination information, you can sign up for the photo tour newsletter which comes out approximately once a month. Click here to sign up.

OTHER DESTINATIONS
For those who are curious, quite a few people expressed interest in other areas for photo tours. Below is an overview of what you can expect (or not expect) from my photo tours in the next few years.

AFRICA
People expressed interest in various areas of Africa, or African Safaris. At this time, I do not intend to do any photo tours for African Safaris. There are MANY companies who offer this and I don’t feel I need to reinvent the wheel. If you have your heart set on this, please contact me and I would be happy to help you find the right tour for you with a reputable company. Or, if you don’t want to travel alone, get 4 or 5 friends together and I can put together a custom group itinerary for you with local African companies and guides who will take you to the absolute best spots for wildlife viewing. Just because I am not planning to break into this market doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go! I would love to help you get there!

GALAPAGOS ISLANDS
Also high on the interest list is the fabulous Galapagos Islands, which I visited in February 2012. I DO plan to do a photo tour to the Galapagos, however, it will not be in 2014. I am looking at 2015 or 2016 for this destination, but likely won’t decide until sometime in 2014. I can tell you now, that the Galapagos tour will be more in the $4500 – 5000 range + flights which range in the $1500+ range. It will be well worth it for any animal lovers, bird lovers and budding nature photographers. It is an amazing destination!

AUSTRALIA & ANTARCTICA
Australia and Antarctica each came up several times. I’m not likely to organize a photo tour to either of these locations, but would be happy to help you get there or find another photo tour to join. Both of these would be fairly expensive. Australia isn’t really a place you visit for only 7 – 14 days and both are pricey to get to. The bulk of people who responded to my survey are looking for tours in the $2000 – $5000 price range. Antarctica trips start more in the $8000 – $10 000 range. If you are interested, I can certainly help you get there and will be completely jealous of all the amazing photo opportunities that you have!

IRELAND
Ireland was also highly requested. It is not on my immediate list, but I may consider this as an option at a later time.

In my ‘other’ life (not as a photographer, but as an Adventure Travel Specialist), I can help you find the perfect trip anywhere in the world … solo, in a group, a family … for photography or not. Or, if you are part of a photo club that would like to organize a photo tour for your members, I’d be happy to help you with any of this. If you have specific travel requests you can contact me at stucker@atcadventure.com.

I look forward to everyone’s feedback on the possibilities of Croatia or Vietnam for 2014! Both of which are destinations on my list of travels for the near future.

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)