Hanoi is a city that will challenge your assumptions and expand your beliefs. It is a legit, you-are-not-in-Kansas-anymore Southeast Asian experience: chaotic, traditional, alluring, friendly and not overly westernized.
You’d be hard-pressed as a photographer to find a city more compelling to explore than Hanoi. It’s the historic capital of Vietnam, and boasts a thousand years of history.
Our November workshops are timed to take advantage of cooler weather in Hanoi and on our rural excursion to Tam Coc and other destinations.
Our photo workshops, led by David Hobby and Hanoi-based producer Thu Hoai, are designed to help you grow both as a traveler and as a photographer. You’ll learn to approach travel more like a working photojournalist, using your camera as a catalyst to better understand another culture.
Vietnam is not a wealthy country. The economic constraints on display are hard to miss. But so, too, is the ingenuity and can-do approach. The older generations’ bicycles have given way to this generation’s scooters as the whole country builds for a better future. You you would be wise not to bet against them.
*Trip pricing includes Vietnam entry visa, in-country Covid insurance, nightly single-occupancy accommodations in Hanoi, daily breakfast, airport transfers, three group dinners, transportation and double occupancy lodging on our rural excursion. You’ll receive individual and group editing sessions and a selection of classes throughout the trip as part of your 8 days of hands-on instruction with workshop leader David Hobby.
Please note that roundtrip airfare from your city of origin is not included.
David completed more than 10,000 assignments in his two decades as a staff photojournalist before leaving The Baltimore Sun in 2006 to found Strobist.com. Over the past 16 years, he has led dozens of photo workshops all around the world — including teaching for Santa Fe Workshops in Cuba and Mexico and launching the X-Peditions travel workshop series in January 2018. This will be his 20th trip to Asia.
In 2014, David created the video series The Traveling Photographer, for Lynda.com. Shot on location in Hong Kong, Dubai, London, Paris and New York City, The Traveling Photographer teaches photo enthusiasts how to travel with the heart of a vagabond and the eye of a photojournalist.
Thu Hoai is a professional photo/video producer and lifelong Hanoi resident. Which means that she, a) understands the needs and priorities of photographers, and b) knows Hanoi and northern Vietnam like the back of her hand.
Any seasoned journalist knows that your efficiency when working in a far-flung city is greatly improved by teaming up with a local “fixer,” as such producers are often called. We are very lucky to have Thu serving in that capacity for our trip to to Hanoi.
If she can’t find it, get it or arrange it, suffice to say she knows someone who can.
- Our group is limited to 12 participants, which allows for both individualized instruction and sufficient time to get to know your fellow travelers, both through small-group shooting excursions and full-group nighttime social outings.
- Our itinerary is crafted to give a complete and well-considered photographic experience. In addition to regular classes and editing sessions, we reserve generous amounts of “on your own” time for shooting and exploring the city.
- Hanoi, where we will base, is frenetic and vibrant. But your trip also includes an overnight excursion into rural Northern Vietnam. We’ll stay in a small, family-run lodge on the lake in Tam Coc, Ninh Binh. If the surrounding mountains conjure up images of of King Kong, that’s because this is where they filmed the movie. You’ll have a variety of options when you decide how you’ll spend your time here.
- On the way to Tam Coc, we’ll visit a rural village that will be busy making nearly 100% of the incense that will be used in the upcoming Tet holiday. (Imagine, well, a lot of incense. Now imagine way more incense than that.)
- On the way back, we’ll visit a traditional pottery-making operation to see and photograph techniques that have been in continuous use for hundreds of years. For more info on the Tam Coc excursion, see our FAQ section below.
- This is not a tourist bubble experience. You’ll learn to stretch stretch and yourself as a traveler, to gain the confidence and experience to travel to a wider variety of destinations.
Our Approach to Education
X-Peditions is run by former journalists, and we bring that ethic to our visual approach.
Like any good journalist, our goal is to be well-researched and well-informed by the time we arrive in-country. So our educational component starts long before we depart for Hanoi. We cover things like safety considerations, cultural background, what to bring, how to get around, mobile data access, etc.
Then we move into helping you to refine your visual approach: compass point, research, people skills, seeing and finessing light, and working towards a more layered approach to your composition.
While each of these things is important, most photo enthusiasts overweight composition and light, and underweight things like research and people skills. During your trip, you’ll learn first-hand that some of the most productive skills you can develop as a photographer have nothing to do with f/stops and shutter speeds.
As of our third full day, our photo discussions become less formal. By this time, you’re out making photos. So we’ll want to see what’s working well, and where we can help you improve. So we shift our weight more into editing, both one-to-one and group edits.
We’ll adjust our priorities with the rhythm of the day (and night) to maximize and balance both personal and photographic experiences. We’ll always be out shooting around the edges of the day — and especially at blue hour — when the city is at its visual best.
When the midday sun lowers your photographic odds we’ll be indoors with classes and editing. After dusk, we’ll turn our attention to the vibrant nightlife Hanoi offers: seemingly the whole population comes out on the streets. And that little six-by-ten-foot T-shirt shop you remember from earlier this afternoon has now somehow morphed into a mini bar. And yeah, you’ll bring your camera. But a big part of successfully coexisting with your camera is also knowing when to put it down. Don’t forget to just experience the trip.
Speaking of cameras, X-Peditions are unique for another reason. The name itself is a nod to Fuijﬁlm’s X Series cameras. Small and lightweight, but with fantastic image quality, Fujis are ideally suited for travel photography.
Do you have to shoot Fuji to come along? No, you don’t. But no matter what your camera brand, we will stress the beneﬁts of traveling light. We want you to learn to be more conﬁdent, and less encumbered.
Every possession is a burden. And nowhere is that more true than when you are traveling. Working with less gear on the road is a blessing. It’s more culturally respectful, and safer. Most important, a neck full of cameras should not be the ﬁrst thing your subject notices about you. You always want to be seen as a person ﬁrst, a photographer second.
You’ll hear this all week: to upgrade your photos, upgrade your interpersonal experiences.
Please note: It is possible that our schedule may shift due to internal variables while in Vietnam. Such is life when traveling in a developing country. But here’s our working plan.
We’ll have a designated arrival day, at the end of which we’ll meet up for an early evening group dinner. (You may arrive earlier if you wish, and we’ll be happy to help you to make arrangements so your stay in Hanoi is seamless.) The next morning is day one, our first full day as a group in Vietnam.
We spend our first three days in Hanoi. This is a mix of class time, some pocket experiences to put you in interesting places with your camera, and plenty of on-your-own (OYO) time.
Hanoi offers much to a wandering photographer. The daily din of life unfolds on the streets. You can shoot early morning ballroom dancing at nearby Hoan Kiem Lake. Or laughter yoga in the park. Or Hanoi’s famous water puppet shows. Or explore the endless warrens of back streets and alleys. We want you freely exploring the city, especially at the edges of the day when the light is good. So we build our schedule around those priorities.
On day four, we head south to visit some more rural areas in the country. We’ll stop in a small village where they spend all year making incense, completely by hand. The incense production steps up in the fall, when we’ll be there, as the country starts to ramp up preparations for Tet, Vietnam’s Lunar New Year.
Seventy percent of the incense used for Tet is made in this little village. If the weather cooperates, we’ll get to see and photograph the sun drying of literally millions of sticks of vibrant magenta incense.
Then we’ll head further south to the village of Tam Coc, where you’ll be able to explore the area’s rice paddies either by rowboat or from the top one of the steep limestone outcroppings. There’s also an 800-year-old temple nearby that is worth the short walk to visit. We’ll enjoy a home-cooked group dinner that night, before turning in at a family-run homestay. (Note: This is our one night of double occupancy on the trip.)
The next morning, day five, you’ll have time to explore Tam Coc a bit more before we leave at midday to head back north. On our way back to Hanoi, we’ll detour slightly to visit and photograph a traditional pottery-making operation before ending up back in the city for the night.
Days six, seven and eight, we are based back in Hanoi. At this point we’ll be mostly in individual shooting mode, either via street photography or developing any stories you might be pursuing. You’ll have plenty of time to explore, and/or to drop into some of pocket experiences in (or nearby to) the city.
We time our visit so that the last three nights of our trip fall on the weekend in Hanoi. These mild November nights are filled with great food, cold beer and pedestrian-converted streets teeming with people out for the evening. Our hotel is right in the heart of the city, an easy walk to the pedestrian streets and near-endless street food options.
On the last evening, we’ll meet up to enjoy a closing group dinner and revisit the photos we’ve been making over the course of the week.
The next day, on day nine, we’re off to the airport — unless you have decided to extend your trip a bit either in Vietnam or in one of the other nearby SE Asian countries. Thailand, Cambodia and Laos are all within easy and economical reach if you are so inclined.
Throughout our days in Hanoi, you are welcome to choose from our suggestions on where to explore. Or strike out on your own — especially if you have discovered a good story to shoot.
We’ll often have plans for activities in the evenings. Or just head out and explore. Hanoi is full of interesting bars and restaurants.
For music lovers, Binh Minh’s Jazz Club awaits: Great tunes, no cover, drinks with your new friends and a light level low enough to challenge all but the most determined photographer.
Not up for a night out? Take the elevator to our hotel’s rooftop bar to relax and enjoy the view.
Our ace in the hole is Thu, our local producer. She is always on the prowl for behind-the-scenes looks at Hanoi. Perhaps you’d like to spend an hour or two learning to cook a traditional Vietnamese dish? She can arrange that.
Frequently asked questions (please read carefully)
Is Airfare Covered
We no longer include airfare in our X-Peditions package, and prices have been reduced as a result. If you are new to international travel, we can help you choose a flight. With heavy competition to SE Asian destinations, airfares are often less expensive than most people might expect.
What about getting to the hotel?
We will pre-arrange your transportation from the airport to the hotel. A driver will meet you at a specific location that is easy to find. (You will be in WiFi network at Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi, including outside in the pickup areas.)
What about our lodgings?
We will stay, single occupancy, in a comfortable hotel in the Old Quarter. The hotel is in a tourist district, which means it is very close to most everything of interest. Also any necessities are easily accessible. But a short walk quickly puts you in the more native areas of Hanoi. The hotel has WiFi.
What about our excursions into rural areas?
Having traveled all the way to Hanoi, we will take the extra effort to travel into rural Vietnam. Our excursion will be more spartan than our stay in Hanoi, but also very rewarding.
Our three destinations include two places where you are very likely to be the only westerners in the area. And our third destination is more touristed — but for good reason.
The village where they make the incense is pretty remarkable. Easily millions of sticks of incense. And everything is done by hand.
In Tam Coc, you’ll have the afternoon, evening and the next morning, with a variety of locations/activities to choose from. Visit a temple. Climb a mountain for incredible views. Take a boat ride — more incredible views. Visit a high-end textiles/clothing factory for a look into how Vietnam works behind the scenes.
Rent a scooter if you like (prior experience is highly recommended) to gain a little travel efficiency, or just to explore. Fair warning: a scooter will set you back a whole $6 for the day.
On the way back from Hanoi, we’ll visit a traditional pottery factory where you’ll see people making large traditional vessels for storing rice wine. This place receives truckloads of dirt, and logs for burning. That’s it. And it puts out beautiful, traditional pots. It’s pretty cool.
What about cell / data?
Having full-time internet connectivity is extremely useful when traveling in a developing country. It also affords more safety. Fortunately, this is cheap and easy in Vietnam.
If you are certain that your phone is both off-contract and unlocked, you can pick up a data-only local SIM card very cheaply. Thu, our local producer, can help you.
If your phone is not unlocked, you can rent a pocket-sized WiFi hotspot that will give you WiFi-via-cell wherever you go in the country. (If you’re not sure how to do this, we’ll show you. It’s easy.)
We’ll communicate via WhatsApp, which gives us an easy way to stay in touch with each other, share photos (that happens a LOT) or communicate via voice. WhatsApp is compatible with both iOS and Android, and we’ll have our group set up and running before we leave for Vietnam.
What's the food like?
In Vietnam, the food is definitely a high point. It is delicious, nutritious and inexpensive.
Traveling in developing countries in an exercise in learning to manage the risks in order to get the most out of your experience. This approach is especially relevant for food. You’ll learn several strategies to help to minimize any associated risks, both on this trip and on future travels.
In Vietnam, vegetarian options are available but they are not ubiquitous. So you should be prepared to be a little more diligent and/or creative. Please feel free to reach out to us with any specific questions.
Caveats aside, for most people who visit Vietnam, the food is seen as an overwhelmingly positive aspect of the trip.
What photography skill level is required?
This is a great trip for photographers of all levels. For intermediate and advanced photographers, our role is to help you improve your skills and to open new, unexplored directions for your photography. For beginners, we’ll go slow and there will be plenty of time to talk about process — how to compose your shots, what the best camera settings are for the situation and how to get over any nervousness of doing street photography.
Can I bring a non-photographer +1?
Unfortunately, we don’t allow +1s who are not participating in the workshop. On this trip, we seek to adopt the mindset of working photojournalists. Even under the best circumstances, the spouse/signiﬁcant other/friend will alter the group dynamic for everyone involved.
What kind of gear should I bring?
Gear is a very personal decision and really depends on your personal style and what you hope to get out of the trip. We’re shooting and teaching with Fuji cameras. But the most important thing is to learn to travel light and shoot unencumbered by excess gear no matter what your chosen brand.
Bring a camera you are familiar with. For street photography, most photographers will beneﬁt from a 35mm or 50mm full frame lens, or the equivalent focal length on a smaller chip. For the landscapes and/or rice harvest on our trip to the farming village, a wide lens and a telephoto zoom will probably be helpful for you.
This trip will not focus on photographic lighting. If you want to bring a ﬂash, that’s ﬁne. But it is not at all necessary.
Photographers with less experience tend to bring more gear, often way too much. In truth, there is an opportunity cost to having either too much or too little gear. But as your experience grows, you are likely to winnow your kit down further and further. We’ll talk about this issue speciﬁcally, and at length in the months leading up to the trip to help you make appropriate and informed choices.
The bottom line is that this is your trip and the ultimate decision on how much gear to bring is entirely up to you. But we are happy to help you decide.
Is it safe?
Here is what Lonely Planet has to say about Hanoi specifically, and we tend to agree:
“Hanoi is generally a safe city to explore, and serious crimes against tourists are extremely rare, but it’s pertinent to exercise some caution. While it’s generally safe to walk around the streets of the Old Quarter at night, it’s best to avoid the darker lanes after around 10pm.”
That’s a fair synopsis, and applicable to most places. To that we would add that situational awareness, and how you act, goes a long way toward reducing the risks of walking around any city with a camera. We’ll talk about that more on the trip.
Much as with food, we also acknowledge the counterargument. You will incur risk from the moment you get into your car to drive to the airport to ﬂy to Hanoi. Learning to intelligently balance and manage the risks and rewards of an experience is a core skill for any traveler.
How much physical activity does the trip involve? Is it strenuous?
X-Peditions trips are suitable for adults in good health. You should be comfortable walking 3-5 miles a day with your photo gear, as that will happen as often as not.
Many places in Vietnam are not physically accessible to western standards. Sidewalks, when present, are often uneven and frequently unlit at night.
There are English-speaking medical facilities in Hanoi. But on our rural excursion, we’ll be several hours away from any meaningful medical aid.
If you have any questions as to whether this trip is appropriate for you, please contact us before registering. We’ll be happy to help.
What will the climate be like?
For the November trip you should expect comfortable weather. Our timing on this trip is tied to incense-making in preparation for the Tet holidays.
Payment and Cancellation Policy
The fee for this workshop is $3,699. Participants can reserve their place in the workshop with a $500 non-refundable deposit. The balance must be paid in full 90 days before the start of the trip. X-Peditions reserves the right to cancel workshop reservations that are not paid in full by the due date.
If for any reason you must cancel your trip, you must do so in writing via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The following is our refund schedule:
- Cancellation with more than 90 days to the start of the trip: Full refund.
- Cancellation between 60 and 90 days to the start of the trip: Refund of amount paid, minus deposit and any advance expenses made on your behalf, such as fees for visas, lodging and transportation.
- In the event of a documented significant illness within 60 days of the start of the trip, we will consider partial refunds with an eye toward the most equitable solution.
- In the event of a significant Covid-related event in Vietnam within 60 days of the start of the trip, we will reassess our refund policy with an eye toward the most equitable solution.
- Except for the above, no refund available for cancellations within 60 days of the start of the trip..