Eclipse of 7/8 November 2022

Check out the Lunar shots!

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Eclipse of 7/8 November 2022

Moveable Feast

I was photographing the autumn colours of the vine around the vineyards next to SH1 north of Amberley when I saw a display of thrushes flying in huge flock, and also in breakaway groups.  As i spied on them with my tele-lens, I spied a NZ hawk attempting to snatch them.  The moveable feasts was too fast for it, but it was like watching a nature programme on display in the skies!


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NZ Hawk chasing its feast in the air

Behind Time

Hi – if you have been following my travels, I’m now in Jordan.  I’ve just posted some photos, but I am behind time with posting my Israeli-West Bank photos.  I couldn’t wait to show you Petra!

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7th Wonder of the World

Hanoi – a City of History and Contrast

Early rise…..

In the morning, the streets quickly turned into an open market which, in the hot sun, disappeared as fast as it appeared.  Many people gathered along the concrete shore of the lakes to take advantage of the cooler and quieter part of the day.  They performed physical exercises, Group Tai Chi, coordinated-dancing, and the elderly were brought out to enjoy the morning.

Tour of duty…

We did a mini guided tour of the city of Hanoi, paying a tour guide to lead us  to several places.  The tour guide gave us good explanations but it soon became ‘information overload’ in the hot heat.  A visit to the local ceramic factory was included to encourage us to spend.  Lunch was good.  Many Photo opportunities.


Personal reflection..

Like any city, tourists are seen as walking wallets.  It is easy to notice how the prices of everything are higher or are put up for tourists/foreigners.  Despite that, Hanoi is still a relatively cheap city.

I think Hanoi is a city of contrast.  It is a city that is at once both old and young.  It is the seat of the Communist government and the capital of modern day Vietnam.  At the same time, it has one of the oldest Buddhist temples that dates back to the 6th century, the Tran Quoc Pagoda  temple.  It has the Temple of Literature, which is a Temple of Confucius – thus connecting it back with Chinese rule and culture.  The temple  hosted Vietnam’s first National University.  It has a Catholic Cathedral, St Joseph’s opened in 1886.

There is much to see and to do.  I am sure I have only scratched the surface.  One can delve into the past, or enjoy the city’s bustling life, or simply relax and chill out.  I am glad to have visited this city and at the same time, glad to leave it.  I think its innocence and charm will one day be lost.  It is not hard to see the pollution and corruption.  Its not hard to see a ‘dig eat dog’ capitalism just walking the streets in a country that pushes Marxist as the living philosophy.

Our tour guide presented to us Ho Chi Minh the leader a figure that would pass for a demi-god.  He was presented as one of the most intelligent men in history, a humble polyglot which has made Vietnam the “successful” country that it is.  His lines sounded so much like propaganda I wondered if our tour guide had ever experienced life elsewhere to make that generalisation.  The Malay proverb comes to mind: “Like a frog under a coconut shell”.

There were many photo opportunities – and at the same time, the heat of the day takes away one’s creativity with the camera


Hanoi: the Last Leg of the Tour of Vietnam

After a long train ride yesterday, we arrived in Hanoi in the evening with time for a meal and a little stroll along the streets in the city centre.  The traffic is as bad as Saigon’s if not worse!  Imagine a stream of cars and scooters and you in a taxi.  The taxi then proceeds to cut across the stream of traffic in a perpendicular direction!.  Well, it works if you dare.  People just go around you.  No need for road rage as we have in NZ!

More photos will be posted later…. we are booked on a day excursion around the city.  Everything here is ‘city price’, and it is noticeable after spending a quiet time in the village!.  We did find an excuse to have a beer in a five-story restaurant just to get the view.  Alas, the trees still blocked the scene!

Ha Long Bay is not in the itinerary: perhaps its the carrot to consider coming back to Vietnam in the future.


Vinh – Day 2

We traveled for about an hour to Giao Xu Ru Dat to have lunch with a family of one of the Vietnamese seminarians in Christchurch.  We managed to borrow a step-through scooter, and persuaded a deacon from the local parish who can speak English to come with us.  Without him, having dinner with a family who cannot speak English would be like ‘ducks communicating chickens’ as Mum used to say….  He acted also as the lead scooter, negotiating the mad traffic!

The traffic was horrendous!  Many a times, the big trucks just tooted warnings of their approaching, especially when they encroached on our side of the road.  One just have to get out of the way!  The bike ride took about an hour – longer than I expected.  At Giao Xu Ru Dat, it was a pleasant lunch with much laughter…..  In this area, the villagers are definitely displaying ‘in your face’ Catholicism!  Approaching the small villages, one would see FOUR or more churches standing out in the horizon – all in European Gothic architecture (see photo below).  And there is no half measures here:…… large church buildings with with large grounds to match, mansions for presbyteries and other edifices for various Church-activities!!! New buildings here and there….

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Note the Churches!!

I have yet to come across any protestant Church!  There are temples here and there, and I have seen Buddhist monks as I travelled through Vietnam, but in the Catholic areas, one cannot see any other religious expression but Catholicism.  Its like saying to the authorities: ‘eat this!’

After lunch it was a trip home for a siesta.  There was less traffic as we took a different and more rural route.  However, the trucks that were on the road forced us off the road several times…… (photo is an example only, and taken from another spot later in the day)

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Tooot Toooot – GIVE WAY!


At 3pm, there were over 5000 youths gathered for Mass in the local parish next to the seminary.  It was a day of “Youth Formation” – on a Monday, and during School holidays.  They sang their hearts out.  The Church in Vietnam is definitely young and vibrant.

I did not do much photography even though I would have liked to stop on the bike rides.  It felt impolite to expect our ‘guide/translator’ to stop every so often.  Besides it was too hot!



Sunday 8th July

After an early morning start at Huong Phuong, we caught a bus and headed for the city of Vinh.

It is city of the same name of the Diocese from which 4 Vietnamese priests have come and have been ordained in and for Christchurch.  Several other candidates for the priesthood are also from the Diocese of Vinh, and on Monday, I am due to have lunch with the family of one of them.   I expected to see many signs of Catholicism….. and I was not disappointed.  Yellow and white flags were obvious in many places (to indicate a Catholic homes or establishments).  The flags looked like the Vatican’s minus the symbol of the keys.  Sometimes a red cross is in the middle.

Outside the city, the skyline is pierced by many many Churches, all in European Gothic style.  That was a disappointment to me.  I was hoping to see a more “Vietnamese Style” buildings for Churches – whatever that means!!  The thing is, everything about the church here is ‘growth’!  Many new churches are being built and in every Village, the Church as a building is ‘in you face’!  You can’t miss it (them!).

The bus driver ‘cheated’ us: he dropped us off somewhere in the old bus station instead of the new one, which would have been about 5km closer to our destination.  We were to be guests in the seminary of the Diocese of Vinh, some 10 or more km away from where we were dropped off.   Disembarking from the bus at 11.30ish came with its challenge.  It was probably the hottest part of the day, and we were lost as to where to look for a taxi.  In the heat, someone gestured us a ride on his bike/scooter, which of course would have been awkward because there were two of us, and we have a large luggage and a backpack each!.   As we walked in the heat getting fried trying to look for a taxi, this enterprising man led a taxi to us!!!  When we got in, and I noticed the driver giving him a ‘commission’!!

The taxi fare was less than $13, but it was more expensive than our 4-5 hour bus ride (with multiple stops, and ‘courier’ pickups of parcels!).  The bus ride was an experience in itself in the traffic, again overtaking at blind corners and wrong side!  I wished I could capture the incredible double traffic rules: Who Dares Wins” and “who is bigger has the right of way” – but still photography is limited in its ability to capture this.

We arrived in the seminary in the heat of the day and bordering on siesta time where everything would have been closed!.  Luckily we got there to get into our rooms…….

Photo opportunities were everywhere, but the heat and my laziness meant that mostly, the camera was  untouched.  I did managed to snap some from the bus but there were generally too blurry: e.g. a bus load of dogs destined for the dinner table!!!

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“Hot Dogs” have a different meaning here!.

The skin on my hands that has not been protected by my long sleeve is peeling from sunburnt.  I have rashes from sweating too much.  Bring on the Middle East next week!!

I am missing our NZ winter!!!!

Thiên Đường Cave – Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park

After the Phong Nha Caves, I thought nothing could beat it…… wrong!  Not far away from the Phong Nha Cave, still in the Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park, is the Thiên Đường Cave.  The name is translated as “Heavenly Cave” or Paradise Cave.  Hmmmm, would St Peter be at the gate?

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THe beginning of Paradise

Thiên Đường is also declared a UNESCO’s World Heritage Site, and it is only 60 km northwest of Đồng Hới city (and similiar distance to the Convent in which I am a guest.  The nuns also run a hotel in the town of Phuong Nha where we set up base!).

We had to pick one of the hottest days of the year to climb to the main entrance of the cave!!!.  Luckily, from the carpark to the entrance, there’s  a ‘buggy service’ (at a price of course – but like everything else, our NZ dollars make us millionares here!).   In the blistering heat, the hundreds of steps to get to the entrance required litres of water….. Interestingly, and to our surprise, the entrance felt like an air-conditioned surrounding.  Cool air comes out from the underground network of caves – yes, it is one giant of a cave consisting of a network of underground caves!

Before braving the cave, we sat down for an ice cream in a hut built around the entrance.  This place seems to capture the cool air gushing out from the cave and it is a good resting point.

Wow! Wow! Wow!  This most certainly is one of the wonders of the world.  Walkways and staircases have been built for tourist and lamps lit the path.  It is so huge and deep that what it comes to photography, the men are sorted from the boys so to speak.  Selfies with Phones would be a struggle.  I wished I had my tripod, but my image stabilizer certainly gave me an advantage.  The photos you see have been enhanced from RAW files.  I am glad I carried the 7mm wide lens with me.  Most shots have to include something that do not belong to this place (mainly humans!) to give a relatively idea of size.

There is more than 1 km of walking to be done…. and most photos cannot capture the enormity of the caverns that have been carved out by water for millions of years.  The space is riddled with stalactites and stalagmites.  With some imagination, can you start identifying with the names given to them – you would need a Vietnamese translator of course.

I fell almost guilty being here, as I think the presence of tourist will certainly ruin this magnificent place….. anyone interested should come ASAP as I think time and the increase of tourism will ruin it.


Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park

Yesterday (7th July) was a day to explore the Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park. There’s only one word to describe it: “WOW!!!

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Entering the caves

The caves we went into were only recently discovered.  We accessed it by boat from Phuong Nha town.  The boat ride on the Son river itself was a very pleasant ride.  Interestingly, there seemed to be many Catholic inhabitants here in the communist country.  The lady who steered the boat from the front said that almost everyone running the boats were Catholics……

When we entered the caves in was nothing short of spectacular.  Photographs do them an injustice.  Those using cell phones struggled in the low light condition.  I forgot to bring the tripod so had to cranked up the ISO….  Luckily that camera has an image stabilizer.  It really helped!!!

The heat was a killer.