Lauren Bath is known as Australia's first professional Instagrammer, and her incredible photos from around the world show exactly why.
Lauren recently visited Vietnam and we talked to her about her experience. As a former chef, she enjoyed trying the street food in Vietnam, but she also talks about her "pinch-me" moments and getting under the skin of a destination to create the amazing photos she takes.
You said you have wanted to go to Vietnam for many years. How was it different to what you expected?
Vietnam wasn’t too much different to what I expected once I got out of the city. My visions of Vietnam were definitely more on the rural side- the rice paddies, little old ladies working in the field, laughing children on bikes etc. were all my idea of iconic Vietnam. Hanoi was a surprise, much bigger and more advanced than I expected.
Two on a bike by Lauren Bath
What advice would you give first time travelers to Vietnam?
I think that visitors to Vietnam need to be prepared for the heat. It’s not the hottest place that I’ve been but the temperature is definitely tropical. Once you’ve accepted that and you’re dressed accordingly it’s a much more enjoyable experience. I would also encourage first time visitors to get off the beaten track; I find a daily walk the best time to see the locals doing what they do. Early mornings and late afternoons are best. Finally I would say, “Eat alllllll the food”. Vietnamese food is great, so many different flavors and textures. Be a little cautious of street food that looks like it’s been sitting out but other than that go crazy.
Given your background as a chef, is food a passion when you travel? Did you have any special meals in Vietnam? Do you prefer Street food or restaurants?
Food has always been and will always be a passion for me and I struggle to keep my weight down with all the places I visit. I just want to try everything! As a chef I am a curious eater and always prefer street food over restaurant food, that’s where you get the real taste of a new country. My favorite “meal” in Vietnam was on the street. It was a plain rice pancake served with a fragrant dipping sauce, crispy fried shallots, spicy chillies, piquant lime and a whole bowl full of fresh herbs. I’m a vegetarian, which makes eating a little tricky in some countries but Vietnam was a breeze.
Was there anywhere in Vietnam that you missed that you’d like to go, or anywhere you’d like to return to?
Absolutely! I don’t know about everyone else but when I fall in love with a country I like to go back again and again. That’s probably why I’ve only been to twenty countries but I’ve been overseas nearly fifty times. I’d love to spend more time on the Mekong and to visit Halong Bay.
Was there one place in Vietnam you enjoyed photographing the most?
Probably Mai Chau. It was just my vision of Vietnam. It was so green and lush with smiling locals everywhere. I was even joined by a new friend on a solo sunset walk, an older local guy curious about my camera. I also loved the local market in Mai Chau and the surrounding hills.
Walk the Line by Lauren Bath
What advice would you give budding photographers traveling in Asia?
Shooting in Asia is very different to shooting in a lot of other countries. For a start the light isn’t the same, it’s often hazy and it’s more difficult to get one of those epic “fire in the sky” sunrise or sunsets. There’s also very little cloud about so the light in the middle of the day is harsh. I generally try to work to the conditions so I make use of shadows and light and do a lot more hand held work. I do maximize mornings and afternoons for the softer light but don’t worry if I don’t get a “hero” shoot twice a day because the sky really doesn’t do a lot. With any country I visit I’m just trying to capture what makes the place unique so for Vietnam there was a lot more food and people shots.
You started traveling later in life and “caught the bug”. Can you tell us some of the things you love about traveling?
What don’t I love? Traveling has changed everything for me; it has changed me as a person. Traveling gives me a lot more confidence in general, I feel more wise to the world and more accepting of others. The first time I went overseas I was 25 or 26 and it was a trip to Thailand. A second trip less than a year later and a quick jaunt to Bali gave me reason to stop and question my life choices. I knew that I wanted to travel and I knew that I wanted more than to slave away in a kitchen just saving for my next vacation. It took me a few more years but when Instagram took off for me and I saw potential I jumped on it and made my dreams come true.
Do you think social media platforms like Instagram have changed the way people travel?
Definitely! One thing I am seeing a lot of is people researching vacations on Instagram and utilising hashtag search to further explore a destination that they’re interested in. On a broader level I think that Instagram has literally opened the world up for many people. Four years ago I would have never in a million years thought of going to Iceland but I see so many people on Instagram going there that it became possible in my mind. Last year I went and became a part of that change. I no longer believe that certain nationalities will travel to certain places. We can go anywhere in the world that we want, we just need to connect with the destination and social media helps us to do that.
That Pool by Lauren Bath
In your blog post you talk about travel including a dose of local experience. How important is this and how do you discover these experiences?
The answer is very important. The thought of going to a new place and just staying within a resort makes me so bored. I LOVE the local experience. Nearly every favorite experience I’ve had on the road has had a local element. The easiest way to find these moments is to get out there and preferably by yourself. My daily photo walks always expose me to new people and new experiences. Make eye contact with locals, don’t be afraid to try new foods on the street and communicate with hand gestures if you don’t share the same language. Yes there are scammers out there but don’t let that stop you from sharing stories with a friendly local.
You often talk about your “pinch me” moments. These are often not the classic tourist highlights. Can you describe what makes these moments so special for you?
I love my pinch me moments and I never know where they’re going to strike. They’re also hard to define. I kind of get an overwhelming feeling that usually brings a tear to my eye or makes me emotional in some way. They are never usually the obvious experiences like a helicopter ride or expensive tour. In Vietnam it was that simple road side stop and some delicious snacks. Recently in Oman it was a morning in the pomegranate garden. To find these moments you have to be open to receiving them. When I travel I am working so I am often preoccupied but even I know when to stop and enjoy the moment.
How can travelers have more “pinch me” moments for themselves?
Well obviously by traveling more but also from flexibility. Don't stick to rigid itineraries when you travel. If you meet an awesome local in Bali and they invite you to a ceremony then go! If you meet some laughing children in Oman who have pomegranates in their backyard then go! If your driver suggests eating bamboo steamed sticky rice at a roadside stall then go! Just try new things often and those moments will find you.
You talk about wanting to see the “cliché scenes” but also more genuine travel experiences. Can you tell us about how you balance these desires when planning a trip?
I do love the clichés. One of my favorite experiences in Paris was the Eiffel Tower, haha. I think the trick is to not plan too much. Definitely have a list of things you want to see and do but don’t be afraid to alter plans last minute and choose to do something else based on a recommendation.
Want to see Vietnam for yourself? See our full range of small group tours to Vietnam.