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Vietnam Explorer: April - May, 2018


Vietnam, Southeast Asia’s “skinniest country”, stretches roughly 1,000 miles from top to bottom but is only about 25 miles wide at its narrowest point near the center. Although officially reunited, north to south, Vietnam feels more like two separate countries. While Hanoi and the northernmost cities and villages cling to more traditional, communist ways, Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City as it is now called) in the south, bristles with the energy and entrepreneurial fervor of any major U.S. city. With its amazing diversity and rich cultural history, Vietnam offers the adventurous traveler a unique opportunity to experience and photograph an exciting mix of landscapes, people, places, philosophies, cuisines, crafts, and religions.

Starting in Saigon, we will travel by boat to Can Tho and be captivated by the lazy rhythms of the Mekong Delta. We’ll photograph the amazing diversity of Can Tho’s fish markets and in particular, a unique floating market where trade continues as if untouched by the modern world. Next we’ll travel north to explore the azure beaches of Danang and Hoi An, an important Vietnamese trading center in the 16th and 17th centuries. In 1999, Hoi An’s old town was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site as a well-preserved example of a Southeast Asian trading port with buildings that display a unique blend of local and foreign influences.

After photographing Hoi An, we head northward to Hanoi to experience a completely different “Vietnam”. In Hanoi, we will shoot the bustling old quarter and visit Ho Chi Minh’s tomb, and even have some free time to avail ourselves to some of the best shopping in Southeast Asia. It’s here where the silk and lacquer ware is most plentiful and inexpensive. Then it’s off to the Gulf of Tonkin and breathtaking Halong Bay. Ha Long Bay (literally: Descending Dragon Bay) is yet another UNESCO World Heritage site. The bay features thousands of limestone karsts and isles in various sizes and shapes. We’ll board a traditional Chinese junk and sail among Halong Bay’s limestone cliffs and caves. after a meal of fresh, regional delicacies on the boat, we will disembark to spend the night on Cat Ba Island.

As our journey draws to a close, we are transported by overnight train ever northward, to experience and photograph Bac Ha. The town of Bac Ha, which is nestled among the emerald rice paddies, riots of bamboo, pine, and orchids of Vietnam’s lush northern hills is host to a Sunday market where we’ll be able to photograph up to 10 different local hill tribe groups including: the Flower Hmong, Dzao, Giay (Nhang), Han (Hoa), Xa Fang, Lachi, Nung, Phula, Thai and Thulao.   The photo opportunities about, as they bargain for water buffalo, pigs, horses, bottles of local firewater (made from rice, cassava or corn). It is here you will have one last opportunity to purchase charming locally made Hill tribe handicrafts. Bac Ha will be our final stop on what likely will be one of the most memorable, photo rich trips of your life! 

Vietnam Explorer Vietnam Explorer
Itinerary Vietnam Explorer
Day 1:

Arrive Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), where you will be picked up at the airport and taken to the hotel. This evening we will have an orientation meeting followed by dinner at a nearby restaurant. Overnight in Saigon.

Day 2:

Today, cameras in hand, we set out for a Saigon City tour. We’ll make images of many of Saigon’s icons including the fantastically ornate Hotel de Ville which serves as Saigon's city hall, the turn of the century Opera House, the Dong Khoi Street shopping area of the French colonial period, the Notre Dame Cathedral (1880) and the spectacular turn-of-the-century Colonial French Post Office. We will view Reunification Palace from the outside, then photograph the activities at Binh Tay Market. In the afternoon we will visit several religious sites including the Thien Hau Pagoda (Cantonese pagoda) in Cho Lon and the Sri Mariamman (Hindu) Temple and the Saigon Central Mosque. After our first full day photographing we’ll return to our hotel for dinner. Overnight in Saigon.

Day 3:

About 8:00 a.m. this morning, we will transfer to boat dock for our fast (3 hour) ride down the Mekong to Can Tho. Upon arrival in Can Tho we transfer to the hotel and check in. For the rest of the day we tour Can Tho, visiting and photographing the lively waterfront area where the local inhabitants go about their normal activities. Then we set off for an amazing photo shoot of the Ninh Kieu Wharf area, the busiest commercial wharf in the Mekong Delta. Overnight in Can Tho.

Day 4:

This morning we are up early for our 5:30 a.m. departure to the Fong Dien Floating Market, a chaotic, picturesque marketplace with hundreds vendors in boats buying and selling everything from bananas and coconuts to freshly slaughtered pork and sugar cane. We will have the opportunity to photograph the market from the shoreline and from water level in our private boat. Later, we return to Can Tho, to visit Can Tho Market, the Cantonese Congregation Pagoda and the Munirangsyaram Khmer Pagoda. Overnight in Can Tho.

Day 5:

After breakfast we return to Saigon via private bus and proceed to the airport for our short flight to Danang. After being picked up at the airport in Danang we will be transported by private coach to Hoi An.  We'll make a quick stop to photograph beautiful, historic China Beach, with its vast expanse of pristine water and clean unspoiled beach.  We'll continue onward to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hoi An. Overnight in Hoi An.

Day 6:

Today we explore amazing, photogenic Hoi An on foot and while riding in Vietnam’s famous cyclos. We will photograph the Riverside Market area, the Japanese Covered Bridge and the Quan Cong Temple complex. Hoi An is a photographers paradise, with friendly inhabitants, charming architecture, and narrow streets awaiting our exploration. Overnight in Hoi An. 

Day 7:

Today you are free day to explore the ancient city of Hoi An on your own or spend the day relaxing, shopping or perhaps swimming at any of the nearby white-sand beaches. Overnight in Hoi An. 

Day 8:

After checking out of our hotel, we transfer to the Airport in Da Nang for our flight to Hanoi. Upon arriving in Hanoi we meet our guide and driver and embark on a city tour of Hanoi which will include stops at beautiful Hoan Kiem Lake, the Ngoc Son Temple and St. Joseph's Cathedral. In the evening we will witness and photograph a traditional water puppet show, followed by a delicious dinner. Overnight in Hanoi.

Day 9:

This morning we are up early to witness synchronized t’ai chi at dawn on the shores of Hoan Kiem Lake. After breakfast we’re off to photograph in the old quarter, a fascinating and photogenic area full of shops, vendors and frenetic activity. After exploring the old quarter we visit Ba Dinh Square and the One-Pillar Pagoda, the Ho Chi Minh House on Stilts, the Presidential Palace, and the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Overnight in Hanoi. 

Day 10:

Today we are transported to Ha Long City, gateway to Ha Long Bay. Stopping along the way to photograph rice fields and local, roadside villages. That morning, we board our traditional Chinese junk for a tour of Halong Bay, where we will see caves, limestone monoliths and even take a swim in the gulf of Tonkin. We have dinner on the boat before disembarking at Cat Ba Island where we’ll spend the night. Overnight on Cat Ba.

Day 11:

This morning we will explore and photograph local fisherman working at Cat Ba, before boarding our boat back across the gulf of Tonkin to Halong where we will be transported by private bus directly to Lao Cai. Arrive Lao Cai at around midnight, check in Thien Hai Hotel. Overnight in Lao Cai.

Day 12:

Early morning visit to to Can Cau Market 20-kilometers north of Bac Ha. We tour and photograph the Can Cau market, then return to Bac Ha by mid-afternoon and check-into our hotel, giving us the balance of the day to discover the quaint town of Bac Ha. Overnight in Bac Ha.

Day 13:

We’ll rise early to photograph the action at the Bac Ha Sunday Market. We'll have the chance to photograph local hill tribe groups bargaining for water buffalo, pigs, horses, bottles of local firewater. In the afternoon, we’ll have a delicious lunch and tour the villages and hamlets nestled among picturesque rice paddies and hills surrounding Bac Ha. Later, we'll board our private bus for the trip back to Hanoi. On arrival, we’ll check into our hotel. Overnight in Hanoi.

Day 14:

Today will be a free day to explore Hanoi. You may want to relax at Hoan Kiem Lake, shop in the old quarter or photograph more of Hanoi’s hustle and bustle. In the evening, we have our farewell dinner. Overnight in Hanoi. 

Day 15:

Today, depending on your departure time, you are transported to Hanoi airport for your flight home.


Karl Grobl

Karl Grobl

Karl Grobl, (co-founder and trip leader), is a humanitarian photojournalist specializing in the photographic documentation of relief efforts and development work of NGOs worldwide. Calling upon his superb photography talents, both technically and creatively, he proficiently leads photo workshops and international photo tours (on this website). Beyond his photography attributes, tour clients frequently commend his helpfulness, professionalism and savvy about navigating global travel.

In 2013, Karl relocated from San Diego, California to Siem Reap, Cambodia, where he now lives full time. Karl considers Cambodia the perfect place for his Asia-based NGO work and photography tours and workshops. When ‘deplaning’ from his rigorous international travel schedule, Karl lecturers on photography and photojournalism, works on personal photography projects, and scouts out new off-beat photo tour destinations in Asia. In his free time, Karl says that he enjoys "hanging out at the nearby temples of Angkor, the rural villages and rice paddies, and occasionally getting completely soaked by the refreshing monsoon rains".

Many of Karl’s images have appeared in publications such as Newsweek, CNN, Geo, Town and Country magazine and The Chronicle of Philanthropy, though the majority of his photos appear in the annual reports, newsletters and communications materials of his humanitarian organization clients.  

Over the last ten years, Karl has worked in over 50 countries and has covered and photographed post conflict peace building efforts in Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and East Timor, HIV/Aids issues in Africa and Asia as well as human trafficking in Cambodia and the Philippines. Following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Karl spent more than a month embedded with five different non-governmental organizations (NGO) documenting tsunami relief efforts in India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia.  The international press has taken notice of Karl’s provoking images:  The 2005 Haiti photo-story “City of God” was nominated for a World Press Photo Award. Karl is a member of the Advisory Council of Focus For Humanity, a non-profit organization, whose mission is to provide financial support, resources and training for professional and amateur photographers wishing to work with NGOs.

    “From an early age, my parents instilled in me a desire to explore and learn firsthand about the world around me. Our family vacations and weekend excursions were general education courses disguised as fun. Knowingly or unknowingly they set me on course for a journey that today, is still just beginning. For me, the ongoing quest to document the world’s people and global events that shape our common humanity, have been instrumental in breaking down stereotypes, preconceptions and prejudices. 

I believe that the more of the world we see and experience, the more we understand. It seems people everywhere, share similar goals, aspirations, hopes and desires. It is with a strong sense of obligation that I share through photographs, the people, places and events that have profoundly shaped my vision of our world. By sharing these experiences with you, I hope to make a small, positive contribution to a heightened sense of world community.” -K. Grobl

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Cost Includes:  Two in-country flights (Saigaon-Danang & Danang-Hanoi), all 14 nights hotel accommodations, all ground transport, airport transfers, boat trips, Victoria Express Train, all breakfasts and dinners, entrance-fees at tourist sites, and English-speaking local guides.

Cost does not include: International flights, passport & visas fees, tips, travel insurance, vaccinations and medical cover/treatment, meals not specified, tips to guides, drivers and bellboys, and personal expenses such as alcoholic beverages/snacks, internet access fees, laundry fees, etc.

Deposit and Final Payment

A deposit of $800 per person is required at time of booking. Full payment is due 90 days prior to departure.


On cancellations more than 120 days prior to departure, all monies are refunded less a $275 administrative fee.

  • Less than 120 but at least 90 days prior, total deposit amount is forfeited.
  • Less than 90 but at least 75 days prior, 50% of trip price is forfeited.
  • Less than 75 days prior to departure, 100% is forfeited.

Notification by phone or email is acceptable, but please follow with written notice. In the unlikely event we have to cancel a tour, a full refund will be given.


Jim Cline Photo Tours LLC and their agents act only in the capacity as agents in all matters pertaining to hotel accommodations, sightseeing tours, and transportation, and are not responsible for any loss, damage, theft, or injury to person or property resulting from a defect in any vehicle, or the actions of any persons who provide services for this tour or for the action or inaction of any third party. Baggage is at the owner’s risk entirely. The tour operator reserves the right to withdraw the tour at any time, to decline any person as a member of the tour for any cause at any time. All prices are based on current rates of exchange and, while every effort will be made to hold them firm, they are subject to change. All participants are required to submit a signed Assumption of Risk and Release of Liability form prior to the tour’s departure.


It is the responsibility of each tour member to inform the tour operator of any possible health problems or handicaps upon registration. By forwarding a signed reservation form and trip deposit, you certify that you do not knowingly have any physical or other conditions of disability that would create a risk for you or other trip participants. Once a trip has been confirmed, medical circumstances will not be considered as exceptions to our cancellation policy. We assume no responsibility for medical care or for special dietary requirements.


To allow for any unexpected contingencies, all participants are strongly urged to purchase trip cancellation and interruption insurance.


While Jim Cline Photo Tours LLC endeavors to make the itinerary as accurate as possible, it should be considered as an approximate schedule of activities rather than a rigid schedule of events. Trip itineraries are subject to revision due to weather, ocean or trail conditions, government restrictions, and other reasons beyond our control. The tour leader has the right to make changes in the published itinerary whenever in his sole judgment conditions warrant, or if he deems it necessary for the comfort or safety of the tour.

Country Info



Health Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the CDC website. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the infectious diseases section of the World Health Organization (WHO) website.  To see whether this country is currently affected by Malaria click here. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.  It is recommended to have tetanus, typhoid, and Hepatitis A vaccinations before visiting any developing nation. You should do this soon, because it’s necessary to begin some vaccinations several weeks prior to the trip.  

Money, ATMs and Credit Cards:  Currency in Vietnam is called dong, and USD are accepted in touristy shops and high-end restaurants or hotels, but you'll usually get better rates in đdong.  We recommend getting your local currency at ATMs, as it’s the most convenient way and it’s the best exchange rate.  It’s also good to have some backup cash just in case.   Currency exchange rates

You shouldn’t need a lot of money on the trip – just for lunch, beverages, tips to local guides and bellboys, and incidentals such as phone calls and shopping. Travelers checks are inconvenient and cost several dollars each to cash-in, we discourage travelers checks and encourage you to bring cash and ATM cards.  ATMs, many from international banks, are easy to find in most medium- to large-sized urban centers. U.S. dollars are the preferred currency of exchange, but other major currencies are easy to exchange at banks, exchange counters, and hotels.  Small businesses in more rural places often can't change 500,000-đdong notes. This can be problematic because many ATMs only give out 500,000-đdong notes. Make sure you have plenty of small change on hand to avoid potentially awkward situations.

Internet Access:  There are lots of inexpensive internet cafes in the cities and some town's we’ll be (the problem will be finding time to use them).  In some of the hotels, wireless internet is available.

Electricity in Vietnam: Converters & Adapters Required 

ENTRY / EXIT REQUIREMENTS FOR U.S. CITIZENS: To enter Vietnam, you need a valid U.S. passport with at least six months validity remaining beyond the date of your arrival and a Vietnamese visa, a visa exemption document, or a written approval letter for a visa upon arrival.  You may obtain a visa or a visa exemption document from a Vietnamese embassy or consulate prior to traveling.  Vietnamese visas are usually valid for a single entry, unless the traveler specifically requests a multiple-entry visa, which may incur additional fees.  If you plan to leave Vietnam and re-enter from another country, be sure that your visa is multiple entry.  If it is only single entry, you will have to obtain another visa prior to returning to Vietnam.  Please be aware that Vietnam has two fees: 1) the visa fee and 2) the visa processing fee.   We have also received reports of additional fees being charged by Vietnamese officials at land borders.  


I'm filling out my Laos visa form. What is our port of arrival? Our port of entry to Laos, (from Thailand), will be Haui Xia.
What kind of weather can we expect? Will there be a lot of rain? We usually encounter a bit of rain on the trip, which makes for some great reflections and unique photographic conditions. Since we will be traveling the entire length of the country, we can expect hot tropical conditions in the south, as well as occasional rain in Hanoi and relatively cold conditions is Bac Ha (mountain areas north of Hanoi). A light jacket with a rain shell would be good for Bac Ha, the rain shell itself for Hanoi and no jacket needed for the South. there a reason to bring one? From trip leader, Karl: I always have a small flash in my bag just in case. I carry the Canon 280ex, the Nikon equivalent is the SB400…it’s better to have it on hand rather than wishing you had it on hand.
Packing Ideas

We take pride in our trip testimonials. We hope you’ll take a moment to read those below written by previous participants of this tour. 

"The tour leader Karl is a fantastic and great guy whom I respect, with a refreshing approach to travel photography. He is one of the best in the business.  He totally focuses on his tour clients so that when we get to locations, Karl is there for us.  I have been on at least ten photo tours now both locally and overseas and some of the guides are using the clients as a means to fund their travel and their photography.   Example - we get to a location and when the bus stops, the guide is gone and focusing intensely on their own shots.  This does not happen with Karl.  I like to learn the perspective of the experienced photographers and Karl gives his time. The other thing that is so good with Karl is his tour group communication is simply "Excellent".   Plus, he makes everything a joy. Before we get to a location, he briefs the group on what to expect provides tips and pointers on the location, light and camera settings, answers questions etc.  By the time the bus stops everybody is up and running, he guides those who seek additional input. I would love to do southern India with Karl at some future date, plus the Baja Grey whales tour is on my future bucket list with JC photo-tours."  -Peter I. 2014


"I have no reservations giving this trip a huge thumbs-up, and on a scale of 1-10, I rate this trip as 9.9.  Thus, I’d suggest this trip to anyone interested in photography, with the caveat that some experience beforehand will make it a more valuable trip in the long run.  The variety of photo opportunities and the instruction are superior.

I loved all locations we visited on this rigorous trip, and the Hmong area was probably my favorite site. I enjoyed that hotel, the colors were stunning, the markets great and very educational.   The local guide was a gem, he was a true hero on the train trip!   In Cambodia, our tuk-tuk drivers were great and I loved the trip to the local bar with the fantastic Cambodian music. 

During the trip, I learned a lot from Karl about equipment limitations, and processing afterward.  Karl wisely used the bus rides, etc. to remind us about camera settings, the conditions of the pending location, and so on.  That was excellent.  Thanks to Karl for a great trip.”  -Nancy B. 2013 


"The Vietnam trip was a lot of fun with a great group of people.  I loved the hill tribe area and would have happily stayed longer and gone to more markets.  It was great being able to stay right in Bac Ha and walk to the market."  -Zoe K. 2016


"I enjoyed Vietnam's countryside and rice fields and kind village people; the markets and flower ladies were phenomenal to photograph.  Karl was awesome and was great with all levels of photographers and was endlessly patient and accommodating. The local guide was great and super knowledgeable and I appreciated all the info he provided about Vietnam. I would certainly recommend this trip."  -Lisa B. 2015


“What a fantastic trip; I couldn’t have asked for more either personally, photographically, culturally or otherwise.  What a stellar group – everyone [on our tour] was cheerful, punctual, fun and not a whine was heard.  Major kudos to both Karl and Dat [co-leader] for making the trip so special.”  -Ellen C. 2013


“This trip gets an A+ from me.  I enjoyed seeing how Karl interacted with people. He was fantastic!  Can I say more?  I have recommended the trip to friends.  I liked the (group) size, the instruction, the enthusiasm… I’ve done a lot of traveling and this was one of the best trips I’ve taken!  Thanks, Karl, for making it such a memorable and enriching experience.”  -Katy B.


“A big thanks to Jim and Karl for putting together such phenomenal trip to Vietnam.  They put so much work into the arrangements.  I am so excited about my pictures and I have been able to produce shots I never imagined I could. Karl was so on-target with teaching all of us new ways to use the camera and it made the experience so enjoyable.   I cannot say enough about what Jim and Karl have put together.   I am looking forward to looking into some of your other trips as well.   Thanks again-it was a very special trip to share with my mom. We loved it!”  -Anietra H. 


“Thank you for offering the Vietnam/Cambodia trip.  Karl was great, and I had a wonderful time.  I definitely will be taking more trips from you in the future. Thanks for running such great photo trips!” -Steve C. 


“I am in the Karl Grobl fan club as you will note from my previous feedback forms. I am interested in Photography, I go on these tours to push myself and get a crash course in getting images that I can be proud of. Karl is the ideal leader as his approach is most sincere and more as a friend than a leader and always has an open ear to your needs and how to help when you are frustrated, and not able to see the shots.  If you are prepared to interact with him then you will be rewarded handsomely.

I think based upon my comments above that you can see that I think you offer exceptional value and that your rates are too low, this in my opinion is also justified by the level of wait listings you have for your trips.”  -Andrew E.


“I feel the need to reiterate my respect for Karl and the excellent work he is doing, as well as his exemplary tour leadership in sometimes trying times.”  -John B. 

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