There’s an element of serendipity to my current job—writing the text for a photo book on Vietnam called Journey through Vietnam. Some years ago when I was working on a souvenir book on Thailand (Portrait of Thailand, published by New Holland, UK), I proposed a similar book on Vietnam, since at the time I had visited all regions of the country and felt I had enough strong images to make a good job of it.
I’m sure I’m not the only photographer who has watched with dismay as online stock photo (or microstock) libraries have mushroomed over recent years. Why dismay? Well, I used to sell my travel stories to clients as a package of words and images, of which the images would often be worth half or more of the fee. Yet since these image libraries have expanded to cover every destination and topic under the sun, and since their images are available for use at US$1 or less, most publications I work for now want me to provide text only, which means I’ve lost about half my previous income.
Usually when I travel, I’m updating a guidebook, so I’m rushing around from dawn to late, checking hotels and restaurants for inclusion in the next edition of the guide. But a few weeks ago I lucked out, spending ten days on a Pandaw cruise around Ha Long Bay and the Red River Delta in Vietnam in order to write and photograph a story about it for the company’s magazine, as it was a new route that they wanted to publicise.
Loved it! Sprawled on a sun lounger, taking in the endless change of view, from towering karst outcrops to container cranes, brick kilns, fields of rice and passion fruit, locals waving from the riverbank. Wandering around small villages, watching water puppet shows, seeing conical hats made, listening to traditional songs sung by teenagers. Writing a few notes about the experience and getting to know my fellow passengers, gorging on gourmet food three times a day. Following are a few images from the trip.
If you want to read the full story, take a Pandaw cruise and read it in the Pandaw Magazine while aboard, or sign up as a subscriber on their website—www.pandaw.com.
"Goodbye hello!”…reminds me of an old Beatles song, but the website hola.org is something much more insidious than anything we knew when we used to go round singing “I don’t know why you say goodbye, I say hello”.
A friend recommended it as a useful site that would enable me to watch programmes on the BBC iPlayer, which is generally not available outside the UK, as well as any other websites that are generally blocked in the land where I live—Thailand.
Being a sucker for anything that makes life a bit easier or more fun, I downloaded it and for a couple of weeks enjoyed my new-found freedom—watching the final of Wimbledon tennis and a few insightful documentaries—but then the trouble began.
I love reading. Like many people (though perhaps a dwindling number), I find no greater stimulus for the imagination than reading a good novel. Yet each time I finish a book, I face a problem—what will I read next? The problem stems from the fact that the older I get, the longer the list of books I want to read gets, but the time I have left to read them is inevitably getting shorter. So each time I start a new one, it means that something on my list has to be cut out.
To be a successful guidebook writer, you need not only good research and writing skills, but also a good sense of direction. This is one area of the job in which I normally feel quite confident, as I spent a few years driving minicabs in London as well as driving buses for London Transport, and I reckon if you can find your way around London, you can find your way anywhere.
When I’m on the road researching a guidebook update, I often have a list of 30 or more hotels, restaurants, bars, spas, pharmacies and so on that I need to locate each day in order to decide if they are worth recommending for the new edition of the guide. With the help of maps in the guidebook and online, I usually manage OK, but sometimes things go wildly wrong, and I always get messed up in Mae Sot.
In November 2014 I finally got to visit a country that’s been on my ‘to do’ list for decades—Burma, or if you prefer, Myanmar. Though I’ve lived very close for many years. I’ve not been able to visit as I’m on a press visa in Thailand, and the powers-that-be in Burma don't issue visas to members of the press, but the introduction of e-visas in October 2014 suddenly opened the possibility. Then new flights opened between Chiang Mai (my home town) and Rangoon (Yangon), as well as Mandalay, so I found myself packing my bags and chanting the words of Kipling’s poem:
“No! You won’t ‘eed nothin’ else
But them spicy garlic smells,
An’ the sunshine an’ the palm trees an’ the tinkly temple bells;
On the road to Mandalay…”
I spent two days in Rangoon, two in Bagan, two at Inle Lake and four around Mandalay and had a fine old time, being reminded every day just how different Burma is to everywhere else. And in an effort to capture the diversity of the place, I’m posting the following images from the trip.
Immediately on returning from Burma (see previous blog), I began my current job—updating two chapters of The Rough Guide to Thailand (Northeast and Central Plains) for the new edition (October 2015). After plotting my route around the Northeast, I headed south from Chiang Mai to Khorat, then east to Ubon Ratchathani, and from there zig-zagged across the ‘elephant’s ear’ of Thailand, commonly known as Isaan. I spent a few weeks visiting every town, looking at lots of hotels and restaurants, as well as bus stations and hospitals, but I also found time to check out a few places that were previously not in the guide.
My favourite place, as a photographer who loves shooting nature abstracts, was Sam Phan Bok (Three Thousand Holes), a surreal section of the Mekong River bed where rock pools are exposed during the dry season (Nov-May). Check out the images in the gallery below.
Isaan is Thailand’s least-visited region and gets short shrift from most guidebooks. Yet it’s also a great place to travel, for a host of reasons, not least of which is that there are no other tourists around to spoil your enjoyment. Add to this the Khmer temples, the mysterious Mekong River, the fiery food, the quiet, country roads and the hospitable, generous people, and you’ve got the recipe for a memorable adventure.
The Ebola virus has certainly captured the world's attention, especially now it's moved into Europe and the USA. The first outbreak of this deadly virus occurred in 1976, when it was more commonly known as the Green Monkey Disease, since it was thought to have originated in a particular type of monkey. I happened to be travelling in South Sudan at the time, and was devastated to find many villages deserted, their inhabitants either struck down by the disease or having fled to escape its contagious grip.
Some years later, when I was preparing a book of short stories as part of my M.A. in English (Creative Writing) at San Francisco State University, I used my visit to this obscure part of the world as the basis for a story called...
THE GREEN MONKEY’S TALE
The truck ploughed to a stop, sending clouds of red dust swirling into the dense jungle of the Central African Republic. As the haze cleared, a small boy became visible at the roadside, holding out the body of a dead monkey by the tail. He squinted at the driver and shouted.
“Hey, mister! Fresh shot today! Only fifty francs!”
“Let me see,” the driver responded, a gleam in his eye. “Fifty francs, hey? Well, take this for it.” He pushed three ten-franc notes into the boy’s hand, and swung the corpse onto the dashboard of the cab. The boy ran off into the undergrowth, pushing the notes into his ragged shorts, while the driver pulled away again, grinning at Chris, his English passenger.
“Hey, man, now we have a feast tonight. You eat monkey before?” he asked, his white eyes shining from the deep caverns of his cranium.
“No, Emille,” Chris answered, wincing at the thought. “I’ve eaten some strange things lately – snake, elephant, locusts – but never monkey.”
The tiny skull of the animal seemed to sneer at him as it rocked on the dashboard like a stuffed toy. Its minute hands still clung to an imaginary branch and its green fur bristled.
This last week I've had great fun throwing out a load of junk from my office...stacks of brochures and magazines accumulated on various research trips over recent years. I think I enjoy this activity so much as it's a way of re-defining myself, through making decisions about what's important to me and what isn't.
I've also been streamlining my website. If you've visited before, you might notice that my home page has disappeared. I realized that most people who visit this website are not so interested in me as in the words I write and the images I take, so I've just shifted my introductory audio slideshow to the top of my blog page and done away with the rest. I've also been making changes to other parts of the site, mostly on my periodicals page, where I've deleted the story I had posted on the Loy Krathong Festival in Thailand, and added scans of half a dozen feature articles that show the variety of topics that I write about and photograph.
I hope that you find this streamlined version of ronemmons.com fun to browse, and if you have any suggestions of things you'd like to see more or less of, just drop me an email via the button at the foot of the page. Thanks for visiting!
is a British writer and photographer based in Chiang Mai, Thailand.