Small child looking out of a window
Indochina,  Street photography,  Sunday Stills,  Travel galleries

Gallery: fleeting moments in Indochina

Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still

Dorothea Lange

Our visit to Indochina was only just over two years ago, yet in some ways it feels like a world away. A world barely touched by Covid, in which we didn’t question our ability to travel. Took it for granted, perhaps? Looking back at my photos I wonder why we didn’t realise that the disease already causing deaths and chaos in China would spread to engulf the whole world. Were we like ostriches, our heads in the sand? Or was it such an alien concept that we couldn’t envisage it?

Among the photos of that trip are many featuring the people of the region. People passed briefly on the street or encountered in a quiet village. People living their lives, as we were, unaware perhaps of what was coming. Although certainly by the time we reached Vietnam, the last of the three countries we visited, schools and universities were closed and businesses reliant on tourism were getting anxious.

Inspired by Terri’s Sunday Stills theme I thought I would share some of those images. My life and that of each of these people touched for a ‘fleeting moment’, then we went our separate ways. While this is true of all street photography, those from this trip have a special poignancy, knowing with the benefit of hindsight that their world, all our worlds, would never be quite the same again.

Disclaimer: many of these photos have appeared in previous posts about that trip. I’ve included links to a few of them should you wish to explore further.

Small boy looking at camera

Food vendor’s son by the Tonle Sap in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Woman with large plate of insects walking between parked cars

Selling fried insects in Skun, Cambodia

Boys in dark red and yellow Buddhist robes

Young monks visiting Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Four young women and a man in traditional dress on the steps of a ruin

Traditional dancers taking a break at the Bayon Temple, Angkor Thom, Cambodia

Man talking on a phone beneath a cartoon frieze

In a village near Siem Reap, Cambodia

Woman and young girl sitting with hand- grinder

Grandmother and granddaughter grinding rice to make a sort of milk in a family home near Siem Reap, Cambodia

Monk in orange Buddhist robes sitting on a stone by trees

In a monastery near Siem Reap, Cambodia

Woman in large sun hat sitting with baskets of greens

Vendor at the morning market in Luang Prabang, Laos

Young woman at a loom with a small boy on her lap

Weaver with her son in the small village of Sopchem, Laos

[My feature photo was also taken here, at the village primary school]

Woman wading across a river with child on her back and a small girl wading beside her

Mother and children crossing the river near Muang La in northern Laos

Elderly woman in a red cardigan and blue knitted hat

In the minority village of Ban Xong Ja, northern Laos

Four young children standing on ground covered in drying grasses

In the minority village of Phoe Taen Akha, northern Laos

Rickshaw bike driver waving

Passing our hotel in old Hanoi, Vietnam

Woman crouched in a field of green plants

Growing rice near Halong Bay, Vietnam

Elderly woman

In the Central Market, Hoi An, Vietnam

Man seated with part-made mask on his lap

Making masks at the Traditional Art Performance House in Hoi An, Vietnam

Man in elaborately embroidered robes taking a mobile phone selfie

Taking a selfie in Hoi An, Vietnam

Group of young women in colourful traditional dresses

Tourists by the Japanese Covered Bridge, Hoi An, Vietnam

Three children seated near cardboard boxes and looking at a phone

Children in Binh Tay Market, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam

Woman in bride's dress and pearl headdress

Bridal shoot at the HCMC History Museum, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam

I travelled to Indochina in February 2020, just before the Covid pandemic took hold


  • equinoxio21

    Wonderful people pictures. I don’t normally pick up favourites, but the young “apsaras” in Angkor Thom did catch my eye.
    I’d be interested to have your opinion on my Ancient Indochina series. (did I already mention that?)

  • VT starship

    I am always taken aback by your immense talent in photographing people, Sarah! (I wish I had your photographer’s eye!) Your photos are always exceptional, and I love that you term this selection as being those of “fleeting moments” — your close or a bit farther away interaction with your subjects! Inspiring!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you so much Sylvia 😊 I’m blushing! If I have any talent it lies in part at least in knowing which photos to discard and which to share. I only pick those I’m especially happy with to include in my posts! I’m very glad you liked them.

  • Gift N. T.

    This is an excellent response to the theme of fleeting moments, the fleeting encounters with people on the streets as well as the times before COVID-19. The new normal, although I appreciate that we get some aspects of our old lives back, is not the same as our normal. Still, what has been happening these past few years makes me think that we should try to treasure the new normal. As bleak as this may sound, things can go wrong again one day and we won’t know when.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      You’re absolutely right, I think that’s something most of us have realised over the last few years. It’s been a useful reminder as you say to treasure what we have.

  • wetanddustyroads

    My favourite, the grandmother and granddaughter … it’s a beautiful picture and I suppose old traditions are passed on to the younger generation here. For me, there is a palpable emotion present in this photo.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      I’m so glad you liked that one 🙂 Yes, that’s very much the case, at least in rural areas. I suspect in the cities, especially Phnom Penh, traditions are changing but not much in a place like this.

  • Wind Kisses

    colorful, beautiful, and always speaks to emotion. I loved the one of the grandmother and granddaughter. Such and important moment for both of them.

    Fried insects? Did you try them? Travel sometimes tempts the soul because it might be the only chance you will get.

  • leightontravels

    A fine selection, Sarah. I love the thrill of trying to grab fleeting moments. You don’t know if it’s going to come out well, you’re not sure if you’re going to be seen and how the person might react. Sometimes it’s awkward, on occasion it’s a bust and from time to time you strike gold. Plenty of gold here.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks so much Margaret 😊 I don’t see this as being brave – cheeky sometimes, but not brave! In fact I often don’t have the nerve to ask and rely on my husband doing so 😉 Of these shots, I had permission for some but by no means all. The ones I asked if I could take include the toddler in Phnom Penh (we bought prawn crackers from his mother), the grandmother and young girl near Siem Reap, the ones in Sopchem and in the minority villages. For some others there was implicit permission, such as the guy waving in Hanoi who had clearly seen my camera, likewise the dancers at the Bayon. Many of the others were taken with a zoom so the people were completely unaware, such as the monks at Angkor Wat and the monastery, and the lading crossing the river. Only a couple were sneaky ‘shot from the hip’ ones – the lady at the market in Hoi An and the same for the kids in HCMC.

  • Gradmama2011

    Another wonderful tour of real people in real towns. I had to smile at the ubiquitous cell phones! Your photo essays take me to many places in the world that I never was able to visit in person. Thank you for that! 🙂

  • Anne Sandler

    Excellent post in words and pictures Sarah! Your amazing street photography shows their souls while grabbing a fleeting moment in time. Your post is even more poignant as you describe the calm before the Covid storm.


      You will maybe recall that this is pretty much the trip we were in the middle of at the very time that COVID struck. We really are starting to think that we can pick up where we left off, next year. Hope so, because these photos are really strong reminders of our lovely times in that part of the world.

      • Sarah Wilkie

        I remember that well – I’ll never forget your tale of finding yourselves thrown out of your Halong Bay hotel! In fact, I’ve recounted it to friends several times 😀 I do hope you manage to pick it up again, and I’ll be jealous following along as I know there’s much more to see in Vietnam in particular than we managed to fit in!

  • Terri Webster Schrandt

    You are one of the best photographers of people on the street that I know of, Sarah. How poignant that you describe these encounters as fleeting moments, because they truly are but caught forever still as your quote depicts. And even more so that you caught these moments before our entire world changed forever. You have to look at each pic and ask how fundamentally these folks lives were changed. Excellent perspective for this theme!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks so much Terri, I really appreciate the compliment 😊 As soon as I read the title of your theme I knew I wanted to feature street photography. Whenever I review my photos of people seen on our travels I wonder about their lives and how they are now, and rarely more so than those from this particular trip.

Do share your thoughts, I'd love to hear from you!