We at Travelbud have a soft spot for adventure and travel, we work every single day to try and help people fulfil their dreams of teaching English abroad. Not only that, but we also love to collaborate with and celebrate people who have the same passion for travel as the rest of our team.
Sian Owen and I have been friends for while, which led us to travel through Thailand together in 2013. Even back then I could see she had a special talent for capturing a moment through her lens. Sian is 22, a Business Science graduate from the University of Cape Town and an exceptional photographer. She specializes in wedding and lifestyle photography. She recently took a trip through Cambodia and Vietnam, which is why we reached out to her to collaborate by doing a blog series about her trip.
For anyone looking to teach English in Vietnam, this will be an awesome series to check out. Here she sat down with me to tell us a bit about herself and some of her more memorable travel experiences.
1. How has traveling alone changed you?
Traveling alone has taught me so much about myself, it’s the small things like being lost in a foreign country or not finding accommodation for the night with no transport. Or like not being able to speak the local language but you know you still need to communicate. That really does help you get out of your shell, otherwise you won’t enjoy your travels.
2. What’s the most surprising destination you visited?
Because I’m a photographer, I’m always researching places before I visit them, because I always want to know where the best places to photograph are. So I’m usually looking at other photographers and what they do. As a photographer I look at images with a filter eye, so I always know that most places don’t quite look as good as photos online make them out to be.
But if I had to choose a place that I was not expecting to be so beautiful, was this place in France called Calanques National Park, it just took me by absolute surprise. I hiked up for a few hours before we could get to the inlet, which was just beyond even my wildest imagination. The water was just the perfect blue, the cliffs were a near perfect white. It was just serene!
3. What’s your most hectic traveling experience?
The most hectic experience I had was traveling to Morocco alone as a woman. I’m sure it was because of the vast difference in cultures, I just felt like I had all eyes on me constantly, it was very uncomfortable. Every street I walked on I felt like I was the only woman there. It felt like every girl from 15 to 30 was just all hidden away, literally. I hardly saw any, in all the time I was there. Besides that, it was a really beautiful country to visit.
4. What one thing couldn’t you travel without?
As you can already guess, its my camera first! But that’s a given. The other is my fitness watch. I walk an average of 30km (18miles) per day, as I like to walk through every city I visit. It really is the best way to find interesting places in a city.
I also try take an evening or morning run in every destination I visit. I really do need my watch everywhere I go as I get to see how far I’ve been. It just helps to keep my days in order.
5. What are your must have travel apps?
I don’t have specific ones but anything with city maps, travel guides and hostel maps would be my go-to apps. These are essential for me and they help me get around cities and look for traffic congestion etc. Another app I use is Spending Tracker. This helps me keep all my spending in order, because it’s very easy to get carried away when you’re travelling.
6. Most versatile piece of clothing?
I’m a very simple girl, so I literally just pack a black shirt and a white one. Everywhere I go that’s my outfit. Easy to clean and easy to pack and goes with anything. One of the biggest mistakes I made travelling was packing a huge backpack. It was to over-compensate for the winter weather I guess.
7. What do you love most about traveling?
It’s just honestly the best way to learn about yourself, it’s one of the most rewarding things you can do. Also for me, people make or break your traveling experience, this is why I try to engage with local people as often as I can as they really do show you the true nature of the place you’re visiting. You can take a million photos but none of them can match up to the feeling you get when engaging with locals.
8. How do you afford to travel?
I started doing photography when I was in high school and realized that I could actually make a bit of money from it, so I started to really take it seriously during my spare time. Then in my 1st year of university, I started doing a lot of 21st birthdays and weddings almost every weekend, so I basically saved every bit of that money. I opened a fixed deposit bank account, which was honestly the greatest thing I’ve ever done! I’ve been able to travel 3 continents and counting, all on those savings.
I also enter into a lot of travel competitions, which is how I won a premium Busabout ticket, which allows me to hop on and off any Busabout bus throughout the whole of Europe. That has helped me save a lot of money, as transport can be a huge cost especially in Europe.
9. What is your favourite place in the world ?
Cape Town, South Africa obviously takes the top spot as I live there and it’s given me so much in my early adulthood. But the single most beautiful country I’ve been to is Italy, for a photographer and a person who loves people, it doesn’t get any better than this stunning country.
It offers so much diversity: from the stunning hill ranges of Tuscany to picture perfect Naples and colorful Florence, to historical Rome and the Vatican. The people are just so nice, they’re always willing to give you food and hugs, and for a girl who’s travelling alone, that’s amazing.
10. You recently went to Vietnam, what is your favourite photo memory there?
I noticed the beautiful face of a tour boat driver, Mrs Bui Thi Xong’s, asked to take her photo, and only later did I find out that she became an iconic Vietnamese figure after posing for a French Photographer, Réhahn. His famous photograph is called ‘Hidden Smile’ and is the cover of the book titled ‘Vietnam, mosaic of contrasts.’ Réhahn decided to include Xong’s story into his book.
To learn more about her life, he asked her what would be her biggest dream, and she replied that it would be to have a brand new boat since hers was outworn, and made tourists a bit skeptical. Furthermore, Mrs Xong said that she never wants to stop working. She loves what she does and enjoys meeting people on her boat. Réhahn promised her that if his book sold well he would buy her her new boat.
Six months after publishing, his book became a huge international success. Mrs Xong’s face appeared in multiple international newspapers such as National Geographic, Los Angeles Times, Daily Mail, BBC, basically all over the world. Her dream came true, and she got her brand new boat. Consequently, she is now known as ‘The most beautiful lady of Hôi An.
To see more of Sian’s amazing photography, here’s how you can reach her:
Interested in Teaching English, volunteering or interning abroad? We’ll send you more info!