Alia Wilhelm’s Lush and Evocative Photos of Vietnam and Burma

The Turkish-German photographer spent 100 days in Southeast Asia. Here are some of the colours, landscapes and people her camera captured.
Vietnam.

Alia Wilhelm is a photographer and illustrator based in London. She is a regular contributor at Girls Are Awesome and Rookie Mag, but has also worked with the likes of i-D and the Guardian. This time around, she sent us a bunch of photos from Vietnam and Burma and wrote about her experiences there. You can see more of her work here

Vietnam

Last year I spent a hundred days backpacking solo across southeast Asia. I’d initially planned to go for just a month or two, but the more time I spent there, the more I wanted to stay. It was the longest I’ve spent being my own unit, without anyone who knew me to keep me company or help me make decisions.

For the first few weeks, my camera was my only sidekick, helping me document the towns I visited and people I met. Then, about a month into my trip, my camera strap snapped on a sidewalk in Thailand and my camera stopped working. Because I was staying in places for only two or three days at a time, it took six weeks for it to be repaired. I have almost no photos of that time, but even though I’m a photographer, that felt like a meaningful thing to me: to be forced to take a break from documenting. I cherish the photos that I do have, but I also love that there are so many moments that aren’t visually represented and can’t accurately be shared with people. It makes it all seem more precious and personal somehow.

These pictures were taken in Vietnam and Burma, two places I really loved. Vietnam is unlike anywhere I’ve ever been. It’s the one place in southeast Asia I could easily picture myself living in. It’s a place of contradictions; while Hanoi is a chaotic whirlwind of motorbikes drivers, tourists and hawkers, Cat Ba Island and Ninh Binh, touristy but tranquil spots, are both likely to make you cry out in wonder at the epic beauty of their landscapes. Ninh Binh is a beautiful province in the north of the country that has gigantic limestone karsts jutting out of rice paddy fields. And then there’s the food which, no matter where you go, is so flavourful that it makes me feel nostalgic (and hungry) just to write about it.

Burma

Burma felt like a very different experience compared to Vietnam. It was one of the least touristy places I’ve ever been and I went during a time when Burma was in the news quite often for violent conflict going on in rural parts of the country, so it was especially empty. I felt very far removed from that when I was there, though.

I spent a few days hiking through the mountains and then explored Bagan, which is the place that stuck in my mind the most. There are temples everywhere and the best part of it is that it’s peaceful. There aren’t crowds of people bustling around ancient pillars and there’s no entrance fee. You just get a bike and explore meadows filled with temples and sometimes you don’t see another human for many hours. I loved that about it. It’s so rare these days.

All in all, it was a trip I’ll never forget. A month into getting home, I still think about it everyday. I feel like it revealed a side of life to me that I’m never going to let go. I’m more aware of how much magic there is in everything.