Vietnam in Focus was founded by Alex Sheal and Colm Pierce. The two arrived in Vietnam ten years ago, and immediately struck up a friendship, exploring the highways and byways of the country and publishing articles and photo-stories based on their experiences.
In 2012, they created Vietnam in Focus, a photo tour company based on their experience and endless passion for travel and photography in Vietnam. Since then, new friends have joined the team, all bringing their own special skills and enthusiasm to Vietnam in Focus, and making sure that ViF’s tours are the best on offer in this amazing country.
Alex researches and organizes all Vietnam in Focus tours, and is responsible for management of the team. He is fluent in Vietnamese and has appeared regularly on Vietnam TV to talk about his travels and cultural experiences throughout the country. In 2015, he helped the crew of the Travel Channel TV series Tough Trains to plan and film their show in Vietnam, which was subsequently screened worldwide.
Alex is also a published writer of both short fiction and journalism. His work has won several international prizes and featured in Huffington Post (USA), Litro, 3am and The New Writer (UK). In 2012, he edited Peace House Shelter: Survivors of Trafficking a book of true stories by Vietnamese victims of human trafficking.
Colm is in charge of all things photography-related at Vietnam in Focus. He has over twenty years’ experience working as a professional photographer, specializing in photojournalism. He studied under Magnum photographer David Hurn at the School of Documentary Photography in Newport, Wales, and after that moved to Paris to work freelance, where he lived for fifteen years.
Colm’s pictures have featured in numerous publications worldwide, including The Guardian (UK), Le Point (France), LA Times (USA), and The Nation (Vietnam). He moved to Hanoi in 2008, and speaks English, French and Vietnamese. He has been leading acclaimed photo tours and workshops for Vietnam in Focus since 2012.
We take our responsibility to participants on tours with Vietnam in Focus very seriously, and commit to providing the best and safest experience we can. When we started the company we made a pledge of 6 core values, and we stand by these today.
Professional – We reach beyond the ordinary to give customers top class and timely service.
Adventurous – We go to the end of the road to provide experiences that participants will remember forever.
Knowledgeable – Our search for new understanding about travel, Vietnam and photography is ongoing.
Safe – The personal welfare of all participants on our tours is of the highest importance.
Original – Our tours and services are unique to Vietnam in Focus. By the time other companies have caught on to copy us, we’re already doing something new.
Honest – We are completely upfront about all aspects of our company. Participants never face hidden costs or needless itinerary surprises.
Our impact on the country and cultures of Vietnam is a major concern for us, and we strive to make our tours as environmentally-friendly and ethically sound as possible. We believe that visitors to Vietnam can make a positive impact by following simple rules of thumb.
Stay on friendly terms with people you meet as far as possible. A couple of words of Vietnamese, such as ‘Xin chao’ (Hello), ‘Cam on’ (Thank you), and ‘Xin loi’ (Excuse me) can take you a long way. Learn some more, and you are well on the road to making lots of great friends.
Show respect to those older than you. Vietnam is a very family-oriented society, and deference to age is a must. This is particularly important on social occasions, such as meal times. Make sure those older than you are served first, and have invited you to eat and drink before tucking in. In general, follow the lead of your peers in social situations.
The idea of ‘face’ is hugely important in Vietnam. Lose your cool, or play the fool too much, and life will become more difficult. It’s particularly important in bargaining situations to smile and keep calm. Losing your rag will get you nowhere. Remember the relative cost of things compared to your home country, and the harsh life of many in Vietnam. Have fun. You win some, you lose some.
Behave as you would in your home country. Vietnam is a fast-developing country, and faces considerable problems with air and water pollution. Make your impact a positive one.
Limit your purchase of plastic water bottles. Wherever you go, you will see people drinking green tea at stalls on the street, a wonderful way of rehydrating and having a rest. A glass of iced tea costs about 2000 VND (10c). Join them for a chat!
Find a bin for your rubbish – all major cities have bins on the street. If you’re way out in the sticks, hold onto your rubbish until you find a bin: even if locals encourage you to throw it into the river!
There are a number of ethically-aware organisations providing shopping and eating options for foreign tourists in places such as Hanoi and Sapa. However, in general, we believe it’s best to support local traders and restaurants in person. You can do this by keeping an open mind and bargaining well. Street food in Vietnam is some of the best in the world – give it a try, but always check the price first.
Vietnam in Focus have recently been accepted as members of responsibletravel.com, the world’s leading website for ethically-aware travel companies. You can read in more detail about what we do to protect the environment and practise social responsibility here.
As well as regularly getting the word out in the media about our exploits with Vietnam in Focus, both Colm and Alex are extremely active in terms of their creative output. Here is a regularly updated list of links to articles, stories and advertisements related to the lads and Vietnam in Focus.
Daniel Frydman is interviewed on VTV’s ‘Cafe Sang’ about his exhibition ‘Colurs on Giay Do’ at Vietnam in Focus Gallery Cafe.
Colm’s picture story of life along Hanoi’s railway tracks is featured in the French magazine Rail Passion.
Vietnam in Focus workshop tutor Jon Sanwell is profiled on VTV, and interviewed about his exhibition Mirror Cities at the Vietnam in Focus Gallery Cafe.
Vietnam in Focus tour participant Sheila Goins has her picture from our Hanoi by Night tour published in the Washington Post, with an honourable mention in the paper’s 2016 Photography Competition.
Regular Vietnam in Focus tour participant Sam Whitney wins the Saigoneer’s 2015 Travel Photography competition.
Our Hanoi tours are highly recommended by The Guardian (UK).
Alex’s short story ‘Before the Storm’ is picked by Huffington Post as one of the best 15 contemporary flash fiction stories.
Colm introduced our On the Tracks tour for the Travel Channel’s upcoming TV series ‘Tough Trains’. This show explores the world’s most fascinating train lines, and Vietnam was the latest stop on a journey that has taken the crew to Bolivia and Russia. Alex helped to plan the show’s story and translated its interviews with locals for the subtitles.
Colm recently got a taste of his own medicine when he was collared by the Vietnamese paparazzi while leading a tour near Hoan Kiem Lake. You can watch him amaze locals and the TV MC with his grasp of the lingo here.
After over 6 months hard work, the book Peace House Shelter: Survivors of Trafficking in their Own Words was published. This is a book of true testimonies written by Vietnamese women who have survived trafficking to China for labor, sexual exploitation or forced marriage. Alex edited and shaped the book, while Colm produced stunning photos of life at Hanoi’s Peace House Shelter. You can read more about the book here.
Alex and Colm were interviewed by VTV while running their Moc Chau Love Market photography workshop at the end of August 2014. You can watch the interview (and admire their impeccable Vietnamese) here.
Colm’s pictures of Sheriff Street in Dublin are featured in the short film ‘Between the Canals’, which was shown at the Irish Film Festival.
Special guest appearance by Alex on ‘Cau Lac Bo Tho’, VTV1, 30/12/2012