Tom Furley: Adventures in SE Asia

Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand

Storyteller: Tom Furley, NZ

Boat at sea

Why do you travel?

Travel is such a privilege and obviously great fun. It's the chance to get away from the familiar and see how other parts of the world work, how other cultures interact and go about their day. We travel to escape, and hopefully come back with a broader perspective.


What compelled you to tell your travel story in a photo book?

My camera got rather battered and fortunately survived a series of very wet days hung across my chest on the back of a motorbike. It was all worth it and I got a lot of photos. We had an incredible adventure so what better way to immortalize it than to get a physical, tangible book of beautifully printed photos to look back through? I have thousands of digital images, having a photo book ensures these ones don't get lost in the mix. Plus there's something wonderful about printed photos that can't be matched by viewing them on screens. 

Woman and man backlit by colorful lanterns at night market.

What were the reasons for your travels to SE Asia?

My wife and I had finished all our studies and entered the workforce straight away so it was time we did a decent trip. SE Asia was an area that really appealed for a lot of reasons, and provided a totally different experience than the travel we'd done previously. It also came highly recommended by everyone we spoke to so we booked a month off work, did a little bit of planning, and went for it.

Man smoking a cigarette

What is your favorite image in the book and why?

I think for me it's the photo of a Vietnamese man smoking in front of his home (above left). It was the first day of our motorbike trip between Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh and we'd stopped in a small village to visit a family making rice noodles. Across the road this man ran a tobacco business and had a whole room stacked with drying tobacco leaves. As we were leaving I asked him for a photo and he was kind enough to sit and puff away as I snapped a quick shot. I love his expression, and the glint in his eye as he looks at the camera. The color of his home is beautiful and provides a lovely contrast. There was a lot of smoking in Vietnam; our guide seemed to go through multiple packs a day, so this photo is a reminder of that experience. A close second is of a woman riding her bike (above right) through the streets of Hoi An. It's a beautiful city, with such a mix of cultural influences and French colonial buildings. There are no vehicles allowed in this part of town so bikes are the best way to get around. The image for me really captures the vibe of Hoi An; the vibrant colors, the beautiful lanterns, the culture of the place. Plus I love the way the lanterns and shadows on the ground lead the viewer's eyes to the woman on her bike.

Woman speaking to another woman in street

What is your favorite story behind a single shot in the book?

The first large photo of the book shows my wife talking with a local woman carrying a basket of sugared donut-type treats. We'd only just left our hotel to explore Hanoi for the first time having arrived that morning. After walking 100 meters down the road this woman stopped us, put her hat on my wife, made us take a photo and tried to sell us her donut things. She'd spotted a pair of naive tourists perfectly and eventually after several minutes of persuasion sold me a bag of the things. Not knowing anything about the currency or value of anything I ended up paying the equivalent of about $30 NZD for them—a bag of strange donuts! Suffice to say we figured that out afterwards and had a great laugh about it. It didn't take me long to fall into a trap so often warned about. The photo is a little reminder of that cheeky encounter and perhaps should act as a reminder for me to be a less gullible traveler.

Seated woman surrounded by colorful and patterned lanterns

What inspires you to take photos?

I love taking photos so it's not difficult to convince me bring my camera long and take a few snaps. When I'm traveling the inspiration comes even easier and my camera is always close by. There's always so much to take in. It's considering what makes a place and the culture unique and interesting, or what encapsulates my experience of it. The colors of the streets, the architecture, local vendors, the crowds of bikes on the sidewalk. I want to record where I've been in a way that reflects my experience, as well as showing off the place and its culture.


What do photos mean to you?

For me photos are an experience in the first instance. Taking the photo is often a lot of fun; getting the settings the way I want them, interacting with people, the composition etc. Then it's about the experience when you get home and start editing and sorting them. It's a chance to reflect on where you've gone, who you've met, what you've seen. Having photos of your trip really helps you hold on to some of those places, and often inspires the travel bug to rear its head again.


View the book

Been on the trip of a lifetime? Share it in print.