5 unique souvenir gifts from Vietnam

Finding something different and unique is a challenge. Mass production, cheap materials and reused ideas you find everywhere. Living in Vietnam since 2000, I have seen the progress and changes to the country over the years. I still believe Vietnam can do a better job promoting its beauty and I wanted to contribute with what I know best. That is photography.

Photographers tend to publish books and postcards. My graphic design background has always made me think in different ways. I always liked lacquer as a craft. There is something about handmade process that adds a difference to a product. It is not just stamped out from a machine in the hundreds, it is actually crafted by hand.

I started experimenting with the ancient lacquer making technique and modern print technology. From that our photographic lacquer coaster sets were born.

1. Lacquer coaster sets

O&M Coaster Set

Photographed with an old vintage Kodak camera, the Kodak Duaflex II. From the 1950’s, this camera brings a distinct style to the images. Printed on hand plated silver base, then several rounds with lacquer coating, also done by hand.

Each coaster set is handmade and unique. From O&M.


From printing on hand plated silver to fabric. Pillows were the next step. Featuring motifs from around Vietnam, these pillows make the perfect present:

2. Decorative pillows with photographic print 

O&M Decorative Pillow

It has never been easier to ship a slice of Vietnamese heritage to your living room. As seen above, a set of Vietnamese water puppet dolls photographed in the ancient city of Hoi An. Each tote bag gets produced on demand and assembled by hand before shipping. From O&M Collection Store.


Then we applied the printing techniques to t-shirts. A full print t-shirt is wearable art. Truly different.

3. T-shirts with sublimation prints, full coverage

O&M T-shirt

Anyone walking the streets of Saigon have seen the cable and wire madness. Standing at most street corners, it is easy to spot the cable monsters above. Printed on both sides, these t-shirts take you straight into the cable jungle. Each pillow case gets produced on demand and assembled by hand before shipping. From O&M Collection Store.


Expanding our option with wearable art, we started a tote bag range. Simple, elegant and functional. Different photographs for different occasions. Below is one of our favourites.

4. Tote bags with French cement tiles patterns 

O&M Tote Bag

The French brought with them their cement tiles making techniques. You can walk on their heritage throughout Vietnam. These tile patterns I found deep in the Mekong, at one of the eldest Khmer pagodas. A variety of patterns cover the floor and I documented most of them. Any trip you take around Vietnam will reward you with photographic opportunities. Vietnam is indeed a hidden charm. You need to seek out in order to find. From O&M’s Collection Store.


We also offer the traditional photographic print. Wearable only for walls, they do add character to where ever they hang on display. For other size, please get in touch.

5. Framed poster prints shipped to your doorstep

O&M Square Poster Print

An affordable alternative to our silver plated lacquer prints and silver plated canvas prints. Each poster prints on Epson Ultra Premium Luster Photo Paper. 

​A detail from one of the stunning rooftops seen in Hue city. The emblems are unique for the area and I have only spotted them outside of Hue at Hue restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City. From O&M’s Collection Store.


Want to know about new releases? Sign up for our Newsletter at the O&M Collection Store website or follow our Business Page on Facebook. We release new products on a regular basis. 

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Photography, Recommended

The 24 hours trip to Singapore

Singapore skyline seen from my hotel room in the morning.

Singapore is a great shopping destination and I travel yearly to purchase additional gear for my studio, either from Cathay Photo or Shriro, sometimes both outlets, as the brands I am using are not available at my normal dealer LeDuc in Saigon.

I do not enjoy any sponsorship from any of them, but I do get excellent customer service and I would like to mention them in my blog post. I might add Thuan My as well. Testimonials below.

Normally, my trips to Singapore are done in 24 hours or less. I fly in, pick up my pre-ordered items and check in to a hotel, sleep, wake up and if I do have an hour to spare, I take a morning walk snapping away before boarding the flight back to Saigon. Expensive some would say. An investment I would counter, as we compete in the marketplace by providing quality, not low cost. Quality is never cheap and low cost can be twice as expensive when it does not fulfill its intended purpose.

I recently heard about a resort that cut cost on the kitchen machinery. They did what they thought was a bargain, until a year later they realised the equipment was not up to the wear and tear. Now they have to replace it again. Expensive lesson.

Break of dawn in Singapore.

Walkabout in Singapore along the canal.

Reflection from the canal.

The colourful bridge.

 Why I appreciate my suppliers and I am willing to endorse them free of charge:

Cathay Photo stock Elinchrom, the flash brand that lights up our studio. Swiss made and of superb quality. I once had a flashed that stopped working. Took it back and they repaired it free of charge as it was still covered by warranty. You get at least a full year warranty, that is much better than the normally 3 to 6 months you get in Saigon.

With Shriro, I bought my Hasselblad system. I did at one stage encounter the unthinkable. The camera jammed. I had to send it by DHL to Singapore for repair. They concluded it was too severe to fix and had to send it to Denmark. In the mean time they shipped back a similar model for me to use until the camera came back. Outstanding service. I don’t think I can ever thank them enough as I cannot rent a similar system in Vietnam. Had three assignments that I managed to complete with their help.

LeDuc has been supplying paper backgrounds and other studio gear and he is always available for a chat when you meet him in the store. Got the best deal in town on Lowepro bags. What he doesn’t stock is available as import in most cases, such as my background system.

Thuan My, our Mac supplier. Yes, I could probably get the hardware slightly cheaper elsewhere, but in terms of service, they are worth every single Dong. I had the system hard disk crashing, called them up and before lunchtime, they arrived. Took the culprit back for testing, concluded that it was beyond resurrection, came back with a new system disk (that we purchased) and installed it in the afternoon. Copied files from the Time machine back-up and we were up and running again.


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Saigon Creative’s event for April welcomed Tuan from the Propeller Group at Stella Cafe for: Culture exchange. Hip hop New York. Inspired Asian moves. Kung fu.

Tuan from Propeller Group in action.

Sunny Friday morning in Saigon and the Propeller Group represented by Tuan is ready to give a lecture to the early birds. Quite an exchange it was. A cultural exchange. The re-branding of Vietnam. Underground culture. Different from the underground in the past, the ones that everybody knows when you hear the word Vietnam. The tunnels, the fight, the struggle. The existing brand.

This is a very different underground. An underground that had seen graffiti but did not know what it was called until a backpacker visiting Hanoi in 2005 gave them the much needed information. A single word: Graffiti. Once the word was known, Google searches took place and more information was transferred.

Graffiti has blossomed since then. It is a reaction to advertising. Youth promoting their own voice. Is Vietnam becoming more Westernised? Do they only copy blindly? To that, we got a brief history about hip hop in New York. People often believe hip hop originated in New York, but when you ask the pioneers from the past, they would say that they got inspired by Asian moves. Balinese dance. Kung Fu. They saw something and adopted it. Fast forward and the best hip hop teams today originates in Asia.

The flow of exchange is made easier with the Internet. YouTube and Vimeo. Collaboration across the borders. The hip hop remix project.

Within in an hour we had jumped around subjects, seen videos and listened to music collaborations and had small debates. A member of the audience told us about a very special musical art form that is more or less unique to Vietnam. The blind man walking down alleys with blown out speakers, volume on max and playing 1920 raw blues tunes.

For those who missed out on yet another brilliant morning, please visit our new site and sign up for our newsletter. The events are always free of charge to attend.

Enjoy the images:

People finding seats at Stella and enjoying morning coffee.

Notebooks are a must to archive inspirational thoughts.

The more notebooks on display the better the lecture.

Discussion interchange.

Big thank you! to Tuan from Propeller Group for an interesting lecture.

My "Lucky Day" latte from Stella staff. It was a great day indeed!


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aSaigon/CreativeMorning March speaker Dinh Q.Le at Stella, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

The early birds of Saigon.

Brilliant. Inspired. Moving. It was simply a great presentation and the early birds of Saigon enjoyed it. “I’m lovin’ it” to quote McDonalds, however, it was a far better deal. Unwrap a burger and you get disappointed as it never lives up to the tasty, juicy advertising image that sells you the deal in the first place.

Viewing one of Dinh's multimedia works.

Dinh unwrapped his thinking and reason behind his works. His research methods? Obsession he answered.

His work on Agent Orange was nothing but brilliant. His latest projects include exploring the visual language around us. If people with a voice can find a way around to get noticed, artists can too. He proved that with his Agent Orange shop.

Inspiration also arrived in a parcel. Tiki.vn sponsored the lucky draw.

The lucky draw gift from Tiki.vn.

Overall, a great start of the day, all thanks to the humble and yet so talented Dinh Q.Le

Portrait of Dinh Q.Le.

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A New Year needs a New Calendar…

…And what would be more fitting for this blog than to introduce the jewellery calendar we photographed for CAO Fine Jewellery before year’s end. Off to a flying start with the butterfly necklace, my favourite from the session.

The butterfly necklace from CAO Fine Jewellery.

Here’s a view of the calendar and below more samples from the year to come. Enjoy!

CAO Fine Jewellery's calendar 2011.

CAO Fine Jewellery.

CAO Fine Jewellery.

CAO Fine Jewellery.

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Saigon Creative Morning, a monthly serving of fresh ideas, inspiration, coffee & uncertain bakery items

Morning coffee for Creative souls.

Friday morning came, so did our attendees and our speaker, Dustin Nguyen. Coffee and pastry in hand, people started the small talk. Mingling around, then moved on to secure a good seat before kick off. After a short introduction, Dustin Nguyen pulled out a chair and started telling. An unplugged speech. An honest approach. Just as himself. Never over promise, never put yourself in a situation that you have promised something that you cannot deliver.

Hearing him tell about when he went into a meeting, sealed the deal, only to find out that most of what he wanted to do is not allowed in Vietnam. Going back and sorting it all out was humbling he said, but in my opinion shows guts and courage. Face the music upfront and you have less of a chance having your own party gatecrashed by unhappy investors or sponsors.

The whole event was filmed and will be released soon, please subscribe at Saigon Creative Morning’s website for further updates.

Below are some images from the event so you can get a feel of the venue and the setup. Enjoy!

Rockstar! David (Bowie) has just put on the music and his smile.

David giving a short introduction. Note the tie to pull down the garagedoor to divide the meeting room area.

The show is on!

Our first speaker, Dustin Nguyen.

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Six degrees of separation

Ole from Fronterra and one of my friends and clients, once told me something that made a lasting impression. He would often get suggestions from his workers that other suppliers were cheaper to which he always retorted “But are they better?” To him, quality came first.

Another friend of mine, David, just posted a new blog post: “No accounting for taste” where he states “When an entire business rests on the image of a company it makes positively no sense to look cheap or low tech on the web. “

Enter Le Gillian, arriving from Switzerland as an image consultant. In her own words:

Le Gillian

“For me, the issue of appearance according to type and cause is more than what you see. Appearance and Beauty is an emotion that expresses itself through the skin, the personality and lifestyle. Beauty is the awakening of all the senses, sparkling harmony of heart, body and spirit. I wish for my clients the courage to type, to be positive change. Whether the subject is asked styling privately or in a professional context: who dresses cleverly fits the occasion, can only win. In my consulting work also incorporated my many years of professional experience and philosophy of life from Asia and Europe.”

I had the pleasure to meet Le Gillian in person after being introduced to her by Ole and invited her for a brief portrait session. This is the power of networking. To meet people. To meet interesting people.

Another friend lamented that he was not meeting enough interesting people lately.

Fortunately, life in Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City for the political correct, is getting better. Mr 720, or Ben, is the motivator behind Saigon’s Tweetup events.

Mr 720, aka Ben.

They are gathering a bigger crowd for each session and at the latest event I bumped into another colleague of mine, Harvey.


We caught up on news and I checked with Harvey if he had time for a new project and he did. We went straight to the first production meeting of Hayden’s crew, the Northern Touch, for the 48 Hour Film project that took place for the first time in Vietnam.

At 48 Hour Film Project Vietnam's kick off. (Taken with my iPhone)

Harvey joined the team and later in the week it was kick off. 49 teams signed up and 48 hours of little sleep and lots of memorable moments and new friends.

Northern Touch team on location. (Taken with my iPhone)

Stay curious. I try to live by that. Video is a new field for photographers and also a discipline on its own. Film making is a bigger undertaking and by participating, I got a better understanding of the process. Learned a lot. It was worth it and I will do it again next year. Sign me up Hayden!

Events like these brings people out. Different events, different crowds. I’ve been a regular reader of Swiss-Miss’s blog and was intrigued by the Creative Mornings. I spoke with David and said it would be great if we could get something like that to happen here.

Well, all it takes is to have the idea and spread it amongst friends. David told George and George would like to sponsor the first year of monthly events. David has emailed Swiss Miss herself to see if we can fit underneath her umbrella. Hopefully she will get back to us.

Soon, we will all meet interesting people. Six degrees of separation.

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“Every journey starts with a single step.” – Lao Tze

Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy. Polaroid Transfer.

It is one of my favorite quotes. It sounds really simple, but sometimes taking the first step is the toughest thing you do. Once you made the decision, it is easier because you are already moving forward. The image above is from Florence or as the Italian says, Firenze. A beautiful city. I went there together with the first year students at KIAD a month before I transferred to Saint Martin’s. It was part of the program. A tour abroad, rich in culture and photo opportunities.

Hillside, Florence, Italy. Polaroid Transfer.

I remember we had at least two days to explore for ourselves. The first day I left all my gear at the hotel, and started walking. Walking and observing the whole day. Noticed how the sun moved during day and made mental notes on how I should do my shoot route. The following day I got up early, backpack with gear and tripod in hand and set off to capture. I spent the whole day photographing and came back with quite a few shots. By taking the time to prepare and pre-visualise I could be more efficient the following day. As the boy scouts say: “Always prepared.”

Walking, New York.

Sometimes, you don’t have time to pre-visualise, you act on instinct. While in New York I saw a man walking in front of me and I had my pocket Yashica T4 with me and got it out and captured the above and below shots.

Walking, New York.

“The harder I work, the luckier.” – Samuel Goldwyn

That is another quote I have taken to as well. I remember from my apprentice days that “Get it right in camera” and “Take pride in your craft”. Photography is part art and part craft.
I stick by the words and it pays off.

This week my assistant and I spent a whole day photographing furniture sets. A new client. They chose us because of the quality of our portfolio despite we were higher in cost. It is good to have clients that see and appreciate the difference.

Another new client called and confirmed that our test session had gone through. We passed the test.
They wanted quality and we delivered.

Have to keep up the hard work and have more luck, that’s for sure.

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Scandinavian design from the shores of Vietnam.

Fronterra furniture design photographed by Studio MadsMonsen in Vietnam.

Asia, the heart of manufacturing these days. Ideas can be created anywhere, however, when the ideas are about to be realized and manufactured, then Asia is the place to be. One of my clients, Fronterra, have their designers in Scandinavia, or more precisely, Denmark. The Norwegians and the Danes have a good relationship. Denmark is still a popular holiday destination for Norwegians.

I remember from my childhood days we would get up early in the morning, load the car with suitcases and snacks and hit the road. From Bergen to Oslo and then the ferry to Frederikshavn or the other route to Kristiansand and the ferry to Hirtshals. Either way, we got to see the countryside and pass over the mountain range, have a ferry ride and then entering the almost flat country with the famous red hot dogs. We would visit Fårup Sommerland and of course, being an avid lego builder, Legoland itself, in Billund. Even my firstname is Danish. According to the family history, relatives on my father side emigrated from Denmark to Norway roughly 200 years ago and kept the tradition of naming the firstborn son Mads.

The Norwegian language Bokmål, is based on the Danish language and is commonly used in the south and in particular the larger cities while NyNorsk, the second official language, is used elsewhere in the country. All official communication is printed in both Bokmål and NyNorsk. Total population of around 4,5 million people. Feels like there are more motorbikes on the streets of Saigon than there are Norwegians in this world.

Finally, some more samples of their products that we have photographed for them here in Vietnam.

Fronterra furniture design photographed by Studio MadsMonsen in Vietnam.

Fronterra furniture design photographed by Studio MadsMonsen in Vietnam.

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“What does your online image say about you?”

Self. Myself. My self image. My image. Image. Click. One click, that was it. One exposure. He checked to see if I blinked or not. Five minutes he said. Five minutes passed, money passed, images passed. I had four, scissor cut, standard passport size, identical images of myself. It was quick, it was cheap and it’s analogue. Printouts in a digital era. I need to make them digital again to upload.

What am I doing? I wanted to see what added value I bring to my customers who come for portraits. Conducting research. I cannot offer the same price, it is unbeatable at 20,000 VND, more or less one US dollar. However, I offer choice and the selected image(s) will be retouched and delivered as a digital file, not as an analogue printout that has to be either scanned or photographed again.

This is it. This is what I got. I had to put on my macro lens and photograph the printout. I would more or less get similar quality if I had it scanned.

Passport portrait done at the local photo studio

Ansel Adams zone system consists of ten zones. From pure black to pure white. Analogue film cannot capture all the levels, hence the expression “Expose for the shadows, develop for the highlights.” Let’s be generous and say that film can capture a tonal range of seven zones. Taking the negative and print it would reduce the tonal range to around five zones. Each reproductive step would reduce the quality. Enter digital photography. Every year, the camera sensors improve in quality. Having access to the RAW digital file gives you the best starting point, and after converting and retouching, you have a far more superior image, technically speaking.

If I had access to the digital image file, I could probably adjust the image a bit, but for 20,000 VND you don’t get access to that. You get your four, scissor cut images. That’s it.

Looking at the result, I feel I am looking at a “Wanted” poster. Would I change my current image on my various social networking sites or is the new image not really new and improved?

How about this one?

Portrait done at my own studio

This was taken the same day, a few hours later. For comparison, a similar head shot. Technically superior. It took a bit longer to set up as the studio is never “pre-set” for anything. Studio rule, once your session is done, everything goes back in place. Prevents you from being “lazy” and develop habits. Always think how you can work with your light. Always easier when you have an empty studio.

In my apprentice days, I heard stories from other apprentices working in the portrait business that you could encounter studios where the equipment did not move. Marks on the floor for where you should stand. Marks for where the tripod should be. Flash units already dialled in. Some even said that the aperture and focus ring were taped!

In my case, the studio I went to in my neighbourhood had the flash units already set up and dialled in. Chair in place. All I had to do was to sit down and not move. A very efficient workflow. Only five minutes. Also a very predictable outcome.

Sometimes, predictable can be good, other times not.

How about this headshot?

Portrait sample, No 1

I don’t think it would be achievable on a 20,000 VND budget. It marks a difference. It also says something about the person. About how he wants to be perceived. You can only make a first impression once.

Another sample, still with suit, but a different mood. A different light setup as well.

Portrait sample, No 2

Last sample and again a different light setup, creating another mood.

Portrait sample, No 3

Studio cleared. Ready for next. Will never follow Henry Ford and make a production line and standardise light setups. Otherwise, I will have to charge 18,000 VND and deliver in four minutes in order to compete.

Last, but not least, here’s an online guide on what NOT to do.

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