In April I went for a two week trip to South East Asia taking in Singapore and Vietnam. This is an edit of blog posts I wrote for the photograd blog during the trip. I have come back to them and added some detail and retrospective thoughts.
I felt at home in the city and enjoyed wandering the streets and capturing life going on around me. Hanoi is a busy and exciting place. The old quarter is a warren of narrow streets lined with shops, restaurants and cafes. So much of daily life takes place on the streets and that makes it great for street photography.
Vietnam is the third largest exporter of coffee in the world and there are cafes everywhere. Iced coffee with condensed milk is their specialty, perfect for hot days when you've been pounding the pavements. Hanoi also has some excellent street food. Bun Cha was my favourite; it’s a tasty combo of grilled pork slices and meatballs, broth, herbs and noodles.
I spent a little time doing touristy things, but I was really there to enjoy and capture the atmosphere of the city. The city has a great vibe, it feels hectic and relaxed at the same time. Even just crossing the street through streams of scooters feels like a challenge and you feel happy to be alive when you reach the other side.
The Train Street was interesting to see. People going about their lives right beside the tracks. The train comes through about twice a day and when it's due everyone clears off the tracks and disappears into their homes. Unfortunately the arrival of the train brings a lot of tourists which does slightly ruin the magic of the moment, but hey I was one of them.
Hoan Kiem Lake is a great area for people watching and street photography. This is the main hub for people to get together. In the mornings people jog, do Tai Chi and dance in big groups. On Friday and Saturday evenings all the roads around the lake are closed and the place fills with thousands of people, playing games, watching street entertainers, singing ad hoc karaoke, and walking their fancy dogs.
Apart from all the interesting sights and scenes, the main thing that made shooting in Vietnam a pleasure was how friendly and accommodating the people are. As long as I was respectful and flashed a smile most people were happy to be photographed. I would definitely have liked a bit more time to get to know Hanoi and dig a bit deeper. I was there for 3 full days but a month would be ideal to really get beneath the surface. I’d also like to spend more time in the newer parts of the city.
Overall the trip was an excellent experience and I have some solid work to go towards my MA portfolio. Now I just have to go through the thousands of images, edit them down and relive the memories.
Street photography in Hanoi was great fun, there is so much to capture. Getting out and wandering the streets with the Ricoh GRII was the best way to drink in the atmosphere. Many of the streets are quite narrow, particularly in the old town so the 28mm of the Ricoh was useful, plus using a wideangle lens gives the images a bit more intimacy.
I would recommend Vietnam, particularly Hanoi, for any photographer. The mix of dramatic landscapes and buzzing street scenes will test all aspects of your practice.