Phototourism Travel Photographers Blog – Vietnam May 2018

Hanoi Sat 26th May

While exploring the old quarter of Hanoi for photo-tour locations I am overwhelmed by a visceral awareness of how the active lives of Hanoi’s population are so compressed within this amazing city.

The traffic resembles a flooded river filled with debris, a chaotic swirl yet somehow flowing in unison organised within a current of a mutual understanding and a curious group acceptance.

It is an intermingled mass of thousands of motor bikes, cars, trucks, tourist rickshaws and pedestrians. They merge, bend and twist weaving into an undesignable but strangely logical pattern.

Adrenalin, the by-product of just walking around, fills your body, the assault of colour and smell is exuberating. This place is a hive of humanity. Yet the people are kind and always helpful to the disorientated tourist.

All this punctuated with the regular approaches of vendors wearing their well-practiced air of expectation. They attempt to sell whatever they can carry, usually t-shirts, cheap bracelets and those circular straw peasant hats that appear almost everywhere. These street battlers seem impervious to refusals no matter how many times the tourists says “NO”. They persist until the futility of a “no sale” becomes painfully obvious.

I am here to scout for our upcoming photo-tour and Hanoi will be the stage 1 of our next adventure. So camera in hand, I become aware that the photographer’s true strength on these crowded streets is to resist the temptation to photograph absolutely everything. There is just too much happening in this bustling theatre of visual hyper-activity.

It is summer in Hanoi and it is so hot that staying outside for long periods becomes exhausting. Retreating to the comfort of the air-conditioned hotel seems like a very wise idea where I re-energize, wash and now refreshed venture out again into the torrential human flow.

Once again, the street is full of Hanoi’s teeming life-force, energetic but with a sub current of subliminal order. Our photographic tourist will have to be careful In Hanoi where the simple task of crossing the street is an acquired skill. An art reliant on the ability to be fearless, walk normally and no matter what you do not change your speed or direction. Ignore your impending doom in the face of an emerging wave of traffic and cross the road regardless. The Hanoi traffic relies on you walking predictably so that they can navigate around you without having to adjust their speed.

This evening is warm and humid, the air verging on being gritty while strangely fragrant. A distinct Hanoi aroma creeping from the many open street restaurants mixed with the odor of motor scooters hustling to get home. This however is far too interesting to be a deterrent to the dedicated photographer.

It is a delight to walk down these congested streets to discover a friendly corner street café where I pull up a tiny red plastic stool and order a nice cold local beer or two. Crowd watching on this roadside vantage point offers a consistent source of entertainment and the occasional photo-opportunity. I sit back sipping my ice cold beer as the human river just flows on by. After a short time a young American traveller takes up a place next to me and we chat about the woes of the world. This all provides just the right amount of stimulus to make an hour pass very quickly.

As we are enjoying our beers the street suddenly erupts into a hive of frantic activity. As though and air-raid siren has sounded, or an earthquake rattles, the vendors and café staff rush to remove all the chairs and tables that had been occupying the roadway. With the other patrons we are quickly reassembled off to the side of the road just in time to witness a light open truck full of uniformed and disinterested police cruises by.

It is amusing that the police could have easily caught the misbehaving café staff but the vans maundering pace suggested to me that this is a daily game played between street vendors and the Hanoi police.

Sunday 27th May      2.35pm – It is hot.

Strolling around Hanoi in summer feels like walking in a sauna. It is a hot, sticky and tantalizing sauna, alive with the sounds, colour and smell of this industrious and energetic city.

The Old Quarter surrounds a small lake “Ho Hoan Kiem” and on Sundays the roads around it are closed off from traffic. It is then taken over by the people of Hanoi with concerts, children’s games drawn out with chalk and played on the asphalt. Where cars, bikes and trucks swarmed only hours before it is now a scene of community pleasure and social engagement.  I have seen this before and know that there are wonderful opportunities for the keen people photographer to capture the spirit of these Hanoi revellers.

Our next photo-tour to North Vietnam will include a few days in Hanoi to capture some amazing images of this intriguing city.