I recently returned from my second visit to Vietnam – my first to include Hanoi, and I would rate it as one of my favourite cities for Street Photography. This is in large part due to the crowded nature of the city creating an environment that is ideal for social interactions of various types. The city (much like Ho Chi Min City) is famous for the chaotic mass of scooters that fill its streets. At least chaotic was the impression I got when I first arrived. On closer inspection however, it became clear that the chaos had an inner order to it, like the flocking of birds or the shoaling behaviour of fish.What appears to be a crazy and chaotic mass is actually a huge group of individuals all being careful not to collide with each other. Having recently witnessed a Hong Kong taxi driver speed-up because a pedestrian had the audacity to cross the road in front of them, I would certainly say that Hanoi drivers are far better/safer than those in Hong Kong. They seem to work to two simple rules: #1. Don’t hit what’s in front of you (however badly they behave), and: #2. The sooner I let this person pass me the sooner they are out of my life and not bothering me.
Attempting to cross the road, which at first appears to be a exercise in stupidity, turns out to far easier than in many other cities. The sheer density of traffic makes speeding next to impossible and rule #1 above means that scooters and cars will literally go out of their way to avoid hitting you. All you need to do is step forward into any gap in the traffic and then keep moving forward at a uniform pace. The one thing you mustn’t do is step backwards as most vehicles attempting to avoid hitting you will do so by driving behind you.
For anyone wanting to do Photography in Hanoi you should definitely visit Hoan Kiem District (aka the Old Quarter) and Ba Dinh District (aka the French Quarter) where the government offices are located. A day of Street Photography goes very
well when fuelled by a morning cup of Vietnamese Coffee with a pastry, a Bánh mì (Baguette filled with pate, pickled carrots/diakon and often chicken or pork) for lunch and a bowl of Pho (soup noodles) with a cold beer for dinner.
The area around Hoan Kiem Lake is especially good at the weekend, when the area is converted into a giant pedestrian only zone. Locals take to the streets with youngsters dropping bags for goalposts to enjoy a game of street football, groups of music fans listening/dancing and parents giving their kids their first driving lessons (ride on electric toy cars).
Since returning to Hong Kong I have been experimenting with Bánh mì recipes. I have found that the key to a great Bánh mì is the chilli oil. Obviously a fresh baguette, crisp pickled carrot/daikon and a tasty pate are important but to be really great it needs just the right amount of chilli oil smeared across the sandwich. Just enough to give that chilli tingle up the spine. Hopefully this will mean that I can continue to enjoy a little bit of Vietnam at home while I wait for my next return visit.