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First-time travel to Hanoi, Vietnam can assault your senses. The culture shock is so real because life is lived large on the streets. It’s a complete departure from what we know in North America. But even though things appear to be absolute chaos, it soon becomes apparent that there is a highly choreographed daily dance, simple rituals that enable a street flow that is fascinating to watch. And of course, that flow provides a lot of opportunities for a travel photographer.
Travelling with Remote Year is fabulous for so many reasons, not the least of which is the opportunity to gather thousands of photos. My Adobe Lightroom catalogue shows that I captured well over 6,000 photos in one month in Vietnam.
So it was quite a challenge to choose a small selection of Hanoi travel photos to share.
Each morning I left my apartment with my trusty Fuji XT-2 camera slung around my shoulders and clicked madly as I walked 15-20 minutes to our workspace. I didn’t have to change my route because the daily flow of street vendors and scooters and cars and trains, and of course interesting people, just kept changing in front of my eyes. Or so it seemed.
Sure there are mobile vendors, mostly women with their wares slung on bicycles, who move around all day. And then there are the sidewalk squatters, families who camp out at the same spot every day, starting much earlier than I—probably when the neighbourhood rooster starts crowing around 3:30 am—whose life and livelihood spill out onto the streets for the day.
And on my way back home at the end of the workday, the streets were empty. Not a vendor to be seen, not a chicken feather to be found. Maybe just a rat or two scurrying across the road to hide in the large mounds of garbage bags waiting for pick-up. The daily dance was done, only to start again the next day soon after the first crow.
In this travel blog I share a selection of Hanoi street photos that reflect the daily dance that so fascinated me. I hope you enjoy them.
If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay home.
Stationary Street Market Vendors, Hanoi, Vietnam
Vietnamese people buy their daily food fresh, really fresh, from street vendors. So if you’re squeamish about where your food comes from, a visit to Vietnam has to desensitize you. Especially after you taste all of the fresh food, prepared right before your eyes, literally. It’s farm to table, right in front of you. “Eat local” isn’t even a term in Vietnam, it’s a cultural norm.
I think this is a family affair, and if your eyes travel clockwise from the lower left you see Mom cutting fresh fish, daughter plucking a chicken, maybe that’s Dad cleaning the chicken and brother finishing it off for sale. And then there are two more chickens on deck, oblivious to their fate.
What do you think… is that chicken saying “pick me”???!!!
Fresh pork meat is as popular as chicken at the street markets in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Fresh vegetables are another daily staple in the Vietnamese diet and are readily available at makeshift street markets.
This scooter’s basket is getting filled up with the daily wares for one Vietnamese shopper.
Mobile Street Market Vendors, Hanoi, Vietnam
Watching the street vendors who were mobile, either on bicycles, scooters or on foot with baskets slung over their shoulders attached to a stick, was just as fascinating to me as those who claimed their daily spot on the sidewalks.
Notice this vendor’s assistant in the background, counting the money.
The Vietnamese women who walk the streets with their baskets of wares slung over their shoulders on a pole definitely need to take rest breaks. Notice the tiny pink stool that this woman carries with her for these breaks.
I loved watching the flower ladies, especially because I know they had travelled a long way from the 24/7 flower market in the northern part of the city.
Have scooter, will deliver… anything!
It became a bit of a competition in our travel group to see what kind of kooky things were transported on bikes and scooters. I actually saw a full-size fridge on the back of a scooter once!
The Vietnamese frog-squat
I know the term “frog-squat” may sound derogatory, but it was shared with me by a Vietnamese local so I feel okay using it here. Let me just say that I’m glad I’m relatively short so I could be somewhat comfortable sitting at an outdoor restaurant in Hanoi.
Vietnamese people are small in stature to begin with, so they are comfortable squatting on the low plastic stools that litter the sidewalks outside of the numerous restaurants.
The woman on the left serves hot pho every morning on the street corner across from our workspace. Her makeshift stools captured my eye.
These men don’t need stools to simply watch the daily dance whiz by them on the streets of Hanoi.
Train Street, Hanoi, Vietnam
Train street in Hanoi is a phenomenon that has become an Instagram favourite. And it’s understandable why.
A few times a day a massive speeding train races through a very narrow street where people live and play. Tourists flock there to witness it and capture their own image on the tracks. Many locals have capitalized on the business opportunity by operating bars and restaurants right beside the tracks.
I liked to wander Train Street when it was relatively empty and watch how the locals live and play along the famous tracks.
People watching in Hanoi, Vietnam
Don’t you just love people watching, wherever you go? I do. And Hanoi, Vietnam provided so many interesting people to see and photograph.
If you saw my Instagram post a while back, you know the story behind this photo. But I’ll tell it again because it impacted me in a big way.
I was walking through the Old Quarter one hot & humid day, and this lovely woman was squatting in a doorway. Just watching the world go by. I’m sure she has lived there for many years, and I’m also sure she sees a lot of amazing things go by her doorway every minute of each day.
I saw her and walked by. And then I stopped dead in my tracks. I just had to have her picture. I’m always a bit nervous to ask people if I can photograph them, but I knew I had to ask. So I backtracked and motioned the question, “Can I take your photo?”
She nodded yes and as soon as I brought my camera to my eye, her hands rose in prayer, her smile widened and her eyes danced. When I brought the camera down from my eye, my hands also rose in prayer and I nodded a thank-you. I felt blessed.
The next two photos reflect the differences in generations, from an older gentleman who wears a very subdued traditional outfit to the young woman whose clothing and accessory choices seem to shout out her contemporary vibe, even while she embraces the symbolic red of Vietnamese culture.
Chaos and Magic in hanoi, vietnam
Hanoi, Vietnam is one of my favourite stops on my Remote Year journey. I felt over-stimulated at first and saw only chaos. But the daily dance of life on the streets is where the real magic of Hanoi is revealed once you are ready to see past the surface.
I really enjoy your comments about my #travelphotos. Drop a message in the comments section below.
#VisitHanoi #RemoteYear #RemoteYearCurie #RYCurie
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Hi, I’m Barbara Cameron. I love travel and all that it brings: people, food & drink, photography, adventure, culture, architecture, history, and more. I'd love for you to follow along as I share the journeys I've been on and the ones yet to come. I’ll share my wisdom, my travel stories, and my travel photos.
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Oh my…what a lovely blog on Hanoi…the camera club has a Bicycle Theme in April…you have some wonderful photos of bicycles…all of us miss you…sure look forward to seeing you in the middle of October…Hugs! Irene
Thanks Irene! Miss you all too, can’t wait for hugs and sharing of some photo adventures again!
Amazing Barb. Your pix and stories bring it all to life for me!
Thanks Char! You really need to go to Vietnam, it’s an amazing place! I will go back…
What an amazing collection of
Images and memories … love your eye for Life and your ability to capture it with your camera!!
So many images and memories! Thanks for seeing it all through my eyes 🙂
Some memorable photos and wonderful experiences. The markets and modes of transportation brought back
My memories of China. Very similar. No one seems to mind photos being taken…which makes it easier and what is first thought of as chaos really does have a rhythm to it. So unlike North American life. I think the images of people you captured are fascinating!
Arlette, I am sure these photos and stories are similar to yours from China. And you’re right, the Vietnamese people are very kind and generous about foreigners taking photos. thanks for taking the time to read and comment, means a lot to me!
Amazing photos Barb! Loved the older lady with hands clasped, flower ladies and their bikes! Street life, oh so real!
Thanks for all of Hanoi in my cell phone!
Thanks Angela! I just love the street life, there and everywhere I’ve travelled. It’s so fascinating to observe the differences and similarities around the world. My mind and heart are filled to overflowing with stories, pictures and memories!
Thank you for sharing some of your amazing experiences! Your images tells so many stories and remind my of the chaos I saw in my daily life when I lived and worked in Bangkok. You’re so right wen you say it becomes a dance and once you understand it, you begin to trust it. Loved your Train Street images! I saw something similar in India but you were able to take your time to capture it as the days of your life in Hanoi passed by. You have truly embodied the intentions of Remote Year with your enthusiasm and courage to explore, see and “know”. Looking forward to hearing your stories when you return. Take care Barb!
Marion, we have so many stories to share! Now that I’ve travelled so far and wide, I truly understand more where you’ve been… literally and figuratively. Thanks as always for your support and kind words of encouragement.
I love seeing all your photographs and reading your blogs. Brings me back to my backpacking years in the early ’80s. Love living vicariously through you!! Thanks for sharing your adventures!!
Thank you Lori! I’m really glad when my stories resonate. I always wanted to backpack in the 80s but life took over then, so I’m so grateful to be able to travel now! (Sorry for delayed response, I never get notifications about comments so I have to remember to check manually!)
The travel bug is certainly biting, and you have captured so many beautiful memories. I spent some time this afternoon reliving our travel family’s journey through your photographs and writings. Such amazing work, Barb! Know that you are missed, dear friend!
Hi Lisa! Somehow your lovely comment went into the spam folder, but I’m so glad I found it. Yes the travel bug is definitely biting us all right now. I’m truly glad I can help you relive our times together travelling the world! Let’s hope we get to do it again together sooner than later.