Visiting Hanoi at this time of the year is fraught with one particular challenge – the heat. High humidity and 40 degrees Celcius temperatures soon takes a toll, particularly when walking around with heavy camera equipment. The up side to this, however, is the light. Deep blue skies and extended twighlight hours allows the photographer to work with some striking light, albeit in a short time frame before the heat turns it into a whitewashed haze.
The Old Quarter
This first image was taken at the front entrance of Quan Chuong gate, the only still standing gated entry point to Hanoi’s old quarter. Besides the light in this image, the real focal point of the shot is the lady carrying green apples in her traditional ‘yolk’ – the balancing basket. Without this slight touch of the traditional, the image could have been obscured into the mundane modern world, to which Hanoi is adapting to. One or two years ago an image such as this with the local seller would have been common and easy to photograph, however, with the governments recent policy of clearing the Hanoi streets of its street life to improve the traffic flow and cleanliness of the city, seeing a scene like this is already a thing of the past. Hence why it was important for me to still capture this element of old Hanoi into the photograph whilst I still could. The same thought process can apply to the below image of a lady selling flowers from the back of her bicycle. A scene that was once found throughout the old quarter and many other Hanoi streets, but now sadly relegated to a small side street off the front of Dong Xuan market.
Quan Thanh Pagoda
One prominent but not always frequently visited pagoda in Hanoi is Quan Thanh, located opposite to the shore of West Lake in what is known as the French Quarter. The pagoda itself is the only one in the city completely dedicated to Taoism and, like many religious sites, provides a sense of solitude and calmness in an otherwise chaotic city. Rather than photograph the facade and interior of the pagoda I was looking for an additional human element that could add some more character and depth. Strolling past the pagoda a few days prior I noticed a small group of martial art performers practicing in the open courtyard. I didn’t have my camera with me at the time (always a big mistake to make!) but found out they were due to return again a few days later. It turns out they were part of a troupe practicing for the cultural events of the Hanoi 1000th year celebration due to be held in October this year. Due to the heat and another appointment I had pending, I was only accorded the opportunity to take a few images of one of the performers warming up. Still, I waited for the right positioning against the light and with the colours and texture of the pagoda as a back drop, I was able to take a few shots I was content with.
Hanoi Opera House
I may lament a little about the loss of a number of Vietnam’s traditions or customs that originally drew me (and many others) to the country 20 years ago, however, I still admire and value Vietnam’s French architectural heritage. There is no finer example of classic and beautifully crafted French colonial architecture than the Hanoi Grand Opera House. Renovated in 1997, the building is striking from any angle and whilst I have photographed street life around the area for many, many years, I have not taken a shot of the actual building alone for 12 years! The picture will not win any awards but it does present the grandeur and elegance of the building from a side angle, as opposed to the multitude of frontal shots one typically sees.
A beautiful building in a still beautiful Asian city. But be quick. It is changing at a speed it has never seen before.