Vietnam was the Southeast Asian country I was most excited to visit. We started our Vietnamese adventure with two weeks in the capital city of Hanoi. I have to admit that we came mainly for the food, but unexpectedly, the city completely enthralled me before I even took my first bite.
This city… how do I begin to paint the picture?
It’s absolutely crazy. Even though I was no longer a Southeast Asia newbie by the time I made it there, the madness of the city still took me by surprise. There seems to be no traffic laws at all. Dozens of scooters plow through intersections at once, whether there’s a light or not. At the same time, tiny ladies with carrying poles laden with fruits & veggies walk calmly right into the mess, somehow coming out on the other side unscathed. Cars and scooters are constantly honking to make aware of their presence. The air is perpetually ringing with the rumble of engines and beeping of horns.
It’s funny, because I could say a lot of things about Hanoi that I’ve used as reasons to not like a place (noise, bad air, way too much cigarette smoke, dirty ground, etc.), but Hanoi just wouldn’t be its crazy, charming self without those characteristics. The city is so alive with a kind of pulsating energy that grabs you and won’t let go.
We stayed in a little boutique hotel in the heart of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, an area jam packed with old buildings, street food, cafes, shops, and markets. Our days quickly settled into a routine: late breakfast, cafe, wandering, rest at hotel, more food, another cafe, and yet more food. Frankly, there’s really not much to see here in terms of touristy activities, but the best part of Hanoi is in its people and simply observing everyday life.
The Old Quarter is small. Everyday, we walked the same streets, past the same vendors and shops. And everyday, I remained captivated by all the activities happening around me. There was nothing more I’d like to do than to take a million pictures. I wanted to somehow capture the aliveness of the city and the amazing people who gave it that life. Day after day, I told myself that today is the day I will ask to take their pictures.
I wanted to capture the doughnut vendors carrying large baskets of the fried goodness on their heads. And the roaming florists whose bikes are so bursting with flowers that you can’t see the rider. And the granny who served up steamy bowls of bun rieu on the sidewalk, nonchalantly waving about a fat wad of cash. I wanted to capture the little ladies shucking chestnuts or roasting corn roadside. The tombstone carvers who so meticulously chiseled out each letter on the slab. And the deeply lined face of the old man who sat in the same spot everyday, smoking and muttering to himself.
But in the end, my shyness won out and after two weeks in town, I left without the portraits I so wanted to take (I always feel really weird asking to take a picture if I’m not going to purchase their product). Even though I didn’t get the captures I wanted, I hope these pictures will give you a sense of the vibrant, crazy, wonderful city of Hanoi.