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Hanoi: A short glimpse in the past [Travel Photography]

Stories | May 17th, 2024

I touched down in Hanoi at 10:00 am, and the moment I stepped out of Nôi Bài airport, I was hit by a wall of heat, humidity, and utter chaos. Taxi drivers swarmed like bees, each one more enthusiastic and persistent than the last, while my phone buzzed with a barrage of welcome messages, courtesy of the local SIM card I’d just installed. My attention span was tested to its limits, much like a schoolgirl on TikTok.

But, as a self-proclaimed connoisseur of all things shabby and Asian, I navigated my way into a GRAB ride with surprising ease. As we sped down the highway toward my destination, my mind drifted to thoughts of a much-needed shower. I gazed out the window at a sprawling expanse of lush, vibrant green, an ancient landscape that seemed to stretch on forever. This pastoral scene soon gave way to the unmistakable signs of modernity: towering apartment buildings perched above convenience stores, massage parlors, and, of course, the ubiquitous Pho restaurants.

Organized chaos

In an attempt to ward off the impending jet lag, I decided to dive straight into the heart of Hanoi’s streets. The first lesson any YouTube vlog worth its salt will impart is how to cross these streets. Traffic here doesn’t really stop for anything—save for the rare, begrudging halt at a red light.

There’s a peculiar charm to the chaos that permeates much of Asia, but Hanoi seems to elevate it to near-apocalyptic levels, rivaled only by the frenetic streets of India. Imagine cars, buses, scooters, and anything else on wheels locked in a perpetual competition for the tiniest bit of road space, all engaged in a beautifully choreographed yet anxiety-inducing dance.

The key to crossing these streets is simple yet daunting: move steadily and confidently, without any sudden movements. Miraculously, everything—be it a car, bus, or scooter—just flows around you, as if by some unspoken agreement.

Random street intersection in the Old Quarter – Agfa Vista 400 (Expired)

Traditional Vietnamese “Ciclo” – Agfa Vista 400 (Expired) 

Old Vietnamese Army Jeep – Agfa Vista 400 (Expired)

Vietnamese Cyclist looking into the busy streets of Hanoi

Vietnamese bike taxi rider – Agfa Vista 400 (Expired)

The cool part: The people

I firmly believe that the true essence of traveling in Asia goes beyond Instagrammable sights and the eclectic array of food. It’s all about the people. Vietnam, in particular, stands at a fascinating crossroads of cultures, with influences from various foreign entities evident in its religion, government, and cuisine. Yet, amidst all this, Vietnam remains unmistakably itself.

The Vietnamese are a captivating people. Their history is a tapestry of resilience and defiance, and despite everything, they exude an endless hospitality seasoned with a pinch of “fuck it” and an almost supernatural tenacity. They might seem shy at first, but they warm up quickly, revealing a depth of character that’s both engaging and endearing.

Local vendors chatting – Kodak Portra 160NC (Expired)

Local artisan & Sausage vendor – Agfa Vista 400 (Expired)

Locals congregating – Agfa Vista 400 (Expired)

The best part: The women

While I only visited a small part of Vietnam, I was still particularly struck by the women. Their presence in society is not just valuable; it’s downright indispensable. Historically, Vietnamese women have been the backbone of their communities, warriors both on the battlefield and in the domestic sphere. From the legendary Trung sisters who led a rebellion against Chinese rule in the first century, to the tireless workers in rice paddies and bustling markets, their contributions have been monumental. While we are at it, take a trip to the Vietnamese Museum of Women and get a load of some interesting badassery.

In contemporary Vietnam, this legacy of strength and resilience is evident everywhere you look. Women work just as hard as men, often juggling multiple roles with a seamless blend of grace and grit. They hustle with fierce determination, whether they’re running a business, managing a household, or pursuing education and careers.

Local model at Train Street & Flower vendor- Kodak Portra 160NC (Expired)

Small store clerk – Agfa Vista 400 (Expired)

Street Fruit Vendor & Restaurant clerk – Agfa Vista 400 (Expired)

Balloon vendors – Agfa Vista 400 (Expired)

Their entrepreneurial spirit is palpable in the markets where they negotiate with the savvy of seasoned traders, and in the cafes where they blend the perfect cup of coffee. In the corporate world from what I’ve gathered, they climb the ranks with the same tenacity that has defined Vietnamese resilience for centuries.

Vietnamese women are not just participants in their society; they are its driving force. Their strength, both historical and modern, is a testament to their indomitable spirit, and their role in shaping the future of Vietnam is nothing short of inspiring.

Balloon vendors – Agfa Vista 400 (Expired)

Food vendor – Kodak Portra 160NC (Expired)

Hey, thanks for looking.

You might be wondering about the funky, grainy, and oddly colored images. Well, given Hanoi’s location and its storied past, I decided to roll the dice and use expired film stocks. These can yield unpredictable but often intriguing results, capturing the city’s age and mood in a way that modern digital photography simply can’t. This choice was my attempt to reflect Hanoi’s rich history, with its layers of time and tales etched into every corner. The imperfections in the photos mirror the city’s own beautiful imperfections—its vibrant chaos, its timeless charm, and its resilient spirit.

I hope these images brought you a step closer to experiencing Hanoi as I did. Enjoy the journey through this fascinating city, one grainy snapshot at a time.

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