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Hanoi through the lens of a street photographer
Jenna Duong 11:32, 2023/08/10
Hanoi's romantic beauty is the draw for this photographer from the southern part of the country.

A few visits to the capital are never enough for Nguyen Khanh Vu Khoa, a freelance photographer based in Ho Chi Minh City, as, in his opinion, Hanoi has its own romantic characteristics, namely four seasons with distinctive vibes, a strong cultural identity, and elegant people.


A poetic city

Talented photographer Nguyen Khanh Vu Khoa took photos on the shore of Hoan Kiem Lake. Photo courtesy of the photographer

Unlike Ho Chi Minh City, having only two seasons: dry and rainy or hot and... hotter, Hanoi, up north, boasts twice as many. The capital is brimful of Nhat Tan peach blossoms every Spring yet turns dazzling on Summer afternoons.

And above all is Autumn, Hanoi's special season. Visitors are captivated by simple moments, such as a chilly morning on Phan Dinh Phung Street, as they gaze at the golden rays of sunlight slanting through the leafy canopy of roadside perennial trees.

Then it turns to Winter as freezing northeast monsoons sweep across the city. But that's the perfect weather to slurp chao suon or pork rib congee on Ly Quoc Su Street’s sidewalk or savor a bowl of warm banh troi tau or floating rice cakes.

For Khoa, a native of the former Saigon, each season in Hanoi has its own poetic characteristics, while the rhythm of life and the people are also very different from where he comes from.

“Ho Chi Minh City is fast-paced and vibrant. I find Hanoi not slow but quieter. It’s not tranquil, but life's pace here is gentle. People may stroll along the shores of Hoan Kiem Lake, roam the streets, drop by the stores to have a Trang Tien ice cream,” commented the 38-year-old lensman.

Hanoi's Old Quarter through the lens of a Ho Chi Minh City-based photographer

As an avid street photographer, Khoa is always fascinated by the scenes of everyday life he comes across in Hanoi. He finds the city very photogenic, with street shops and stalls everywhere. From the elderly to the young, Hanoians are willing to be photographed, unlike the citizens of Ho Chi Minh City.

"I'm comfortable taking pictures: just point the camera at them, and middle-aged people will happily raise their hands to say hello or carry on with their actions. Specialties such as fruit or flower vendors are very nice to photograph," he said. "Not to mention the architectural features of the Old Quarter. It's as if you just have to press the shutter button and a beautiful picture comes out."

Fascinating culture and cuisine

As the photographer pointed out, the difference between Hanoi's street photos and those of Ho Chi Minh City lies in their cultures. "Apart from modern streets, Ho Chi Minh City doesn't seem historical but gives off a vintage vibe of daily life. Meanwhile, photos taken in the Old Quarter carry the nostalgia of Hanoi in the past," Khoa said.

He also believes that Hanoi's tourism has developed more since its administrative boundary expansion 15 years ago, as evidenced by Hanoians seeing Western tourists everywhere. According to the photographer, Western visitors in Ho Chi Minh City only concentrate on a few specific museums or attractions, while in the capital, they roam all over the city.

Khoa Nguyen took this photo of a food vendor on the pedestrian street around Hanoi's iconic Sword Lake.

Hanoi's cuisine also left an excellent impression on this lensman, who considers che, or sweet soup desserts, the most characteristic example. Che in Ho Chi Minh City, especially in the southwestern Mekong Delta, is so sweet that customers have to drink a lot of water to soften the sharp sweetness in their mouths. Hanoi che, on the other hand, is moderately sweet - perfect for a refreshing afternoon snack.

During their trip to Hanoi in early May, the most memorable experience for Khoa and his friends was eating bun cha, or rice noodles with grilled pork and herbs. 

Food, culture, and people enchant the southern photographer whenever he comes to Hanoi. Above all, the desire to capture more of the city's charming corners keeps Khoa returning.

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi.

"I haven't shot all the landscapes there, and I still want to get to know the stories of Hanoi. There are two moments that I want to capture fully: one is Long Bien Bridge on a foggy morning, and the other is Hanoi's Autumn at Hoan Kiem Lake," he said. The photographer has heard about these two typical scenes in Hanoi for a long time, but he hasn't had the opportunity to experience and capture them through his own lens.

Khoa admitted that he hadn't been in Hanoi long enough to understand the city deeply. "Hanoi also has Ha Dong District, home to handicraft villages that I haven't explored yet. I don't know how long is enough for one visit. Hanoi has four seasons, each with its own beauty. I may have to move to Hanoi for three years to photograph them all," Khoa said humorously.

Tran Quoc Pagoda on the bank of West Lak in Hanoi.
The legendary One Pillar Pagoda in Hanoi.
Rickshaws around Hoan Kiem Lake.


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