“It’s not just the kind of postcard landscape you would expect from the guidebook. As a developing country, Vietnam has a lot more stories to offer.”
As a local, Pham says he knows many “backstage” shots and alternative angles to show Hanoi from a fresh perspective.
“I love photos with layers — the kind of photos that make you stop and look more closely to really figure out what’s going on in the scene,” he adds.
He gravitates to the Long Bien Market at midnight to capture night-shift workers in action, walks around at 5 a.m. before sunrise to enjoy the silent streets and climbs to rooftop apartments to see the city from above.
But even if you’re not quite so committed to roaming the streets from dusk to dawn, Pham suggests a few more accessible photography opportunities.
A post shared by Javier Puig Saura (@javierpuigsaura) on
When Javier sets out to shoot, he typically avoids landscapes and food, gravitating instead towards people.
But street photography is tough. He says it’s akin to going fishing or hunting — luck must be on your side.
Instead of simply snapping away, Javier usually begins with a conversation.
“Basically, taking pictures is an excuse to meet people so I use the camera as a pretext,” says Javier, who regularly sits down to share a beer with his subjects and even delivers printed photos later as a gift.
“For me to trigger the camera is the last act on a long series of actions. I like to find a true little story, something unimportant but real as life.”
A few of his best fishing expeditions have occurred in the Old Quarter, which Javier says is endlessly photogenic with its yellow facades, French colonial architecture, and bustling motor traffic.
He often visits Hoan Kiem Lake, where he finds Hanoians of all ages exercising, performing Aikido — a Japanese martial art — or just taking a stroll, ice cream in hand.
On the first and 15th day of each month, Javier visits major pagodas and temples — like the Tran Quoc pagoda or Phu Tay Ho temple — to take portraits of the calligraphers who work there during the busy holidays.
“Their job is to write in old Vietnamese characters the wishes and prayers of the worshippers in papers that they will then burn in the fire of the pagoda,” explains Javier.
“The smoke is supposed to convey the wishes to the heavenly gods. They wear long beards and are dressed in colorful robes — it’s a beautiful sight.”
Then there’s Nhac Xua Cafe, a historic music spot, which began as an amplifier and speaker repair shop.
“When he first opened (the repair shop), the owner would serve customers green tea and play old music — mostly Vietnamese pre-war songs — while they waited,” explains Nguyen.
“People loved it and asked the owner to turn that shop into a coffee shop. Sitting on the tiny bamboo chairs by Westlake in the evening and listening to old music will bring you back to the old days of Vietnam.”
“I love taking photographs of crowds — it’s a lot of fun,” Thanh says. “For travelers, I would send them to the narrow alleys, where residents live and share a public space together. It is so Hanoi!”
Of course, a trip to Hanoi isn’t complete without sampling the city’s diverse street eats — think ph b (beef noodle soup), bn ch (grilled pork with rice noodle), and bnh m pate (goose pate sandwiches).
“You must taste the local food in every corner of the Old Quarter,” he says. “You don’t know anything about Hanoi if you never try the street foods.”
Married to Hai Thanh, Maika Elan is a documentary photographer who tells intimate stories through her lens.
She picked up a family camera in 2006 and started experimenting while studying sociology in university.
At the time, Elan focused on the villages and farmers in the countryside. But as she advanced, she took interest in city life and issues closer to home.
“For me Hanoi is always full of positive energy and almost everything is on the street so you really can see the real life here,” she tells CNN Travel.
“I love to take picture in the small alleys. They look very small and dark from outside, but when you walk in, its very long and often open up to stairways or kitchen, with lots of sunshine. It always takes me by surprise.”