Vietnam is infinitely photogenic. From the serene beaches of Phu Quoc to the monumental limestone karsts of Halong Bay, the decaying facades of Hanoi’s Old Quarter to the lantern strewn streets of Hoi An, and the tumbling rice terraces of Sapa to the neon glow of Saigon’s apartment blocks.
However, when scrolling through the thousands of images I took in the country, it wasn’t the landscapes or city sights that jumped out at me, but the photographs of people. While anyone can capture an image of the same landscape or iconic building, I find that street scenes and portraits are far more interesting. They capture a moment in time or meeting of people that may never happen again. Each one tells a unique story.
Here are some of my favourite photographs of people that I took in Vietnam along with the stories behind them.
Location: Hoi An
Driving through Da Nang on my way to Hoi An, I was surprised to see how much of the city was taken up by vast ‘wedding centres’ – huge venues specially designed for wedding ceremonies and receptions. Arriving in Hoi An, I saw extravagantly dressed couples walking the streets, followed by armies of videographers and photographers, trying to get a perfect wedding photograph in the picturesque city. Maybe that’s the whole reason that people choose to marry in nearby Da Nang. I couldn’t help hijacking the shoots and get my own photographs of the couples.
Rice paddies and waterways surround Hoi An. As soon as you leave the centre of the town, you are immediately surrounded by lush, green fields. This man was waiting by the main road, letting tourists sit on his buffalo for a $2 dollar photograph. I insisted that I just wanted to photograph him but he wouldn’t relent in trying to get me atop his animal. Eventually, he relented and climbed on top himself, not before patting me on the stomach and saying “English people love beer” with a laugh. I’ll forgive him though as he posed so well.
Boat drivers waiting for custom in the centre of Hoi An. It’s impossible to walk the riverbanks without being yelled at with a constant barrage of “Want a boat?”
The 3 photographs above were taken at the night market in Hoi An. On an evening the town comes alive as the thousands of lanterns strewn across the streets are lit, bathing the centre in a colourful glow. It certainly makes the market one of the most atmospheric I visited in Vietnam.
Location: Phong Dien Market
Location: Can Tho
A man lighting incense coils at Ong Temple
In a city as densely populated as Hanoi, all aspects of life spill out onto the streets. Food is cooked and served at the roadside, fruit sellers roam the Old Quarter with baskets full of produce and, to my surprise, even barbers can be spotted cutting hair on busy thoroughfares. I suppose when space is at a premium and property is expensive, it is easier to set up a mirror and chair wherever you can find an empty spot.
Each weekend the streets around Hoan Kiem lake close to the usual flurry of traffic and it seems that the whole city descends on the picturesque waterfront. Families play games, old people take yoga classes and teens gather on the promenade to chat and socialise. This boy was making full use of the newly emptied streets.
If you have read this post, you will know all about my meeting with Anh, the lady pictured above. She was kind enough to welcome me over for a cup of tea and talk to me for an hour about her life, her experiences during the war and even introduced me to all of her friends.
Location: Phu Quoc
Location: Cai Rang
Have you visited Vietnam? Where are your favourite places to photograph people? Let me know in the comments.
Like it? Pin it!