Part of travel photography is getting wowed by the destination in which you've chosen to immerse yourself. Some cities are known for architecture, some are known for nightlife and some are known for history. Hanoi is a city known for its urban chaos.
The first time I traveled to Hanoi, I was there during the quietest days of the year (for a city that you could consider to be loud, this certainly says a lot), which was the Lunar New Year festival.
During the holiday, most landmarks, shops and restaurants are closed. The Lunar New Year festival is much like American Thanksgiving or Christmas.
My second time in Hanoi was recently for four weeks with my boyfriend Dan. We hunted down lots of spots for photography and got to choose when to visit them based on weather and lighting.
Hanoi is great for photography and there's never a lack of things going on. So much city life takes place in public parks, on the street, and in shops that keep their doors open. Even alleyways turn into markets. Here are some great spots to check out for your next photography adventure.
Hanoi Train Street
Train Street is a recent phenomenon in terms of places to go for an Instagram shot in Hanoi. It'll top all the lists, and for this reason, the street is full of tourists.
Our secret was going toward the bottom of the street toward Food Street (Tong Duy Tan), where it was quieter. The tourists subsided and we were able to get some clear perspectives.
Train Street is popular, but it's unique—it's a street in the center of the city through which a train runs several times a day on wooden and metal train tracks. In the last decade, locals have capitalized on the fact that it makes a good photo spot, and it has become popular with visitors. They've opened restaurants and cafes where you can sit and hang out by the tracks and people-watch.
Quán Thánh Temple
This quiet temple is most beautiful at golden hour. It's walkable from Old Town, roughly 20-30 minutes, depending on where you come from. Admission is not steep, at less than 1 USD, and once inside, you can see the fruit trees, the interior of the temple and the quiet paths. This temple is not big, but provides a nice amount of variety, and the benefit is not too many tourists find it.
Highland Coffee (Tàng 3, 1-3-5 1-3, 5 Dinh Tiên Hoàng, Hàng Tróng, Hoàn Kiém)
Highland Coffee is a chain in Vietnam much like Starbucks. This particular location has a third-floor wrap-around outdoor balcony from which you can take impressive time-lapses of the chaotic traffic pattern (or lack thereof) as three streets combine into a traffic circle and lead around Hoan Kiem Lake.
Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum
Providing stark contrast to the crowded and chaotic streets of Old Town and the neighborhoods nearby, Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum and its surrounding area are places you'll find on every must-see list for Hanoi.
The mausoleum itself is squared-off concrete and was built in a hulking massive style in order to express the strength of the memory of Ho Chi Minh for Vietnam. While the mausoleum's exterior is a sight to see and photograph, it'll also be fun to capture the expressions and reactions of the visiting tourists, who will likely be in large numbers. Nearby is the One Pillar Pagoda and other famous parks, where Hanoi locals enjoy spending time in the outdoors. There are lots of food vendors catering to tourists as well, and opportunities for photos with all that's going on.
Hanoi has no shortage of rooftop bars, most of which do not charge cover fees to enter (unless there is a special event) and are located within hotels. A few of my favorites are Skyline or Diamond Sky Bar, both of which offer great panoramic views of the city. I recommend heading to one of these rooftops at sunset, where you can watch the city grow dark and get a break from all the action down below on the streets.
The Hanoi Murals
The Hanoi Murals are easily accessible and are a fascinating addition to the city as an artistic element for the public. The murals themselves were created by various artists, all picturing life in Hanoi through the years and in many different styles. Some of them have interactive pieces like bicycles or steps that melt into the paintings. Most murals are accompanied by the name of the artist and a bit of information. While the murals are fascinating on their own, it is great to view them with a buddy or fellow photographer and to use a human subject to create some depth.
Trán Quóc Pagoda
This pagoda is outside Old Town, located on an island in West Lake. Make sure to plan to be there before the closing hours, and you'll be able to enter the gates with a small price for admission. I recommend staying around the lake promenade toward sunset, when you can get a shot of the pagoda reflecting in the lake and you can play with colors and hues in your edits afterward. This was a memorable place to be as the sun went down.
Any Brightly-Colored Table on the Street with Food
What's better that Vietnamese food? I'll tell you what—eating your Vietnamese food outside on any red or blue table and having natural light to make your image really pop. This is something I absolutely could not get enough of in Vietnam! You'll find some of the best food on the street, and most food stalls specialize in one or two items, so you know they're going to be doing a good job at preparing their dish. My go-to is pho ga (chicken noodle soup) and no matter what time of day, you could find me taking photos of food outside at these colorful plastic tables to nail the perfect shot of my noodles.
Dong Xuan Night Market
Vietnam's night markets are spots for endless photo opportunities, from the goods being sold to the people who sell them. They're just as vibrant as daytime markets, but with the lights of motorcycles zooming by next to you, and with the glow of lanterns hanging above. Turn off your flash and find your favorite camera settings for capturing the liveliness of Hanoi's night markets, where you'll find skewered food sticks, dried fruit, home goods, toys, crafts, flowers and more.
Streets of Hanoi Old Town During Mornings
Mornings are when locals do their shopping in Hanoi, and street vendors who sell everything from vegetables to dried fruit and nuts will be wheeling carts, carrying produce in baskets hanging from their shoulders and pedaling bicycles with piles of noodles. Things start early in Hanoi, and if you're battling jet lag, get out as the city wakes up to see all this action, which is the opposite of quiet. Capture the hustle of the bargaining and the freshness of the pineapples as you explore by foot in this quarter of town, admiring the way the locals don't bat an eye when they dodge bikes to cross the streets.
Even with a month in Hanoi, I didn’t get around to capturing everything I wanted to. Are you headed to Hanoi or to another part of Vietnam? I’d love to see your photos, so please reach out to me on Instagram to share.