The streets of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, the city's tourism center, are dark and virtually deserted at 05:00 AM. The peaceful predawn darkness is a good time to get out and get some exercise, because by 09:00 the summer sun will be scorching the soon-to-be crowded and chaotic streets.
I am on my way to the Long Biên market, a huge wholesale “wet market” that specializes in fruit, vegetables, seafood and much more. This is one of Hanoi’s largest markets; most visitors dinning in this city will surely have eaten food that passed through here. It is not a tourist destination per se, but on most mornings I encounter a handful of travelers with cameras wondering through the busy maze of stalls. The market is fantastic place to take pictures, meet the locals and see how they start their days.
My goal is to arrive at the market just before the sun starts rising and set up a shot overlooking the market from the Long Biên Railway Bridge. Completed by the French in 1902, the cantilever bridge was built to connect Hanoi with the port city of Haiphong. At just over one mile in length it was once the longest steel bridge in Asia. During the war with America it was bombed at least twice, once in 1967 and then again in 1972. The 1972 attack did significant damage to the antique bridge and put it out of commission for over year. However, the citizens of Hanoi were largely unfazed by the destruction and simply utilized boats to move people and cargo across the Red River.
Since my introduction to the market shot by Colm Pierce, a photojournalist and co- owner of Vietnam in Focus, I have become somewhat obsessed with it. This is an interesting and challenging place to practice photography and I find this particular shot to be difficult, not only because of the low light and the movement in the market but because the bridge itself vibrates considerably as trains and pedestrians cross over it. I can’t quite achieve the results that I’m looking for, so I keep coming back to the bridge, the market and the near by Long Biên Railway Station, all of which are really great places to take pictures.
By 07:30 or 08:00 I’m thinking about cà phê sữa đá, a blend rich dark Vietnamese coffee sweetened with thick condensed milk. Cafes are extremely popular in Vietnam and in a populous city like Hanoi can be found on every street. I’ll stop and have a couple on my way back to the hotel where I crawl back to into bed; I’m really not a morning person.