Places and Faces: Hanoi and Lào Cai, Vietnam

Vietnam is a Southeast Asian country, with a distinct and rich cultural heritage. Like other countries in the region, it is home to both a burgeoning urban population and indigenous ethnic tribes that inhabit its highlands.

The following is a series of photographs of both its urban (taken in its capital city of Hanoi) and rural life (taken in the province of Lào Cai). 

Nature and nurture

Nature and nurture.                        Lào Cai, Vietnam, 2016
A group of farmers and their water buffalo overlooking the nearby river. Water buffalos are considered one of the many symbols of Vietnam. Apart from being handy in the paddy fields, they are often prized possessions of poorer households, where raising and selling them can eventually earn the families much needed income.

Along the busy streets.                    Hanoi, Vietnam, 2016
A street hawker, a person who moves around selling goods and street food, peels chestnuts by the side of a busy road. The shoulder pole, like the conical hats, is also symbolic of hawkers. It signifies their hardship, suffering, and sacrifice as they lug it, along with their produce, through the busy city streets in hopes of finding potential customers.

Colour.                            Lào Cai, Vietnam, 2016
The markets in Lào Cai are extremely colourful places because of the fresh variety of produce on sale and the beautiful traditional dresses donned by the Flower Hmong people.

Daily commute.                        Hanoi, Vietnam, 2016
A hawker walking along the streets of Hanoi, wearing the typical non la or palm-leaf conical hat. The hat has become a cultural symbol amongst tradesmen in Vietnam and is a practical piece of clothing to shield them from the hot summer sun.

Hmong siblings.                        Lào Cai, Vietnam, 2016
Siblings of the Black Hmong tribe wait patiently outside the village’s community hall, where village leaders gather to celebrate good harvests, discuss pertinent issues, and hold larger meetings throughout the year.

Rise and shine.                        Hanoi, Vietnam, 2016
The Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi, famous for the legend of the Golden Turtle God, is a daily hub of activity for the locals. I got up early on my last day in Vietnam to capture a glimpse of life there.

A village schoolboy.                        Lào Cai, Vietnam, 2016
A young Dao boy in his village school. I spent some time in the school, mingling with the children there, and found out from my guide that corruption is a big issue in village education. In hopes of keeping their jobs, teachers often allow failing students to move on to the next grade. These students are eventually unable to compete with graduates from the cities.

Traditions.                            Hanoi, Vietnam, 2016
“Traditions are the guideposts driven deep in our subconscious minds. The most powerful ones are those we can’t even describe, aren’t even aware of…” – Ellen Goodman.

Ancient coins.                        Lào Cai, Vietnam, 2016
A handful of ancient Vietnamese coins on sale at the local market. I asked my guide to help me with this photograph, and he mentioned that these coins were dug up from a nearby archaeological site, yet were hardly worth anything.

Overlooking the valley.                    Lào Cai, Vietnam, 2016
An aerial view over Sapa Valley in Lào Cai province. While the main economic activity here is agriculture, which is dependent on the many rivers for irrigation, the villagers have taken advantage of the increasing tourist crowd to earn extra income through handicraft trade and homestay experiences.

Joyous reunion.                        Lào Cai, Vietnam, 2016
Hmong women happy to see their husbands return home from the fields. It is a tradition for women of the Hmong tribe to tie their hair up to signify that they are married. It was a shock to see girls as young as fifteen years old with tied-up hair, but it is customary for some girls to marry at such a tender age.

A wandering Hmong boy.                    Lào Cai, Vietnam, 2016
I photographed this young Black Hmong boy wandering by himself some distance away from his home. His stone-cold demeanour parallels the chilly weather of winter, which would have ended by now.

An acquired taste.                Lào Cai, Vietnam, 2016
Two friends playing the traditional Ken Loa Go or Vietnamese Suona at the local marketplace. In my opinion, the instrument produces a rather loud and unpleasing sound that takes an acquired taste to appreciate.

Nathaniel Soon has always been fascinated with the world and has always loved a great adventure. From climbing his first peak in Nepal when he was 15 to living amongst the tribes of Thailand and Vietnam, these new experiences continue to excite and inspire him. It has always been his dream to to capture and tell stories about places and people around the world through photography and writing.
Find his work here.