A Personal History

Arriving in Hanoi at the age of 19, photographer Christophe Barthe found a city to grow up in. Through his photos he recounts his history with the capital of Vietnam


I visited Vietnam with my family back in 2002, but we didn’t travel up north, so when I arrived in Hanoi in my late teens, I didn’t know what to expect. Something new?


My entrance was via an overnight bus ride, a bumpy, rumbling sleeper bus from Hue. When I woke up, there it finally was. Hanoi.


I grumpily opened my eyes; we were stuck in the early morning rush hour, stuck on some kind of butcher street.


I remembered from my previous visit to Vietnam that certain streets were named for the trades that were collected there, a remnant of the French or maybe the guilds from the past? This must be some kind of butcher street then.


Are those dogs? Whoa! This must be dog-butcher street.


I never found that street again. Not that I tried very hard.




Hanoi was full of places and things that I looked for and found, things and places that I found but wasn’t looking for, one-time and one-time-only discoveries, never to be found again. The same thing happening over and over.


Food. Coffee. Coffee everywhere. I learnt how to drink in Hanoi, and not just coffee. That went well, but I can never view or drink a shot of vodka the same.


I fell in love with Hanoi, then fell out of love with Hanoi, and then fell right back in again. Several times, I’m sure you know the feeling. I even fell into Hoan Kiem Lake. Twice.


I sang, I played, I built, I destroyed, I danced and jumped and ran and rode.


I grew into myself there, from arriving at the age of 19, until the day I left, bawling, six years, eight months and two days later. I became me.


With this chaotic ever-changing city as a backdrop, I felt like it was my cocoon. I got comfortable, made the closest of friends then let them go, into the world beyond.


Now I’m out of that cocoon and I’ve left it behind, but there’s always a string there, tugging at my heart, wanting to pull me out of the chaos of this outside world back into the chaos of itself.

I got used to sitting on the ubiquitous plastic stool while drinking litres and litres of tra da and bia hoi, trying to beat the heat

The background noise of the city would not be complete without the sound of all the birds trapped in cages


Fresh-faced, somewhere in the mountains, almost seven years ago, no idea what was waiting for me in the north

One of my first discoveries, and one of my most frequented places, this green island in the middle of the Red River

Cycling aimlessly through Hanoi, we found a park with a lake which had a bridge over it. We spent hours on that bridge, sitting and watching. I’ve never been back

A relaxing moment watching people go by, from the 2nd floor of a cafe which doesn’t exist anymore

I can’t count how many times I’ve eaten here. I can taste the com rang dua bo every time I look at this image

Slow lazy walks in the wintertime afforded views of this city and details that get lost if you’re on a motorbike

So many places to go, so many shortcuts and so many ways. Could end up anywhere I wanted with some money in my pocket

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