Day 8 - 18th June
We’re a tad weary after all these days, but we soldier on. Women start their preparations for lunch in the narrow lanes. The aroma of fresh coriander and grilled meat mingles with the scent of damp tarmac – an olfactory portrait of the city which I inhale with a touch of reservation.
We come across a flower garden nestled in the heart of the Old Town. It’s a haven for play and relaxation for the inhabitants of the old quarter. The Hàng Đậu Garden, once known during the French colonial era as the Carnot Garden, was previously a battlefield, defending the capital against French colonisation. A monument to the fallen emits a socialist vibe from days gone by.
Our next stop is the North Gate, Cửa Bắc. A monumental piece of history, erected in 1805. Engraved in its stone structure is the date 25th April 1882, marking the day when French forces opened fire, capturing the capital of Tonkin. I examine the bullet holes in the wall, silent witnesses to a tumultuous past.
Our journey takes us to the craftsman’s street. There, a blacksmith stands out. Despite his workshop being openly located on a street corner and the merciless sun beating down from a clear blue sky, everything here is in shadows. Only the fire glows orange, casting a surreal light on the scene. The blacksmith works with intent, heating iron hooks, hammering them into shape, and then cooling them in water. I attempt to capture the shower of sparks, the hissing steam clouds, and the pounding hammer in one shot.
Things take an interesting turn when we arrive at the “Bia Hoi Ha Noi” brewery. I’m invited by a group of men, who look a bit dodgy, to sit with them at a table and share a pint. A bit wary but intrigued, I accept the invitation. Suddenly, I’m part of a scene I’d usually observe from a safe distance. We laugh, drink, and our group of photographers gets the chance to document this peculiar interaction – an unexpected moment in a city I’m just beginning to explore.