Any description of Hanoi as a serene city will most likely attract a derisive chuckle.
It is the last word one would associate with the crowded, noisy, vibrant capital city, home to nearly 10 million people as busy as ants and the bees.
But if you are up early, or late, as the case may be, you can experience the city as peaceful as a pagoda on a remote mountain top.
Photographer Andy Ip Thien stumbled on this serenity when he strolled the streets in a recent winter night.
"It was interesting for me to see how the darkness could uncover a completely different layer of Hanoi's beauty ," the Ho Chi Minh City-based photographer told VnExpress International, over a cup of coffee in a Saigon café shortly after Lunar New Year holiday (Tet).
It was as if the daytime's "organized chaos" as many would like to characterize the city, dissolves, and the capital in its purest form emerges: a tranquil and ancient Hanoi he had always heard of but never encountered.
"In the golden evening light, you would start to notice old front doors and antique balconies that during the day would have been eclipsed by crowds and motorbikes and street vendor stalls," Thien said.
Even the few people he came across in the wee hours seemed different: they were calmer and more relaxed.
Unlike Saigon, Hanoi is not a city that never sleeps, but a capital of early risers. It is 4 a.m. and despite the bone-chilling cold, many donned layers of coats to exercise in the crisp city air in the morning.
A few old men and women were the first to appear from the dark still streets, jogging to and around the Hoan Kiem Lake. Some sat down on the cold park bench for a chat. Showing up shortly after were young runners and bikers, headphones plugged in.
Before being occupied by tourists and 9-to-5 commuters in a hurry, the sidewalk next to Hoan Kiem Lake becomes an open-air sorting room for freshly printed daily newspapers, as sellers sat down and readied them for distribution around the city.
A truck stops outside the wholesale Long Bien market to unload bicycles belonging to street vendors.
By sunrise, this army of hawkers would flock streets and narrow alleys with their "mobile shop." They hawk goods of all kinds, from seasonal fruits, flowers, and vegetables, to any household item that fits into their baskets.
And when Hanoians wake up and rush out for early grocery shopping, they find everything ready for them, thanks to the hard working street vendors.
Around 7 o'clock, when the rush finally kicks in, commuters hit the streets on their bikes, marking the beginning of another busy, exciting day in Hanoi.
Story by Andy Ip Thien, Nhung Nguyen
Photos by Andy Ip Thien.