“Hà Nội Mo To – city of honda dreams”
Documenting the unique motorcycle culture in Viet Nam
The popularity of the motorcycle in Viet Nam is legendary and possibly unsurpassed in the world. Considering that the combined
population of Viet Nam’s two main cities, Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, is around 12 million people, it is astonishing that the
inhabitants of the two cities own a total of 8 million motorcycles – most of them Hondas. In fact, Honda motorbikes are so
ubiquitous in Viet Nam that the brand name is widely used as a synonym for motorcycles in general.
This photograph series explores Viet Nam’s motorcycle culture as a unique space where pragmatic transport needs meet as
a collective cultural experience. Roads, footpaths and parking lots serve as a stage on which notions of mobility and progress are
negotiated within shared dreams of status, personal history, rebellion and belonging.
In a country where life happens on the streets, the motorcycle is an extension of the private domain reaching into the public
space: it can be a bedroom on lover’s lane, a living room to read newspapers or meet friends, a kitchen to eat lunch, a porch on
which to take a nap.
The photographs document a culture already under threat from the increasing popularity of cars. The rise of the car
is marking not only a change in the means of transport, but more importantly a shift from a collectivist to an individualistic,
westernized society. Already the Honda dream is fading, as Viet Nam’s nouveau riche take over the roads, sitting in the climatecontrolled
capsules of their SUVs and sedans, disconnected from each other and the wider community of road users.
– Markus Steffen
Biography of photographer Markus Steffen
Markus Steffen was born in 1975 in London, England. He grew up in northern Germany and studied photography under Dirk
Reinartz and André Lützen as part of his communication design degree at the Muthesius Academy of Fine Arts and Design in
His assignments as photo assistant for car photographer Holger Wild took him to many locations around the world. Having
developed a passion for travel, he seized the opportunity to spend some time in Vietnam in early 2008. As are most visitors to
Vietnam, he was fascinated by the lively traffic which is largely based on the use of motorbikes. As soon as he extended his stay,
Markus learned to ride a bike himself (a Russian “minsk’ – two stroke/four gears) and soon started to take his camera for the
ride… He couldn’t find a more inspiring studio than that on the streets!
As often as possible, he enjoyed being on his bike, taking portraits of people in traffic or of the busy street life of Hanoi.
In 2010, Markus Steffen and his wife moved from Hanoi to Hong Kong, where he is based. Today, he works as a freelance
photographer for corporate clients, fashion designers and magazines.
The photographs shown in this exhibition are a selection from Steffen’s series “Hà Nội Mo To – city of honda dreams” which
has also been edited for a forthcoming book with the same title.
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