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Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City? Hanoi!

Hanoi – a Beautiful Mess

When I wandered through the streets of Hanoi, the city reminded me immediately of Budapest. Especially the old Quarter, with its imperfectly coloured and cracked walls, the artsy cafes, the cobbled streets and the funky balconies, and particularly and plain and simply – the atmosphere – immediately took me back to our long week-end we had spent in Budapest for Valentine’s day back in 2014.

Prior to that, and a very long time ago, I had travelled to Berlin – and it also reminded me of it too.

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Poster of Hanoi - Vietnam

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If a debate was to ensue about whether Hanoi or Saigon is nicer, I would immediately chose ‘Team Hanoi’ – without a doubt! It was a bustling city, but one with personality and one I could actually live in. From all places visited in Vietnam, of course, I would always ever consider living in Hoi An – my one true love – a town I fell in love from the moment I arrived.

But there is something about Hanoi that captivated me…

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Hanoi Vietnam

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My photography is heavily focused on capturing a ‘beautiful mess’. Give me a broken wall, add some colours to it, dot some leaves around and I’m in my element! For whatever reason, my eye is always immediately focused on imperfections. They fascinate me. In my photography, but also in life, in general. I love stories about the black sheep, the outcasts, the rebels and those that have done things differently. I love reading about those that were dubbed ‘nonconformists’. Hanoi, for me, is a city full of alternative non-conformity. It has character. The same way, that I find Melbourne to have character – whereas Sydney…meh.

I find myself drawn to ‘artsy’ places, without a doubt.

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Artsy wall in Hanoi - Vietnam

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As I had visited Vietnam during ‘cold season’, there was an even bigger ‘artsy’ flair in the air. It reminded me of a (warmer) European autumn. Maybe that was the reason I liked it so much. It reminded me of where I came from. It was familiar. The colours of the leaves had changed and there were many dotted all over the floor. At some point, when the wind was blowing, I felt like I was caught in a leaf rain. Beautiful leafs falling from the sky. There was something intrinsically romantic about this moment.

I bet you can feel my fascination with this place…

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Church in Hanoi - Vietnam

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The streets of Hanoi were alive. One Sunday afternoon, immediately after TET, there were so many families going for a casual wander along the lake, children laughing, grandparents holding hands – people seemed happy – it was beautiful to observe. But it was never that crowded so as to instil a wish for withdrawal and solitude in me (which I very much experienced in Ho Chi Minh City). Saigon, in contrast, was too hectic, too loud and too…well…too ordinary. I barely took any photographs there. As I had mentioned in a previous blog post – maybe, my dislike for the city was linked to my negative mind-set and my transition to being a solo traveler. Perhaps, I also did not frequent the right places.

Whatever it was…Saigon just didn’t work for me.

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Mother and daughter in Hanoi - Vietnam

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Hanoi, on the other hand, was a pleasure to visit. I loved walking through the ice-cream street and buy a cone of vanilla kem for next to nothing. I really enjoyed Hanoian Egg coffee which I discovered in the busy coffee street that is mostly frequented by young people, sitting together outside on plastic chairs, smoking and chatting to each other (yes, they actually chatted as opposed to staring at their phones). And the best part? I went to a 4D cinema for the first time in my life! I didn’t even know 4D existed! Basically, the seats move whenever there is an action scene, wind is blown into your face, mini explosions go on around you, lighting effects add to the theatrical moments. It was grand.

And with my Popcorn on my lap…a blissful moment indeed.

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Hanoi - Vietnam

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The one evening, while having dinner, two elder women started chatting to me (this time, I was receptive to talking to strangers, unlike in the past, when I was quite rude to this dutch woman. I also explained in a post, why I need moments of ‘closed-mindedness’ sometimes). An American lady who is currently on her ‘gap year’ as she puts it. She never knows where she will live next. Her daughter lives in New York. Which makes it hard at times. But, she enjoys the atmosphere in Hanoi for now. I loved how she looked like a high net-worth socialite with her fake plump lips and her ‘botoxed’ forehead. She was beautiful – but very obviously much younger looking than she actually was. Her English friend is visiting from Spain. She has been living in Spain for over thirty years. She’s had enough and is toying with the idea of moving to SE-Asia one day.

This conversation was a perfect wrap-up for an interesting time in Hanoi. I had relaxed and found my feet in my new role as solo traveler. Hanoi and I, we somehow clicked. 

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Leafy street in Hanoi - Vietnam

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Heart IconWhich city did you prefer? Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City? Why? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.

 

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These photographs will make you want to travel to Hanoi, Vietnam. I personally preferred Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) for many reasons. Hanoi reminded me of other grungy artsy cities I love so much: Budapest, Berlin, Melbourne...give me some broken walls, colour here and there and I'm in my element of capturing 'a beautiful mess'.

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14 Comments

  • Nikita

    21.03.2015 at 10:23 Reply

    A beautiful mess… I like that! I love grungy, artsy cities like that,they make me feel right at home! Your photos set an excellent vibe. 🙂

    • Serendipity Tess

      21.03.2015 at 10:26 Reply

      Thank you very much Nikita! ‘Grungy’ is an awesome word to describe it! Yes, these cities really make me feel like I’m at home too 🙂

  • Silvia @ Heart My Backpack

    23.03.2015 at 22:58 Reply

    I also loved Hanoi and hated Saigon! Your photos are so beautiful, and I’m totally drooling over your site design – it’s so, so pretty! Excited to spend some time browsing your blog now 🙂

    • Serendipity Tess

      28.03.2015 at 19:09 Reply

      Awww thank you! Your comment just made my day 🙂 Glad to hear there are other Hanoi lovers out there!

  • Gabi Ancarola

    16.04.2015 at 19:20 Reply

    hi!

    I just happened to come across your post (pure serendipity) and let me say it’s not only very interesting from the content point of view, but images are also outstanding. Great post, really. Thanks for sharing.

    Gabi

    • Serendipity Tess

      19.04.2015 at 02:23 Reply

      Hi Gabi 🙂 thank you! That’s very kind! I’m glad you enjoyed the post and stoked you like my photography! 🙂

  • distance monk

    29.04.2015 at 11:15 Reply

    First and foremost, great photos! I love the balconies that really exude that French influence. Haven’t made it to Vietnam (yet), but having just come back from a break in Budapest can see exactly what you are talking about, the ruin pubs in Budapest especially. Here’s to finding happy places!

    • Serendipity Tess

      14.05.2015 at 07:55 Reply

      Cheers to that! Yes…Hanoi is very ‘Budapest’ – something that is hard to explain but so unbelievably cool! 🙂

  • Kelly

    28.07.2015 at 09:56 Reply

    Stunning photographs – I particularly like the leaves at the end 🙂 You have got me excited for Hanoi too!
    Kelly recently posted…A month in Iceland for £859 (all inclusive)My Profile

  • Duke Stewart

    30.07.2015 at 06:00 Reply

    Hi Tess,

    Loved this look at Hanoi, as it’s a few months before my first visit there. My wife and I once went to HCMC and results were a bit mixed. The food was spectacular but the city itself left me wanting more, and elsewhere. I’ve always heard wonderful things and am happy to have found your post on it.

    Hopefully I’ll have as magical an experience as you seem to have. The photos are just amazing and make me feel like I’m already there. Thanks for sharing!
    Duke Stewart recently posted…Why I’m Writing – Life Through TravelMy Profile

    • Serendipity Tess

      01.08.2015 at 09:21 Reply

      Ah Duke…Your comments are always so so lovely! I really appreciate it! If you didn’t ‘gel’ with HCMC, I may suspect you will prefer Hanoi as I felt exactly the same. But then I was in Vietnam during TET and everything is a bit different during that time. For photography…Hanoi is just absolute eye-candy heaven. And as for food: you get equally delicious meals in Hanoi as you get in HCMC. Having said that, the best food I had was definitely in Hoi An. Check out my food memoire with some restaurant recommendations: http://www.alifefullofserendipity.com/vietnam-a-food-memoire/ Please also try the famous ‘Egg coffee’. It is sooooo yummy! Here a recipe, in case you feel like preparing yourself for Vietnam already: http://www.alifefullofserendipity.com/vietnamese-egg-coffee/ 😉

  • Nomdicpanda

    13.03.2016 at 07:21 Reply

    These photos are beautiful! Hanoi sounds like a place I would want to visit 🙂

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