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