Vietnam was alive.
With blue skies and bustling streets.
With bowls full of colorful noodle soup in which greens and mushrooms dived in.
With ladies serving soup on the street side and road junctions while sitting on the smallest stools you could ever imagine.
With the Bánh Mì sandwiches that erupted into my taste buds and the beautiful blend of the Vietnamese coffee served with condensed milk.
With the death that lingered in the war museums that crushed me to the core and I took days to recover.
With the long-curvy rides in the toiletless buses to reach one city from another.
With the streets crowded with millions of red, blue, green scooters that must have looked like crawling painted ants when seen from the top.
With the lamps revitalizing the crowded streets and the night markets.
With the small food shops on the pavements under plastic, dripping with rain more often than not.
With the nights and people seated in minion chairs on roads with beers in hands and scooters driving through the middle of those people, only to be pulled back momentarily when police came to check.
And an oblivious I, unsure of what I was eating and of what I was looking at.
What I want to say is, that Vietnam was crazy. But beautiful crazy.
I traveled from the south to the north — from Saigon or Ho Chi Minh to Dalat to Hoi An to Hanoi. And back to Saigon to fly into India. All cities had their own style and history and beauty and nightlife and climate.
Saigon was a junk of a big, old, smelly, overcrowded city with locals looking forward to practicing English with foreigners who were drinking, cuddled in groups, in cheap hostels or roadside restaurants. As I was done with Ho Chi Minh in a day, I boarded a bus to Dalat, in the company of an English girl. Dalat was sort of the Dharamshala of India, a fresh cool hill station set far away from the rush of the cities. Dalat introduced me to weasel coffee; weasels eat the coffee beans and then pass them out. And you get your coffee. I only bought a kilo of it. After a few days in the cool breeze and in the waterfalls and in the flower gardens and in the temples of Dalat, I was off to Hoi An — a serene town with bicycles and night markets and streets lit with lamps, and shops that can make anything as long as you can show what you want. And from there I took another long bus ride to Hanoi.
Little did I know that Hanoi was the town where it would all come together.
The lanes, the temples, the hostels, the hotpot street restaurants, the different cafes and coffees that I enjoyed with a German girl, the beers that I had the night she left and almost missed my flight back to Saigon, the incessant rain and the madly speeding-up scooters through the traffic with plastic sheets flowing over them as if thousands of supermans were flying around in their capes into what seemed chaos, the open seating area on the road where everyone shared their tables with the rest and space never seemed limited as the road was home.
That was Hanoi. But more.
I felt at peace in Hanoi. It brought me back to my senses which were buzzing with chaos after traveling constantly for weeks and adjusting with new people and surviving in narrow streets with ditches that were easy to miss and eating mischievious food and making my way through languages that I could not comprehend.
Hanoi was definitely a dream, a vision, a love, a climax to the six-week-long travel in South-East Asia. I would not have wanted to end my travel in any other city that I visited in that trip. Hanoi was crazy — yet peaceful, crowded — yet I didn’t feel intruded, fast — but I could maintain my pace, and loud — but still so silent.
Has it happened with you that one particular city or a sea-facing restaurant or a coffee stall or a hotel or a park can make you feel as if you are at home, amidst your nomadic traveling life? And that is why long-term, slow travel is a core ingredient of who I am. I am still exploring on the road but I can still be at home, sometimes. Hanoi was that home. The family changes every day but that’s how I like it.
Family reminds me of the beautiful, sweetheart people of Vietnam. I got complimented on my skin during some relaxing massages and facials while the women who served had much more beautiful and soft skin but they would not listen. Their appreciation of the others seemed inbuilt in them. Most of the women were working in the cities while their husbands chilled in the home village. The wives traveled every weekend to their village to meet their husbands and children. Money was important to Vietnamese people but it was not an intruding matter. Vietnam was a fresh change from Thailand’s racism and from Cambodia’s tourism industry’s melodramas to cheat money out of you. Don’t get me wrong, the two beautiful countries had much more to them but I was definitely more relaxed in Vietnam.
While I made friends with the local students sitting in an on-the-road bar and restaurant in Hanoi on my last night in the city, I almost missed my flight to return to Ho Chi Minh which was succeeded by another flight back to Bengaluru, India.
The bustling Vietnamese streets and the lights reflecting in the water and the sweet smiles of the beautiful Vietnamese ladies and the turtles swimming in a stone enclosure in a Buddha temple coupled with the weasel coffee still stirs me up with waves of positive, colorful energy.
Vietnam trip was short and I have a lot more left to see. I would visit Vietnam again to drive around on a scooter and to be one of those supermans.
Hope this photo diary takes you through the bustling street life and the delicious and gorgeous food of Vietnam. Wait for the next Vietnam photo album which would flaunt the lush green of Vietnam and its mesmerizing temples.
Do these photos remind you of an evening you got stuck in rain in a foreign city or of a chicken sandwich which tasted of everything except chicken? Would love to hear your story in comments.
If you like this photo diary, you would also enjoy this photo essay of Thailand.