I went to Hanoi with my mother in early September. It was my fourth trip to Vietnam. I’ve worked my way up north–started off in Phu Quoc with the ex; spent 2015-2016 New Years with her in Saigon (it was cheaper than celebrating in Singapore); had an amazing time in Da Nang last year; and finally this.
Vietnam is a very unusual place. One advantage of colonialism (for me!) is that the French Romanized the language. I’ll never get the tonal bits right but it’s fairly easy to at least kinda-sorta sound out signs and menus. The French influence is also very easy to see–with food and architecture–as you’ll see later. Some people call it (and Laos, etc) “Paris in the jungle.” The people are universally friendly and do not be fearful to be an American; The American War is in the past and people are more than happy to have us around. Wounds heal.
The swarm of scooters and spiderweb power lines swirl around every street. It’s oppressively hot and everything is out in the open. Life is more low key. Evenings are shared with the family open to the air. There aren’t many rules.
It was very difficult to whittle down these photos. I picked out 104 that I thought were worthy of my highlight reel. I’m limiting myself to ten for this post. I think that is excessive, but I just can’t help myself. It would be to cheat you. *I lied. Turns out be 13*
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Hello, Hanoi! It has about 8 million people but much of the city consists of these little side streets. Full of food and many shops—expect bike mechanics and people sewing. Right off the sidewalk with shutters open.
Mopeds are everywhere. And yes, the hats are a real thing.
I picked this instead of the statue of Lenin that I took from the bus. It is only open for a few hours every morning and it never worked with our schedule to see the preserved body of the North Vietnamese leader. I’m OK with that. I’d be forced to be reverent to the embodiment of something I find evil. I still would have because transgression is fun, but it wasn’t to be.
This is the Hanoi Hilton. They have a guillotine and supposedly John McCain’s flight suit from when he was shot down. It was hard to pick a photo to represent this. The weird clay people with ankle shackles were very unnerving. Not sure I made the best choice. Fuck it.
Now Mom and I went to Ha Long. This was a cave within the mountains. Unbelievable formations and absolutely gorgeous.
Tons of fishermen and tourist boats sailing. Many come up to yours to sell bananas and other treats. The bigger boat was refueling the smaller right before this pic. They stopped to have a smoke and snack. The world goes slower here.
Boy falls in love with world. Craves more.
Hands down my favorite picture of the trip, and one of my favorites of all time. It was beautiful watching him absorb the atmosphere, just by himself. I imagine that I looked like that as a child. I try to feel like that as often as possible. There’s a big world out there, and I intend to experience as much of it as I can.
Ha Long Bay. It is very difficult to express how shockingly beautiful this place is.
The innumerous cliff daggers jut out from the ocean in divine randomness.
Just like that.
Dog in the market. My mother thought it was a baby pig. I decided not to tell her the truth. Markets in Asia are always a fascinating experience. You can buy bottles of blood and every intestine and bit of whatever animal du jour. As a former butcher, it’s good for people to see the process up close, with nothing wasted.
Here is some of that French influence. Based on Notre Dame. Gorgeous but also dirty. This layman blames the grime on the slash-and-burn farming popular in Southeast Asia. Buildings and Baguettes. Album name. Mine.
This little alley was mostly empty, but has many shopfronts and homes alike. There is a market on the tracks during the day. They move aside when the train comes through. I wanted to watch that but my mother was concerned about making our flight—I missed it by about 30 minutes. So it goes.
Same street. Every shop front is open and exposed to walk by. This how shit be, yo.
Sorry that I don’t have more city shots. It is indeed a very large place, but that’s not really my thing. Some people like mountains or the sea—I like quirky little streets. Back alleys and mischief. Everywhere I go I always visit a big local market. I love watching people buying and selling—and most importantly—just living. Seeing life for how it is and minimizing touristy stuff, although most things are touristy for a reason.
Most people fill their lives with spouses, children, or their work. I’m largely empty in those ways. I’ve filled my life with memories of the places and people that I’ve met across six continents. Sometimes that makes me sad, but mostly it just makes me want to explore some more and try to fill that hollow cup. There is more out there to discover.