As a Melburnian I am accustomed to finding fascinating things down alleyways so Hanoi instantly peaked my interest. The streets are a symphony of car horns, laughing locals and cheap shoes, but it is in the hidden laneways that I found the gems of Vietnam. Small, striking restaurants and street food stalls; draped in an odor only identified as a mix of cheap, cold beer, massage oils, raw meat and the nation’s ever popular Pho. The chaos of the city is matched with a certain softness from the locals, so its high volume and thick air never become too overbearing. And again, hiding in places you least expect to find beauty, you find the quaint, Vietnamese charm of this glorious city.
One of my personal favourites was the Doorstep Railway in Hanoi’s residential Old Quarter. A seemingly abandoned railway line that runs just inches away from the front doors of family homes, we walked along the tracks and what started as a wander to shake away the cobwebs of the night before became an insightful glimpse into an everyday life a far cry from our own. There was something so intriguing about the entire scene, which became even more mind boggling when learning that trains still run through twice a day!
Hanoi is also the most common launching point for trips to Ha Long Bay - a sight that belongs as much as any other in your ever-filling bucket list. Climbing atop one of the 2000+ limestone isles in the vast bay and drinking in every inch of the deep greens and wild blues that make up its portrait was one of the most serene moments of my Asia trip. My experience in Ha Long Bay was made truly special by the group of strangers I shared it with and it is undeniable the land speaks for itself. I left Hanoi and Vietnam with a very heavy heart and a very heavy hangover, but I also left with a very contented grin having been filled to the brim with the excitement and enthusiasm that comes so naturally when you fall in love with a new city.
COVER PHOTO: CLAIRE FELIX-FAURE