Every week during our eight-week trip across Southeast Asia, I plan to post a handful of snapshots and stories from the week just gone.
The sixth week of our trip was a watershed moment in our travels. Arriving in Hanoi, Vietnam meant we’d done it! We’d completed – and enjoyed! – our epic overland journey from Phnom Penh in Cambodia via the Mekong Delta. We’d weathered two temperature-raising bouts of flu, rattling sleeper trains, lukewarm rice and hair-raising minivan rides. It was both a relief and a triumph.
By the time we arrived in the Vietnamese capital, we were travelling at a slower pace. Less concerned with seeing the big ‘sights’, we spent a lot of time simply walking the streets, stopping for tofu banh mi packed with crunchy julienned vegetables and delicate herbs, our fingertips coated in an amber glaze of sweet, sticky chilli sauce.
There is a storybook quality to Hanoi: something enchanting and slightly magical about the faded shopfronts, the colonial colour combination of peeling mustard yellow and deepest cetacean blue, the pockets of peace among the chaos one can find by diving down a back alley or sitting in the open shopfront of a street café. I absolutely adored photographing the street scenes of the Old Town, where fruit and flower sellers wheel pushbikes among the fast and furious river of traffic that never, ever seems to end.
Hanoi’s Old Town consists of 36 ancient streets, each named after the traditional craft or trade centred around that area. Tradesmen can often be seen working from the pavement outside their shop, as below. It was a window into a pre-industrialised era, long gone in our developed society.
A common sight in Hanoi: hungry customers sat devouring fiery bowls of noodle soup, fried dumplings or a cup of cà phê, hot and sweet. The tiny stools are not just a nod to the generally petite stature of the Vietnamese. They’re also easy to hide from the police. After all, it’s theoretically illegal for these informal street food cafés to take up space on the pavement. Very occasionally, law enforcement will go on the hunt for a fine – something these vendors have quickly wised up to. The small, lightweight stools are easy to scoop up and chuck inside at the first sound or sighting of a copper. And the convenient, win-win side-effect: more space to squeeze in hungry customers for a bowl of phở and continued provision of mouthwatering food for us.
After forty-eight hours in Hanoi, we flew back to Singapore for a week of respite at my parents’ apartment after a month of overland adventures. I won’t go into too much detail here but suffice to say, we had our fair share of hot showers, lie-ins, hawker food (without fretting about foodborne illness) and ticked off a few more experiences on our Singapore to-do list.
A highlight of the week was undoubtedly completing two hikes with my Singaporean schoolfriend, Adeline, who was visiting her parents the very same week. We scaled the Southern Ridges and Henderson Waves Bridge and the next day, addicted to our climbing step counts, tackled the MacRitchie Reservoir Treetops walk (complete with monkeys).
In the next instalment: a new country to explore! But you’ll have to stop by later this week to find out which…