We first met when I was 24 years old. It was my first solo backpacking adventure and the minute I was plonked upon your atmospheric streets at 7 am after the arduous 27-hour bus journey from Vientiane – it was love at first sight – or smell.
Laos’ laid-back streets had bored me, while yours exhilarated me, challenged me and left me breathless. I loved your craziness, your spontaneity and your zest for life.
I spent my first few days wandering around your hectic streets, avoiding motorbikes, cars, trucks and xe-om drivers, photographing people getting their hair cut at the side of the road and ladies selling fruit on bicycles.
I loved your relentless street life, your coloured plastic stools, your higgledy-piggledy architecture, your plant-laden balconies. I loved all of your good and bad sides. I loved your quirkiness.
I spent nights sat in your bars chatting with fellow travellers, feeling thrilled when the lock-ins began and waking up to your beeping in the street the next day with a mild hangover didn’t bother me. I literally couldn’t get enough of you.
After just a few days in your heart, I started to chat with expats who loved you too. I admired and envied them. I wanted to be close to you too.
And so we meet again almost 10 years later. It’s not a case of ‘what was I thinking?’ It’s more a case of, I get it. I get why you enraptured me so much. I get why I wanted us to be more than just friends.
But I’m not the same person now.
I’ve only been back inside you a few days and already I feel like I want us to go on a break.
You stress me out. You change your personality every minute and I can’t make sense of you. I no longer want to spend all night in your bars, navigating your streets and dodging your traffic. I need something different now.
A part of me will always love you and I wish you the best in all of your future relationships. I’m sure you will charm the next girl in the same way that you charmed me. And I don’t blame them.
Travel and love are but a moment in time. We clicked for a short burst and it was wonderful while it lasted. I told everyone how amazing you were, you still are.
But now I realise that I can’t tell anyone that they are going to love a place in the same way that I do, or did.
Travel is so personal, so subjective, so temporary. I can’t tell anyone that they will hate a place either. Someone may find beauty in a place where I see none. Love can strike in the most unlikely of places.
And I’m not saying it’s over forever Hanoi. Let’s keep the door open, the motorbike keys in the ignition. We might need each other again one day… but that person who steps once again into your pulsating streets will not be me. Nor will your pulsating streets be the same.
By Nikki Scott.