Dear Hanoi… It’s Not You. It’s Me.

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.

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Dear Hanoi, It's not you... it's me. [molongui_author_box]
Nikki Scott - Founder South East Asia Backpacker
Nikki Scott | Founder & Editor

Nikki is the founding editor of South East Asia Backpacker and The Backpacker Network. In her early twenties, she left her home in the North of England on a solo backpacking adventure and never returned! After six months on the road, she founded a print magazine that became legendary on the Banana Pancake Trail. The rest is history.

Find me: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

7 thoughts on “Dear Hanoi… It’s Not You. It’s Me.”

  1. Hi
    I would love it if you had expanded a little more on what changed for you? Was it your interests? (ie you didn’t fancy drinking in bars the whole night?) or was it the city itself?
    such an interesting concept but such a short post. I’m planning a trip to Hanoi in a few months so would’ve loved to know!

    1. Hi Samantha,
      It’s difficult to say exactly. Regarding my feelings, it’s definitely more to do with the way I have changed, rather than how the city has changed, although I imagine there were probably more cars/buildings/people than 10 years ago… I was 23 and single when I first travelled to Hanoi and now I’m 33 and have a boyfriend so that may have something to do with me not wanting to drink in bars all night! However, it’s not just that… I think that my whole travel style has been slowly changing over the past 10 years and Hanoi highlighted that for me. When I first set foot in Asia I wanted things to be crazy, different and challenging. I wanted to be carried away by the excitement of the place that I was in and I enjoyed being spontaneous and getting caught up in a place. Now, I don’t necessarily seek out that same chaos anymore. As I work online and have a bit of a work routine I need to stick to, I prefer more chilled out places where there’s less going on and I can be more in control of my day (although that’s still a challenge at times!) In general, I prefer smaller beach towns and countryside locations than cities, although I love the buzz of a city for a short while, I prefer being closer to nature and being able to get away from the traffic easily. Before I wrote this article I’d been telling my boyfriend about how much I loved Hanoi when I first visited and how he was going to love it too! We had even thought of staying a few weeks, but when we arrived we realised that it just wasn’t the place for us to make a base at this point in time. We both saw so many interesting aspects to the city (the food, the architecture, the street life, the history, the cafes, the lake, the buzz!) but we also felt that we were glad to leave after a few days to a quieter place (with fewer motorbikes!)… Hanoi is an incredible, extremely interesting city to visit so please don’t be put off by my article. Have a read of our guide to Hanoi for things to do and find cute little cafés and restaurants as you explore that are havens from the traffic so that you can recharge your batteries! Hope that helps! 🙂 How long are you staying in the city for? Have you booked a hotel yet?

  2. Nikki – Wow. What an article. I feel EXACTLY the same way about Cambodia now. Still living here, but I doubt for much longer. There is a certain wistful love for the Cambodia of my first memories over a decade ago, but I need to move on. Thanks for a great piece. In a way, it has assuaged somewhat the guilt that I have been feeling.

    1. Wow, that’s wonderful! I’m glad that my article may have helped you in some way. I often feel guilty or try to fight certain troubling feelings, then I look back and realise it was pointless to do so. Sooner or later, you just have to accept them! It’s exciting to feel that it’s time to move on and start a new challenge! So where next? 😉

  3. Wonderful piece, Nikki! My reaction to Ho Chi Min City in 1998 was very similar, though not a return visit. Maybe because I was 52 at the time. I first experienced Bangkok at age 21 and fell in love; returned 30 years later and still loved it! Go figure!

    1. Yes, it could be partly to do with how we change as we get older. I was on a permanent high (or permanently tipsy!) when I was backpacking at age 24 so I guess I saw many places through rose tinted spectacles!
      However, I have loved places much more the second time around too, like a song or an album that grows on you… You always get fed up of the catchy songs much sooner, just like the places that reveal all their secrets right away!
      I felt that way with Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Barcelona and here in Hoi An… I guess people and places are always changing, so your feelings are always evolving too.

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