We'll Always Have Hanoi, by Amanda Williams (@alw_creative)
The whirr of motorbikes through narrow passageways, woven baskets brimming with exotic fruits, happy chatter and bright mosaics of fabric. Warmth in the air as you breathe, in the food you eat, and in the people you meet.
I was in Vietnam during the summer of 2017, and it was sticky hot outside. Wet, even, like spicy broth. But everywhere I looked, there was something beautiful. The jungle, the rivers, the markets, the architecture, the pho.
I’d lived in southeast Asia for a couple of years (in China) at this point and was used to the magic and chaos of the region, but Vietnam was something else. Something entirely new and old, healing and growing and living in the moment. Whether you’re slowly cruising down the Mekong Delta or floating aimlessly in Halong Bay or cycling through ancient cities, there is something so visceral and otherworldly but also, so familiar about the place. There I saw some of the most incredible sunsets I’d ever seen, purple and blue and orange hues like precious gems melting in the sky above.
In Hanoi, I wandered through market stalls and shopping streets in the day and sipped the most decadent coffee or the local homemade beer. Street food is abundant, cheap and beyond delicious. From banh mi to pho to spring rolls, there is something for everyone’s palate and is just as rich as Vietnam’s history. Many don’t know that Vietnam was formerly occupied by the French in the 19th century.
Much of Vietnam feels like a walking museum in and of itself. Much hasn’t changed since the war, and that can be felt in its atmosphere. The people of Vietnam are still largely raw from that period, but do what they can to move past it.
I travelled from Ho Chi Minh City all the way up to Hanoi, stopping in Hoi An, and taking a train to Hue before finishing the journey in Halong Bay. It was a great way to see the country and experience a wide range of culture and scenery.
One of my favourite memories from the trip is when I was invited for dinner at a local woman’s home. She prepared four or five courses for my partner and me and her family. It was lovely to hear stories about their lives, how the food is made and get a sense for what life is like. Vietnam is a foodie paradise with a range of meat and vegetarian-friendly dishes. I had some incredible bowls of pho there, but none were better than the vegetarian bowl I had in Hoi An after a bike ride along some vegetable farms. Those same farms provided the ingredients for my very lunch. And that kind of care and attention is just one of the many ways Vietnam felt like home.
I can’t wait to go back someday. But for now, I’ll reminisce with a Mekong candle. You can get yours here.
Amanda is a copywriter for small, independent businesses. She hopes to visit 30 countries before her 30th birthday (she's nearly there!). She lives in Berkshire with her husband. She loves dogs, food and grammar in that order. You can follow her along at @alw_creative or @amandainengland on Instagram.