Vietnam is a country that I have wanted to travel to ever since I moved to Singapore. Finally it was time and with only six days in hand I landed in the beautiful city of Hanoi with gallons of anticipation. Hanoi is pulsating with life and my camera loved it. The best parts about travel photography for me are the people. They are the ones who give a meaning to my pictures and my writing and lucky for me the people in Hanoi are extremely expressive.
As with most of my travels, I reached Hanoi with no particular plan in my head. I took a bus along with a Korean couple that I met at the airport to the Old Quarter. Once I reached the Old Quarter, I made reservations for Sapa the very same night. Sapa is a beautiful countryside town located in Northern Vietnam. It was an overnight train journey to Lao Cai railway station. From Lao Cai I took a bus to Sapa, which was a beautiful uphill journey. I spent two days and a night in Sapa, where I decided to live with the local people in a home stay.
The next three days were spent in Hanoi. Both these places attract several tourists from around the world throughout the year. Travelling to Sapa and then to Ha Noi was an absolutely contrast. Each town has its own unique vibe: Sapa is extremely rejuvenating whereas Hanoi was like an adrenalin rush. While Sapa is laid back, Hanoi feels like it’s scurrying about.
I was astounded by the beauty of Sapa: the greenery, the weather, the beautiful rice paddy fields and the vibrant tribes. About five different known tribes live in Sapa and all these tribes speak different dialects. They can also be identified from their individualistic outfits. But what surprised me the most was that a majority of the tribal people spoke English. Over the years Sapa has become extremely popular, this has led to these tribes becoming extremely tourist savvy. Contrary to that, in Hanoi which is the commercial hub of Vietnam, I hardly came across any locals who spoke English. In fact even the directions were all marked in Vietnamese.
It is a difficult city to find your way around but that’s not the worst thing since you end up exploring more than you planned. Also I saw several street dogs in Sapa and in Hanoi there seemed to be none. My confusion was cleared one day when I was riding through the city. I ran into a market where they happened to be selling dog meat. I knew that dog meat is consumed in Vietnam; I just did not expect to run into a dog meat market. No wonder there were no dogs in Hanoi: they were either on somebody’s plate or as one would better imagine, in hiding.
I spent two days traversing through different villages through the rice paddy fields of Sapa. Meanwhile the rest of the days were spent riding around the streets of Hanoi on a motorcycle not only witnessing the chaos but also being a part of it. Riding through those tangled maze of streets was a crazy experience, especially after living in Singapore for over 2 years where everything is extremely organized.
If I look back, I can still picture the tapestry of both these places. If Sapa comes to mind as an extremely picturesque village overlooking the plunging valley of gushing rice terraces and blossoming vegetation, Ha Noi draws a picture of a fleet of motorcycles with crazy hustling traffic. Both were beautiful and captivating in their own unique way.
Written and photographed by: Mithila Jariwala