Regrettably I only had a week in both Vietnam and Laos and in hindsight I should have extended my trip to incorporate a month for each. Unfortunately I could say that for everywhere though and at least my short time in each has dipped my toes in just enough to realise that I will definitely revisit both countries.
Approaching Hanoi was different to my previous destinations, I had replaced excitement with apprehension most likely due to this being my first destination I was to be alone. This feeling translated when I landed, I didn't have the same rushes of emotions that I had had arriving in my other locations. That being said, when I woke up the next morning and spent a few hours walking around the streets, visiting the wonderful temple of literature and stumbling upon the west lake, my affection for Hanoi grew.
The temple of literature in Hanoi is unlike many others I have seen, the grounds were beautifully decorated and it, likely because there is an entry fee, is maintained very well. Temples in Asia, be them centuries or weeks old are designed with very tall steps as you are entering. Interestingly this is because of the historically short nature of South East Asian people would mean entering via a tall step would force them into a bow position, meaning there would be no opportunity to enter the temple disrespectfully. Surprisingly, to me, I do not feel spiritual when I am in temples and unfortunately I cannot understand why. Perhaps it's their claustrophobic atmosphere with their dark wood decor and plethora of decorations or simply because I am not fully comprehensive in Buddhism. Whatever the reason, I hope that not only can I find an answer but that I can grow to appreciate temples more.
Hanoi is very different from any other city I have experienced before. Many people believe in the notion that all cities are the same but they could not be more wrong. Every city I have visited, even before this journey began has had its own character and personality and with it very individual reasons of why I like or dislike them. Hanoi has an unwavering ability to have the juxtaposition of charm and scenery whilst feeling vastly over crowded. Motorbikes dominate the roads and weave in-between people, vending carts, cars and produce. Sticking with two feet firmly on the ground I decided to walk around the city to explore it at a more personal level. I spent hours wandering through the narrow, shop filled streets of the old town and through the far more affluent new town filled with hoards of designer shops. Ultimately, it wasn't until I escaped the madness of the old town and found myself looking onto the west lake that the romantic in me came to the realisation that I couldn't take Hanoi on face value, it to, like everywhere has negatives and positives.
The city is vibrant and lively so if you like a more peaceful setting to spend your days, Hanoi is possibly not the place for you, particularly on the roads. However, if you can see past the mayhem and learn to walk freely through the unorganised chaos they call traffic then Hanoi is a truly wonderful place that offers a lot in the way of culture, night life and scenery and it's all tied together with some very friendly people.
Taking a 24 hour bus journey to Laos I met two very special people. Lauren and Jana had been travelling for over a month together but were incredibly receptive of taking me under their wing, perhaps it was the bonding over our new invention; bus yoga. For me though, they helped make my short time in Laos special because I felt like they were my friends from home. We spent our first day taking a walking tour of the city with our very knowledgable guide Jana. Sarcasm a side, I actually learnt a lot about its history and culture and as the capital is so small we were able to see a vast amount of the city. I cannot say much about Laos because of only having a few days there so I can let you enjoy the photos but from what I saw and heard of other destinations there, I am eager to return.
Every country I have visited thus far has been added to my 'revisit' list. Both Vietnam and Laos are no exceptions and have been thrusted into the top spots of said list. Hopefully then I can form more coherent and researched opinions on each country.