Hanoi left me feeling dirty and a little ashamed of myself.
Although I spent the first few months of my self-imposed exile attempting to bury myself in the murky concrete jungles and seedy swamps of Vietnam, I knew that I wouldn’t be staying there for long.
Vietnam is a country that has been both ravaged and raised up by foreign forces.
During the US occupation, thousands of lives were damaged, some permanently erased. However, now the country is better known for its glistening sands, turquoise seas and jaw-dropping vistas.
The first few weeks of my time away were spent in Hanoi, attempting to capture the city’s fluctuating states. In this part of the world, relatively close to the equator, day turns to night in a matter of a moments. Within these fleeting minutes, the city transforms itself from bustling, grubby metropolis to a throbbing, thriving carnival. The streets become crowded with throngs of tourists, revellers and opportunistic street sellers.
I clearly had a few issues that I needed to iron out, because I soon found myself less concerned with photography and more enamoured with the hundreds of international travellers that were all meeting for the first time. Within a few days of arriving, I’d settled myself into a comfortable routine of checking into a new hostel, buying a drink at the bar, then ingratiating myself with whatever travelling crowd I could find.
After two weeks of far too much drinking and too few square meals, I knew the time had come to leave Hanoi.
I was enjoying myself too much, I felt like I was slowly slipping back into the mindset of a past version of myself. When I stared drunkenly into the grubby mirrors of the guest house bathrooms, I sometimes struggled to see the accomplished professional photographer that I was supposed to be. Instead, a sullen, tired looking face of an angsty twenty-something looked back, daring me to make a change.
That change came after I woke up with the taste of sick in my mouth for the third day in the road. My head was sore, I was itching all over from bed bug bites and I had a dim recollection of doing something shameful with a man much too young for me the night before. I booked my flight to India that day and tried to get as many photos taken as I could, so I could look back on the whole experience with some form of self-respect.
The flight to India was a peaceful one. Leaving the raucous screams and laughter of the backpacking scene behind me, I had a vision in my head of myself walking along smooth peaceful sands, next to a shimmering sea in a remote spot in Goa somewhere.
That didn’t quite work out the way that I had planned.
After a 12 hour flight with 6 hours of stopovers, the idea of walking anywhere was out of the question. I found a tuk-tuk driver with an honest face and fell asleep amongst my bags whilst I was whisked away to the nearest 5-star hotel.
The next 7 days were spent recovering from the foolish damage that I had been doing to my body for the past week. I woke early, ate well and drank very little. I’d watch patiently as the aquamatic pool cover slowly crawled its way back, ready for its first visitor, keen to put the countless shots and bowls of Pad Thai behind her. Instead of throwing myself into socialising with every Tom, Dick and Harry, I kept my own company, caught up on some emails and attempted to regain my composure.
After a week spent breathing the scent of freshly cleaned Egyptian cotton and devouring my weight in fresh fruit, I knew the time had come for me to leave the gentrified colonial world of the hotel.