“I can’t say what made me fall in love with Vietnam – that a woman’s voice can drug you; that everything is so intense. The colors, the taste, even the rain… They say whatever you’re looking for, you will find here. They say you come to Vietnam and you understand a lot in a few minutes, but the rest has got to be lived. The smell: that’s the first thing that hits you, promising everything in exchange for your soul. And the heat. Your shirt is straightaway a rag. You can hardly remember your name, or what you came to escape from. But at night, there’s a breeze. The river is beautiful. You could be forgiven for thinking there was no war; that the gunshots were fireworks; that only pleasure matters. A pipe of opium, or the touch of a girl who might tell you she loves you. And then, something happens, as you knew it would. And nothing can ever be the same again.”– Graham Greene, The Quiet American (1955)
Vietnam is a country that teases all five senses. I anticipated seeing and witnessing some amazing things as well as tasting delicious meals. But as I sat outside a cafe on my last day in Vietnam writing in my journal, I realized it was the smells and sounds of Vietnam that I came to endear the most.
An excerpt from my journal:
Last day in Vietnam… I think what I’ll miss the most about walking these streets are the sounds and smells. The constant honking of horns from cars and motos, the buzz of people speaking a million different languages, the clinking of spoons on glass as people mix up their iced coffees with condensed milk.
The sound of motos turning on, like muffled coughs and throats being cleared. The droll and monotonous voice recordings blaring from vendors on bikes selling their noodles. Drivers asking if you need a ride at every corner you turn… the sound of the Vietnamese language as its spoken with a welcoming, heartwarming smile. “Xin Chao,” you reply, mirroring their smiles as much as possible.
The smells of cigarette smoke (because people don’t treat you like a leper for smoking cigarettes here), pho broth boiling in the morning, grilled pork over charcoal at noon, joss sticks burning, coffee brewing, weeds being scorched in the rice fields (sometimes smelling like cannabis), paper burning on city sidewalks as family members pay tribute to their ancestors.
I’m already look forward to randomly smelling and hearing these things in the future… whether it’s back in the U.S. or some other part of the world or on my next visit back here to this wondrous country. Smell especially, has that way of instantly taking you back to where you experienced it most fondly (or notoriously). And I can’t wait until I’m magically transported back here to replay the unforgettable times and the experience I had.
Here are the last few images from Hanoi.