Landing in Hanoi I felt rather ill so I immediately left the airport for some ‘air’, little was I to know that Hanoi would be the most polluted place I have ever visited—which would really take its toll on my lungs, having me coughing all week. Lazing around in the airport, surrounded by new sounds of Vietnamese, I was eventually met with smiles and open arms of my friends from Seoul. As we ventured into Hanoi’s old quarter I quickly see how much of a tourist destination Vietnam and Hanoi are, and not necessarily all ‘good’ cultural tourism. On arriving, however, we were overwhelmed with patriotism as motorcycles ride through the streets holding people waving the Vietnamese flag and screaming “Vietnam, Vietnam!”—in my mind it was two things, something to do with sports of a revolution… Fortunately it was the first as the Vietnamese football team had just qualified for an Asian tournament!
Two things really struck me about Vietnamese culture; 1) the food is amazing. It is so fresh as it uses a lot of herbs and citrus flavours that are almost entirely vacant from Korean cuisine—making it a wonderful change from the norm. And 2) It’s rate of modernisation, and it’s costs. The country is clearly pushing forwards its industries, fast developing its cities and building itself to compete with its north Asian neighbours. This is undoubtedly the cause of the rampant pollution, which in turn irritated my lungs. But it’s a complicated issue as we shouldn’t be ones to simply point fingers and put down this clear neglect for environmental concern, as we, like all developing nations, made these very same issues and have only recently come around and are considering the environment on an equal playing field with our own needs.
We took a trip to Halong Bay, one of the natural wonders of the world, which was undoubtedly breathtakingly beautiful. Boating out across the water surrounded by mountains jutting out from the depths, covered entirely in rich greenery. It was amazing, but you had to blot out the hundreds of tourist-boats (which of course, we were part of), the trash being left because of them and the construction and accommodation to the needs of tourists. It’s difficult, as tourism is undoubtedly effecting the location, but we can’t simply restrict people from seeing it, as it is beautiful to behold. It’s just a shame we are so unsustainable with our ways. What really epitomised this was floating past a boat which had spotted a monkey, and was thus launching food in its direction with and without wrappers—leaving the monkey well-fed on fattening snack-foods and surrounded by trash.
On to Bangkok and the heat hit us, hard. The strong 30+ heat with blazing sun really immobilises you and sucks your energy. Bangkok was another exciting city, again filled with contradiction—rich/poor, skyscraper/tin housing etc. To escape the heat we visited lots of galleries and cinemas (to catch our fix), bringing about an interesting tourist experience. As the city was so huge many of the locations were far apart and thus the excessive use of transport kind of fragmented the city for me, and I wasn’t truly able to get to grips with the areas or scale. A real highlight, though, was our visit to the ‘Old Customs House’—used as a location in Wong Kar-wai’s iconic In the Mood for Love. We, being film students, got up stills and attempted to recreate the shots on location—it was great fun!
In search of the classic idyllic Thailand prophesied about in the west—filled with islands and beaches—we headed to Koh Samet, one of the closest islands to Bangkok. I always have such conflict with the idea of lounging around on a beach, I get so restless but it is relaxing and enjoyably different to sitting around in -10 degree Seoul! However, sadly for us, our enjoyment of the small island—and most of the rest of our time in Thailand—was cut short by an extreme bout of food poisoning putting me, Becca and Serena in a compromised position shuffling between bed and bathroom for about 36 hours, and my stomach felt the aftermath for almost an entire week… It feels almost a cliché to get food poisoning while travelling in Thailand, but I suppose it is for a reason—and in some way I can cross that off the list of things I’ve experienced!
Flying on from Thailand I was reunited with my dad in Singapore, seeing him through the glass separating the baggage claim and the arrivals in Changi airport make me let out an uncontrollable smile—just goes to show the meaning of family. Our time in the baking Singapore was hugely relaxing. Moving from cheap hostel dorm-beds to a hotel room with a pool and breakfast buffet was kind of strange at first, but in many ways seemed to fit in with the identity of Singapore. Singapore was a true melting pot of cultures, which in many ways reminded me of London. Walking down a road where everyone was from different ethnic backgrounds was really refreshing, especially when it was clear that the majority were residents. It reminded me that ethnic diversity is one of my favourite parts of London (and university life in England), and something that is much rarer in Seoul and the countries I visited on my journey. Being so small and so wealthy Singapore felt kind of strange, it’s identity blurred between multiple cultures living in one space and it’s ‘problems’ (social, economic etc) less apparent than the larger countries. Either way it was a fantastic place to spend the last five days of my trip and in what better company than with my dad. But one of the main highlights (kind of embarrassingly) was an Iranian restaurant we found near where we were staying which served my favourite dish (Kashk e Bademjan—Aubergine and Whey). I miss the flavours of Iran (as I experience them a lot being around Tina [my girlfriend], Iman [my best friend] and their families), and am yet to find kashk (whey) in Korea to make the dish myself. It was an unexpected delight, but definitely one I cherished very much in a nostalgic kind of whey. 😉
Saying goodbye to dad was strange. After travelling for two months I felt ready to go ‘home’, and although that was what I was doing in returning to Seoul I was to ‘return’ to a house I was yet to move into. But let’s cover that in the next one.