I love my life here in Saigon, pollution not withstanding, but do love to get out of the city now and again for a change of scenery. This last six months I have been stuck here and was so ready for a change of vibe, albeit one city for another. I was invited to Hanoi on a writing trip.
And so I have just spent a rather pleasant four days in Hanoi. I was there on business; I’m doing some writing for the Hanoi Ministry of Tourism. As part of the trip I was introduced to some of the most interesting people I have ever met.
It was quite an experience and one for which I am grateful. I genuinely love what I do and though it opens one up for criticism at times, it’s just water off a duck’s back to be honest.
Hanoi is changing; it is nowhere near the austere city that I first visited back in 2006. The first time I went I was fascinated by the early morning heroic music blaring from loud speakers on the streets where I stayed. Back then, everything closed at about 10.30 at night. It really was a strange experience. But as with everything, change is coming.
I love the fact that the area around Hoan Kiem Lake is pedestrianised at the weekends. It is such a beautiful spot and one that deserves to be enjoyed without the constant traffic and associated fumes and noise. It really is a lovely part of town with great cafes and places to sit and people watch. To see it traffic-free is very gratifying.
Of the people I met, the most interesting, and I mean no disrespect to the others, was an artist called Dao Anh Khanh. His installations draw massive crowds and he has an international reputation. His house was sensational; 2,000 square metres of land with a 170-year-old stilt house in the middle.
In addition to this he has built five amazing tree houses all connected by walkways that he lets out as homestay. He was recently filmed with Jack Whitehall for the Netflix TV series, Travels With My Father.
Another fascinating person I met was Ms Lanh Hung. She runs a fashion house on the outskirts of Hanoi, making the glorious ao dais for which she is famous. These are not your everyday dresses that you’ll see on the streets regularly but superb, intricate creations worth thousands of dollars.
One dress the she has on show features no less than 39 intricate cranes embroidered onto the fabric. It took a team of four artisans a full year to complete the work. In the grounds of her premises there is a small museum that tells the story of the ao dai’s development over hundreds of years.
Whilst there I also managed to fit in a few hours at the Hanoi Craft Beer Festival where I caught up with some of the brewery friends from Saigon. It was good to try some more new beers and the event went well.
It was a good trip and an enjoyable break. I must get in more travels next year.
Following a highly successful 25-year career as a singer/songwriter and musician, Keith pulled out of the rat race and moved to Southeast Asia in 2008. First living in Thailand, he moved to Cambodia and then relocated to Ho Chi Minh City in early 2013.