Without an H

Photography from south-east Asia by Jon Sanwell

On leaving Hanoi


I’ve lived in Hanoi for a long time. I’ve had two spells in the city, the first from the summer of 2008 until the end of 2010, and the second from the autumn of 2013 until now. And now my time here is coming to an end. In a couple of days’ time, I will be leaving Hanoi and moving to Yangon. I’m incredibly excited about the move. I took two trips to Myanmar in 2015, and the idea of one day living there lodged itself in my head fairly early in my visit. Having slowly marinated the idea in my brain for a couple of years, things suddenly started moving very quickly over the last month, as I found myself a new teaching job in Yangon and finally started making concrete plans. I don’t want to tempt fate, but I have a very positive feeling about this new start.

But I will miss Hanoi. It’s been my home for many years, and has shaped me in ways I probably won’t fully appreciate until more time has passed. I’ll miss my lunchtime bún chả or phở gà. I’ll miss my afternoon coffee by the lake. I’ll miss the friends, old and new, that I’ve made along the way. I’ll miss scooting about town on my Honda Wave. I’ll even miss the casual lunacy of the Hanoi traffic. But I won’t miss mouldy March.

I can’t even begin to fully describe Hanoi in words. It’s a truly unique place, and everyone who’s spent any time here has their own take on it. It’s not always an easy place to live, but for all its frustrations and imperfections, there’s something about this city that gets under a person’s skin.

Choosing the pictures to include in this post has been a difficult task. On another day, I would have made a different selection, but these are the pictures I’ve taken in Hanoi over the last few years that most seem to mean something to me today.

Things might be a bit scattered on this site over the next few weeks. I still have some more pictures from my trip to Indonesia to post, some more from Ha Giang that have been on the backburner for a while, and a few bits and pieces that I’ve shot in Hanoi over the last couple of weeks. And of course, I hope to be out and about shooting in Yangon as much as I can, and sharing some of my early impressions. There’s a lot I could write about what I’m looking forward to about life in Yangon, but for the rest of this post, I’m just going to wallow in photographic nostalgia.

Hẹn gặp lại, Hà Nội. See you again.














15 Responses to “On leaving Hanoi”

  1. BuntyMcC

    I hope the move works out well for you and I look forward to seeing your photos wherever you live or travel.

  2. Alison and Don

    Wonderful collection of photos Jon. From my limited experience of Yangon I suspect you will miss fabulous Vietnamese food. We found the food generally to be pretty bad in Myanmar, and I suspect you’ll miss your scooter as none are allowed in Yangon 😦
    But still, it sounds like an exciting move for you. We loved Myanmar, and it remains one of the highlights of our travels. Wishing you well for this next adventure!

    • Jon Sanwell

      Yes, I’ll definitely miss Vietnamese food, though I’m told that there are a couple of good Vietnamese restaurants in Yangon. I think the food in Myanmar is more hit and miss than in Vietnam, but when it’s good it’s very good. And yes, I’ll miss the scooter too, but I’m looking forward to things being different! Thanks for your best wishes, Alison.

  3. traveller2006

    Having visited both cities and enjoyed both of them I’m sure you’ll find plenty of photogenic subjects. We weren’t struck with the food in Myanmar either. Wishing you well for this next chapter of your life and I’m looking forward to seeing your photos.

    • Jon Sanwell

      Thank you! Yangon is a wonderful city for a photographer, and some – though not all! – of the food is good too.

  4. bluebrightly

    Your photos are so heartfelt – I look forward to seeing what you’ll do in Myanmar, but what a time be moving there! Not that there’s been a particularly “good” time to move there in the last 50 years I suppose. I’m curious about what you’ll be doing there – I bet you’ll have terrific photographic opportunities. I wonder if you’ve had access to the Vietnam series by Ken Burns that’s on TV these days – I’ve heard it’s being viewed in Vietnam, so maybe you’ve been able to catch some of it. I’d be curious about your reaction to it.
    Be well, and I hope the move goes smoothly!

  5. bluebrightly

    I realized after I commented that you may be teaching English again – in any case, I really look forward to hearing about Myanmar. I’ve been curious about the country for a long time.

    • Jon Sanwell

      Yes, I’ll be teaching English, as I was in Hanoi, but should have plenty of time for photography too. I haven’t seen an of the Ken Burns series, but have read a little about it. I hope I can catch up on it at some point.


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