The Murky Waters of Return Trips

 

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Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. Chiang Mai, Thailand

Ever been to a destination, either home or abroad, and thought to yourself, “I like it here. I need to come back!”? It seems like a no brainer. Now, how often have you returned to that place and been utterly disappointed? It’s an interesting phenomenon not unlike thinking you can have one slice of pizza; it can either push you over the edge or sit perfectly.

Earlier this year I returned to places I’d visited in the past and had two very contrasting experiences. Both destinations remained the same as I remembered them- alluring and interesting. Yet somehow one destination became more enchanting while the other became about as charming as a little old lady spitting a chunk of phlegm at your feet as you walk by.

I’ll try to break it down for you.

Chiang Mai

The first time I came to this beautiful city I was drawn in by its exotic feel and friendly demeanour. Cafes and eateries are more common than Bintang singlets in Bali. The old city is a myriad of intertwining lanes and roads, many too small for cars to fit down. All encapsulated within the confines of the ancient city walls and surrounded by a large moat.

The city isn’t just confined to the old quarter, with night markets and Muay Thai stadiums littered throughout the district. Large Buddhist temples seem to exist on every second street.

Beautiful. Culture personified.

On my return, earlier this year, I noticed so many new aspects I had failed to recognise on my earlier visit. The cheeky little bar playing blues music overlooking the night market, for example. Or sitting on hay bales, watching a lady belt out tunes in a very Asian accent at a Thai version of a food court. If you have never heard the Rolling Stones classic, Satisfaction, sung in a thick Asian twang, do yourself a favour; grab a drink and settle in. It’s an interesting ride.

The strangest turn was wondering down an enclosed alley, looking for a bar to drink at. At the opposite end was yet another Muay Thai ring, with a fight in progress. Curious, we walked the gauntlet of watering holes. If you have ever been to Asia, you will know that every bar and restaurant has someone out front, desperately attempting to draw you in to sample their wares (why is it always ‘Happy hour’?) and make some easy cash off western tourists. Now picture ten bars on either side. This is what we were facing. It wasn’t an issue, mind you. In fact, after having a quick peak at the fight, we stopped in for a quick drink. The girls working there were very appreciative of having someone even enter the place. After a quick drink, my friend turned to me with a look of realisation, written across his face,

“All these girls are men aren’t they.”

“Well, they used to be.”

“Why did you let me come in here?”

“I needed a beer…”

These may not seem like positive moments to some, but the unexpected experiences are often the most memorable. That they all happened within five hundred metres of each other speaks volumes.

Hanoi

Nothing describes Hanoi better than the term “completely, bat s**t crazy”.

Just about every clichéd rumour you have ever heard about Asia can be confirmed or denied in this insane city. It is also why I loved it when I first visited. In between beers on ‘Beer Corner’ and dodging traffic, I was drawn in by the manic pace of Vietnam’s northern capital.

So when my friend suggested we explore Vietnam, I immediately put Hanoi on the list. I was determined to show him how intriguing the place was. But something was different this time. So many things I hadn’t noticed before stood out like a chihuahua in a greyhound race.

Where last time I found things charming, this time I found annoying. Like cafes that don’t serve food, only shakes. In fact finding a place to eat outside of the Old Quarter was like trying to find a sober person at the end of the Melbourne Cup.

Scammers seemed more abundant. In-between the one legged lady attempting to guilt me into buying a $6 ‘handmade’ card (“Look, it has a love heart for Valentine’s day.” “But its July, mam.”) and watching my friends’ thong get whipped off his foot and retread, with scooter tyre no less (he was charged 700,000 dong and couldn’t get his thongs back until payment), I was becoming disenchanted. And let’s not forget the spitting elderly- walking the street, it was like a scene from the Matrix as I athletically avoided spit balls from toothless pensioners.

I still love Hanoi, but my second coming left me happy never to return, tarnishing my previously pleasant memories. Although it doesn’t stop me recommending the place as a must see, I feel no need to ever go back myself.

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Hanoi, Vietnam.

 

I have revisited the likes of Chiang Mai, Koh Tao, Hue and Hoi An, enjoying them just as much as the first time. Similarly I was disappointed with my revisits to Ha Long Bay and Hanoi. Can I put a finger on the exact reasons? Probably not. Some places are just better off only being seen once. Like Sydney.

You’re never going to know if you will enjoy a destination when you go back to visit it. The very idea of revisiting is something even hardened travellers refuse to do, while some holiday makers love the familiarity of visiting a place they know well. A lot depends on your attitude and what you want to do. If you just want to do the same things you did last time, chances are you will end up disappointed. If you are willing to try new things, good times will generally follow.

Wayward Tip: revisiting a place can be tricky. Ask yourself, “Do I really need to go back?” or “What else can I see there?” If you come up with valid answers, head on back. If not, have another beer and pick a new destination.

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