Conversations that Happen

The night before a man and woman stopped him on the street. The woman held a knife and wanted money. ‘She was very afraid. She didn’t know what to do with the knife. Women are more unpredictable with tools. It was two million dong (about $125), but all they got was money.’ The guy — very blond, slouching in the wicker lounge chair … Continue reading

Waddling with the (Former) Enemy

I don’t chase down ‘American War’ sites or often bring it up in conversations here. It’s not out of creating some sort of faux pas, or dodging the reality that the US and Vietnam were in war a few decades ago. I rarely get anything but a bright-eyed response when I tell someone where I’m from: nuoc my (America). But occasionially the war … Continue reading

Tour Guides on DIY Trips

In Cat Ba island where something new for me is streaming along the streets — Vietnamese tourists. Ten years ago, when I was living in Saigon, destinations were pretty much the turf of sunburnt foreigners toting backpacks or the occasional wheeled suitcase. Now it’s hard to get room from all the souvenir shops hawking things directed to the local market — seashell wind … Continue reading

Pythons & Biceps in Hanoi’s Outskirts

Just leaving the Water Puppet performance in central Hanoi — where tourists pack into tight rows of plush red seats in an air-conditioned hall to watch an hour-long performance of dancing fishes, dragon, turtles, farmers splash in the water to a live soundtrack of traditional Vietnamese music; it feels a bit tired, but at $1.30 a ticket it’s hard to skip — I … Continue reading

Sapa Tours… It’s a Frenzy!

Sometimes researching guidebooks just means being a tourist. Sapa emerged as a must-stop itinerary-changer, with high mountains, traditional H’mong and Red Giay villages and cool temperatures in the far north of Vietnam. Fancy hotels are there now, and fancy tourists, even though it takes an overnight train to get to nearby Lao Cai on the China border (no airport!). After a few days … Continue reading

Watching TV in Sapa

BETTER THAN A MUSEUM?Travel isn’t a full-time deal unless you let it get out of hand. I find — whether I’m in Yakutsk, Sliven or Bac Ha — I end up turning on the TV a bit, if there’s one available. Coming into beautiful, cool, mountainous Sapa — exhausted from motorcycle failures, overnight trains and a week of Hanoi heat — I turned … Continue reading