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

Backroads Mishaps en route to Bac Ha

I’ve long been saying that in Vietnam anything’s possible: where there’s a will, there’s usually a way. I may need to revise that after a disasterous two-day trip to Bac Ha, a minority town of H’mong people near the Chinese border, an overnight train trip north of Hanoi. Most people come this way to Sapa, a mountain valley town of 1600m — facing … Continue reading

It Takes Five Days to Love Hanoi

Or One Glass of 15-cent beerIf you look at a world map and think a bit, there are very very few countries, where you have more than one major, world-known rival cities that divvy up political, cultural and economical duties over the centuries. France has Paris, England has London, Greece has Athens, Mexico is dominated by Mexico City, Argentina by Buenos Aires, Turkey … Continue reading