Authentic Lao food can be difficult to find in well-touristed areas like Luang Prabang where Thai curries are often cloaked as local fare. Fortunately for us, we stumbled upon Tamarind Café early in our stay. Its unique menu made a point of introducing and promoting Luang Prabang cuisine.
One American traveler we spoke to quipped that Luang Prabang actually felt like Sante Fe, New Mexico. A fair comparison, we suppose, given its café-equipped, mid-mountain artsy demeanor and copious artsy shopping opportunities. These features ensure that tourists will keep ‘a coming to this quaint yet polished French colonial outpost on the Mekong. But if you are looking for a deeper cut of authenticity, catch yourself a water taxi to Ban Xieng Maen, a peaceful village just across the river, but half a planet away. Its simplicity and low-key temples belie the fact that we were only minutes from well-traveled Luang Prabang.
Even in winter, Sapa’s landscape dazzles with its rolling hills and terraced rice fields. The villages and people are just as unique. It’s like a portal to another world.
Visually, we were blown away by Bac Ha market in northern Vietnam. During our winter visit, the women and their brightly-colored clothing provided the perfect contrast to the muted winter landscape. Most of the women who make the trek to Bac Ha market from their hill villages are from the Flower Hmong ethnic group. As you can see from our photos, they dress in colorful head scarves and beautifully embroidered skirts and tops.
Hanoi is a place where filthy abundance and noise follow you everywhere and the action takes place low to the ground. The fluid movement of traffic resembles a drift, like dunes. Time slows, suspended in particulate-filled air. While locals make business and take draws from traditional pipes, the sound waves of motorbike horns and tonal conversations compete for space through which to move
Some people call this relaxed and insist that Hanoi is laid back. In comparison to what, we’re not sure.
As I was told by the General Manager of Craft Link, Ms. Tran Tuyet Lan, not-for-profit organizations have to sell quality products in order to survive. Charity isn’t sustainable.
But Hanoi’s Hoa Sua School and Craft Link try. The customer gets quality food and handicrafts, respectively, in addition to the warm fuzzy feeling from contributing to a good social cause. It's an ideal – and apparently sustainable – combination.
Everyone raves about the food in Hanoi. However, we found our street-eating selves a bit stymied the first few days of our visit. Not sure if it was the fickle weather, our outlook, or the fear of being served a surprise chicken foot or pig ear, but our initial impression of the cuisine was not quite impenetrable, but less than accessible.
Our visit to Hanoi's Vietnamese Museum of Ethnology included all the requisite colorfully embroidered and woven clothing, agriculture tools, religious artifacts and sample living quarters in an ample demonstration of Vietnam's surprisingly wide and diverse variety of ethnic minorities. The extraordinarily honest and introspective exhibition on the difficulties of life under Vietnam’s Subsidy Economy between 1975 and 1986 – now that was exceptional!
Sometimes a moment of peace in a beautiful setting is what you need when traveling, especially when you are in northern Vietnam. A nod to Halong Bay for filling this need and for offering some of the most visually spectacular landscape in the region. Meaning “Bay of the Descending Dragon, ” Halong Bay has almost 2000 limestone islands that rise above the water like dragons moving through the sea.
Located just northeast of Ko Samui, Koh Pha Ngan is best known for its crazy full moon party at Haad Rin. For us, it's a place to stay in a simple bungalow on the beach and relax with a book.