Friday, June 15, 2012

Minority report

All around Sapa are the tiny villages of the H'Mong and other minorities, who live mainly as rice farmers. Every accessible piece of land in the valleys is terraced. I spent seven hours walking among the fields and villages, away from the tourist roads.

We had a major thunderstorm yesterday so the paths are soaked. At first I found the dry sections of the paths, but those got scarce deeper in the rice fields. Rice is grown submerged in water. In parts I was slogging in mud halfway up to my knees, and found it got more traction barefoot where it got really steep. But there are many creeks to wade through and wash up, and the scenery more than made up for my troubles.

At some point I got lost but was promptly "adopted" by a group of Black H'Mong who led me on paths in villages and hugging the sides of mountains that I would never have found by myself. Later I had to cross a road construction site and watched them dynamite the hillside. Couldn't get really close though because the entire crew had only a single hard hat, and after the bang follows a shower of pebbles and dirt.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Massages and buffalo

Sapa is at the northern edge of Vietnam, at the border to China. I am not planning to cross over into China though, they have tightened the visa restrictions so much recently that it's not practical. I hope China won't destabilize... They've arrested a politburo member recently.

Anyway, Sapa is high up in the mountains, and the summer is merely nice and warm here, rather than suffocating like in Hanoi. It's a strange mixture of primitive villages of minorities (who aren't given much of a chance by the Vietnamese), communist leftovers, and expensive shiny hotels, restaurants, and massage parlors for the tourists.

My room overlooks a beautiful valley covered with terraced rice fields and the shacks the minority people live in. The Vietnamese have set up ticket booths for tourists visiting the minority villages. There's a strong feeling of exploitation that only the western tourists seem to notice.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


I have done all the obligatory sights on my previous visit, so I had time to see the neighborhoods of Hanoi, and talk to the people who live there. I had a guide who took me to the hidden little alleys and distant places where tourists do not normally venture. I have seen barbecued dogs.
Also went to the national park Bavi, and climbed 1600 steps to the temples on the hills. They were built only last year, in the traditional style. I doubt that the government would care as much if Uncle Ho (Ho Chi Minh) hadn't visited the place, making it a pilgrimage stop.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Makassar to Hanoi

Roaming the little alleys of Makassar near the harbor, some little wider than a meter, and as always responding to all calls of "hello misterrr". At one point there was a bunch of older children in an Internet café, and Google Translate actually let us communicate, after a fashion. The crowd quickly grew to 20 or 30 children of all ages, some carried by their mothers. They wanted photos, and were screaming with laughter at the results.

In the evening, I left Indonesia (my visa was about to expire), and after a night in an airport hotel in Kuala Lumpur that charges extra for a towel, I am now in Hanoi, Vietnam. Hanoi is much bigger and much more busy than Makassar. Little seems to have changed since my last visit in 2008. Spent much of the afternoon chatting with locals, who always seem to be happy to try out their English on the few foreigners around. Most of whom have their eyes glued on the next temple or pagoda and ignore everything else. Their loss.

Vietnamese food is fantastic. Even and especially in the small street kitchens dotting Hanoi's inner city.

Sunday, June 10, 2012


Makassar is the largest town on Sulawesi, and has very little touristic value. Found a nice neighborhood at the old port, some distance from the center. Lots of old wooden Bugis boats, tightly packed, being loaded by people carrying sacks of cement, sugar, vegetables, and more. Talked to a sailor who loves to read Goethe and Tolstoy. All happy families are alike...

Children follow me everywhere, trying out a few words of English, have their pictures taken, and erupting in laughter when seeing the results. I have only seen one other Western tourist today, and I am much taller. I seem to be a bigger attraction to the locals than Makassar is to me.