Northwest Vietnam

Hoa Binh - Song Da Reservoir - Mai Chau - Moc Chau - Yen Chau - Son La - Tuan Giao - Pa Khoang Lake - Dien Bien Phu - Muong Lay - Muong Te - Sin Ho - Lai Chau - Sa Pa - Lao Cai - Bac Ha - Ha Giang Province


IDD Code:(+84) 18
Hoa Binh means peace and it can seem pretty peaceful arriving in this gateway to the north west after surviving the suburbs of Hanoi. It's the capital of Hoa Binh province, a region that is home to many hill-tribe people, including the H'mong and Thai. Locals have adopted modern Vietnamese garb, but some Mon-tagnards venture into the town's market. Hoa Binh is a handy stop on the road to Mai Chau, but most visitors don't stay overnight.
Hoa Binh Tourism Company (tell: 854 374; fax 854 372) No walk-in office, but staff at the company's Hoa Binh hotels can help with general information. Main post office:Internet access is available here (per hr 3000d), plus international phone services.
In Hoa Binh there is a small museum (admission free;8-10.30am&2-4.30pmMon-Fri) that has war memorabilia, including a rusty old French amphibious vehicle. Cross the new bridge towards Phu Tho and to the right you will see the dam wall of a vast and impressive hydroelectric station, built by the Russians; over the river is a massive shrine to the 161 workers who died during its construction
Sleeping & Eating
Thap Vang Hotel (tell: 852 864; 213 Đ Cu Chinh Lan; r 150,000d; Set just off the main street in town, this is a smart minihotel offering hot water, a cold fridge and satellite TV. Hoa Binh Hotels I & II (tell: 854 374; fax 854 372; s/d US$23/28; Straddling either side of the road to Mai Chau, rooms here are set in mock Montagnard stilt-houses. These include reassuring nontraditional amenities like hot water and TV. It's well run compared with some of the state-owned places. Cuisine is not necessarily Hoa Binh's main attraction, but there are many com pho places lining Hwy 6 in the centre of town. Locals venture across the new bridge to a string of bia hoi (beer) shacks along the riverbank.
Getting There & Away
Hoa Binh is 74km southwest of Hanoi and accessible by public bus (25,000d, two hours ) Those with transport can visit Ba Vi National Park and follow a riverbank road to Hoa Binh.
THE ROADS WELL TRAVELLED: CONVERSATIONS WITH JEEP DRIVERS: I didn't plan to be a tourist driver, in the early 1980s I went to Moscow on a scholarship, to take a degree in civil engineering, and hoped to make that my career. Many of us Vietnamese went to study in Russia during that time. I learned to speak Russian, too, of course. That lasted three years, but by the time 1 came back the political climate here had changed, a Russian education was not highly valued and my degree didn't count fur much. My extended family pooled our money and bought this 4WD. It's a 1993 mode! and we bought it secondhand in a shipment that came from the US. It registers miles, not kilometres, which was a bit confusing for me at first! I drive all over the country, hut the northwest is the area that tourists want most to see and I go there most often, I suppose at least 30 times a year. Yes, they're long days, but as long as lean have an hour at lunch to eat and rest that's fine/And the tourists usually bring snacks to share during the journey; I really like M&Ms. Mostly when I drive foreigners there’s a guide/interpreter with them. so I don't need to speak another language. You can understand a lot just by gestures and tone of voice and expressions. But I know it would be sensible to learn more English. In understand some. but I'm not good at speaking it. My last passenger and I had fun learning to say things from the phrasebook; I taught her how to pronounce the Vietnamese and she taught me how to pronounce the English, then we'd test each other on the longer road trips. Foreigners always find it really hard to pronounce Vietnamese, though - too many tones. She left'the book with me, so I must keep practising. I'm usually home in Hanoi for one slight and one day a week if I'm lucky. My wife works full-time in an office, but our children are almost teenagers so they can pretty well look after themselves when we're busy. We spend a lot on mobile phone calls though?