happy Diwali

Diwali also known as Deepavali and the “festival of lights“, is an ancient Hindu festival celebrated in autumn every year.

The festival spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair.

The festival preparations and rituals typically extend over a five day period, but the main festival night of Diwali coincides with the darkest, new moon night of the Hindu Lunisolar month Kartika. …

Tonight. :-)


In Nepal, Diwali is known as “Tihar” or “Swanti” …

I was in Nepal last year for Tihar, and I’m back for another month this year. There’s no better place for me in November than the Himalaya.

click for more festival photos

click for more festival photos

The mainstream media news reports on the Nepal snowstorm disaster, by the way, are not accurate. Click over to wikipedia for ongoing updates and an a more objective overview of the tragedy.

I’ll be careful up there, as I was last year on the Annapurna, just after a snow storm. :-)

Cat Cat, Vietnam

My last day in Sapa, I walked down to super popular, super touristy Cat Cat village.


The main attraction of northern Vietnam for most tourists are the colourful ethnic minorities.

Prized photos like this. (Not taken by me.)


I was turned off cultural tourism after my first trek to minority villages in northern Thailand 1998. It seems a shame to have these ladies and girls dress up every day only to mob any passing tourist with the question: shopping, shopping?

That said, I was glad I checked out the tourist version of a traditional village.

P1310523 P1310522


The animals are entertaining.




If you keep descending, eventually you’ll reach the waterfall.


more photos

related – Chased Down a Mountain by Local Hmong ladies

related – wikitravel:

Children from these ethnic minorities often begin to support their families financially through selling trinkets to tourists. Do not encourage this by buying from children – Buy from adults. They peddle small metal or silver trinkets, embroidered pillow cases and friendship bands in the main town, and often walk for several hours from their surrounding villages to reach the town. At the end of the day, some take a motorbike ride back to their village, some walk home and some sleep in the market.

Children have poor or non-existance dental hygiene. “”Do not give them candy or sweet””. It hurts their teeth badly. If you want to give them something, safe toys from your home is highly regarded.

There’re schools in Sapa’s villages. Most of them lack essential learning: book, pen or pencil. Give those to the teachers, thus reducing your loading weight in return.

Women’s Museum, Hanoi

Vietnamese Women’s Museum is located in Hanoi, in Ly Thuong Kiet Street, near the central Hoan Kiem Lake and the old quarter. This is the most ancient street in the capital city, with many French-style buildings, foreign embassies, hotels and government offices. …

The mission of the museum is to enhance public knowledge and understanding of history and cultural heritage of Vietnamese women by collecting, preserving and introducing exhibits through object collection, historical anthropology approach, diverse and multi-directional reflection of women’s issues in historical and contemporary life … promoting gender equality. …

In 2012, Vietnamese Women’s Museum was ranked “One of the best attractions in Hanoi in 2012” by TripAdvisor – one of the most prestigious world tourist websites. In 2013, TripAdvisor continued to include Vietnamese Women’s Museum in the top 25 most interesting museums in Asia.

street vendor

I’d concur. The most moving section is right at the beginning, photos and video of Hanoi street vendors. All have the same story – they’d much rather be home in the village, but felt forced to move to the city to supplement family income.

Click PLAY or watch it on Vimeo. (54min)

Another floor I found laughable. Fierce women at war. Warriors.

Vietnam is still a totalitarian State. That exhibit is propaganda. I’m betting 99.99% of Vietnamese women hated the war. And cared only for the welfare of their family.

Oddly, I was unable to find the Men’s Museum in Hanoi. :-)

Sapa, Vietnam

Tourist love this Hill Station, first developed by the French.

Sapa mapThe first permanent French civilian resident arrived in Sa Pa in 1909. With its attractive continental climate, health authorities believed the site had potential. By 1912 a military sanatorium for ailing officers had been erected along with a fully fledged military garrison. Then, from the 1920s onwards, several wealthy professionals with enough financial capital also had a number of private villas built in the vicinity. …

Sa Pa is a quiet mountain town and home to a great diversity of ethnic minority peoples. The total population of 36,000 consists mostly of minority groups. …

I happened to arrive on a Sunday morning, a real market day for the surrounding villages.

Market Sapa

Before the 1990s, the town’s economy was mainly based on small size agriculture.

Tourist arrival between 1995 and 2003 grew from a total of 4,860 to 138,622. On average, 79% of the visitors are Vietnamese and 21% are foreigners. …

Those that were here before you, all tell that Sapa has been ruined by tourism.

Tourists create trash. The town of Sapa does not know how to dispose of it. That’s clear.

en route to visit the rice terraces

en route to visit the rice terraces

I loved it, as I love all Hill Stations. Especially the lake.




The Communist Vietnamese government continued with the faded yellow French architecture. I find it charming.




Animal lovers will be horrified, however.




The life of many animals in Asia is harsh.

Mostly I wandered the town, avoiding touts, checking to see what regular people are up to. The Cathedral and plazas are entertaining.




Tourists love Sapa. Even if many of the young have abandoned the fields to chase tourists.


My only other big complaints about Sapa are the smoking. And the motorcycle culture.

Tourists can rent crappy bikes for as little as $5. :-(

more photos

Sapa Unique Hotel

This might just be my favourite hotel of all time. (I’ve stayed in thousands of hotels.)

As I’m doing constantly these days, I found the Sapa Unique Hotel on Trip Advisor.

$35 / night single is far more than I normally pay in Asia. But the Unique was well worth it.

Here’s the view from the balcony terrace.

Sapa Unique balcony

On arrival, you’ll find the bedspread and bathroom shower scattered with flower petals.



In a tourist trap town where it’s near impossible to get information, front desk staff are helpful and thoughtful answering questions. They sent me to the most reputable trekking agency in town, unlike the official government tourist information office.

Before bed, they surprise guests with fruit or caramelized bananas drizzled with chocolate. What a treat.

If you are departing on a night bus or train, they pack you a snack for the trip.

Even better, they keep a room free so guests can take a shower at the end of day before climbing on to the sleeper bus.

Thank you Sapa Unique Hotel. :-)