Right: Ninh Binh, Northern Vietnam.

Hanoi, Sept 21. I feel like I'm under siege. The vendors and taxi drivers just don't take no for an answer. The summer heat is oppressive. My hotel room is liberally infested with vermin, notably ants and cockroaches. I don't mind the ants so much, they are industrious creatures and at least dispose of the dead cockroaches. Verily, they are themselves cannibals and will carry off their own fallen comrades for later consumption.

Akha hill tribe

I've often wondered, if an ant gets separated from it's colony, say for example it goes out with the rubbish and gets carted half-way across town, does it simply die, join another troop, or is it's destiny to wander the earth seeking new purpose and meaning? Sort of like a Kwai Chang Kane of the insect world.

Things like that keep me up at night......

Dateline: June 21, 2004. Route: Arrival Hanoi International Airport. Halong Bay, Catba Island. Sapa by train, Ninh Binh by train. Hue, Danang, Hoi An by road. July 17 Exit Vietnam at Lao Bao via Dong Ha, enter Laos.

The Socialist Republic of Vietnam Facts:

area: 326,797 sq km
borders: China, Laos, Cambodia
population: 78,100,000
language: Vietnamese
ethnicity: Vietnamese 84%, Chinese 2%, Khmers 700,000, Chams, Hill tribes ("Montagnards")