100km (62 miles) E of Hanoi

With its wide avenues and grand parks lined with colonnaded buildings of a yellowed, aging stucco, Haiphong is like a smaller, more manageable version of Hanoi. You won't find jaw-dropping sights, but the town is worth a wander and not a bad stop on the way to, or from, the likes of Cat Ba or Halong Bay. Architectural sights include the classic old city theater, the town's large cathedral (Nha Tho Lon), an eclectic museum of history, and a museum of the navy. Central An Bien Park is also worth a wander, and the town boasts a few good hotels, one rather high-end as well as affordable midrange and low-end haunts. Do Son Beach is just 21km (13 miles) southeast of Haiphong and a popular getaway for locals or Hanoi weekenders; the beach town hosts the annual Do Son Buffalo Fighting Festival, which is more or less a gory game of bull-baiting, but with lots of pomp and circumstance.

On your way to Haiphong from Hanoi, you'll pass through Binh Duyen, the industrial district east of Hanoi, where you'll find big, belching factories churning out Nike and Adidas shoes or name-brand shirts. There's an enormous Ford factory and other automotive and technical production facilities as well. Nearby, farmers use manual scoops to "cup" water from one rice terrace to the next, true manual irrigation, while just a stone's throw away, intricate pumps for automotive engines are manufactured by the thousands. It's a mad world.