I have always found TRAMP to be crazy slow (5+ secs to fetch a directory listing) so I've avoided it for years. Time to figure out what is going on. I'm always connecting via ssh, using declarations in ~/.ssh/config. The connections are fine, I've survived buy running remote emacs sessions in a terminal.
I figured out how to turn on tramp debugging but not sure how to read the output. It appears that there might be a delay before tramp starts doing anything? Perhaps tramp is conflicting with some other mode?