December 30, 2009

Have a foggy, jolly, Christmas in Sapa, Vietnam

Temperatures in Sapa, the most famous tourist site of northern Vietnam, are less than 4oC, but the town is very crowded with foreign and local visitors who come to celebrate Christmas. VietNamNet reports in photos:

Sapa tours

Despite the cold spell, ethnic minority girls still travel to town from their far-away villages.

Sapa Travel, Vietnam

Travel Sapa, Vietnam

The cold doesn’t stop visitors.

Holiday in Sapa, Vietnam

visit Sapa, Vietnam

Holiday in Sapa, Vietnam

All hotels decorate their entrances to welcome Christmas.

Hoang Manh Dung, Director of the Sapa Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, told VietNamNet that the number of foreign visitors for Christmas has risen sharply in 2009.

Holiday in Sapa, Vietnam

The town’s church in fog.

Source: PV/VNN

Recommendation for Trekking Fansipan , Vietnam:
Sapa Travel Guide
Trekking Travel Guide
Trek Fansipan Tours

December 23, 2009

Christmas spirit grips Viet Nam’s big cities

Although Christmas does not have historical roots in Viet Nam, people across the country are filled with the holiday spirit. Huong Ly, Phuoc Buu and Hoang Ha report.

No need to wait until December 25, one can easily sense Christmas coming to many big cities in of The whole country is singing Christmas carols together.

Shopping for Christmas time in Hanoi, Vietnam

Shopping for Christmas time in Hanoi, Vietnam

The streets and buildings in Ha Noi have been lavishly decorated with Christmas trees, reindeer, presents, and so on. Windows are framed with multi-coloured lights, and Christmas songs float through hallway speakers. Gift-shopping and present-wrapping have been in full swing

Walking along Hang Ma Street in Hanoi, Nguyen Hoang Yen browses through colourful ribbons and decorative balls to pick out several favourites. After finally taking a package of tiny bells and golden balls, Yen also picks up wrapping paper imprinted with Santas and the unmistakable phrase "Merry Christmas".

Although Yen’s family is not Christian, she says a Christmas celebration has been their custom for several years.

"My children simply assume Santa Claus to be a Western Buddha and they can wish not only for luck, but also for various gifts," she says

Hanoian Ngo Truong Sinh, who recently married a Christian woman, says he often went to the Christmas Eve mass even before he met his wife.

Sinh and his friends often visited churches in Ha Noi on Christmas Eve merely to join in with the atmosphere of the crowd, take a couple of pictures and have fun together.

Hanoi Cathedral before Christmas night

Hanoi Cathedral before Christmas night

After twice accompanying his wife to observe rituals in the Cua Bac Church, he said he felt a deeper respect for Christmas and its meaning.

"My feelings are now quite different," he said. "Despite my lack of religious obligation, I feel more excited about Christmas than ever before and consider the holiday part of my life."

Christmas seems to have become a special occasion for the whole community, which can be obviously seen by what is going on in Hue these days.

Despite more than 600 pagodas that exist in the former royal city of Hue, the religious holiday of Christmas has been embraced by nearly everyone in the area: Buddhists, Christians and even non-believers.

"Christmas has become an international holiday and cultural event," explains Bishop Anthony Duong Quynh of the city’s Phu Cam diocese, which has 5,560 Christian parishioners.

"Guests who come to visit our cathedral during Christmas include Buddhist monks. We respect each other’s religion. Christmas is not just for Christians," he adds.

Hue’s Phu Cam Cathedral, one of its biggest churches and well-known for its architectural features, was built in 1960 on a hill where an orange plantation once stood. On Christmas Eve, people walk en masse on the streets to the church square and later attend mass.

"I was extremely happy to see thousands of people gathered around the cathedral waiting for the Christmas Eve service last year," Bishop Quynh says. "I love the peaceful atmosphere of the crowds."

"The strongest feeling I had was peace."

Known in Viet Nam as Noel after the French introduced it and Catholicism to the country years ago, the holiday has various meanings for many people. But all agree that the bells ringing at midnight on Christmas Eve signal the universal desire for peace.

Source: VNS

Recommendation for Christmas Season in Vietnam:
Biking Tours in Vietnam
Hue excursions

December 21, 2009

Christmas in Vietnam

In Vietnam, Christmas was celebrated joyously with people thronging city roads right from Christmas Eve, which is often more important than Christmas Day!

Christmas is one of the four most important festivals of the Vietnamese year, including the birthday of Buddha, the New Year and the Mid-autumn Festival. Although the Christians observed the religious rituals of Christmas.

Christmas in Vietnam

Traditional Vietnamese religions are Buddhism and the Chinese philosophies of Taoism and Confucianism. However, during French rule, many people became Christians, that occupy 8 to 10 percent of whose population. This is because the Vietnamese are a fun-loving, sociable people and the various Vietnam festivals and events are actually occasions for them to a gala time, all together. Christmas in Vietnam is a grand party.

History Of Christmas In Vietnam

Christmas in Vietnam has had a tumultuous history. The Catholics are a minority in Vietnam but they used to celebrate Christmas in Vietnam quite in peace right from the days of the French rule. That is until the Communists took over political power in 1975. The church-state relations soured during that time and the Catholics were relegated to celebrating Jesus’s birthday in privacy.

Christmas tree at Fortuna Hotel (Hanoi,Vietnam)

Since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, church-state relations have not always been smooth. However, they have been improving since the introduction of economic reforms in the late 1980s. Liberalist policies adopted since the 1980s saw Vietnam warming up to western influences and ideals and Christmas in Vietnam came back triumphantly. Now Christmas is one of the major festivals in Vietnam, celebrated with much fanfare by all religious communities.

Phat Diem Cathedral in Ninh Binh Province is considered the spiritual home for the seven million Catholics who live in Vietnam, a predominantly Buddhist nation. Hundreds of Catholics gather for Christmas Eve Mass in the northern city of Phat Diem. Children staged a nativity play to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ - or Kito, as he is known in Vietnamese -- in front of the city's cathedral, built in 1891.

Christmas In Vietnam

Christmas in Vietnam is a huge event, especially in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and the Vietnamese Christmas celebrations here are like any other city in the western world. The Christians in Vietnam attend a Midnight mass on Christmas Eve and return home to a sumptuous Christmas dinner. The Christmas dinner usually consists of chicken soup while wealthier people eat turkey and Christmas pudding.

On Christmas Eve, Vietnamese people in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, especially young people, like to go into the city centre, where there is a Catholic Cathedral. The streets are crowded with people on Christmas Eve and in the city centre cars are not allowed for the night.

People celebrate by throwing confetti, taking pictures and enjoying the Christmas decorations and lights of big hotels and department stores. Lots of cafes and restaurants are open for people to enjoy a snack!

Vietnam used to be part of the French Empire and there are still French influences in the Christmas traditions. Many Catholic churches have a big nativity crib scene or 'creche' with nearly life size statues of Mary, Joesph, baby Jesus, the shepherds and animals. In some areas of Ho Chi Minh City, usually in Catholic parishes, people have big crib scenes in front of their houses and decorate the whole street, turning it into a Christmas area! These are popular for people to visit and look at the scenes.

Also like in France, the special Christmas Eve meal is called 'reveillon' and has a 'bûche de Noël' (a chocolate cake in the shape of a log) for desert. Vietnamese people like to give presents of food and at Christmas a bûche de Noël is a popular gift. Other Christmas presents are not very common, although some young people like to exchange Christmas cards.

The Yuletide spirit of giving and sharing has been embraced with an earnest by the Vietnamese. Generous as they are, the Vietnamese give out gifts and presents in plenty during the Christmas celebrations in Vietnam. However, the children are more keen to have their stockings and shoes stuffed in with goodies from Santa’s bulging sack. The European customs of Santa Claus and the Christmas tree were popular and children would leave their shoes out on Christmas Eve.

Merry Christmas in Vietnamese is “Chúc Mừng Giáng Sinh”!

Source: Vietnam-beauty

Recommendation for Christmas in Vietnam:

Family adventure tours in Vietnam

Short Excursions in Indochina

December 15, 2009

Nature & nurture in Ha Giang, Vietnam

They grow their crops on the rocks and walk several kilometers of steep, cold mountain roads to buy and sell small goods, but the Mong families on the Dong Van Plateau are some of the most hospitable in the world.

Ha Giang Travel VietnamFamily in Ha Giang Province Vietnam

After the long journey, settling into the silence and peace of a stop high mountain road in Ha Giang Province can be an arresting experience.

Vietnam’s northernmost province is located in the northwestern. Hoang Lien Mountains – the Tonkinese Alps as the French called them – near the border with China.

All’s quiet except for the whisper of the crisp breeze and the crunch of a local Mong family’s sandals on the road as they walk carrying large bamboo backpacks filled whatever produce or goods they’ve either just bought or are about to sell at the market.

The language barrier keeps us at a distance in one way, but the simple smiles of the family bring our two very different worlds close together.

Mesmerized by the strength and spirit in their faces, the natural beauty that surrounds us – limestone peaks creeping above a dense mist, vibrant green valleys descending into earth-red rivers – is equally enchanting. I’ve never met anyone who came here and didn’t want to come back.

The sturdy roads on the steep sides of the Dong Van Highlands tower above green corn fields in the summer and colorful valleys of wild flowers in the autumn and spring.

The carpet of colors – even on grey, overcast and otherwise dreary days – is breathtaking.

Life in the slow lane

The journey to Dong Van is not exactly easy, but it’s worth it.

At an altitude of more than 1,000 meters above sea level, the bends are sharp and the passes narrow for hours along the rocky plateau. Drive slow, especially if you go by motorbike, as the safety rails are not very high.

The motorbike is the most intense way to experience the trip, but most rides in Ha Giang are not only gorgeous, but also tiring and at times dangerous.

There is only one road connecting the town of Ha Giang to the smaller towns of Quan Ba and Yen Minh and then Dong Van and Meo Vac districts, the most remote part of the trip.

From Quan Ba, a beautiful road takes you on cliffs beside the Mien River. The road goes through several Mong villages before it lands in Dong Van Town, where the local Tay community has been living for around 200 years.

The French army landed here in the 19th century and there are still several rows of old French tile-roofed homes alongside other Vietnamese homes from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Mong market is open every Sunday, producing a variety of different sounds and smells.

About 20km from Dong Van is Meo Vac Town, the capital of Meo Vac District. Meo Vac is famous for its “Cow Market” where 300-400 cattle are sold every Sunday in northern Vietnam’s largest bovine exchange.

The sellers, who can earn tens of millions of dong per animal, always invite the buyers to enjoy local wine after the transactions.

Meo Vac is near Dong Van, so some people go to both markets on a Sunday morning.

Happy trails

The road between Meo Vac and Dong Van may be one of the most beautiful in Vietnam.

But it has a sad history.

For years in the 50s and 60s, tens of thousands of migrant laborers from six surrounding provinces worked to break the mountain and build the road.

But due to wartime deprivation, many died of diseases and accidents. Now the road is known locally as the “Happy” road, perhaps for its beauty. But there is a monument commemorating the dead workers who built it.

The Dong Van Plateau is made even more beautiful by the Mong people who live there.

Life can be difficult for a poor Mong family, but in my years of visiting Ha Giang, I’ve never heard anyone complain or ask for a favor. The Mong always smile and are extremely friendly to visitors.

All the intricacies and grace of the Dong Van Highlands can hardly even be mentioned in this story alone. More stories will soon follow to elaborate on the culture, history and natural wonder of the area.


The Dong Van Highlands, encompassing total area of more than 574 square kilometers in Ha Giang Province’s Quan Ba, Yen Minh, Dong Van and Meo Vac districts, could eventually be recognized as a UNESCO Global Geological Park.

UNESCO Vietnam has sent an application based on a recent study which concluded that limestone can be found in 11 layers on 80 percent of the surface of the plateau. Two of the layers are sediment dating from 400 to 600 million years ago.

How to get there

The highlands are about 450km north of Hanoi. Visitors can take National Road 2 by motorbike or ride in cars with fewer than 30 seats. A tour from Hanoi to the plateau should take four days and three nights. There are basically-equipped hotels in Ha Giang, Dong Van and Meo Vac.

Source: TN

How to find Ha Giang Adventure tours
- West to East Biking Exploration
- Motorcycling adventure in Northern Vietnam

December 14, 2009

Smooth sailing in Mekong Delta, Vietnam

My Tho Town offers a welcome respite from the rough and tumble of Ho Chi Minh City.

After five days of shop-tillyou-drop in Ho Chi Minh City, a splendid place for such activity, we were sorely in need of another short holiday to recover from this one.

“Why don’t you travel to My Tho this weekend?” a Saigon friend of mine, suggested. She described the perfect antidote to our days in HCMC: “It’s a peaceful, riverside town hidden in lush orchards.”

Float Market in Mekong Delta, Vietnam
Float Market in Mekong Delta, Vietnam

A day trip to Tien Giang Province sounded like a great idea to us – me, this northern girl, and two friends of mine from Los Angeles.

On the road to this town, there was a curious sense of homecoming for me as my father used to work here as an engineer during the subsidy period.

My Tho is around 72 kilometers south of HCMC. Since the 17th century, the fertile land in the north of the Tien River has been reclaimed and developed by generations of inhabitants into an area lush and green with rice fields and orchards, and trade has thrived for centuries along its river banks.

As the road became broader and many small canals, green rice fields and orchards came into view, I knew we would be in My Tho before long.

In the town, we started to stroll aimlessly through peaceful lanes with no names, inhaling the fragrances of garden fruits carried by the breeze. Then we entered a small lane leading to one of the tributaries of the legendary Mekong River. It was noon and we could see the sun shining brightly and proudly on the magnificent river with many colorful boats sailing up and down.

Both banks of the river were bordered by water coconut groves and orchards. It was so peaceful it seemed that it was only yesterday I was walking with my father on the green banks of the river to the wooden wharf looking at pretty goby fishes swimming by.

“It’s so beautiful! I have seen this river in a film on old Indochina and I hope one day we can travel along this river up to Cambodia,” said my friend Robert Sheen.

Accepting our tour guide’s suggestion, we took a boat on the Mekong River and later moved to one steered by a woman in a conical leaf hat, through the red canals were shaded by water coconut trees. It was not difficult to blend into the surroundings with our silence broken only by the slapping sounds the boat made as it moved through the water.

“The water here is red because of the alluvial soil which creates fertile islands like Thoi Son, which we are going to visit now,” said Muoi, our tour guide.

On the island, sitting in the shade of the orchard, tasting its fruits plucked fresh off the trees, listening to don ca tai tu (amateur southern Vietnamese Opera) – it was exactly the experience we wanted. Then we walked around some gardens, listening to the crunch of dry leaves under our feet and watching, but not envying, the hard working tiny bees flying from one tree to another to make honey and pollinate flowers.

As the sky got darker, we had to travel back to HCMC. I was a bit jealous as I saw other relaxed tourists coming into the town. But I knew I would come back to My Tho to discover the place afresh, every time.

Reported by Thy Nga
Recommendation in Mekong Delta, Vietnam:
- Mekong Delta Travel Guide
- Cruise Mekong Delta
- Mekong Explore Tour

December 07, 2009

Gathering steam in Sapa, Vietnam

The age-old traditions of the Red Dao people, a hill tribe known for its medicinal culture and expert herbalists, infuse an all natural spa in the mountains.

After a long day of hiking the steep hills and terraced rice paddies of the mountains around Sa Pa, an all-natural herbal steam bath was just what my aching muscles needed.

At Red Dao Spa, I was led into a small bath full of fragrant steam wafting from the large wooden tub. First, I washed down with some herb-infused water, a dark reddish color, and then sat in the warm water for a 20 minute soak.

The Red Dao people in Sa Pa are known as the best herbalists in the area thanks to a vibrant medicinal culture centered on herbal remedies. Living near thick forests, Red Dao communities have taken advantage of the rich source of medicine to keep them healthy and full of energy. The Red Dao use herbs to treat everything from flu to skin diseases and muscle problems.

Herbs pot to boil in preparation for the spa, Sapa, Vietnam

Herbs pot to boil in preparation for the spa, Sapa, Vietnam

For generations, the Red Dao people have used traditional herbal spas to treat a variety of ailments. Their baths include ten different kinds of herbs collected fresh from the forest before each soak.

The leaves, some fresh but some dried, are boiled for 3-4 hours. Then they are mixed with fresh water at 30-37oC. The bathtub, put in a small room to keep the steam and fragrance of the herbs, is usually made from fir or another aromatic wood.


Red Dao Spa is run by Sa Pa local Ly Lao Lo in Ta Chai Village, Ta Phin Commune, around 12 kilometers from the center of the town.

The spa is small and sparsely furnished, but welcoming and comfortable. I visited after a Sa Pa woman suggested the place.

Once I arrived, I was briefed about the history of the herbal therapies I would be given and the properties of each herb.

Then I had my soak. Sitting in the warm, red water, I felt all my senses tingle and my muscles eased and relaxed. A soothing feeling crept up and down my body. After 20 minutes, I was thoroughly relaxed.


The only problem with Sa Pa’s new Red Dao-style spas is that there are a lot of them and it’s not easy to tell which ones are authentic.

“The thing that worries me is if people sell the service when they don’t really understand it and do not use the herbs properly,” said Lo.

“It also saddens me to see villagers working very hard to collect the herbs when the spas don’t pay them very well.”

With help from doctors at the Hanoi University of Pharmacy, Lo has also established a small company producing soap with traditional Red Dao herbs and leaves. To make the product, which can be found in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, Lo has hired some 40 families in his village to grow the herbs themselves.

Try the true Dao’s spa at:

Red Dao Spa: Ta Chai Village, Ta Phin Commune, Sa Pa District, Lao Cai Province

Tel: (020) 871 756/098 897 5704

Tour to Sa Pa can be booked at:


31 Alley 4, Dang Van Ngu St., Hanoi

367 Ngo Quyen St., Son Tra Dist., Da Nang

50 Bis Co Bac St., Dist. 1, HCMC

Support number (24/7 service): (04) 3 573 8569

Source: VietNamNet/Thanh Nien

December 05, 2009

ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA inspects Hoa Binh lake for new kayaking tour in Vietnam

ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA (ATA) inspects Hoa Binh reservoir, Vietnam to design a kayaking tour in this beautiful hidden area. This new kayaking tour will help tourists to have more options for exploring the Vietnamese natural charm by kayaking.

“We are going to launch this new adventure tour in Jan, 2010” said by Mr.Tony Tran - Product Manager.

Hoa Binh Lake, Vietnam

Hoa Binh reservoir is located on a section of the Da River which has stream flow from Van nam Province, China to Phu Tho Province, Vietnam with total length is 910km including 383km of chinese territory and 527km of vietnamese territory.

In Vietnam, the start point of the Da river is Muong Te district - Lai Chau Province. The river flows through the northwestern provinces of Lai Chau, Dien Bien, Son La, Hoa Binh, Phu Tho and ends at the Da Hong fork, Tam Nong district, Phu Tho province.

When the biggest hydro power plant in Southeast Asia – the Hoa Binh Hydro Power Plant – was under construction in the 1980s, the Da River was stopped up to keep water for a reservoir. The water level then rose and submerged the valley together with hundreds of mountains, turning them into islands.

Today, Hoa Binh reservoir is not only plays an important role in providing a huge of electricity for daily life, but also famous for its significant scenery. The reservoir is surrounded by many limestone hills with height from 10m - 100m above water surface. Islands of different shapes and sizes are embraced by the spacious reservoir. The water also brings out the green colors of the surrounding countryside.

Kayaking Hoa Binh Lake, Vietnam

"There is no word that can describe my feeling when I saw the reservoir. Nothing difference between here and Halong Bay but the geographical name” said by Mr. Tony Tran - Product Manager.

The ATA’s inspection team scans the Hoa Binh reservoir to design new outdoor tours for adventure travelers. The potential outdoor activities can be designed in this area is kayaking.

“If you find somewhere for kayaking, this is where to stop your search” added Tony.

Kayakers are able to have short break to visit temples or discovery caves along riverside.

If you need a light meal on the lake, Muong ethnic people can enchant you with the crispy roasted meat of the Muong boar. There’s a large number of Muong ethnic people living in the region.

ATA plans to launch new kayaking tours to Hoa Binh reservoir early Jan, 2010 and they would offer good promotion rate for first bookings. The new tours will be for travelers as it shows in the company’s motto “Actively exploring hidden lands.”

By Eric Nguyen

Kayaking Recommendation in Vietnam:
- Kayak Travel Guide
- Kayaking Tours in Vietnam

November 30, 2009

Ho Chi Minh Trail Vietnam, from soldier's road to tourist highway

HO CHI MINH HIGHWAY, Vietnam — If relentless American bombing didn't get him, it would take a North Vietnamese soldier as long as six months to make the grueling trek down the jungled Ho Chi Minh Trail. Today, you speed along the same route at 60 mph, past peaceful hamlets and stunning mountain scenery.

The trail, which played an important role in the Vietnam War, has been added to itineraries of the country's booming tourist industry. Promoters cash in on its history, landmarks and the novelty of being able to motor, bike or even walk down the length of the country in the footsteps of bygone communist guerrillas.

Women on bicycles make their way along a section of the newly built Ho Chi Minh highway near Vinh,Vietnam. David Longstreath, AP

Many sections of the old trail, actually a 9,940-mile web of tracks, roads and waterways, have been reclaimed by tropical growth. But a main artery has now become the Ho Chi Minh National Highway, probably the country's best and the largest public works project since Vietnam War ended 30 years ago.

The highway, more than 745 miles of which are already open to traffic, begins at the gates of Hanoi, the capital, and ends at the doorsteps of Ho Chi Minh City, which was known as Saigon when it was the former capital of South Vietnam.

In between, the route passes battlefields like Khe Sanh and the Ia Drang Valley, skirts tribal villages of the rugged Central Highlands and offers easy access to some of the country's top attractions — the ancient royal seat of Hue, the picturesque trading port of Hoi An and South China Sea beaches.

We began a recent car journey in the newly rebuilt city of Vinh, along one of the trail's main branches. Here in "Vietnam's Dresden," every building but one was obliterated by U.S. bombing, which attempted to stop the flow of foreign military aid through the city's port. American pilots also suffered their greatest losses of the war over its skies.

Nearby, in the rice-farming village of Kim Lien, is the humble hut where Vietnam's revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh was born and a museum dedicated to his turbulent life. Given Ho's standing as a national icon, the village draws an average of 1.5 million domestic visitors and a smattering of foreigners each year.

It was on one of Ho's birthdays, on May 9, 1959, that construction of the trail began with the establishment of Military Transport Division 559, made up of 440 young men and women. Over the next 16 years, the trail, which also wound through neighboring Laos and Cambodia, carried more than a million North Vietnamese soldiers and vast quantities of supplies to battlefields in South Vietnam despite ferocious American air strikes.

"There are some who argue that American victory would have followed the cutting of The Trail," writes John Prados in "The Blood Road." "The Trail undeniably lay at the heart of the war. For the Vietnamese of the North the Ho Chi Minh Trail embodied the aspirations of a people ... hiking it became the central experience for a generation."

At Dong Loc, 18 miles south of Vinh, we stopped at one of many memorials to the thousands who didn't complete that hike — a hillside shrine with the tombs of 10 women, aged 17 to 24, killed in bombing raids. Joss sticks, flowers and the articles of female youth — pink combs and little round mirrors — lay on each of the last resting places.

"School children come here every day. It's important in educating the young about the sacrifices of the old generation," said Dau Van Coi, secretary of the local youth union guiding visitors to what was once a major trail junction. Exhibiting no hostility to American visitors, he noted that U.S. warplanes dropped more than three bombs per 10 square feet on the area.

Farther down the trail, at the Highway 9 National Cemetery, bemedaled veteran Nguyen Kim Tien searched for fallen comrades among the 10,000 headstones. An elderly woman and her daughter wept before three of them — those of the older woman's father, husband and a close relative.

Although it's still a trail of tears three decades after the guns fell silent, Ho's road looks decidedly to the future.

"We cut through the Truong Son jungles for national salvation. Now we cut through the Truong Son jungles for national industrialization and modernization," said former Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet when the 10-year project began in 2000.

The government says the highway will stimulate the economy in some of Vietnam's poorest, most remote regions, relieve congestion on the only other north-south road, National Highway 1, and increase tourism revenue. Besides conventional tours, several companies offer mountain biking along sections of the trail and expeditions on Russian-made Minsk motorcycles out of the 1950s.

However, the highway has sparked domestic and international criticism that it will lead to further decimation of Vietnam's already disappearing forests, attract a flood of migrants into ethnic minority regions from the crowded coast and disturb wildlife at several protected areas. The Switzerland-based World Wide Fund for Nature has criticized the project as "the single largest long-term threat to biodiversity in Vietnam."

So far, little of the officially hoped-for development is evident. In central Vietnam, one drives for long stretches meeting just the occasional Soviet-era truck, decrepit tractor or water buffalo-drawn cart as the highway winds through valleys flanked by spectacular limestone cliffs.

At some places like the A Shau valley town of A Luoi, just a few shacks and farm houses when seen five years ago, a mini-boom is clearly afoot. There's a bustling market selling baskets of fruit, Japanese watches and delicious French bread, and newly built houses abound.

From the highway, which expands to four lanes as it runs through the crossroads town, Dong Ap Bia looms in the hazy distance. American soldiers called it Hamburger Hill because of the number of lives ground up in the 1969 battle on its ridges.

Almost all traces of American presence in A Luoi have vanished. Only the old people can point out the helicopter landing field, now a school playground with a decrepit merry-go round featuring three little airplanes. The laughing youngsters who crowd around the foreign visitors know nothing of the war.

By Denis D. Gray, Associated Press

Ho Chi Minh Trail Tours:
Active Travel Vietnam offers motorcycle tours that last seven to 18 days;

November 21, 2009

Dalat from a different perspective

Dalat, the city of flowers, is not strange to tourists with its famous sightseeing spots such as Lang Biang Mountain, Xuan Huong Lake and Than Tho Lake. If this is your first time to this romantic land, you are advised to visit the places just mentioned which have become legends of Dalat. But for those who have been to Dalat many times, you are advised to visit places that will bring you a different Dalat.

Seasoned tourists can augment their itineraries with completely new destinations. Dalat flowers are well-known for their beauty. The local flower farm is one of the ideal destinations for those who prefer a trip towards nature.

a greenhouse growing colorful flowers in Dalat city, Vietnam

A greenhouse growing colorful flowers in Dalat city, Vietnam

Visiting the greenhouse is an opportunity to admire at close range Dalat roses and gerberas. Standing in front of the glass with a furrow of flowers stretching on and on is an amazing feeling. The weather is cool, even under the noon day sun, while the flowers are full of colors that compliment each other.

Veteran tourists should visit the coffee farm to learn how coffee beans, such as Robusta and Abrabica, are grown in Vietnam. Those interested in new kinds of business should visit the cricket farm to learn how crickets are raised and what they taste like.

Those who prefer to learn about ethnic minorities should not miss Lat Village where the indigenous K`ho Lat live in Dalat. Guests will have a chance to know about the customs and habits of the people here.

The silk weaving factory is also an interesting place to visit. Coming here, tourists can capture the process of releasing silk, making follicles from silkworms, spinning and weaving. Before coming back to Dalat, tourists should visit Elephant Waterfall. This is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the Central Highlands at a height of 25 meters. With a powerful flow, the bouncing white foam is a spectacular sight.

The highlight of the tour to Dalat is that instead of moving by car, tourists ride motorcycles. You will find it hard to drive yourself on the winding slopes of Dalat at first, but then an interesting feeling of exploring the land overwhelms each tourist. There are few tour operators organizing motorcycle tours to Dalat.

Source: SGP

Recommendation in Dalat, Vietnam:
- Dalat tours and short excursions
- Bike Dalat

November 19, 2009

The Travel Bug by John Soltes: Vietnam

Vietnam, with its verdant countryside and bustling cities, has a lot to offer adventurous travelers and those wanting to put a face on the Vietnam War.

Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, is a metropolis that moves like the rapids in a river. Motorbikes putt-putt-putter down the avenues. Artisans sell their wares from street-side stalls. Teenagers line up to get their nightly dose of pho noodles and dancing at the local discotheque. Devotees walk to their churches, their pagodas and their shrines to light candles and incense for someone who came before.

Vietnam - Photo by John Soltes

It’s a city that seems endless. But there is an end to the throngs of humanity — a semi-quieter place where a few lessons can be learned.

On the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City is a network of underground tunnels that was used by the Viet Cong during the war, particularly during the Tet Offensive.

Four decades ago, the tunnels were a harried place of strategizing for guerilla fighters.

Today, Coca-Cola is available in the gift shop.

A visit to the Cu Chi tunnels is chiseled into most tourists’ itineraries. Located roughly a one-hour drive (depending on traffic) outside of Ho Chi Minh City’s center, the underground ravines should be visited as a means to engage with the history of the tumultuous war. It is sacred ground that cost many a soldier’s life — and it should be visited with a respect for the casualties of conflict.

As tour buses pull up to the complex, the first stop is a meeting hall where cool drinks are served as plentiful as the propaganda. Before entering the tour, visitors sit through a video presentation that pushes the Viet Cong’s righteousness and the strategic mastery of the tunnel system.

You’ll probably get more satisfaction out of the cool drink.

Next is the actual tour of the tunnels, which stretch for miles or kilometers, depending on who’s talking.

In this particular area — in between Saigon and the border of Cambodia — where the tour buses corral like vultures, there are several holes that have been maintained for passersby to take a look and even take a descent.

Most groups visit the tunnels with an official tour guide, which can be booked back in Saigon.

Along the tour, you’ll have the chance to see grisly contraptions of torture, the place where the Viet Cong and their families ate and slept and a few demonstrations of what life was like in the tunnels (from eating fresh tapioca to an artillery range where visitors can pay money to shoot firearms such as an AK-47).

A group of tourists in front of me were clamoring at the chance to shoot a gun. I kept walking, slightly disgusted, to where visitors can crawl through one section of the tunnel (widened, rumor says, to accommodate larger Western tourists). The experience of crawling through the tunnel starts off easy enough — it’s kind of like ducking under a blanket to play in the dark.

But when you realize how far the tunnel goes, that the walls and ceiling are made of unsteady dirt and that the light from which you entered quickly becomes a pinhole, fear does sidle up next to you.

When you emerge, sweaty and panting, you’ll be thankful for the light in the sky.

Anyone who visits a sight like this probably has a curiosity for war stories and what exactly happened in this country in Southeast Asia. Visiting the Cu Chi tunnels may not provide any answers, but it may set you in the right direction.

It’s a preserved testament to days of sorrow. And for that, it can boast an importance beyond the ubiquitous gift shop selling war propaganda.


Recommendation in Vietnam:
- Travel Guide in Vietnam
- Adventure tours in Vietnam
- Short Excursions in Vietnam

November 17, 2009

Buying a touring motorbike in Vietnam - Vietnam Motorcycling Travel Guide

By far, the best way to experience Vietnam is by motorbike. As with elsewhere in southeast Asia, here, the motorbike is king. They are cheap to buy, easy to repair, and they can take you places the tour bus would never dare to go. What's more, there are no restrictions on foreigners buying motorbikes. All you need is a passport and valid visa, and you'll receive a title of ownership and a deed of transfer. Rentals will suffice for most, but if you plan on serious bike time, buying is more economical -- you can even sell the bike before you leave and recoup most of the expense.

We know the traffic seems crazy. But once you get the hang of it, you'll learn there is a method to the madness. Travel by motorbike has its dangers, to be sure, and should be undertaken conscientiously. But the vast majority of foreigners come away from their motorbike trek with nothing but great experiences to talk about back home (and maybe a few tail-pipe burns to remember them by).

Vietnam Motorcycling Travel Guide

You can buy a bike almost anywhere, but bigger cities will have a better selection and be more comfortable selling to foreigners. Naturally, it's best to shop around. When you settle on a bike, insist on taking it for a spin -- and to a mechanic for a once over.

Your two main considerations are whether to buy new or used, and how powerful a bike you need. New Japanese and Chinese models can be purchased for as little as US$400. They should be more reliable, but then again, you may be the one stuck working out all the kinks. And you'll take a bath on the resale value.

We recommend a used bike. This may seem a bit daunting, and it's a good idea to make friends with a trustworthy mechanic if you can swing it. When you buy a bike, all you're really looking at is the engine, the shocks, the wheels, and the frame. If nothing's leaking or broken, and it kicks up a throaty hum when it runs, you're off to a good start. Everything else on a bike can be fixed cheaply and easily -- though be sure to factor such repairs into the price you plan to pay.

In terms of power, a 100 cc bike is fine throughout most of the country, depending on the weight you intend to carry. By the time you stack two people and two full packs on it, you'll struggle up the hills even in Da Lat. Northern Vietnam is notoriously hilly and requires at least a 115 cc bike. Check out the bikes used by the guys who do the Easy Rider tours, and look for something similar. If you've never driven a clutch, consider learning -- it quickly becomes second nature.

Even if you buy a bike that's been restored, be sure to take it to a mechanic anyway and put some more money into it. New tires, break drums, batteries, starters and the like are all cheap and will give you that much more peace of mind. Finally, think about where you're going to put your stuff. We got a custom-made back-rack for US$6.25.

When it comes to plotting a route, we suggest planning to see more of the country by seeing less of it. You can't see everything from Sapa to Vung Tau by motorbike in a month. Pick a region -— north, central, or south, and focus on that. Alternately, many buses and trains will take on a motorbike as freight for the price of an extra ticket, so you can split a trip between two regions. Don't plan an overly-aggressive route. The whole point is to take in the scenery, to stop and explore along the way. We find more than 120 kilometres in any given day starts to feel rushed. Fortunately, in thin, compact Vietnam, there is always a good option for your next stop within that distance.

It's also worth mention that, while the 'open road' in Vietnam can be breathtakingly beautiful and provide an utterly authentic experience of the country, this is Vietnam, and not all roads are open. Ask around if you plan to go into remote regions of the country, especially near the borders, but there's really no harm in just trying your luck. The worst that can happen is that the police will ask you to turn around.

Final note: wear a helmet, bring rain gear, and memorize the lyrics to Born to be Wild before you leave. You'll be needing them.


Related sites:
Motorcycle Vietnam
Ride Hochiminh Trail
Motorcycling Tours

Conical hats draw many visitors in Vietnam

Visitors to Phu Cam village in the former imperial capital of Hue will be instantly impressed by its traditional way of making conical hats. Poem-hat is a distinctive feature of culture in Hue. Locals say they like to do the job not only to earn money but to preserve their age-old tradition.

Hat-making village Phu Cam (also Phuoc Vinh) lies on the southern bank of the An Cuu River in the centre of the former imperial capital of Hue. It’s a village famous for its traditional way of making conical hats for hundreds of years.

Making conical hats in Vietnam

Phu Cam-made hats look graceful, soft and thin as silk. Hue landscapes or even poems can be seen clearly through the hats in the sunshine. It takes woman much time to make the frame and iron leaves before young girls start sewing. The beauty and grace of a hat depend much on the frame (made of 16 brims from the hem to the top). Artisans use sharp knives to prepare the brims and make the frame that needs skills, techniques and experiences, as well as mathematical calculations which have been handed down for generations.

Leaves to make hat play a vital part, leaves have to be blue-white, neither too young nor too old. Collected leaves are to be put to dry in the sun, then put to be moistened by dewdrops, then to be ironed flat on a steel- plank above a kiln, cleaned with a towel. After all this, leaves are cut to fit the frame.

How to arrange the leaves on to the frame is not easy. Each hat needs 50 leaves and between the leaves are coloured papers with pictures or paintings of landscapes, or even poems. Hat-makers are hardworking and careful and diligent. Hats are served with silk-threads and the chin-straps are made of coloured silk (black, white, yellowish, purple, violet…) to harmonize with Hue climate and beauty.

Poem-hat is a distinctive feature of culture in Hue. Locals say they like to do the job not only to earn money but to preserve their age-old tradition as poem-hats have been absorbed into folk music and songs. Today hat are still used by young girls to shade their heads in the sun and to make them look more graceful in the traditional Ao Dai (long dress).

Recommendation in Vietnam:
Travel Guide in Vietnam
Short excursions in Vietnam

Dray Sap Falls and Yok Don National Park, Vietnam

Several years ago we visited Buon Ma Thuot on a trip from Dalat through the central highlands. Although sadly I have no photos, the drive from Dalat to BMT was one of the most beautiful of my life, although perhaps one of the least comfortable - the stack of plastic bags at the front of the bus was extremely well used by the passengers..

Dray Sap Falls

I was drawn to BMT for the coffee - which was wonderful - but at first glance the town looked fairly uninspiring, so we hired a motorbike for a few trips out into the countryside.

We bought a map and some ponchos for the random rain showers and set off, driving through small towns and villages out towards the Dray Sap waterfalls. The countryside was stunning but as we had no idea how long it would take us (about an hour from BMT in the end) there wasn't much stopping.

When we arrived at Dray Sap we found there were actually three sets of falls - I have lost their names, sadly. The first were nothing much to speak of - no real drop, more like a set of rapids around some rocks.

Dray Sap Falls

Next, up the road, was Dray Sap itself - an immense, horseshoe shaped set of falls. The roar from the water was deafening and the volume of water coming down the falls was immense - it was May, the rainy season had barely started and (in Saigon at least) there had been six months of almost no rain at all yet the falls were truely impressive.

Crossing a bridge over the water would take you around to a second set of falls with a small spit of land and trees in between where another equally impressive set of falls were, with a walkway that would take you up close to the falls.

The forest around the falls was incredible, with a lot of old growth trees wrapped in all kinds of creepers - a really diverse array of trees, plants and foliage. We were getting exhausted but had heard there was one more set of falls up the road, so we decided to go for it.

It was a mad ride through the forest, starting on a road about 1.5m wide but it was clearly rarely travelled. As we sped down the road the forest began to reclaim more and more of the tarmac, until we had just inches either side of our elbows.

At last we reached the final set of falls, and they were a treat. Although I think there was building work on the other side - who knows what was planned - it had stopped for the day, and all around us the forest was wild and overgrown, there were no other visitors about, and the falls were the most spectacular yet. A fire burning on the other side of the falls sent smoke hanging eerily over the water, adding a real air of mystery to the place. It was a special experience and is very much fixed in our memories.

The next day we left BMT again in a different direction, in search of the Yok Don National Park. The countryside was stunning, and the drive was magical.. but sadly the park was rather disappointing. It was well maintained and there were community projects to involve local villagers in the upkeep and protection of the forest - all great things, no doubt.

Sadly though, from a visitors perspective the countryside outside the park was a lot more interesting than the forest inside, which was a relatively young plantation, with regularly planted trees and nothing like the biodiversity we'd seen around the falls. The drive we took around the area that evening was far more memorable than the park itself.. and breakfast down the road was perhaps one of the best bowls of pho I had in the two years I lived in Vietnam... it is a long way to go back, though! :)

Related sites:
Vietnam national parks
Vietnm Travel Guide
Adventure Travel Tours in Vietnam

November 16, 2009

How Vietnamese People Cultivate Wet Rice?

Some 70 per cent of Vietnam’s population is engaged in agriculture, which uses over 20 per cent of the country’s area and produces 15 per cent of its GDP.

Vietnamese Cultivates Wet Rice

Vietnam has two huge deltas: the Mekong in the south and the Red River in the north. From time immemorial the Vietnamese have known how to build dykes and avoid flooding, creating more land for wet –rice cultivation. Thousands of kilometres of dykes have been built along the Red River to protect this vast fertile delta and its population.

Recently my friend Huong Do and I visited her uncle, who is a farmer in Hai Duong province in the very heart of the Red River delta. The host, Mr. Hien, was very enthusiastic about showing us rural life.

Generally they cultivate two types, sticky rice and ordinary rice. The first is used for special events and ceremonies such as Tet ( lunar New Year) and weddings.

Talking about wet-rice-cultivation, Mr. Hien recites a Vietnamese proverb:’Nhat nuoc, nhi phan, tam can, tu giong’. This translates as ‘First one needs water,then manure,then diligence, and finally high quality seed’. ‘In the north we have two rice crops and one subsidiary one, according to the weather’, he said.

The winter –spring crop begins in the 12th lunar month and finishes in the fourth. The summer –autumn one lasts from the sixth to the 10th lunar month. After these crops there is time for the land to heal and we plant maize,taro, potato and sweet potato’.

To Start a crop we have to prepare the land. We empty the water from each field. Then we plough deep and rake it carefully with the help of the buffalo. The buffalo is well cared for and respected in the same way that many foreigners care about dogs’.

There are three things that are critical to every Vietnamese farmer’s life: purchasing a buffalo, getting married and building a house.

‘In order to prepare the land we put down fertiliser, either natural or chemical.water is constantly needed too’.’Different varieties of rice are very important.

Normally we select the best species from previous crops, using techniques passed down through generations. “In order to germinate it we put the paddy in a jute sack and soack it in water for 24 hours. We then take it out of the water and arrange it in a dark, damp place to facilitate germination. After 12 hours we repeat the process.

In cool winter weather straw ash is mixed with the paddy in order to keep it warm. When the roots reach two to three centimetres you can sow rice in a small prepared area.

During this period the young rice plants need water, but not too much. After one month you pick the young shoots and transplant the rice seedling to another field. ‘Working the fields requires diligence, During the three- and-a- half months of rice development you have to constandy watch your field! You need to pull out any weeds growing with the rice. This work is normally reserved for women.

There has to be water in time for each period of development of the rice’.

The ethnic minorities in mountainous areas practice wte- rice-cultivation on terraces.

It is not until you actually take off your shoes, roll up your trousers and muck in that you really appreciate the skill and energy required to harvest rice.

As Mr Hien says,’when the rice is mature the whole family has to work. We cut the rice with sickles and bring it home by ox cart.

Fortunately, machines are now used for separating the paddy and straw. Last year we had a big harvest. This year we have had to work very hard due to floods’.

With a trace of sadness Hien adds that the farmer’s life is till difficult. ‘We depend on rice but if the price is too low there is no profit. The government should pay more attention to our life, to build processing zones for agricultural products and find markets for us’.

Famers in the south harvest three crops a year and the wet-rice-cultivation technique is also different.

Source: thingsasian

Recommendation in Vietnam:
- Travel Guide in Vietnam
- Trekking tour in Vietnam
- Adventure travel in Vietnam

November 10, 2009

Cooking with class: Plain, spicy or sweet in Vietnam

Is it possible to get a D in spring rolls? I also flunked tomato rose-making.

``No, no,'' said an exasperated Nguyen Thai Binh, executive chef, showing how the knife tip should slide under the outer peel as delicately as a heart surgeon's scalpel.

Luckily, my Nuoc mam cham dipping fish sauce and Canh ca chua trung tomato soup turned out brilliantly, if I do say so myself.

The certificate proves it: ``The Socialist Republic of Vietnam -- Independence -- Freedom -- Happiness -- The Saigon Culinary Art Centre Certifies Ms. Ellen Creager has attended successfully to Vietnamese Introductory Culinary Course -- Approved by Mr. Nguyen Thai Binh Executive Chef.''

Lighter than Chinese, less spicy than Thai and with a touch of French flair, Vietnamese cuisine has a delicate touch and the freshest ingredients.

From haute to home style, culinary classes are offered throughout the country. A tour operator can set one up, or book your own in advance.

It's also fun to take more than one cooking class to sample regional differences. Cuisine from the north is plain. Central is spicy. South is sweet.

Depending on your taste, you may prefer one over another, says Nguyen Thanh Van, sous chef at the Sofitel Metropole Hanoi, which offers culinary classes through the Metropole Cooking School (e-mail

``We can say Hanoi food is a symbol of how we live -- it is very simple, based on natural products,'' says Thanh Van. ``When we cook a prawn, it still tastes like a prawn. We do not bury it in curry or chili to make its taste disappear. It is a more pure way to cook.

``We cook beef with rice. We cook fish with beer. From the French, we kept creme caramel, ice cream and French bread. Saigon food is a little bit sweet for my taste, but people there think it is very nice.''

The Saigon Culinary Arts Center in Ho Chi Minh City opened in 2007. It offers half-day, three-hour classes.

I added an extra hour to shop at the huge Central Ben Thanh market with Chef Binh (eels, anyone?), then cooked a five-element meal -- tofu, spring rolls, soup, Thit kho to (caramelized pork) and steamed rice.

Near the central Vietnam city of Hoi An, I took a slightly different type of class. At Tra Que Vegetable Village, tourists can learn how the garden grows at a 500-year-old farm, which uses a special algae-seaweed as fertilizer.

The specialty there is rau hung, a kind of spearmint used in cooking, but all kinds of vegetables grow. Tourists hoe, rake, fertilize and water with huge watering cans carried on a stick.

Then comes a home-style cooking class focused on fried savory pancakes called Banh Xeo and other dishes.

Since I felt like a humongous lurching giant among the slim, short Vietnamese, I also ate sparely on the trip and consumed almost no junk food. I came home four pounds lighter.

Detroit Free Press

Related to Vietnamese foods.
- Typical Vietnamese Foods
- Food & Drinks

Little village on the paddy, Vietnam

Rising from the rice fields of Ha Giang Province, Tha Hamlet offers a glimpse of rural northern life.

In the remote mountains of Vietnam’s far northwest, Tha Hamlet still has one paved road

About ten kilometers outside the provincial capital of Ha Giang, the jagged mountains give way to just enough space for the small village of Tha Hamlet.

Parting the hills are brown stilt houses standing over rice paddies, ponds and pig pens. Smoke rises from the palm-leaf roves. Irrigation divides different sections of the village.

The village paths are mostly hardened mud.

Inhabited by a Tay ethnic minority community, the village became an official Tourism Village in 2007, thanks to its traditional homes, unique agriculture and famous terraced rice paddies, which rise up into the hills surrounding the hamlet.

Since then, the village has received government support to maintain tourist infrastructure, such as a concrete road and accommodation.

Living off the land

Some 113 Tay ethnic minority families with more than 500 people live together on the 40 hectares of agricultural land.

Their brown homes seem to grow right out of the village’s fields and ponds. Underneath the stilts, residents keep their tools, vehicles and kindling. On the side of each house is an open area for drying rice.

The paths in the hamlet take pedestrians up along the edge of ponds and rice paddies. The raised mud lanes look soft but they are sturdy and can support anyone, even in the rain. Fish breed in many of the ponds.

The terraced rice fields and ponds are shallow and always filled with water thanks to a stream flowing from the mountains into the village.

The fields are mostly khau mang rice, a new cross-breed variety particular to Ha Giang farmers. The glutinous rice can keep for a long time without loosing its fragrance. Tha’s rice is highly sought after both inside and outside Ha Giang. And its price is still half as much as normal rice.

The ponds are filled mostly with bong fish, which used to be reserved only for kings during the feudal era. But now bong is so popular among every day people that its numbers are dwindling throughout northern Vietnam.

A large bong can weigh up 15- 20 kilograms and its meat is rich and flavorful. Tha Hamlet residents traditionally serve local bong to visitors in the traditional Tay style.

They often make goi, a dish with the raw fish and vegetables. The fish is marinated in tai chua juice before serving. Tai chua is a chayote-like fruit native to the northwestern mountainous provinces of Hoa Binh and Bac Giang. It is both sour and sweet. Other than goi, the fish is also eaten like Japanese sashimi, sometimes accompanied by dill.

On location

Tha Hamlet is 10 km from Ha Giang Province’s eponymous capital, which is 320 km north of Hanoi along the National Highway 2.

To get to Ha Giang Province from Hanoi, take a motorbike along the Thang Long Bridge toward Phu Tho Province’s Viet Tri Town. From Viet Tri head to Tuyen Quang Province, where roads to Ha Giang are easily accessible.

By bus, start from the My Dinh Bus Station in Hanoi.

You can combine a visit to Tha Hamlet with a tour to Dong Van and Meo Vac, the northernmost districts in Vietnam. A trip through Tha, Dong Van and Meo Vac will take you four days along a rugged 300-km road.

Tourists can sleep at one of four households in Tha Hamlet that offer beds at inexpensive prices.

Source: Thanhniennews/Luu Quang Pho

Related sites:
- Mai Chau travel guide & tips
- West to East biking exploration

October 28, 2009

A memorable trip to Fansipan by Sapa, Vietnam

We are a group of Malayan, We often take adventure tours and this time to Vietnam is Fansipan.

Get pick up at Laocai train station and transfer to Sapa, we stopped at Hotel, got a room for shower, breakfast, prepared our gears for the coming trek.

On the way trekking Fansipan Mt, Vietnam

Driving by Jeep along a up-down, zig-zag road to get the mountain pass to start our hike. The first sight to us is the large mountain, the trek at the beginning is quiet easy. we are all eager to conquer.

After lunch we actually had to loose high to get to the camp to where we were going to sleep. There was another big river to cross but this time there was a bridge so we got across with dry feet. Camp 2 was just on the other side and consisted of a couple of wooden buildings.

After getting cleaned up and changing into dry clothes we were served up a massive banquet of really tasty food. We had stir fried chicken and mushroom, beef and onion, tofu, potatoes, cabbage, rice and more.

There was twice as much as we needed.

After that it was straight to bed. We slept in the camp that our guide and porter had made, it is really fun, the camp is bigger enough for our group. Our place to sleep was well prepared, we had thick mattress and sleeping bag. It was fairly comfortable and it didn't get cold during the night.

In the morning we were served up a really massive bowl of vegan noodle soup with a fried egg on top. It was tasty but way too heavy for 6:30 in the morning. None of us managed to eat more than half of it.

Another hard day to conquer the roof of Indochina, this day We had to head up to the top from 2200m, then down to the camp at 2800 for the night. The hike was really true for mountain climb, the higher we climb, the better landscape we enjoy.

We were at the top at about 1pm, had a lunch on a big rock in windy and sunny noon, Life is fantastic!
Back to the camp at 2800m at about 5pm, we spend this night in a cottage make by the national park. To congratulate the winners of Indochina roof, our guide killed a pig that they had carried all the way up from Sa pa to make barbecue, we had some wine too.

The last day seemed to be easier to us, we went all the same way down to Tram ton Pass then took a Jeep to Sa pa. Got a room with hot shower.

This was the best trip I had done in Vietnam.

Source: Petercampel's traveler from TravelPod Blog

Recommendation for Trekking Fansipan , Vietnam:
Sapa Travel Guide
Trekking Travel Guide
Trek Fansipan Tours

October 23, 2009

Hoi An, Vietnam is one of Top 10 Old Town districts - theatre of the streets

Heading to the oldest parts of a city delivers the richest rewards, writes Kerry van der Jagt.

You have arrived in a new city and don't know where to start. Tempting as it is to hop on a sightseeing bus with a two-kilogram guide book in one hand and a list of "must-sees" in the other, there is a better way. Get off the bus, tear up the list, pull on your walking shoes and head to the oldest part of town. Yes, you will get lost. And yes, your feet will hurt. And yes, you'll be stuffed by the end of the day. But I guarantee you will be richly rewarded. The sights, the sounds and the tastes will linger long after the blisters have healed. And, as a bonus, with all that walking and climbing, you can eat guilt-free from one cobblestoned alley to the next. Here are my 10 favourite cities with Old Towns.

Hoi An, Vietnam

The Old Town, with its narrow cobblestone streets, low tile-roofed houses and ancient wells, is a spicy wok-full of Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese styles. Cars are banned, pedestrians rule and conical hats are the order of the day.

Hoi An was relatively untouched during the Vietnam war and the old buildings, with their wooden fronts and unique "yin" and "yang" roof tiles, are now protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The faded houses are ageing gracefully, old ladies carry their produce across their shoulders in cane baskets and the damp smell of the river lingers in the air.

INSIDER TIP On the 14th day of each month residents switch off their lights and hang paper lanterns on their verandas and windows. Strolling through the lantern-lit streets is like stumbling into a fairytale. More info at: Hoi An Travel Information

Seville, Spain

Seville is the very heart of Andalucian culture. Think Don Juan and the lusty Carmen. Think sequined matadors and dark-eyed beauties. Think palm-burning flamenco and neck-craning architecture.

Better still, don't think, just surrender.

El Arenal is an historic neighbourhood in the centre of Seville, lying between the Guadalquivir River and the old Jewish quarter, Santa Cruz. Some important sites include the Torre del Oro, the Reales Atarazanas and La Real Maestranza, Seville's famous bullring.

But to be honest, it's the gut-busting tapas (or better still, their larger cousin, raciones) of El Arenal I love the most. Start with plump olives and creamy potato croquets, move on to calamari and grilled red peppers and finish with Andalucian ham (Jamon iberico) and Spanish omelet.

INSIDER TIP Avoid the middle of summer. Seville isn't known as the frying pan of Spain for nothing.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Croatia's jewellery box is the World Heritage-listed old city of Dubrovnik. In October 1991, during the Croatian War of Independence, Dubrovnik was tragically bombed and shelled for eight months by the Yugoslav People's Army.

Today, the dust has settled and the city has been rebuilt but on the two-kilometre walk atop the ancient city wall, the patchwork of bright new terracotta tiles hints at the city's dark past.

Culture vultures will love the Franciscan monastery with its 14th-century pharmacy, Onofrio's Fountain and St Saviour's Church. Penny pinchers will hate the exorbitant restaurant prices. Unless you plan to rob a bank, don't eat inside the city walls.

INSIDER TIP Walking the wall is fun but for a unique perspective hire a kayak from the beach at Fortress Bokar and paddle around the walls at sunset.

Old China Town, Shanghai

As Shanghai races to reinvent itself before hosting the 2010 World Expo, Old China Town, with its colourful street stalls, traditional shops and teahouses, is an unexpected surprise. (Though, to be honest, finding out that China has a Chinatown was an even bigger surprise). Old China Town, surely, is Shanghai's attic.

It's where this modern metropolis stores its trash and treasure.

Chinatown includes the Old Town Bazaar, Yu Garden, Shanghai's old city wall and the famous Confucian temple. The red lacquered buildings, the curved roof tiles, the old men playing mahjong are all present and accounted for in this exciting theatre on the street.

INSIDER TIP Huxinting Teahouse, near Yu Garden, is said to be the source of inspiration for the famous Willow pattern porcelain.

Edinburgh, Scotland

The Old Town district is the thumping heart of Scotland's capital city. The Royal Mile, with its branching side streets of Grassmarket and Candlemaker Row, is its lifeblood. For lovers of kilts, whisky and pubs, this is your mile-high club.

Geoffrey (Tailor) Inc. can run you up a kilt faster than you can say "Braveheart", Royal Mile Whiskies is the place for a drop of the amber liquid and, for lager lovers, try the Ensign Ewart the highest pub in Edinburgh. As the locals say, "Going home after a big night is all downhill from here."

INSIDER TIP The Doors Open Days event in September gives visitors an opportunity to get inside some of the historic buildings in the Old Town.

Cordoba, Spain

Cordoba will seduce you faster than the legendary Don Juan himself. The leading lady is the Mezquita, originally a mosque built in the 8th century but now a Catholic cathedral and one of the world's great architectural wonders. The first glimpse of the cathedral's spacious interior, with its forest of columns, is overwhelming.

Next to the Mezquita is the Jewish quarter, a delightful maze of narrow streets, whitewashed buildings, trickling fountains and intimate courtyards. During May the annual "Festival of the Patios" is in full bloom but if you're not of the floral persuasion, you can always bare all for a beating in a bathhouse or puff on a hookah in a teteria (tea room).

INSIDER TIP The early bird gets free entry to the Mezquita before 10am.

Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon, the city of seven hills, is one of the most enchanting cities in Europe. Its sense of weathered grandeur set within a natural amphitheatre of hills, together with its breathtaking views across the River Tagus is hard to match.

The old Arab quarter, also known as the Alfama, is located on the south-east slope of the hill crowned by Castelo de Sao Jorge. Moors, Christians and Jews have all lived here.

The Alfama retains its medieval layout, with winding alleys, steep steps and wrought iron balconies.

Bright washing flaps in front of colourful house fronts, Fado music drifts from bars and blood-red geraniums drip down whitewashed walls.

INSIDER TIP To rest your legs and your lungs, catch the smiley-faced, yellow tram 23 or 28.

Kyoto, Japan

Kyoto guards its secrets better than any geisha. Arriving at Kyoto Railway Station the first-time visitor is treated to a magnificent view of the city's backside drab flats, building works and traffic congestion.

Yet planted among this unattractive concrete forest are 1700 temples, 400 Shinto shrines, dozens of gardens and a handful of palaces but even Marco Polo wouldn't be able to find them all.

A good place to start your own exploration is in the Gion district, on the eastern bank of the Kamo River. Stroll the narrow alleys at night and you will pass charming teahouses and traditional shops and restaurants, many of which are exclusive establishments for geisha entertainment.

INSIDER TIP If you wish to go on a geisha walking tour or have a private engagement with a geisha, see

Venice, Italy

Venice, the city of reflections, will seduce you even before you cross the lagoon from the airport. The shapes, the silhouettes, the dazzling light. Oh the light. And that's before you set eyes on your first gorgeous gondolier.

There really is no "old" part of town, it's all equally ancient. And it's all made for walking. Night is best the day trippers have fled and you can cross ancient footbridges and twist and turn through the labyrinth of alleyways behind the Grand Canal with only your shadow for company.

INSIDER TIP The three-day vaporetto (water bus) ticket for about $60 is good value. Buy them where you see the "helloVenezia" sign.

Source: The Sun-Herald

October 22, 2009

Celebrating the New Year 2010 at the Dalat Flower Festival, Vietnam

The 2010 Dalat Flower Festival will be held in Dalat from January 1 to 4. This is one of the biggest festivals to start those celebrating the 1,000th anniversary of Thang Long-Hanoi.

Dalat Flower Field, Vietnam

With the theme ‘Dalat-the Kingdom of Flowers’, the festival is expected to become an international event, so the organizing committee has invited famous flower-growing countries Japan, the Netherlands, the U.S. and China to be part of the festival. Ben Thanh Tourist is offering four day/three night tours to Dalat to experience Flower Festival 2010 that leave on December 31 and January 1.

Tourists pose for a photo at the Dalat Flower Festival in 2008.

Dalat is a place of beautiful waterfalls, tortuous mountain roads and unique architecture in villas hidden under the pine trees. It is popular at Christmas and New Year as the atmosphere here is cool all year round. Moreover, it is the most attractive resort and tourism hub in Vietnam. Coming to the Flower Festival, visitors have the opportunity to see many valuable and rare kinds of flowers.

On the way to Dalat, the tour stops for sightseeing at Damb’ri Waterfall in Bao Loc. This is one of the most beautiful and impressive waterfalls in Lam Dong province. After Damb’ri, the tour takes in Thien Vuong Co Sat Pagoda with its three Buddha statues made of agarwood. After arriving in Dalat and checking into the hotel, Ben Thanh Tourist will hold an evening party with flowers and red wine to celebrate New Year 2010.

On the second day, the tour visits Lat Village at the foot of Langbiang Mountain to conquer the peak and take a panoramic view of Dalat City in the mist. In the afternoon, the tour visits Domain de Marie Church and Hang Nga Villa. Then tourists will share the joy with local people at Flower Festival 2010 at Xuan Huong lake.

The following day, the tour moves to Truc Lam Monastery, Robin Hill, Tuyen Lam lake, Phoenix Mountain and the Valley of Love to contemplate the mystery of Da Lat Su Quan. Tourists will love the horse-drawn carriage ride around Xuan Huong lake. The final stop is the Dalat Market to buy specialties for relatives.

Source: Ngoc Minh/Saigon Times

October 21, 2009

SaPa Vietnam, a natural mosaic

Boasting sublime unspoiled beauty, from rolling verdant hills to spectacular terraced fields, Sa Pa is a mix of natural wonder.

Pa Cheo farmers cultivate rice

Near the Chinese border in the northwest province of Lao Cai and around 376 kilometers from Hanoi, Sa Pa, founded as a scenic resort by the French in 1903, is best known for its wild, unspoiled landscapes.

Sa Pa’s scenic highlights include Hoang Lien Son National Park and the awe-inspiring 3,143-meter-high Mount Fan Si Pan – the highest mountain peak in Indochina. Every year, the area attracts thousands of tourists from all over the world who come to marvel at Sa Pa’s lush vegetation and spectacular scenery.

Nestled around 1,600 meters above sea level, Sa Pa is cloud-covered and cool year-round, with occasional snowfalls in the winter.

It is said that visitors who come to Sa Pa in the summer can experience up to three seasons in a single day. In the morning and afternoon, the weather is cool like that in the spring and autumn, while at noon, it is as sunny and cloudless as a warm summer’s day.

Visitors often travel to the city of Lao Cai by train before heading by coach to Sa Pa. Upon arrival, tourists can learn about the area’s sprawling rice paddies and observe the ethnic H’Mong and Dao peoples who wear a brilliant array of colorful, traditional clothing.

Stunning terraced fields

According to a survey carried out by US-based Travel and Leisure magazine, Sa Pa’s verdant terraced fields were ranked among the seven most beautiful in the world.

The most beautiful terraced field area is Suoi Thau, which is cultivated by the Dao people.

The other fields voted most beautiful by the magazine’s readers include those in Banaye (the Philippines), Yuangyang (Yunnan, China), Ubud (Bali, Indonesia), Annapurna (Nepal), Mae Rim (Chiang Mai, Thailand), and Longji (Guilin, China).

Sa Pa’s terraced fields belong to the ethnic H’Mong, Dao and Giay people, and are located in the Muong Hoa Valley of Lao Chai District. The area totals around 10 square kilometers and tourists can visit to learn about the process of rice planting and cultivation.

The fields were described by Travel and Leisure as “Ladders to the sky” because of their astounding natural beauty.

“It’s the best place in Vietnam with a rich cultural heritage and splendid landscape,” said a Singaporean tourist.

“The scenery and people were amazing,” echoed a tourist from the UK.

Lao Cai’s Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism also proposed that provincial authorities and the culture ministry should carry out research and compile information on Sa Pa’s terraced fields, Hoang Lien Son National Park, and an ancient rock bank to submit to UNESCO for recognition as world cultural heritage sites.

“This is a difficult task but we are trying to turn Sa Pa’s terraced fields into a world heritage site for the many foreign travelers who love Sapa and Vietnam,” said Tran Huu Son, the department’s chief.

Cultural diversity

Home to several ethnic groups like the H’Mong, Red Dao, Kinh, Tay, Giay, Hoa, and Xa Pho, Sa Pa is a mosaic of cultures and traditions. Many visitors enjoy learning about the ethnic people’s daily activities, traditions and beliefs.

H’Mong ethnic girl brings the young rice plants to the fields

Tourists are often astonished by the many billowing red headdresses worn by women of the Red Dao minority, visible all over town.

The H’Mong and Dao people make up the largest ethnic groups in the region. Their villages may appear simple and old-fashioned from afar, but many people now own mobile phones and regularly access their email from communal computers.

While some of the older generations of the ethnic minorities have had little formal education and are illiterate, most of the younger generations receive schooling and have a good command of English, French and a handful of other languages.

Tourists can also choose to go on two treks while staying in Sa Pa. The first is a 7 km journey, which takes about four hours and includes a stop for lunch. The other is a full-day adventure, covering around 17 km and following the perimeter of the rice paddies, through forested areas, past the doorsteps of tribal people’s homes, and across rivers and waterfalls.

Watching the locals go about their daily business is also an interesting experience. The children in Sa Pa work extremely hard-tending buffaloes, working in the fields, and caring for their younger siblings. Many of the young girls learn the timeless art of embroidery from their mothers.

The ethnic girls often marry young, at around age 14, and depend on the skills learned from their mothers to start new families of their own.

Sa Pa is also famous for its “love market,” which takes place on Saturday evenings. This cultural tradition once served as a way for ethnic locals to meet, socialize, and find a partner to marry.

In the past, young girls from the Red Dao hill tribes used to come to Sa Pa and sing songs to find partners. The girls would sing while hidden in the dark and when a boy found them – if they liked each other – they would disappear into the forest for three days and would then marry at a later date.

But with the development of tourism, the original love market, with its purpose of uniting young couples, has faded away. Visitors can still visit the area on Saturday nights, however, and be treated to a lively market atmosphere.

With its astonishing beauty and diverse peoples, Sa Pa is a remarkable travel destination and well worth a visit.

Reported by Hoang Kien/TN news

Recommended Itineraries:
- Sapa trekking tours
- Sapa tours & excursions
- Fansipan trekking tours, Sapa