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. www.cockburnassociation.org.uk.

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 kyotosightsandnights.com.

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

October 19, 2009

Sapa’s terraced fields in Vietnam suggested for world heritage recognition

The northern mountainous province of Lao Cai has proposed the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism ask for UNESCO’s recognition of Sapa’s terraced fields as a world heritage.



Sapa’s terraced fields in Vietnam

The terraced field is a form of cultivation in the mountainous topographies of many ethnic groups in the world, such as the Inca people in Peru, in Yunnan, China, and in Banaue, the Philippines, which was recognised by UNESCO as a world heritage.

Seven most magnificent terraced fields in the world as voted by Travel & Leisure: Banaue (Philippines), Yuangyang (Yunnan, China), Ubud (Bali, Indonesia), Annapurna (Nepal), Mae Rim (Chiang Mai, Thailand), Sapa (Lao Cai, Vietnam), and Long Ji (Kuei Lin, China).

Sapa’s terraced fields were recently recognised as one of the world’s seven most beautiful and magnificent terraced fields in the world by US-based Travel & Leisure magazine. This was only a vote of readers of a tourism magazine but it is good news for Vietnam.

Dr. Tran Huu Son, Lao Cai provincial Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism’s chief, said that the department proposed that provincial authorities and the culture ministry make a survey and compile files on Sapa’s terraced fields, Hoang Lien national park and the ancient rock bank in Sapa to submit to UNESCO for recognition as world cultural heritages.

“This is a difficult task but we are trying to turn Sapa’s terraced fields into a world heritage for the many foreign travellers who love Sapa and Vietnam,” Son said.

The Thao & Van Hoa talked with Son about Sapa’s terraced fields:

Do you think that it is good luck Sapa’s terraced fields were voted one of the seven most magnificent terraced fields in the world by Travel and Leisure?

I think that with the natural beauty of that landscape, it is not at all surprising they were recognised as one of the seven most magnificent terraced fields in Asia and the world by Travel and Leisure.

There are some terraced field tours in Sapa, including two major tours: From Sapa town to Ly Lao Chai – Ta Van and Sapa town – Ly Lao Chai – Ta Van – Ban Ho – Thanh Phu – Suoi Thau.

Terraced fields in Sapa are a product of H’Mong and Dao people. This kind of terraced field is different from the fields of Ha Nhi people in Yunnan (China) or in the Philippines because each ethnic group has its own cultivation techniques.

The owners of terraced fields in Sapa have abundant folk knowledge. Their fields are as beautiful as terraced fields in Mu Cang Chai (Yen Bai, Vietnam) or in the Philippines.

Could you tell us more about terraced fields in Sapa and in your opinion, what aspects of Sapa’s terraced fields can be considered outstanding in the world?

Terraced fields are the most popular in the following areas: on abrupt mountain slopes along roads in Trung Chai commune, along the road from Lao Cai city to Sapa town. These are terraced fields of H’Mong people.

Terraced fields owned by H’Mong, Dao and Giay people are located in Muong Hoa valley. This is the combination between cultivation of wet rice in narrow valleys of Giay people and cultivation on high mountains of H’Mong and Dao people.

In Muong Hoa valley, Lao Chai district, visitors can observe a complex of terraced fields from Muong Hoa stream to the middle of the mountain, totalling around 10sq.km. In this area, the beauty of terraced fields is outstanding thanks to the vast space. Another beautiful terraced field area is Suoi Thau, which was created by Dao people.

Terraced fields appear in many provinces in Vietnam. The field in Mu Cang Chai, Yen Bai province was recognized as a national relic in 2007. How about the fields in Sapa?

Terraced fields in Sapa are very beautiful. We are making surveys and preparing documents to ask for recognition as a national heritage. We also proposed that competent agencies ask for UNESCO’s recognition of the complex of the terraced fields, the ancient stone bank and Hoang Lien national park as world heritages.

What is the role of terraced fields in today’s farming?

Terraced fields are H’Mong, Dao and Giay people’s farming techniques for sloping topography. It is an achievement in terms of culture and folk knowledge. Terraced fields help maintain food stability in mountainous areas.

VietNamNet/TT-VH

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

October 14, 2009

Hanoi Autumn, Vietnam


There are hundreds of songs and poems written about Hanoi in autumn, which talk about the beauty of Hanoi and I agree with these poets. Between September and November is the best time to discover Vietnam, especially Hanoi.


Walking along the streets and lakes and you can enjoy breathing in the beautiful sweet flavor of Hoa Sua flower(Hoa Sua means Milk Flower in English) and the willow trees hanging low. Autumn turns Hanoi into a really romantic place. It affects the people, too. Lots of young couples walk together or sit down alongside the lakes to exchange their kisses.


The weather in Hanoi during autumn is cool, a little bit sunny with a nice breeze that makes everyone much more active after the long hot summer. I love hanging around Hoan Kiem Lake and Truc Bach Lake on these days, looking at people and taking some photos or sitting down with a beer waiting for the sunset.


A warning - don't breath the milk flowers in too deeply as this might give you a headache.

Related to Hanoi, Vietnam
- Hanoi tours & excursions
- Hanoi hotels

October 12, 2009

Exploring the Central Highlands, Vietnam

Gia Lai province in the Central Highlands is famous for its splendid scenery, magnificent waterfalls, poetic lakes and endless forests and mountains. Taking a trip to the Central Highlands to discover the wonders of nature is a worthwhile experience in the fall, according to baogialai.vn.

Vietnam biking tours Waterfall in Central highland, Vietnam

The most impressive poetic scenes of the province that are recommended for a visit are the Kon Ka Kinh and Kon Cha Rang tropical forests, the Ayun Pa and Phu Cuong waterfalls, Da Trang and Mo springs and Ayaun Ha lake, an extinct volcano.

Topping the list is Ayun Ha lake with its cool air, blue waters and romantic surroundings.

Located in the region between Phu Thien and Chu Se districts, about 70 kilometers west of Pleiku city, Ayun Ha lake is a man-made lake supplying the Ayun Ha area and Pleiku city with a big source of aquatic products.

Coming to Ayun Ha, tourists will have a chance to intermingle with romantic scenery and enjoy wild nature and pure air. The atmosphere is jubilant when taking part in water sports or cruising on the lake on holidays or at festivals.

Phu Cuong waterfall, 45 km southeast of Pleiku city, with its height and smooth rock walls, is imposing amid the green jungle carpet. Buses come to the foot of the waterfall and tourists continue their trip on elephant.

Lying on the current of the Ia Pech stream, the waterfall shows off its beauty with a height of 35 meters as a silver carpet amid the green forest.

On the tour visiting Ayun Ha lake and Phu Cuong waterfall, tourists should not miss Ayn Pa which is endowed with attractive landscapes such as Pink Valley-Violet Horizon, Dream Beach and Stone Stream.

Gia Lai province has a long-standing history as an ancient culture bearing traits of the ethnic groups of Giarai, Ba Na, Gie Trieng, Xo Dang and K’ho. This is manifested through the architecture of the communal rong (long house), stilt houses and burial grounds. Visitors to this windy and sunny land can not only admire the splendid landscapes but can see the unique architectural style of the statues in funeral houses, investigate local customs and ethnic cultural features and hear some of the folklore. Another attraction is the performance of gongs, soul of the highlands.

One day/one night tours are available to these sites at the travel center at 215 Hung Vuong street, Pleiku city, Gia Lai province, tel: 059 3874 571.

Gia Lai province is 550 kilometers from HCMC. Tourists can book return flights from HCMC, Hanoi and Danang. By road from HCMC, tourists can book at travel agencies in downtown HCMC. Heading on National Road 13 to National Road 14, or on National Highway 1A to Quy Nhon and then to National Road 19 or to Tuy Hoa, National Road 25 leads into the province.

VietNamNet/SGT

Related to Centre Highland, Vietnam
- Biking Adventures Mekong & Centre Highland
- Ho Chi MInh & Mekong tours
- Mekong Delta and Angkor Wat

October 10, 2009

Follow the Mekong - Vietnam travel guide

With time to watch the ebb and flow of a river's life, Graham Reilly floats from Vietnam to Cambodia.

I stare from the riverbank at this astonishingly vast and lively world of water. Here, in the charming provincial city of Can Tho in the heart of southern Vietnam's Mekong Delta, it is as if the land is merely an afterthought. Everything is about the river and the way of life it sustains.


Cai Rang floating market, Mekong delta, Vietnam

It is a world of colour and movement, of a comforting spray of cool water on your face as you are rowed back to your hotel at night in a slim stick of a boat, of the sleepy glint of dusk as you trail your finger across the river's surface, of the cough and splutter of a small passenger ferry as it crosses the river to Vinh Long, of the throaty gurgle of a rice boat as it slowly motors to Ho Chi Minh City or Cambodia.
The Mekong begins its 4500-kilometre journey to the sea in Tibet and winds its way through China, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and finally into the Mekong Delta. The Vietnamese call the river Cuu Long, or nine dragons, and it is easy to see why, for here the Mekong spreads in great tentacles into nine exits to the sea.

Can Tho sits on the banks of one of these tributaries, the Hang Giang river, also known as the Bassac, an impossibly broad, bustling expanse of brown water. It is a pleasant capital of 300,000 people, with tree-lined boulevards, cool grassy squares and 19th-century buildings that are remnants of French colonial days.

One of the great pleasures of Vietnamese provincial towns such as Hoi An or Nha Trang is the local markets and Can Tho is no exception.

Selling vegetables, fruit and seafood, its large market spreads over an entire city block on one side and follows the curve of the river on the other. There is much to do here and it is a good place to organise a home stay with a farming family. It is also a good place to do nothing much at all. Gazing out from the pleasant promenade, I see boats of all shapes and sizes, one of which takes my friends and I early next morning to the famous Cai Rang floating market. Boats from all over the region – from Bac Lieu, Vinh Long and Camau – come here to sell what seems like every fruit and vegetable ever imagined: jackfruit, oranges, rambutan, bananas, longans, pineapples and sweet potatoes.

An, 30, is our guide. It is her father's boat and her husband navigates it safely through the shifting mass of craft on the river. "He is a good husband," she says, smiling. "He is happy to cooking and washing with me at night." We nod in agreement. A good husband can be hard to find.

I explain to her that we want to travel to Cambodia by boat, from Can Tho to Chau Doc, across the border and up to the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, and then on to Siem Reap, home of one of the great wonders of the world, the temple complex of Angkor Wat. We've got six days for the journey of more than 400 kilometres. An offers to arrange the journey and a few phone calls later we agree to meet at the Can Tho dock at 2pm the next day.

I tell her I have visited these places before but always by road or air. This time I want a gentler, more romantic mode of transport along the mighty Mekong and its tributaries. I want to hear the gentle slap of the water against the boat, feel the tropical breeze on my skin and watch people go about their lives on the riverbanks. I want to be part of the landscape. I want to make the journey as important as the arrival.

Can Tho has several restaurants along the waterfront and that night we decide on the Thien Hoa. We settle happily at a pavement table in the evening balm, show no restraint and order a feast – fried snake with onions, sea bass soup with tamarind, prawns steamed in beer, catfish hotpot and coconut ice-cream. It is a meal to remember and a harbinger of culinary experiences to come.

Loaded up with fruit and sandwiches we've borrowed from the sumptuous breakfast buffet at the Victoria Hotel, we board the "fast boat" to Chau Doc, a journey An tells us will take about three hours. She says the slow boat, which leaves at 6.30am, takes about eight hours.

The fast boat is a long, relatively sleek, metal-hulled craft that does not go particularly fast, which turns out to be a blessing, given the pleasure of being on the water and lounging on the deck and watching the world go by. Most of the passengers are part of a package run by Delta Adventure Tours that includes a night at the company's floating hotel in Chau Doc. As we are travelling independently, we each pay $US20 ($23) for the trip.

The boat seats about 30 people in something more or less resembling comfort. Sitting on the deck munching on a bag of rambutan, it becomes immediately clear to me that this is a working river. Large boats, washing fluttering in the breeze and overloaded with bananas, take their produce to market. Other boats dredge silt from the riverbed to be used in the construction industry. The weight of their cargo lays them so low in the water it is as if just one more grain could tip them into the muddy depths.

The riverbanks jump with activity. A line of brick kilns several kilometres long puffs smoke as families stack freshly baked bricks or load them on to waiting boats, the children straining under the burden. The smell of fermenting fish sauce wafts from factories onshore. Much of the riverbank is lined with sandbags to protect stilted houses from the river, which swells dramatically during the wet season.

There is so much of interest to observe on the water and the riverbanks that the journey passes quickly and before I know it we are approaching Chau Doc, a journey of 5 hours. The river seems to settle in the dusk and takes on a kind of dreamy indolence, as if it has done enough work for the day. Meanwhile, I have been lulled into a sense of well-being I've never experienced when travelling by road or air.

Impressed with our stay at the Victoria Hotel in Can Tho, we decide to spend a few nights at the Victoria in Chau Doc. It is another elegant, splendidly positioned, colonial-style building perched on the banks of the Bassac. The view from our room across the spreading river takes my breath away.

Chau Doc shuts down early and we are lucky to get to the Bay Bong restaurant while it is still serving dinner. The restaurant forgoes interesting decor for delicious Mekong cuisine. It's another feast. We start with canh chua, the local sweet-and-sour fish soup, and follow this with steamed fish and prawns, including ca kho, stewed fish in a clay pot. It's so good we return the next night.

Chau Doc is another attractive and welcoming provincial town of about 100,000 people with an enormous market that snakes along the riverfront. The fish section alone – which has not just fresh fish but dried, spiced, marinated and salted – is wondrous.

We're close to the Cambodian border here and the people are more obviously Khmer, with their fuller features, darker skin and a preference for a chequered scarf over the ubiquitous Vietnamese conical hat. It is also home to a sizeable community of Chams, a Muslim minority of Malaysian appearance who live on the other side of the Bassac river.

We hire a boat and motor across to the Cham village. On the main street, dotted with stalls selling fruit and vegetables and snacks, women chat in the shade of the verandas of their wooden houses. Little girls sell waffles and simple cakes to visitors. I meet the caretaker of one of the two mosques. He shows us a short film about the history of the Cham but it is in Vietnamese so we leave none the wiser.

This part of the Bassac river, where it meets the Mekong, is home to an extraordinary concentration of floating houses, each of which is a self-contained fish farm. In the centre of each house is a large cage submerged in the river, in which families raise local bassa catfish, thousands of tonnes of which are exported to Australia every year. The fish are fed a kind of meal made from cereal, fish and vegetable scraps in cauldrons that rumble and roil. The smell is challenging.

At eight the next morning, we board another fast boat for the journey to the Cambodian capital. On another steamy, insanely hot day, we are looking forward to spending the trip on the deck, savouring the breeze. But a gaggle of young American backpackers with newsreader voices storm the boat and secure the outdoor area as their headquarters. It is their world. We just live in it.

As we travel towards Cambodia, the river begins to change. Gone is the frenetic boat activity and on the riverbank life takes on a less industrial, more bucolic demeanour. As we rejoin the Mekong, the river widens and soon the factories on the shore are replaced by cornfields, banana trees that shift and flap in the breeze and ragged, palm-thatched huts. Families bathe in the shallows and children scrub and splash their wallowing buffaloes. One-and-a-half hours later, when we reach the border at Vinh Xuong, Vietnam, and Kaam Samnor, Cambodia, we're in a different, more lush, more languid world.

We disembark at the border post and after an hour or so filling in various forms and questionnaires, we say goodbye to the Vietnamese boat and board the altogether less salubrious Cambodian craft for the rest of the journey. But in the end the boat's state of rugged disrepair matters little and most people spend the afternoon sitting on the rear deck or lounging on the bow and impairing the vision of the driver.

It is all too idyllic and, as it turn out, too good to last. Low water levels in the Tonle Sap river mean we have to complete the final leg of the journey by bus. But even this is fascinating, if cramped, as we hurl through the countryside and the sedate outskirts of Phnom Penh. As we arrive in the busy heart of the capital, I check my watch. It was just over seven hours ago that we boarded the boat in Chau Doc.

At our hotel, the owner tells us the water levels in the Tonle Sap are too low for us to go by boat to Siem Reap and that we'll have to take the bus or fly. He dismisses our disappointment, saying the boat has a karaoke machine on board. "Very noisy."

But we won't decide what to do until after dinner – perhaps some steamed fish in coconut milk or fried squid with green peppers. As we hop into a tuk-tuk to take us to the waterfront, a young girl, brown as a nut and cute as a button, implores us to buy some bottled water.

"What's your name?" I ask.

"Cosmic," she replies, beaming. "Where are you from?"

"Australia."

"Do you know Kevin Rudd?" she asks.

"Of course."

"Well, he is my father."

I look puzzled and she giggles. We are smitten and it's bottled water all round. As we putter away, she yells to us: "Tell Kevin his daughter says hello."

I wave and promise I will.

Source: brisbanetimes.com.au

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October 07, 2009

The little dragon - Halong Bay, Vietnam

Often called the baby of Ha Long Bay, beautiful and diverse Bai Tu Long Bay holds its own.


Bai Tu Long Bay hosts hundreds of large and small islands of various charateristics.

The Vietnamese nation was invaded so often in ancient times that God was moved to send a dragon and its child to fight the enemies.

After the fighting was over, the dragon refused to return to heaven. The mother became Ha Long Bay (Descending Dragon) and her children, Bai Tu Long Bay (Dragon children cheering their mother). The children are beautiful, like the mother, but not as well known.

Located around 200 kilometers to the northeast of Hanoi, Bai Tu Long Bay includes the seas off Cam Pha Town, Ha Long Town and Van Don District.

The bay hosts hundreds of large and small islands of various characteristics. One island looks as if it were made by piling up stone bowls. Locals call it Dong Chen (Bowl Pile). Yet another, called Dua (chopstick), is like a giant chopstick lying on the water surface.

Quan Lan Island does not have a particularly striking shape like its neighbors, but it has sandy and rather wild beaches, like Ngoc Vung and Minh Chau, alongside a 300-year-old primeval forest.

The sixth lunar month is festival season on the island. No locals are allowed to leave, but visitors are welcome to join the festivities.

Other islands carry different flavors. Ban Sen Island, for instance, brings to tourists cups of tea produced from trees whose seeds were first sowed hundreds of years ago. Meanwhile, Minh Chau Island presents the pristine lifestyle of a fishing village.

Like its mother, Ha Long Bay has several caves such as Dong Trong Cave and Hang Quan Cave. The latter served as a Vietnamese army base during the Vietnam War.

Other attractions at the bay include temples dedicated to famous generals during the feudal period and seafood specialties like snout otter clams (Lutraria Rhynchaena), locally known as tu hai.

National ‘water park’

Covering nearly 16,000 hectares of land on 30 islands, Bai Tu Long National Park boasts considerable biodiversity with mangrove forests and coral reefs that are home to rare flora and fauna.

The park also has considerable archeological significance with scientists finding traces of people who lived there 14,000 years ago.

Located at the end of a mangrove forest, Doi (Bat) Cave is the home of thousands of bats and other animals like foxes and otters, while the Cai De Cave, about one kilometter away, goes through a range of mountains for about 500 meters at a maximum width of 60 meters.

Although the cave is decorated with stalactites and a plentiful source of marine life, visitors can only enter when the tide is low.

Cai De was proposed to be introduced to visitors in 2007, but nothing has been done so far to make this happen.

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Living among the hill tribes of Laos

By Lesley Downer

We arrive by turbo prop from Bangkok, juddering slowly across a corrugated expanse of jungle-encrusted hills with mist floating in the hollows. As we touch down at Luang Prabang’s sleepy airport I remember my father talking about how he had to hold the door of the aircraft shut when he flew across Laos almost 50 years earlier.


In the 1960s my father was one of two people in the world – other than the native people themselves – who spoke the languages of the Yao and Hmong hill tribes. He lived in their villages in Vietnam and later in Laos for months at a time and came home with stories of sleeping snuggled up against the horse in winter to keep warm, trekking in the mountains, keeping an eye out for tigers, and hiding under a table in Saigon with his Vietnamese mistress, Madame Ving. He brought us back bamboo pan pipes and beautiful Yao embroidered fabrics.

I hoped to go to Laos with him but he died before I could, so this is quite a special journey for me. Will it still be possible to get a glimpse of the magical places he knew? Might I even be able to track down Madame Ving?

These days one can’t just walk into the jungle, as my father did. Laos was heavily bombed in the Vietnam war and there are still huge areas covered in unexploded ordnance. I begin my journey in the old royal city of Luang Prabang, which was one of his bases.

The city is full of evocative smells, floating up from smoky wood fires and spicy food simmering in blackened pots, and from incense smoke rising in front of tiny shrines. On one side the Nam Khan river swirls between steep banks carpeted in palm trees and bamboo; on the other the Mekong rolls, flat and still and brown. Mountains rise misty above terraced paddy fields. Roosters crow and dogs skulk.

At dawn I hear the boom of drums and the murmur of chanting as monks in orange robes parade through the streets receiving offerings, their food for the day. All Lao boys become monks, for a week, a month or a year or two. The ethereal swooping roofs and gold-encrusted prows of the wats – temple-monasteries where they live – rise behind the whitewashed walls that line the streets.

The main street has been taken over by tourism. It bustles with restaurants, travel agencies and money exchanges. It’s only when we set off for Vientiane that I begin to glimpse the hill tribe life my father knew.

We drive through a ravishing landscape of mountain ranges covered in dense forest. Villages are built along the ridges, beside the road. We get out and walk, following dusty little paths that lead around the houses. The Khamu people live in houses with woven bamboo walls and thatched roofs built on sturdy wooden stilts, with a cool space under the house where they store firewood, keep animals or sling a hammock. Next to them are spacious Hmong houses with heavy overhanging thatched roofs forming a very large porch in front of the main door, surrounded by palm and papaya trees. Beautiful though they are, it would be tough to stay in one. I remember trekking in Thailand some years ago and spending a night in a Yao village. I was full of admiration for my father who lived happily with no mod cons for months at a time.

Everyone is busy. Women hull rice, pounding it in huge mortars. Hunters squat on the ground making traps, farmers set off for plantations where they grow bananas, papaya and pineapple. In one village men are thatching, laying great swathes of woven grass. Children rush out of a school to greet us, grinning cheekily or hanging their heads bashfully.

Goats crowd the edges of the road, sway-backed black piglets dig their snouts in the dust. Seepone, our guide, a Luang Prabang man who was a monk for seven years, points out a big pig in a small cage, being kept for the next time the villagers have a celebration. Cows stroll, nonchalantly blocking the road, and chickens scurry back and forth, trying to avoid our wheels. One fails and disappears in a flurry of feathers.

Around mid-afternoon we reach the town of Phou Khoun, where three roads meet. It’s a bustling wild west sort of place. Hill tribes gather here with goods for sale – clusters of bananas, trays of sweet potatoes, bundles of yellow flowers. A round-faced, haughty Hmong woman with a leather jacket over her embroidered lungi takes her baby from her back and starts breastfeeding. A rooster tied up in a wicker basket struggles to escape.

The mountains transmute into sheer limestone karsts that jut into the sky like giant teeth, pushing up out of hills covered in a tangle of impenetrable jungle. Our road winds through this wild landscape to Vang Vieng, a place of breathtaking beauty where we stay, surrounded by karsts like massive megaliths.

Strangely enough, the closer we get to the capital, the worse the road becomes. We hurtle past a couple of cement factories and see a traffic light – the first since our journey began. We’re still a long way from the modern world but the timeless serenity of Luang Prabang is already a distant memory.

Vientiane is a somnolent place with holes in the pavement big enough to disappear into. The Mekong seems to have dried up here and we sit looking out over mudflats as the sun sinks, huge, smoky and red. My father used to live here in a lodging house run by Madame Ving. But now I’m here I realise the chance of finding her, of her even being still alive, is close to zero.

It makes me realise a lot has changed since my father was here. I don’t know whether he would even have recognised it. But at least now I can understand why it seduced him.

Lesley Downer’s most recent book is the ‘The Last Concubine’ (Corgi)

Source: FT.com

Supported by Active Travel Laos

Phu Quoc island still paradise resort in Vietnam

Previously Phu Quoc had been a secret. Anyone who visited at the turn of the century will recall a sleepy island with few tourist services and not much by the way of infrastructure.

Bai Sao, Phu Quoc Island by travelfishery.

Bai Sao Beach on Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam


And despite the talk of a construction boom, for many years nothing much changed. But there are now signs of a more mass-tourist friendly Phu Quoc emerging. The on-going construction of two main, long roads from Duong Dong town to Cua Can commune in the north and to An Thoi town in the south will make remote parts of the island more accessible than ever before. Construction on the new international airport broke ground recently, boosting the government’s dream to turn Phu Quoc into an international beach destination.

Conquering Lang Bian mountain, Dalat city, Vietnam

Standing in downtown Da Lat on clear days visitors can see the Lang Bian mountain range with its highest peak being at a latitude of 2,169m above sea level. Situated about 12km north of Da Lat City, Lang Bian is one of the three highest mountains on Lam Vien plateau, Da Lat.

Da Lat, Vietnam

Da Lat, Vietnam

With its miraculous beauty and wild features, every year Lang Bian mountain, which was named after Lang and his lover Bian in the past, attracts a large numbers of visitors, especially photographers who come to capture the second-to-non fairyland scenery.

It is interesting to conquer the two peaks of Lang Bian. For the 1,950m peak, visitors can follow a trek in the forests or take a tour organised by Dalattourist Company which uses a specialised vehicle to transport them to the peak where they can contemplate Dian Kia Lake with its clear water lying amidst the vast pine forests below. To reach the 2,169m peak visitors follow the same route as to the 1,950m peak, but when they are near the top, they veer to the right and walk through a primeval forest for two hours to reach the second peak. This is really a challenge to the visitor’s health and bravery.

Leading our team were a group of professional climbers from Dalattourist Company, some of whom are K’ho ethnic people who live in the hamlets at the foot of Lang Bian Mountain. They carried our belongings and photographic equipment while we trekked with a stick, carrying some drinking water, medicines and small camera. We had to pass over many high slopes and some age-old trees lying across the path. Sometimes there was heavy rain that caused rushing streams to develop, causing severe dangers. We had to cling to the life-lines tied to big trees and made utmost effort to climb with the assistance of the professionals. About 100m from the top of the mountain a patch of blue sky appeared. Seen from the top, Da Lat City looks magnificent in the thin mist. It was past 5pm but the weather was still scorching.

While the photographers packed up their tools after capturing the image of the sunset, a gust of cool air blew past us. In an instant the temperature fell several degrees and we had to stay inside the tents. Night fell over the camp fire. The locals treated us with dishes of the mountainous area. We were told about the legend of Lang Bian- a tale about an immortal love between Lang and Bian who overcame a severe dispute which had existed for a long time between the Lach and Chil tribes.

At night it became piercingly cold. The wind was so strong that it was pulling at our tents, seemingly to try to throw everything into the air. In a half awaken state we spotted a “sea of clouds” around the peak of the mountain. At sun rise the clouds were covered with a radiant yellow colour. It was an opportune time for the photographers to create their masterpieces.

With an ecological system of rare and precious flora and fauna, Lang Bian has been protected and preserved to become a natural eco-tourist site of a high land.

Source: vovnews

Recommendation in Dalat, Vietnam

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China Beach, Vietnam is listed in Top Ten of Asia's best beaches

AUSTRALIANS are royally spoiled when it comes to world-class coastlines. Yet still we travel, chasing sandier or sunnier shores. Here are 10 of the best beaches in Asia.

1. SAUD BEACH, PHILIPPINES
On the northwest coast of Luzon, little-known Saud Beach at Pagudpud is a 2km arc of blindingly pure sand bordered by the blue of the South China Sea. It's like an uncluttered version of that famous Philippines shore, White Beach, on Boracay Island. Beat the developers, the hair-braiders and sarong-floggers - head to Pagudpud now.

2. KO ADANG, THAILAND

Thailand's far south Andaman Sea coast has clusters of islands that are still off the radar for tour group invaders and full-moon ravers. The towering rock formations and crystal waters of Ko Tarutao National Marine Park, a 51-island group about 30km off the mainland, are a reminder of how islands such as Phuket, Samui and Phi Phi once were. Here you'll find Ko Adang, a jungle island with pristine shores, empty beaches and not a beer bar in sight.

3. BENTOTA, SRI LANKA

At Bentota Beach, 60km south of Colombo, grand arcs of beach sweep north and south from a rocky promontory. The Indian Ocean massages this coast of granite headlands and uncrowded beaches that surfers and European sun-seekers discovered long ago. There is a choice of three, four and five-star resorts from which you can simultaneously contemplate Bentota's fiery sunset and your of sundowner.

4. YALONG BAY, CHINA

At the same latitude as Hawaii, Hainan is where mainland Chinese come to get that Waikiki feeling without leaving home. While Yalong Bay, near Sanya on Hainan's southern tip, may lack Polynesia's heaving surf and swaying skirts, its broad white beaches are better than many in Hawaii. Fishing villages and rice farms once rimmed Yalong Bay's 7km strand. In their place, quality resorts harvest the disposable incomes of China's leisure class.

5. CHINA BEACH, Vietnam

China Beach, on Vietnam's central coast near Da Nang, is 30km long and has numerous resorts and restaurants, especially around Bai Non Nuoc. The specific section of the China Beach of Vietnam War and television series fame is known locally as Bai Tam My Khe. Here, you can see fishermen paddle out through its breaking waves in flimsy wicker coracles and then, after fishing, surf right back in again.


6. CALANGUTE, INDIA

"Christmas in Goa" was the mantra for heliotropic (and psychotropic) hippies on the 1970s "Overland Trail". Calangute's palm-fringed shoreline was annually invaded by some of the most upbeat and beat-up minds of their generation; today it is simply built-up. Over-development hasn't been kind to Calangute's little fishing hamlets, but its Arabian Sea full moons are as spellbinding as ever.


7. DUNGUN, MALAYSIA

The east coast of Malaysia is a sleeping secret. Macaque monkeys swing like tiny Tarzans through a tree canopy that borders the South China Sea. Beyond the trees, Dungun, an empty swoop of beach, is one of Malaysia's least-exploited shores. Offshore is Tenggol Island, part of Terengganu Marine Park, where you can snorkel and scuba dive amid gin-and-tonic clear waters alive with turtles, grouper, wrasse and jacks.

8. OCCHEUTEAL, Cambodia

Sihanoukville (aka Kompong Som) on Cambodia's pretty south coast is home to five fine beaches, even though the best one, Sokha, is reserved for a private hotel's guests. Sokha's neighbour, Occheuteal Beach, comes a close second with its long stretch of white sand lined with pine trees. Popular with Cambodians and travellers alike, Occheuteal's far northern end has become a backpacker hangout.

9. MAE NAM, THAILAND

Ko Samui's east coast strands are almost too well known. Head up to the north coast to snoozy Mae Nam, where the sands may be narrower, but you're not sharing them with the crowds. The water is clear and calm, the palm trees shady. In the distance you can see a flotilla of blue-grey islands that drifts just north of Samui, including Ko Phangan and Ang Thong Marine Park, where the beaches are truly empty.

10. KENTING, TAIWAN

The semi-tropical landscape of southern Taiwan is a surprise until you remember that the island's earlier Portuguese name, Formosa, means "beautiful". The name still fits. Unhurried and warm, Kenting, at the rugged southernmost tip of the island, has reasonable beaches for swimming, diving and surfing, plus an 18,000-ha national park. There is ample accommodation here, the seafood is excellent and, surprisingly, you're well inside the Tropic of Cancer.

Sunday Herald Sun

Source: http://www.news.com.au/travel/story/0,26058,22157694-27983,00.html

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Lang Co Bay Vietnam joins world-class bays

Lying between Da Nang and Hue cities, Lang Co is the third bay in Vietnam being admitted to the club following Ha Long Bay and Nha Trang Bay.


The bay was selected for its preserved natural beauty, which harmonizes with local people and attracts a lot of tourists.

Addressing the ceremony, Chairman of the Thua Thien-Hue provincial People’s Committee Nguyen Ngoc Thien called on all people and agencies to protect the bay for a sustainable development.

He also called for investment in environmentally friendly projects and human resources training and added that Thua Thien-Hue plans to build the Chan May-Lang Co economic zone into a modern international trading and tourism centre.

Source: http://www.world-bays.com/lang-co-hue-bay-47-71.html

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War veteran turns dead bomb zone into lively tourist village in Vietnam

It’s taken 18 years for a veteran of the Vietnam War to turn a heavily bombed swamp into a showcase of Vietnamese culture.



War veteran turns dead bomb zone into lively tourist village in Vietnam

A Little Vietnam occupies 22 hectares of land near the Saigon River in Cu Chi District, Ho Chi Minh City that used to be five meters lower than the surrounding area and so devastated that neither rice nor fish could survive.

The woman behind the ambitious project is 65-year-old Tran Thi Tuyet Nga, who grew up in the fertile land of Cu Chi and fought there until it became an unlivable fire zone.

When she returned to build a school after the war, Nga suddenly thought of something bigger she could do for her homeland.

Since then, nearly half a million cubic meters of soil has been used to fill the swamp and create a solid base for A Little Vietnam.

On the crowded opening day last week, Nga frequently burst into tears as she showed off the centerpiece of her craft village - an earthen altar made of soil from all over Vietnam, including a place in Hanoi where the monarchs of old would make their supplications to the gods.

The ash in the middle of the altar came from the altars at Truong Son Martyrs’ Cemetery in the central province of Quang Tri and Hoa Yen Pagoda in the northern province of Quang Ninh.

This is Nga’s way of expressing the unity of Vietnam.

The country’s history and culture are on display everywhere at A Little Vietnam.

One exhibit tells of the three stakes that were driven into the bed of the Bach Dang River to skewer approaching enemy ships in three important battles in the tenth and thirteenth centuries.

Nguyen Van My, director of Lua Viet Tourism Company, thinks A Little Vietnam should be on the itinerary of every tourist and recommends it for Vietnamese families and students too.

“There are valuable antiques. The way the village portrays the culture of Vietnam’s different regions is so authentic,” My said.

“Real craftsmen and women demonstrate how to make do (poonah) paper, silk, woodcuts, pottery, china and so forth,” he said.

So far Nga has spent nearly VND100 billion (US$5.6 million) on A Little Vietnam, so it’s unsurprising that money has been her biggest problem.

“We sold all the valuables we could, borrowed money anywhere we could, sometimes from loan sharks,” she said.

Few banks and businesses were willing to finance the project as they doubted its commercial viability.

The people who helped make it happen spent four years in “misery and disgrace”, to quote Nga, until they gained the title deeds to the land purchased from more than 50 households.

With a certificate of ownership in hand, it became much easier to borrow money and find financial backers.

The prime lender in the past three years has been the Khang Thong Construction, Commercial and Service Company with a VND1-billion loan. The North Asia Bank has also lent money, and donated some as well.

“Now I only wish to make enough money to pay off the debts and develop the village into a place fully deserving of its name,” Nga said.

Source: Thanh Nien

Related sites:
Vietnam Travel guide: http://www.activetravelvietnam.com/vietnam_travel_guides.html
Ride Ho Chi Minh Trail: http://www.ridehochiminhtrail.com/
Adventure tours in Vietnam: http://www.activetravelvietnam.com/tour.php

October 05, 2009

Phong Nha Cave, Vietnam - A World Heritage site

As we float up the Son river by boat, we wave to the local girls washing clothes in the clear waters on both sides of the riverbank.



Phong Nha Cave, Vietnam - A World Heritage site

A World Heritage listed site, Phong Nha is a place that has become famous worldwide for magnificent caves and grottos filled with fantastic stalagmites and stalactites.

After the boat trip we start the ascent to enter the caves by hoofing up over 600 stone steps, which seems to be at times verging on the vertical, a real challenge for any visitor.

My girlfriend, though desperate to see the cave, climbs at a snail’s pace. “How beautiful” she said, when taking a breather, pointing to the distant landscape. From the mountain side, in the distance, peaceful villages are nestled in amongst the green bamboos by the Son river, which is shimmers like a soft silk strip; from the red roofed houses thin plumes of smoke waft above, the houses look like wild flowers in the colorful sunlight; further away the river weaves its dreamy way through the precipitous mountains. All of which creates a breath-taking view.

Halfway up, we suddenly discover a small mossy roofed temple right by the steps.
“You had best not go in there!” the guide says. “It is very dangerous!”
That only makes us curious, so we enter, ignoring the creepy feeling. In the moss-covered yard sit two angry-looking stone lions squatting on the two sides of the gates ready to devour us. Inside the temple, there is no one and no incense-smoke but there’s an incense holder positioned right under a large gilt throne.
“Who is the temple dedicated to?” I ask.
“It is dedicated to Thien son coc tu (Mountain and river genies),” the guide replies.

Legend has it that on windy days, there appeared strange sounds coming from the mountain walls. The inhabitants labeled this as a strange but sacred omen.

In 1824, King Minh Mang ordered the construction of the temple, dedicated to mountain and river genies, in the hope of bringing peace and affluence to the locals. It is due the strange sounds coming from the mountain walls that the King named the temple Den Nghe (Listening Temple).

It is also reported that when the temple was initially built it was facing the wrong direction; there were a number of fatal accidents after landslides and trees collapsing beside the temple.

So, the locals then re-built the sacred temple in the position it is in today, and, so it is said, life in the area resumed natural order.

I keep asking locals why the temple is now left neglected but no one knows. “Perhaps, it lies in a dangerous position, where it could be easily buried under rock slides,” the guide suggests.

Finally we reach the mountain cave, it is beautiful beyond our imagination. The colourful artificial lights glowing on the rock walls create a special ambiance. Images of assorted wild animals dancing on the wall add a pre-historic air. A herd of bats flap their wings above our heads, while birds’ squawk, which at times in the darkness of the cave is spine-chilling.

We amble down the mountain to go down the world’s longest underground river, which runs right beneath the mountain we have just climbed up.

The mouth of Phong Nha grotto looks like the mouth of a titanic serpent steeped in the water. It is some 20 metres wide and 10 metres high and lined with superb stalactites. The guide tells us that it is due to the sounds of winds blowing in the grotto that the grotto is named Phong Nha (Wind Teeth).

Our boat sails in peace besides the sounds of clacking oars and the echoes of our own voices reverberating around. The cupola of the grotto looks like a thin gold-inlaid sheet. It reminds us of a love story in times of old, when the Earth and the Heaven were united.

On the Son river there lived a young man who was one of the 100 sons of Lac Long Quan and Au Co. He helped the locals hunt, fish and live peaceful lives.

The locals cherished him so much that they called him Phong Nha. One day, many orcas (killer whales) appeared and threatened the area.

An old man suddenly appeared and told him about a Fairy who had a wonderful sword. The young man stole the sword and killed the orcas, bringing happiness to the locals.

He then returned the sword to the Fairy. The Fairy, admiring his exploits, fell in love with him and he, in turn, loved her.

Unfortunately the Jade Emperor heard the news that his sole daughter had fallen in love with a mortal man so he whisked her away to Heaven. The Fairy felt so sad that she said she was determined to return. The Jade Emperor finally accepted their marriage, giving them the sword to protect the locale.

The grotto is said to be the sacred place where the couple met and lived. It is reported that during the American war, the area was used to hold weapons for the North Vietnamese army. In 1968, 16 Vietnamese soldiers died after two US rockets landed here, which is why the mouth of the grotto looks as it does today.

Source: Timeout

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- Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park information
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Let the sunshine in - Nha Trang resort, Vietnam

With a beautiful beach, an endless supply of fresh seafood and a string of hopping bars in the evening, you simply can’t go wrong in Nha Trang, says Van Cong Tu.



Nha Trang beach, Vietnam

Nha Trang has long been a popular destination for both local and international tourists. Its long sandy beach lined with coconut palms is the stand-out attraction of this large city located on Vietnam’s south central coast. Entire days can quite easily be whiled away relaxing in the sun, chasing a tan, recovering from a hangover or simply de-stressing. In fact, a beach city like Nha Trang can be a highly therapeutic place.

It is tourist friendly. In Hanoi, the tourist patch is the Old Quarter. In Ho Chi Minh City, it is District 1 and the strip that runs along Pham Ngu Lao. In these areas, many of the local folk can speak English reasonably well. This means information on tourist services, onward journeys and local sights is easy to obtain.

Nha Trang also has its traveller’s zone, where you can book boat trips, rent motorbikes and pick up tickets for planes, trains and automobiles to your next destination. Located along and parallel to a few blocks of beachfront, the place to stay in Nha Trang is in the small district known as Biet Thu. Mini-hotels and guesthouses abound in this area and the beach is never more than a five minute walk away.

More up-market accommodation in high rise hotels is available further up the beach road, if you don’t mind a long walk or a taxi ride at the end of the night. This is worth bearing in mind, because a night or two of your holiday will inevitably be spent in one or more of Nha Trang’s great bars. The jewels in the crown of the bar scene here are the Nha Trang Sailing Club and the Louisiane Brewhouse, two long established watering holes right on the beach.

The former is a stunning complex with restaurants, a bar and a nightclub, where drinks after a hard day on the beach can be followed by a meal and some jiving on the dance floor. For many, it is the last stop of the night. The latter is a beer lover’s paradise, open all day but not so late into the night. Four different beers are brewed on the premises and can be enjoyed on the brew house’s waterfront beach lounges or by the pool.

Away from the beach, you will find a number of popular bars, such as Crazy Kim’s, Guava, Shorty’s and the Why Not Bar, which all have their own unique atmospheres. There are eating options galore in Nha Trang with Indian, Italian, Japanese and other international cuisines well represented. But, by the seaside, the choice is obvious: seafood. Outside restaurants throughout the tourist area, you will find fresh prawns, squid, lobster and fish.

Customers can specify which creature they want to dine on and watch it flipped onto the barbeque. However, you can find better seafood experiences where the locals eat. One such place is Bien Tien Hai San, a restaurant about three kilometres along the main beach road, north of town. In fact, there are many seafood eateries out this way, which are worth a visit.

Other local specialties, available away from the tourist strip in the streets around the main market, include fried rice-flour pancakes (banh xeo), fish noodle soup (bun ca) and fresh roll-your-own spring rolls (nem nuong). Going hungry in Nha Trang is not even remotely possible. Apart from the above-mentioned sedentary activities of sunbathing, drinking and eating, Nha Trang does have a few more active pursuits on offer.

Diving is big here, with a few operators competing for business underwater. All-day-boat trips to the surrounding islands with frequent stops for swimming and snorkelling are also popular with the young backpacking crowd. The Cham Towers across the river are also worth a visit for those hungry for history and architecture.

Despite all of the possibilities, whenever I go back to Nha Trang, I find myself gravitating toward the beach by day, the street food and seafood at meal times and the bars by night. It’s a failsafe routine that I thoroughly recommend.

Source: timeout


Related sites to Nha Trang, Vietnam
- Nha Trang travel information
- Nha Trang resorts & hotels

October 03, 2009

Eight Wonders of Vietnam

UNESCO lists five World Heritages in the country, but Adventure Beat editor Christian Kallen's list presents a more varied picture: the Eight Wonders of Vietnam.

Ha Long Bay.
If many of a certain generation tried to avoid going to Vietnam at all costs, now these same travelers may be tempted to explore a densely textured destination as historic, culturally rich and scenically stupefying as any country on Earth.

Adventure Beat editor Christian Kallen's "Eight Wonders" of Vietnam:

1) Ha Long Bay


Halong Bay, Vietnam

Legend has it that the dragon that created civilization dove into these waters (Ha Long means "descending dragon") to his rest. There is a mythic, supernatural quality to this bay on the Gulf of Tonkin, east of Hanoi, that must be experienced to believe. Limestone "haystack" islands draped in jungle foliate erupt from the placid bay, fishermen in dragon-headed boats lay their nets, caves both above and below water level invite exploration. There are some 700 islands in the bay, and nowadays you can sea kayak among them with local tour operators — although in ancient times the Vietnamese general Tran Hung Dao outwitted the Chinese navy here.


2) Hanoi's Old Quarter


Hanoi's Old Quarter

Few capitals necessarily qualify as "wonders" — Paris comes to mind — but Hanoi belongs in that class. It was first made capital of Vietnam in 1010 A.D., along a bend in the Red River, and even today, 996 years later, it's still a rush of urban energy and pastoral ease. Walk around the central district's Hoan Kiem Lake in the cool morning hours, while the locals do their daily tai chi; shop in the narrow streets of the Old Quarter where tradesmen have practiced in the same shops for up to 25 generations; dine European, Asian, or fusion at one of the many restored colonial mansions.


3) Cao Dai Temple

Cao Dai Temple

Even knowing in advance that the Cao Dai religion counts among its saints Victor Hugo, Louis Pasteur, and Sun Yat-Sen does little to prepare the visitor for the psychedelic splendor of its Holy See. Primary colors run riot over plaster dragons, flowers, and figurines crawling up the pillars and walls, while the all-seeing eye (a Masonic symbol also found on the US Great Seal) is everywhere. The temple is just a short drive from Ho Chi Minh City, and elaborate services and ceremonies are held almost daily.


4) Mekong Delta


Mekong Delta

The Mekong's route begins 2,500 miles upstream in Tibet, and its course through China, Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam is a waterway through the exotic. It flows into the South China Sea through a delta of many streams (its Vietnamese name, Cuu Long, means Nine Dragons), a fertile region known as "the ricebowl of Vietnam." The highlight for most visitors are the floating markets of Cai Be and Vinh Long, where you can get everything from fruits, flowers, and handicrafts to exotic snakes — and dishes as memorable as the “elephant's ear” fish (not endangered).


5) Tonkinese Alps


Fansipan Mountain

The Tonkinese Alps create the barrier between Vietnam and China to the north, and their highest peak is Mount Fansipan (10,312 feet). Most people don't think of going to Vietnam to go mountain climbing, but consider this multi-day trek anyway, not only for its spectacular views into China but for the hilltribe villages you pass through en route. The route begins in Sapa, a popular tourist center in the midst of hill country, then forges through valleys of terraced rice fields into ever more remote villages peopled by animistic minorities, such as the Dao, Hmong and Nung. Frommer's Guide on the Tokinese Alps.


6) Endangered Wildlife
With its centuries of warfare and commerce, napalm and revolution, it's hard to think of Vietnam as a wildlife hot spot, but it is becoming increasingly recognized as such. Exotic creatures such as several rare species of langurs, gibbons and monkeys; wild boars and the extremely rare brown-antlered deer vie with lizards, snakes and birds for life listers. Although habitat loss in this growing country is a problem, an even bigger one is the catholic appetite of the Vietnamese palate – and the illegal trade in endangered species and restaurants that serve them.


7) Phong Nha-Ke Bang

Phong Nha cave, Vietnam

The most recent of Vietnam's World Heritage Sites is the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. Travelers to Southeast Asia are well aware of the widespread karst formations of the region (Ha Long Bay is one such). Karst topography is limestone-based, riven with caves and cracks, given to weird shapes and striking vistas. The formations in Phong Nha-Ke Bang are among the world's oldest, 400 million years old; its geomorphology is complex and a motherlode for earth sciences.


8) Hoi An Village


Hoi An, Vietnam

Designated a World Heritage Site in 1999, Hoi An is the former main port of Vietnam in the 16th century, and today 844 of its historic structures are preserved as landmarks. You can walk down the crooked streets surrounded by the atmosphere and odors of times gone by, take a sampan ride down the Do River or the streams that lace the town, hunt the traces of the foreign traders – Japanese, Chinese, Dutch, and Indian – who made Hoi An the center of culture in old Vietnam. Helpful hint: visit during full moon, when the shop owners turn off the lights and illuminate the streets with candle lanterns.

October 02, 2009

Active Travel Asia launches Facebook and twitter network for first the time travelers to Vietnam and Indochina


Trek Fansipan, highest mount in Indochina with ATA


With the purpose to provide travel information and guide in Vietnam and Indochina, Active Travel Asia (ATA) has launched Facebook”Active Travel Asia” network for travelers to exchange the opinions, experiences and connect to travelers worldwide to share their travel stories, loved photos, find travel info, exciting experiences and even help planning their trips together.

With 10 Years of local travel Expert’s experience, ATA has a deserved reputation for innovation, for quality of service and for providing once-in-a-lifetime active holidays. ATA's accumulated expertise allows travelers to maximize traveler’s precious holiday time and to experience the very best of traveler’s chosen destination.
ATA runs the most adventure tours available in Indochina and Asia. ATA’s active trips are designed for all levels of outdoor enthusiasts, real people seeking real fun and adventure. Of course, a reasonable level of personal fitness, good health, and interest in outdoor activities is advisable, but travelers don't need to be a tri-athlete or be an expert in any of the activities travelers will undertake.

ATA’s advisors are there to share with travelers and guests and internet surfers about the ultimate local knowledge as well as providing trends, news, advice and travel stories across its Asian destinations.

ATA always listens to travelers, read traveler’s feedback and comments as well as provides the right travel guide, experience, information and tips for travelers who plan to Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Asia.

ATA confirms that the facebook “Active Travel Asia” will be provided to travelers with the ability to exchange point of views, experiences and connect with the prospects with ATA’s formers travelers who share stories, loved photos, find useful travel info and right experience and perhaps, plan trips together. Travelers are free to exchange whatever travelers want with ATA’s prospects, talk with ATA and about ATA

For more information at:
ATA’s facebook

ATA’s twitter

Getting the most out of Sapa travel Vietnam

Located in the northwestern mountains of the country, Sapa is a modest town nestled within the Hoang Lien Son mountain range in Lao Cai Province. Sapa is an excellent destination to enjoy outdoor activities with stunning landscapes that attract both domestic and foreign tourists.


Terraced paddy field, Sapa, Vietnam

Travelling in Sapa, few tourists miss an opportunity to trek to mountain villages and majestic waterfalls.

Cat Cat Village sits atop unspoiled landscapes and is a desirable destination for trekkers seeking to spend full days walking in a world of natural charm and tranquillity.

Visiting the village, tourists will discover various traditional trades of the local people such as weaving, jewellery manipulation, metal work and stone carvings.

The road from Sapa winds through hilly terrain, past terraced paddy fields. A sign reads "Welcome to Cat Cat Cultural Village", greeting visitors as they arrive at the entrance of the village.

A leisurely walk within the old village provides visitors with a better understanding of the traditional customs and practices of the ethnic Mong people that live here.

While wandering around the village, I continually asked the locals about their crafts and houses. I was curious about everything and the locals were friendly and ready to help. They also politely asked me to buy some hand-made souvenirs.

Visitors in Cat Cat have an opportunity to admire and watch locals sit with looms and create colourful pieces of brocade. When these pieces of brocade are finished, they are dyed and embroidered with beautiful designs of flowers and birds. Interestingly, Mong women use plants and leaves to dye the fabrics. After dyeing the fabric, they then roll a round, smooth piece of wood, covered with wax, over the material in order to polish. By doing this it helps to make the colours more durable on the fabric.

In addition to their weaving craft, many residents in Cat Cat are good at making gold and silver jewellery. Their products are quite sophisticated, especially the women’s jewellery.

Further into the village are waterfalls along with a stream that weaves its way around boulders, hills and mountains. The pristine stream is spanned by a suspension bridge, which offers a good view of the waterfalls and mountains.

The path after the bridge passes through bamboo forests filled with wild flowers and past tranquil brooks.

Another must-see village is Ta Phin, a remote village located 12km from the centre of Sapa, which still retains traditional customs and lifestyles of the Dao, Tay and Mong ethnic groups.

It’s recommended for tourists to catch a local xe om (motorbike taxi) at price of VND180,000 (US$10) in order to get there. Another option is to rent a motorbike for VND100,000 ($5.50) a day, which provides a convenient and interesting way to discover the landscape and villages.

Despite the winding road to the village, tourists can see picturesque rolling hills and terraced fields on the way. Much of the Sapa valley has been cultivated into verdant rice paddy fields equipped with irrigation systems.

Ta Phin Village seeks to capitalise from tourism and thus causes local children and adults to constantly follow visitors, in an effort to persuade them to buy wallets, hats, bags or fabric. However, these sellers tend to be friendly and hospitable.

The villagers often invite tourists to visit their homes, where they show them how they live and what they have, and tell about their families. Their living standard is still low, but their lives have been improved by the expanding tourism industry.

"We women are so active – not only do we grow vegetables and raise pigs and get wood for the fire, we also try to learn English so we can talk to tourists," said a 25-year-old Dao woman. "Before there were tourists we were very poor, but now we can make handicrafts, make money and meet people."

Ta Phin Village is able to win tourists’ hearts thanks to the beautiful sights that surround it. Lavie Waterfall is a common destination for trekkers. After trekking through forests, maize fields and mountains, tourists often enjoy soaking in Lavie Stream and sunbathing on flat boulders.

After a long day of walking on the curvy roads and hills around Sapa, it was pleasant to soak my bones and muscles in a traditional Dao herbal bath at Ta Phin.

The price was reasonable, VND60,000 ($3.30) for a one-hour bath. Soaking in medicinal waters may make you feel a little tipsy. When you start feeling dizzy, it’s time to get out of the wooden bathtub. After the soak, I finally felt relaxed. The herbal bath was good for my health, mind and bones.

I was very happy to have a chance to travel to Sapa. I will never forget how it felt to stand in front of imposing, beautiful mountains. — VNS

Source: Minh Thu/ Vietnamnews

Related to Sapa, Vietnam:

- Hotels in Sapa
- Trek Fansipan, Sapa tours
- Trekking Tours in Vietnam