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.

REACHING FOR RECOGNITION

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
Source: Thanhniennews.com
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.

Therapy

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.

Goldmine

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:

ACTIVE TRAVEL VIETNAM

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

www.activetravelvietnam.com

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