December 24, 2010

Local tour guides provide an insight into the real Sa Pa, Vietnam

It's a strange land that leaves me with different feelings whenever I come to rediscover it.

Sa Pa is an incredibly picturesque town in the Hoang Lien Son Mountain Range near the Chinese border in northwestern Viet Nam, 350km from Ha Noi.

The terraced fields in Sa PaThe terraced fields in Sa Pa

It can be explored almost year-round from March to early December. Vietnamese most like to visit during June and July to escape the summer heat in other parts of the country. Sa Pa is 1,500m above sea level so the weather is quite mild, and cold at night. The best time to go to Sa Pa is on a weekday, as weekenders tend to flock here. However, the famed "love market" only takes place on Saturday nights, so visitors often extend their tour to Saturday to experience it.

Tourists can see many hill tribe people, their villages and rice terraces. The ethnic minority groups generally retain their lifestyles and traditional costumes.

The area's high mountains, deep ravines and lush vegetation rise to the peak of Mt Fansipan – the highest point in Indochina. The combination of fresh mountain air, relaxed ambience, sweeping panoramas and fascinating hill tribes make Sa Pa a must-see destination.

A trek took us deep into a hill tribe region where tourists are still something of a novelty. Staying in village homes allowed us to experience firsthand a lifestyle that has been little touched by the modern world and a curiosity from our hosts just as great as our own. The trekking is fairly strenuous at times but the spectacular scenery and sense of adventure make it worth the effort.

Ta Phin Cave, at the far end of Ta Phin village, is an attractive destination which tourists often bypass without a local guide's suggestion. The cave requires a guide with a flashlight, and the guide will shine the torch on a variety of stalactites.

Some of the locals invite visitors to go to their homes to show how they live and what they have, and tell them about their families. On following them to their houses, tourists find out how simply they live. The tour guides suggest you to buy the merchandise you like from them as repayment for what they have shown for you. Local tour guides also lead the trips to the forests and mountains because they know thoroughly the terrain.

Trekking tour in Sa PaTrekking tour in Sa Pa

City lovers may find Sa Pa is not the place for them as its rich ethnic lifestyle is far removed from modern life. If you expect to go shopping in malls, Sa Pa has nothing to offer. The only way to go shopping is to go to the local market where you can find unique handicrafts, jewelry and fabrics with colourful embroidery. While tourists don't know how to bargain or choose the best items, the local guides are ready to help.

Sa Pa is famous for its "love market" where local young people go to show off and find partners. It is held every Saturday night and provides a unique and unforgettable experience.
The love market is a tradition in the culture of the Mong, Tay and Dao. All the people around Sa Pa live in isolated villages and can only get together once a week during the Sunday morning market. The night before, young men and women from all around come to the love market to meet and express their emotions through playing the khen (pan pipe) and singing according to traditional customs of their people.

The experience of Sa Pa trip is not something that everyone can buy, but adventurous people and those who seek to know the hidden charm of Vietnamese hill tribes living in their old traditional mountain villages cannot miss this place.

Source : VNS

Recommendations:
Sapa Trekking & Homestay
Heaven Gate Route

December 16, 2010

Where and how to meet minorities in Southeast Asia

Minority cultures in Southeast Asia are often time capsules of earlier lifestyles that have escaped the full force of globalisation’s effects. Consequently, they are a highlight for travellers to the region who want to get a sense of a country’s past…as it collides with the present.

But how do you ensure that while visiting, you don’t cause unintended damage or offence? You can show your respect for a culture by being educated about its ways, beliefs and taboos. Here are a few general guidelines:

1. Always ask permission before taking photos of tribespeople.

2. Don’t touch totems at village entrances or sacred items hanging from trees.

3. Avoid cultivating a tradition of begging, especially among children.

4. Avoid public nudity and don’t undress near an open window.

5. Don’t flirt with members of the opposite sex.

6. Don’t drink or do drugs with the villagers.

7. Smile at villagers even if they stare.

8. Ask your guide how to say ‘hello’.

9. Avoid public displays of affection, which might be viewed as offensive to the spirit world.

10. Don’t interact with the villagers’ livestock; avoid interacting with jungle animals, which might be viewed as visiting spirits.

11. Don’t step on the threshold of a house, prop your feet up against the fire or wear your shoes inside.

The local annual
The local annual "love market" in Ha Giang, Vietnam

Where to meet Southeast Asia’s minority cultures

If you want to meet minority cultures, you’ll often have to get away from popular tourist centres; how far you’ll have to go depends very much on the country and how popular it is with visitors.

The trekking industry in Thailand is very developed and a minority visit can be a disappointment for some, but much depends on the operator organising the trip. Northern Vietnam and the Xīshuāngbǎnnà region of Yúnnán have emerged as popular places to experience minority cultures. Laos is really taking off as a destination to meet minority groups, partly due to its ethnically diverse population and in part due to the relatively small numbers of visitors venturing off the beaten path.

Cambodia and the Central Highlands of Vietnam provide a home to some minority groups in the northeast, but as they dress like lowland Khmer or Vietnamese, they have been less exposed to mass tourism than elsewhere. As for the effects of trekking on the host tribes, many agree that individuals within the village might financially benefit when the trekking companies purchase supplies and lodging, but the overall pluses and minuses are considered to be minimal compared to other larger institutional forces.

Lonely Planet has a suggestion of the top 5 spots for a genuine interaction with a minority culture in Southeast Asia:

1. Cambodia: Ratanakiri
2. Laos: Muang Sing
3. Thailand: Chiang Rai
4. Vietnam: Sapa
5. Yúnnán: Xīshuāngbannà

December 11, 2010

Adventure hike in Cat Tien National Park, Vietnam


Only 170 kilometers from HCMC, Cat Tien is an ideal piece of the wild for an Vietnam adventure trip.

Vietnam National Parks
At more than 71,000 hectares, Cat Tien National Park has plenty of untamed places that are off the beaten track.

Hiking or biking are the best ways to travel on the forest tracks. The park has important conservation value because of the rainforest, mountains, river and rich biodiversity that attracts thousands of tourists and scientists from all over the world.

Instead of risking it alone, the team at Vietnam Adventure, organizes hiking and biking trips into the Cat Tien jungle with a back-up crew to make sure nothing goes wrong.

Catch the bus from HCMC in the afternoon to the national park in Tan Phu Commune, Dong Nai Province, arriving in plenty of time for a good night’s sleep in accommodation at the park headquarters. The hike starts early the next day to avoid the mid-day heat and jungle humidity.

The destination is Green Hill; to get there the track goes past ethnic minority Ma and S’Tieng villages then continues through a thick bamboo jungle following one of the local tribe’s tracks. It’s likely to pass some of the minorities as they go about their business in the forest and see some deer and birdlife but the going is not easy. The tour arrives at the top of Green Hill, an inactive volcano over 300 meters above sea level in time for lunch. Before getting to the top, there’s a cave containing thousands of bats.

Another village path is taken for the trip down, which is a scramble over the loose red basalt soil. The scenery is different with streams, tall grass and bamboo.

Source: SGT

claim token: Z4VRUEVJQXR5

November 30, 2010

Everything I knew about Vietnam, I learned from Chuck Norris

November 25, 2010
By GISELLE P. KASILAG

While it pains me to admit it, it was Chuck Norris who gave me my first glimpse of Vietnam. Films such as Missing in Action would see him navigating the dense forests of Vietnam, miraculously evading landmines, penetrating Vietcong territory to single-handedly rescue old wartime buddies, starving but still very cute Vietnamese children enslaved by cruel communists, and a pretty local girl (probably a third his age) who is likely to show her gratitude in ways not appropriate for this publication.

Thus, when fellow writer Susan De Guzman called about an airline seat sale to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), I agreed with a degree of apprehension. It was a country I had very little knowledge of save for the violent images on television from watching Chuck or National Geographic specials. I was certain of three things: it was a socialist country; many Americans died there (and they’re still hurting from it); and the Pho (a local noodle soup dish) is awesome. It wasn’t much to go on but even after reading countless web pages and travel guides, I was still unable to latch on to an image of Vietnam that did not involve landmines and forests. I had no choice. I simply had to wait and see for myself.

We arrived at Tan Son Nhat airport around midnight. It was quite a modern facility that was efficiently run. Soon enough, we found ourselves cruising down the streets of Ho Chi Minh that, at that hour, appeared to be a cleaner and better maintained version of the older districts of Manila. Even in the dark, we counted many old structures with interesting architectural details. The trip was turning out to be a very promising one.

Ben Thanh Market, Ho Chi MinhBen Thanh Market, Ho Chi Minh

Daylight proved us right. The morning stroll left us straining our necks to see interesting architectural features. Many buildings have been converted to house restaurants and shops, breathing new life into the structure while adding character to the community. Nothing could be more inviting than the aroma of freshly brewed coffee and bread just out of the oven wafting through brightly painted French windows, thrown wide open to entice passersby to stop, choose a charming table outdoors and simply watch the world go by. And I don’t even drink coffee!

November 19, 2010

Angkor Tops List of 'Most Recommended' World Heritage Sites

BY: MTCO COMMUNICATIONS

A recent UNESCO / Trip advisor Survey reveals Angkor is the most recommended World Heritage site by a quarter millions travellers worldwide and that 72% would do more to help heritage conservation if they knew how.

Cambodia tours

TripAdvisor revealed the results to date of the biggest analysis ever conducted of UNESCO's World Heritage sites around the world.

The two year partnership between TripAdvisor, and UNESCO's World Heritage Centre launched in October 2009 to raise awareness of and gain travellers' support to preserve natural and cultural sites inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage list. Within the partnership, TripAdvisor will also donate up to $1.5 million (USD) of support to the World Heritage Centre to help monitor the conservation of the world's most important cultural and historic sites.

Via on-site and email campaigns, TripAdvisor has, to date, collected nearly a quarter of a million (244,690) feedback submissions from travellers who have visited 789 of UNESCO's recently expanded list of 911 World Heritage sites. The results provide a unique insight into the views and recommendations of travellers themselves. As part of the partnership, TripAdvisor shares the feedback to the World Heritage Centre so that it may better engage UNESCO member states in matters of site conservation.

TripAdvisor travellers have given the nod to Angkor, Cambodia as the number one recommended UNESCO site to visit in the world, describing it as amongst other quotes, "Absolutely breathtaking" and "One of the wonders of the world." The second and third most recommended World Heritage sites are both in Italy and are respectively the Historic Center of Rome, the properties of the Holy See, and the Historic Centre of Florence.

The TripAdvisor travellers' feedback also highlights those World Heritage sites they consider need the most attention. At the top of UNESCO's sites in 'Worst Condition' comes the Kasbah of Algiers in Algeria, described as a "crumbling site". The site includes remains of old mosques, Ottoman-style palaces and traditional urban structures.

Because countries often hope to draw additional tourism following the inscription of their sites onto the WH List, traveller feedback from TripAdvisor can help them address some of the issues raised and improve tourism to their sites.

TripAdvisor is encouraging the contribution of reviews and opinions from its large and passionate community of millions of members to provide much needed information about the condition of World Heritage sites so they may be better protected. In order to compile traveler feedback on nearly 900 World Heritage sites across the globe, UNESCO's World Heritage Centre invited TripAdvisor, via its millions of members and technological expertise, to provide traveler insights and support to the Centre.

As part of the two-year campaign, TripAdvisor has also pledged to donate up to $1.5 million U.S. of support, including a cash donation that will be allocated to UNESCO World Heritage initiatives. Travelers can learn more about how to help at www.tripadvisor.com/worldheritage.

According to TripAdvisor travellers, the "Top Ten" most recommended sites are:

1). Angkor, Cambodia

2). Historic Center of Rome, the Properties of the Holy See, Italy

3). Historic Center of Florence, Italy

4). Historic Areas of Istanbul, Turkey

5). Old and New Towns of Edinburgh, Scotland

6). Historic Center of Prague, Czech Republic

7). Venice and its Lagoon, Venezia, Italy

8). Works of Antoni Gaudí, Barcelona, Spain

9). Westminster Palace, Westminster Abbey and Saint Margaret's Cathedral,

London, England

10). Historic Center of Vienna, Austria

November 17, 2010

Travel Asia – A Popular Choice for Travelers

The largest as well as the most populous continents in the world – Asia is a land of diversity with a multitude of geographies, cultures, and people. Occupying an area of about 9% of the total area of the earth’s surface, Asia is home to more than five billion people.


In other words, Asia consists of more than 60% of the world’s overall population. As a tourist destination, Asia boasts of a feast of attractions in the form of traditional cities, ancient monuments with superb architecture, museums and art galleries that throw light on the history of the place, incredible wild life, scenic mind blowing attractions, and attractions that are a blend of both east and west.


There are also a range of vibrant attractions, covering action packed beaches, bargain shopping areas, and exuberant nightclubs. Equally remarkable is the sumptuous cuisines available here, each of which is a representation of different cultures. In fact, the world’s majority of tourist attractions are found in Asia. Discussed further in this article are some of the most popular tourist attractions in Asia.


The continent of Asia is home to such incredible destinations as India, China, Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Philippines. Asia has such a great number of attractions that even a year is not enough to explore them all. For those who want to explore a range of rich culture and topography and at the same time interested in recreational pursuits, then one of the most suitable options would be to take a tour to India. Stunning beaches, gorgeous monuments, ancient temples, and lively cities, all sum up the attractions of India. Attractions, among many others, in India are Red Fort and Qutab Minar in Delhi, Taj Mahal, one of the world’s seven wonders, Khajuraho Temples in Madhya Pradesh, Elephanta Caves in Mumbai, Ajanta and Ellora Caves in Aurangabad, and Kerala’s backwaters.


For those interested in exploring the pristine beauty as well as the ancient wonders, perhaps the greatest of all attractions in Asia would be China, which boasts of such lively destinations as Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Beijing, all of with loads of mind blowing attractions. Most popular among the attractions in China are the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, Terracotta Warriors, Potala Palace, West Lake, and Mogao Grottos. Another much sought after tourist destination in Asia is Japan, which is acknowledged as the Land of the Rising Sun. It features attractions such as Nara Park, Kyoto’s Higashiyama area, Kin Osaki, Himeji Castle, and Takayama in Gifu. With attractions such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam is also an incredible spot in Asia.


Popular countries in Asia also include the Kingdom of Thailand, which is probably the number one tourist destination in South-East Asia. What that set apart Thailand from other spots in Asia is its breathtaking natural beauty, stunning temples, gorgeous island destinations, stupendous monuments, healthy cuisines, and above all presence of amicable Thai people.


Just few among many of the attractions in Thailand are Bangkok, the capital city; Ayutthaya, which is much famed for its Gothic ruins; Chiang-Mai, bestowed with the title ‘Rose of the North,’ Krabi, which is a paradise for enjoying a range of water sport activities; and Pattaya, one of the best resorts in Asia. Also, a tourist spot in South-East Asia is Singapore, which is an island destination situated at the Malay Peninsula’s southern tip. Singapore Botanic Gardens, Singapore Discovery Center, Little India, and China Town, are some of the Singapore’s landmarks.


Southeast Asia also contains incredible destinations such as Indonesia – the largest archipelagic nation in the world; Malaysia, with attractions like Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya; Philippines, with more than 7000 islands; and Burma, which is the largest country in Southeast Asia. Other top places of interest in Asia are Sri Lanka – an island destination located off the southern tip of India; Afghanistan, with a rich as well as complex history; Maldives, which consists of more than 1,000 coral islands in the Indian Ocean; Uzbekistan, one of the most popular destinations in Central Asia; Kyrgyzstan, which is probably the most popular tourist spot in Central Asia; and Bangladesh, which has to its credit a number of ancient palaces, magnificent Buddhist shrines, and beautiful monuments.


In short, Asia is truly a dream destination for every traveler.

November 12, 2010

Explore Vietnam Adventure Tours with Active Travel Vietnam

Vietnam is an astonishing amalgamation of diverse culture, natural beauty and captivating historical events. All these combined together makes Vietnam a perfect tourist destination.

Vietnam … intriguing history and mesmerizing culture!!!

Vietnam is an astonishing amalgamation of diverse culture, natural beauty and captivating historical events. All these combined together makes Vietnam a perfect tourist destination. A tour to Vietnam is desirable by all age group with varying interests and liking. Bestowed with a never ending coastline of 3200kms, Vietnam is full of scenic beauty and cultural feasts.

Floating Market, VietnamFloating Market, Vietnam

An expedition from “Rice Bowl” in Mekong Delta to the hustle bustle of Vietnam’s happening city Ho Chi Minh prior to heading the eye catching beaches of Nha Trang, Ca Na and Ninh Chu captivates you with the unexploited beauty of this country.

You have an extensive option of booking a tour to Vietnam through various tour operators. If you are an adventurous person then an adventure tour to Vietnam can certainly be quite fulfilling experience. On the other hand a beach vacation in Vietnam can be other most appealing option for tourists who love water and exploring beaches.

In the south of Vietnam is Ho Chi Minh City which was formerly known as Saigon. It plays a huge role in captivating your imagination as a city of historical value and traditions. While exploring south of Vietnam the Cu Chi tunnel is must visit.

Hanoi, VietnamHanoi, Vietnam

In North the capital of VietnamHanoi is a prime destination for tourists. Embedded with diversified culture and European style the city is famous for its arts and lakes. Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, the Halong Bay and the 36 street areas are some of the other most frequently visited spots in Vietnam.

There are several online Vietnam tour packages available for you to choose from. Exploring Vietnam can be quite an experience which may leave your senses filled with its natural beauty and places which are still untouched and unexplored.

Related adventure tours in Vietnam:

Northern Highlights
Taste of Ho Chi Minh Trail
Mekong Explorer

November 04, 2010

EMW suggests Five Favorite Vietnam Travel Websites

Travel sites abound on the web--and vary widely in focus, scope, and reliability. Here are five we've tried and liked.

Active Travel Vietnam
: This appealing, readable site promotes its adventure travel tours (biking, hiking, kayaking, motorcycling, etc.) but also provides plentiful, practical information on travel in Vietnam, focusing on outdoor excursions but including guides to cities, beaches, national parks and reserves; travel tips; culture and customs; and hotel listings.

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Lonely Planet : Like the popular guidebooks, this travel site sets the standard for comprehensive, practical advice on traveling. Along with the expected travel tips, hotel recommendations, and “must sees,” the site provides a wealth of historical and cultural information not available on most other sites.

Reid On Travel : Vietnam This full free web guide created by veteran Lonely Planet author Robert Reid is packed with information on what to do and see in Vietnam. Reid’s observations are smart and funny and his “One-Day Planners” allow you to get the most out of a scant 24 hours in a city. Bills itself as “…the most in-depth, independently researched guidebook online for any destination.” Check it out and judge for yourself.

Trip Advisor : Features advices from real travelers, via reviews, blogs, and forums, on an exhaustive array of listings: flights, hotels, restaurants, cruises, recommended reading, and things to do, including cooking classes, tailors, museums, shopping, spas, ancient ruins, bird sanctuaries, caves, puppet theaters…the list goes on.

Virtual Tourist : Provides reviews, tips and photos posted by real travelers and Vietnam locals. Far from comprehensive, but engagingly idiosyncratic and likely to have something new to offer even the most jaded of travelers.

Source: www.eastmeetswest.org/Page.aspx?pid=423

October 27, 2010

48 hours in Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang, the historic former royal capital of Laos, is an enchanting mix of tranquil Buddhist temples, French architecture left over from colonial days, lush foliage and sweeping river views.

Luang Prabang, LaosLuang Prabang, Laos

Named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995, the city is no longer the sleepy backwater it once was and boasts boutique hotels and chic restaurants. But there are still plenty of glimpses of the peaceful, other-worldly city of the past.

FRIDAY

6 p.m. The main historic area fills a peninsula formed by the meeting of the town's two rivers, the Nam Khan and the Mekong, and can easily be explored on foot. Walk around the peninsula, on streets lined with French houses and towering palms.

You may pass locals playing "petang," Laos's answer to the popular French game of petanque or boules, a remnant of the colonial past.

Stop for a Beer Lao, the country's ubiquitous and delicious national beer, at a riverside bar and watch the sun set.

Later, sample Lao barbecue at one of the riverside restaurants. You cook slivers of meat on a metal tray heated over a bucket of hot coals in the center of your table, while vegetables, herbs, egg and noodles bubble away below.

SATURDAY

6 a.m. Rise early and head toward Sisavangvong road to watch the silent, ancient ritual of the Buddhist monks processing through the streets in their orange robes, collecting alms of sticky rice and food.

7 a.m. Just across the main road from the former Royal Palace, you can climb Mount Phousi for a fantastic view of the town and the two rivers that embrace it. It's a steep climb up steps cut into the hillside, but well worth it.

8.30 a.m. Time for breakfast. Sisavangvong road is lined with cafes and restaurants. Make sure you try some traditional Lao coffee -- strong but smooth with a slightly chocolaty taste.

10 a.m. The National Museum, showing a selection of religious treasures and antiques, is housed in the former Royal Palace, built in 1904 for King Sisavang Vong and his family.

October 18, 2010

A Path To Somewhere

If it’s all about the journey and not the destination, there is a “journey to a journey” involving quite a few ups and downs, not to mention twists and turns, that awaits the nature lover in Vietnam’s northern region.

The destination is a path, 40 kilometers long, that winds its way through a dense bamboo grove in Thanh Hoa Province. In order to reach the Suoi Muong bamboo path, there’s a long way to go, past high mountains and deep valleys. A motorbike is an indispensable accessory.

Mai Chau, Hoa BinhMai Chau, Hoa Binh

Let’s get going from Hanoi and head to Hoa Binh, where Muong Lat Street along the Laos border leads to the mountainous western part of Thanh Hoa. The first village on the road is named Thanh Son, where backpackers can tuck in for the night in local homes after a simple supper. As we go further, more villages appear, as do the first bamboos. Here, the road is named Suoi Muong after a local stream.

Along the red-soil road, which gets narrower toward the end, are tall, dense bamboo grasses that cast their green shadows on the Ma River flowing alongside. Then the bamboos disappear, and the Mau Village market comes into view, several minutes from the pier across the Ma River.

October 13, 2010

10 Things Travel Guidebooks Won't Say

1. We’re already out of date.

After more than a week in $5-a-night hostels in Peru, Caitlin Childs was looking forward to a hot shower and a comfortable bed. But when she got to the Hotel Paracas, there was no hot shower, no bed – and no hotel. “It had been leveled in an earthquake the year before,” says Childs, a graphic designer and frequent traveler. It turned out her Footprint Peru Handbook – the latest edition – had been published a year and a half before her July 2008 trip.

Even without earthquakes, much of the information covered by guidebooks changes too fast for book publishers to keep up. Restaurants close, quaint markets lose their cachet, and trains change their schedules. If it’s essential to your trip, make a phone call before you go, says Peggy Goldman, the president of Friendly Planet Travel, a tour operator. Never rely on a guidebook for key information like whether you’ll need a visa to enter a country and how much it will cost, or what vaccinations you might need, Goldman says, because those facts can change rapidly. Although the guidebook’s web site may have more up-to-date information, travelers should still check with the consulate and look for CDC alerts for the latest information.

2. No news is bad news.

There’s simply not space in most guidebooks to include negative reviews – so a hotel or restaurant that isn’t in the book might not have made the cut for a reason, says Thomas Kohnstamm, a former Lonely Planet guidebook writer and the author of the memoir, “Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?” Guidebooks are also trying not just to inform but to sell potential travelers on the idea of a particular destination, he says. The end result: Every beach is beautiful, and the people of every country are “some of the nicest people in the world.” “It’s supposed to be an unvarnished take on places but you have to be pretty PC about everything,” Kohnstamm says.

It’s true that space is limited, so if something isn’t in the book, “there may be a reason,” says Ensley Eikenburg, the associate publisher of Frommer’s travel guides. The exception: “There are certain iconic places that can be overrated, and that’s something we encourage our writers to say,” she says.

3. We haven’t actually been there.

It’s called a “desk update": Writers use the phone, the Internet, stories from other travelers and even old-fashioned books to research a destination, but they never actually go there. The practice is common throughout the travel industry, Kohnstamm says. And with tight budgets, some publishers simply never ask how writers are getting their information.

Eikenburg, of Frommer’s, admits that the company does desk updates, but only on a few titles that cover multiple countries, while Lonely Planet’s Americas publisher, Brice Gosnell, says that the company’s contracts with writers always require travel to the location they’re covering.

4. We’re relying on you to catch our mistakes.

There’s essentially no fact-checking process for most guidebooks, Kohnstamm says. “They might do a random check, but mainly they’re trying to rely on the writer” to get things right, he says. (Lonely Planet and Frommer’s say fact-checking is the writer’s responsibility.) In practice, and with the prevalence of the “desk update” (see No. 2), that may mean waiting for readers to point out errors or out-of-date information. Jeffrey Ward, the founder of Savvy Navigator Tours, says he once wrote to Fodor’s to let them know that the index to their South Africa guide was from a previous edition, making it very difficult to quickly look up restaurants or sites while out walking around. Ward says the company sent him a free copy of a corrected book within a couple of months.

5. That “easy” hike is only easy for experts.

In 2007, a 32-year old hiker died taking what a guidebook had described as the “easy way” up Tryfan, a 3,000-foot mountain in Wales. “The definition of ‘easy’ is relative depending upon your experience, your physical ability, your footwear, clothing and kit, and your party,” explains Chris Lloyd, a spokesman for the local Ogwen Valley Mountain Rescue Organization. Death by hiking is fortunately uncommon, but Brian King, the publisher of guidebooks for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, says his organization frequently hears complaints from less-experienced hikers who feel the books make scrambling over boulders sound like an easy day’s stroll. “We could probably do a better job of accommodating the day hiker,” King says.


6. We ruined that secluded spot we mentioned.

Brian Ghidinelli thought he and his wife were the only tourists in Old Hanoi’s winding streets – until they walked into a Lonely-Planet-recommended restaurant, which was packed with other travelers, some with their own Lonely Planet Vietnam guides on their tables. “While we ate, several more pairs walked in with guidebook in hand,” Ghidinelli, an entrepreneur and experienced traveler, says. Accidentally walking into a tourist trap can have financial consequences, too. In Ghidinelli’s experience, hotels and restaurants recommended by the guidebook tended to cost 25% or 30% more than those that didn’t cater to tourists.

7. We’re terrified of your smartphone.

Ten years ago, guidebooks to popular destinations like Walt Disney World or Paris were common on the New York Times best-sellers list, says Michael Norris, a senior analyst for Simba Information, a market research firm that covers publishing and media. These days, the physical books just don’t sell as well as they used to, in part because so much information is now available for free online – TripAdvisor, anyone? – and can be accessed on the spot with a GPS-equipped phone.

8. Going to Estonia? We don’t really care.

Guidebook writers sent to less well-traveled destinations are often hindered by tiny budgets, Kohnstamm says, explaining that books about popular destinations command the majority of the companies' resources. “The rest get sort of short shrift,” he says. Other publishers see it differently. Frommer’s doesn’t spend more on the more popular guides either, Eikenburg says. “If one of our customers buys our guide to Panama and it’s not accurate, then we’ve lost that customer to the competition when they go out and buy an Italy guide or an Alaska guide,” she says.

9. We’re tourists too.

Guidebooks can’t always be trusted for “insider” tips on what the locals eat, how they behave or what the cultural norms are in a country, says Bryan Schmidt, who has traveled to six countries on four continents over the last ten years. Guidebooks for Brazil, for example, will recommend places to get “authentic” feijoada, a traditional meat and bean stew – but Schmidt, whose wife is Brazilian, says even those meals are designed for tourists. Of course, some may see that as a blessing: The truly authentic dish involves “a lot of pig ears and pig snouts,” Schmidt says.
“It’s possible to overcome the challenge of not being from a place, but it just takes a lot of time,” says James Kaiser, the author of several independent guidebooks to national parks. Kaiser says he likes to spend about two years doing research so he can get to know locals and see how a place changes over time. Of course, even locals can make mistakes. Kaiser grew up near Acadia National Park in Maine, but his first guide to the area included a recommendation of a picnic spot for families that he came to regret. “Nude bathing was not uncommon,” Kaiser says. “I learned the hard way to triple-check my information.”

10. Don’t take all of our advice.

Some travelers feel guidebooks encourage a frenzied, see-it-all approach to tourism. “I have a really good friend who’s a lawyer, and she prepares for a trip the same way she prepares for a murder trial,” says Friendly Planet Travel’s Goldman. Relying on a guidebook for minute-by-minute planning robs a trip of spontaneity, she says. “The true reason for travel is the absolute thrill of discovering something all by yourself.”

Correction: The name of Peggy Goldman's company is Friendly Planet Travel. An earlier version of this article called it Family Planet Travel.


Source: SmartMoney.com

October 11, 2010

Why travel Vietnam & tips

Refer to Telegraph, if travelers wanting to head to peaceful,nice beaches, the region’s newer, less well explored destinations – travelers can find these in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos – have an immense amount to offer – including breathtaking landscapes, timeless rivers (not least the Mekong), world-class ruins – and diverse minority tribes.

Why go Vietnam

Vietnam stretches between the chaotic but engaging cities of Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, and Hanoi. The streets are a noisy public stage set for various acts of family life, played out against roaring motorcycle traffic and the persistent patter of street merchants.

Ho Chi Minh City is a buzzing sprawl, home to the moving War Remnants Museum. Hanoi’s old quarter is more manageable. Here you can pay your respects (no talking or shorts) to embalmed leader Ho Chi Minh.

Kayaking Halong Bay

Sailing trips around the soaring limestone peaks of Halong Bay are another northern highlight. Created, legend has it, from the spikes of a falling dragon’s tail, they are a humbling sight come rain or shine.

In the misty hills of Sapa, near the Chinese border, hikes through minority-tribe territory can offer better settings and authenticity than those in northern Thailand. Walkers pass through valleys of bamboo forest and rice paddies to meet Hmong and Dao villagers clothed in traditional dress. Bac Ha market is the best place to see Flower Hmong people in their exuberant, fluorescent threads.

Why travel Cambodia & tips

Refer to Telegraph, travelers wanting to head to this part of the world should not be deterred: the region’s newer, less well explored destinations – Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos – have an immense amount to offer – including breathtaking landscapes, timeless rivers (not least the Mekong), world-class ruins – and diverse minority tribes.

Why go
Cambodia

This is a country proud of its ancient beginnings but recovering from a dark, more recent past.

Around two million people a year come to visit the great Khmer temple complex at Angkor and the tourism industry has mushroomed to accommodate them. Hidden in the jungle are the majestic corncob towers and lily-pond moat of Angkor Wat, hundreds of smiling stone faces at Bayon, and romantic Ta Prohm, left as it was discovered, with moss-covered reliefs buckling under the stranglehold of overgrown trees.

Angkor WatAngkor Wat, Cambodia

A three-day pass costing $40 (£28) is advisable. Start with a guided tour, and then rent a bicycle or play at being royalty by riding an elephant from the south gate.

Why travel Laos and tips

Refer to Telegraph, in the recent time, the violence and killings on the streets of Bangkok - coupled with a hardening of Foreign Office advice not to travel there – will have horrified many holidaymakers considering a trip to Thailand, traditionally the most popular destination in South-East Asia and a country that sells itself as the “Land of Smiles”.

However, travellers wanting to head to this part of the world should not be deterred: the region’s newer, less well explored destinations – Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos – have an immense amount to offer – including breathtaking landscapes, timeless rivers (not least the Mekong), world-class ruins – and diverse minority tribes.

Why go Laos

Landlocked Laos has a relaxed pace of life and indifference to tourism that make it an idyllic escape. Luang Prabang is one of the most beguiling cities in Asia, with Unesco World Heritage status and faded French charm. Start the day watching alms-collecting monks file down the streets at dawn, and then visit a glittering Buddhist temple. At sunset, drink a Beer Lao on the banks of the Mekong before shopping for local crafts at the lantern-lit night market.

Travellers seeking the comforts of boutique hotels will find them here and in the country’s capital, Vientiane, alongside colonial villas, pleasant boulevards and Laos’s most important golden stupa, the 150ft-tall Pha That Luang.

Vientiane, LaosVientiane, Laos

To get off the beaten track, take a boat along the bucolic Nam Ou river from Luang Prabang, and drift past caves filled with images of the Buddha and dramatic karst scenery, ending up in sleepy village backwaters. Accommodation is rustic, but nothing beats swinging in a hammock and letting time pass Lao-style.

Halong Bay: A World of Mystery Viet Nam

Halong Bay is probably where you would find yourself. Majestic and mysterious, Vietnam’s Halong Bay is a breathtaking location with over 2000 incredible jagged islands and islets rising from the emerald waters of the Gulf of Tonkin.

Halong Bay, VietnamHalong Bay, Vietnam

This superb panorama of limestone peaks enshrouded in mist, tumbling into the gently lapping sea and enclosing within its folds striking hidden caves is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The near-perpendicular pinnacles conceal the remains of many grottos and caverns, created over millions of years ago through a complex process of erosion whereby water trickled through limestone cracks enlarging them to create spectacular caves and resulting in the distinctive towers seen today.
About a 3 hour ride south of Hanoi, Halong Bay draws a steady stream of travelers year-round, who mostly opt for several days of cruising on a typical Vietnamese junk. Beyond the breathtaking seascapes on a boat trip through the bay, an amazing range of adventure travel opportunities are on offer: Travelers to Halong come to explore the spectacular caves, among them the amazing “Surprise Cave” with its 3 enormous caverns, where illuminated stalactites grow down to touch the rising stalagmites; to kayak and scuba dive around the islands and in and around some of the more remote, less accessible caves, such as the Dark Cave; to get to know “real-life” Vietnam, cycling through farm fields and remote tiny villages, where self-reliant locals raise and prepare their own food; to experience one of Vietnam’s most fascinating cultural features – the floating villages, nestling in the sheltered bays, where houses are set atop barges and year round, inhabitants catch and cultivate fish.

Surprise Cave

Cruising on a typical junk is in itself an adventure, and experiencing the star-studded night sky and lapping sea waves with the outlines of dozens of limestone towers silhouetted in the backdrop makes for a surreal picture. Halong Bay’s breathtaking splendor, enormous scale and unique geomorphology make it one of Vietnam’s most spectacular experiences.

For an off-the-beaten-path adventure, Ninh Binh, or “Inland Halong Bay”, north of Halong is a paradise of lotus-covered ponds, meandering waterways and lush green rice paddies where contorted limestone pinnacles, caverns, spires and hills, shaped like mythical creatures provide the setting. Here, ornate temples, pagodas and Buddhist shrines rise from the center of small lakes and rustic homes perch under natural overhangs or nestle into the living rock. The steady rhythm of traditional Vietnamese village life continues here as women tend to the rice fields while men in wooden boats cast nets into the tranquil waters. A motorbike ride into the nearby mountains is a great adventure and a half-day boat trip to Tam Coc or Trang An into caves and old temples is well worth the journey.

On the Way to Tam Coc

What make this entire region unique are not the towering cliffs themselves, but rather their sheer number and unique shapes. Halong Bay, translated as “where the dragon descends into the sea” is the stuff of myths. Legend has it that the islands were created by a great dragon that lived in the mountains. As it charged towards the sea, its tail gouged out valleys and crevasses, and as it spat out jewels and jade, these turned into ,the dramatic towering pinnacles for which the bay and its surroundings are renowned.

Source: familyadventuretravelwork

Recommended Tours in Vietnam:
Halong bay Kayking
Biking Hidden Paths of Mai Chau & Ninh Binh

October 09, 2010

Get Ready Adventures in Vietnam’s Best Eco Lodges

Renowned for hiking, highly qualified local guides, stunning backdrops and a rich cultural heritage, Vietnam’s northwestern highlands are a prime destination for travelers looking for an off-the-beaten-path adventure like no other. Making the region even more attractive are the spectacular eco-friendly accommodations built on a vision of community sustainability.

Mai Chau, VietnamMai Chau Valley, Vietnam

Mai Chau Lodge
Nestled in the stunningly beautiful mountainous region of Hoa Binh Province, 135 km south of Hanoi, Mai Chau Lodge strives to preserve local traditions, culture and the natural surroundings of its lush valley setting. The lodge is built from a socially and environmentally responsible vision. Using sustainable local materials, Mai Chau Lodge boasts a natural beauty, blending perfectly into its surroundings.

Set among rice fields, misty mountains and fascinating hill tribe people, this community-minded gem boasts 24 immaculately maintained rooms. The thoughtfully appointed quarters offer unique charm with cozy wood furnishings and local décor, some offering private verandas which open onto views of the lily pond and the setting sun. Waking to the scene of lotus flowers and farmers grazing their water buffalos in the nearby rice fields is an unbeatable experience which reflects the authentic character of the region.

Activities at Mai Chau
In addition to sustainable building practices, Mai Chau Lodge offers excellent adventure trips. Local qualified guides lead travelers to Thai hill-tribe communities in the region for a highly authentic experience, immersing them in the traditions and lifestyles of natives. A community effort, the well-designed tours to Pu Luong Reserve, one of 5 natural reserves in the area, for wildlife and bird watching, a visit to nearby White Thai village, or to the lodge’s Mo Luong Bat Cave and to the local Black Hmong market, fishing at Mo Luong Lake, kayaking, cycling the green countryside and returning in the evening after a fun-filled day to relax in the sauna, jacuzzi or steam room – all round out the activity offerings at this unique lodge.

Set amongst some of Vietnam’s most stunning scenery, a trip to the northwestern highlands of Mai Chau Lodge offers a mix of off-the-beaten-path eco adventure and culture in an up-close encounter with some of Vietnam’s most colorful inhabitants and traditions.

Victoria Sapa Resort
High in Vietnam’s remote northwestern highlands near the Chinese border, the former hill station of Sapa, famous for its pristine verdant environment, unparalleled scenery and cool climate is home to more than 30 colorful ethnic tribes and to Vietnam’s highest peak, Mt. Fansipan. Perched on a hill overlooking the valley, the Victoria Sapa Resort provides an excellent base for those seeking adventure on a road less traveled in close harmony with nature and an authentic cultural experience.

The Resort
Built as a traditional mountain chalet with warm wooden décor and a cozy stone fireplace, the Victoria Sapa Resort perfectly blends into its natural setting, surrounded by lush green gardens, rural terraces and breathtaking mountainscapes. Guests feel at ease in the mountain chalet atmosphere where welcoming accommodations bring together the elegance of traditional local ethnic handicraft with the comfort of French colonial style in earthy tones, hardwood floors and vibrant embroidered native tapestry. Each unit features a private terrace with spectacular views in all directions. This child-friendly resort offers spacious studios ideal for families of 4-5 as well.

The most exciting adventures at the resort center on mountain trekking, cycling and excursions to the foothills of Mt. Fansipan, and to the area’s authentic hill tribe villages and markets. Russian jeep safaris to the more remote markets and ethnically diverse areas, boating on the Chay River, trekking around Ta Van area and overnight homestays in local villages are also on offer.

Mt Fansipan, VietnamConquer Mount Fansipan, Vietnam

Trekking in Mt. Fansipan Foothils
Reserved for in-house guests, the romantic overnight train rides from Hanoi to Lao Cai (Sapa) aboard the resort’s own Victoria Express train is an experience in itself. Kids will especially enjoy the sleeping carriages with berths, the plus-red dining carriage, comfortable seats and exotic landscapes en route.

Victoria Express Train Berths
Committed to environmental protection and local tourism sustainability, the Victoria Sapa Resort served as an ideal base for exploring the wonders of Sapa’s enchanting surroundings and very authentic hillside tribes.

Source: familyadventuretravelworks

Recommendations:
Biking Maichau
Conquer Mount Fansipan - Sin Chai Route

October 06, 2010

Vietnam's Phu Quoc island slowly opening up to the world

Its growing popularity and developing hospitality might make it a runaway success, which at least one visitor hopes won't spoil its tropical perfection and laid-back atmosphere.

Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam
Reporting from Phu Quoc, Vietnam —During the four years I lived in Hanoi, where I was The Times' bureau chief in the late 1990s, I did a pretty good job of getting around Vietnam and exploring new places, from Can Tho in the southern Mekong Delta to Sapa on the northern border with China. But I missed Phu Quoc, Vietnam's largest island. So did most people. Unless you were a backpacker looking for a cheap beach hotel, there wasn't much reason to go.

Fast forward to 2010. Phu Quoc, once known mainly for its pungent fish sauce and wartime history, is the hottest new tourist destination in Vietnam, a slice of tropical perfection with mile after mile of wide, uncrowded beaches, dense jungle, virgin rain forests and a lazy, laid-back atmosphere that reminds a visitor of what Phuket, Thailand, was like a generation ago.

Chuck Searcy, a former U.S. serviceman who lives in Vietnam and runs humanitarian programs, remembers his only visit to Phu Quoc about a dozen years ago. His plane circled the airport three times to scare cows off the runway, and the island had only three hotels, "all decidedly 'no star,' to put it kindly." Said Searcy: "I'm sure I wouldn't recognize the place today."

A few weeks ago, my wife, Sandy, and I hopped onto one of the nine daily turboprop flights Vietnam Airlines runs from Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) to Phu Quoc. No cows impeded our arrival. Our taxi took us through the dusty town of Duong Dong and down a dirt road lined with little patio restaurants; a cemetery, crammed between two bars; and a bamboo hut that served as a laundry. Although I had a moment of doubt, our driver insisted that just ahead lay La Veranda, Phu Quoc's first five-star resort.

The jungle parted, and we caught a glimpse of the Gulf of Thailand and Long Beach, which stretches for 12 miles. And in a waterside clearing lush with flowers and foliage stood La Veranda, a 48-room boutique hotel and spa with two restaurants. It seemed as though we had stumbled onto a French colonial plantation, its large louvered windows open to the sea, its deep balconies, high ceilings and overhead fans reminiscent of a bygone era.

That, in fact, is exactly what the owner, Catherine Gerbet, had in mind when she designed the hotel, now 4 years old. A French Vietnamese, she was born in Cambodia, raised in Hong Kong and lived in Saigon. Her goal was to build something that captured her childhood memories of Asia, and she didn't miss a touch. I wouldn't have blinked had I seen Graham Greene sipping a martini while sitting in one of the bar's wicker chairs.

I asked La Veranda's Swiss general manager, Nicolas Josi, what attracted foreigners to Phu Quoc and what they did when they got here.

"First, the island is just being discovered. It still feels authentic," Josi said. "You won't, for instance, find a building over two stories. A lot of our guests are tourists who have been hurrying about in Ho Chi Minh City and Hue and Hanoi. They take a break here to recharge their batteries. What they like to do here is often nothing, just relax."

Phu Quoc, a triangle-shaped island just 30 miles long, is closer to Cambodia than to the Vietnamese mainland. Settled in the 17th century by Vietnamese and Chinese farmers and fishermen, it was occupied in 1869 by French colonialists who built rubber and coconut plantations. The island was so remote for so long that when Saigon fell to Communist troops in April 1975, Phu Quoc's 10,000 people hardly seemed to notice and went quietly about their daily business, catching squid and tending their pepper vines.

But the island's isolation did not shelter it from war. Vietnam's largest prisoner-of-war camp was here, near the U.S. naval base at An Thoi on the southern tip of the island. Pol Pot's murderous Khmer Rouge guerrillas invaded and briefly occupied the island after Saigon's fall, and some of the non-Communist South Vietnamese forced out of the cities by Vietnam's harsh, new rulers were resettled here and told to become farmers.

"My parents were teachers. They didn't know how to grow turnips. We nearly starved," said Hoi Trinh, a Vietnamese Australian lawyer, who arrived here with his family in 1977 as a 7-year-old. To help support his family he sold watermelon seeds on Long Beach, not far from where La Veranda now stands. When he and his father were caught trying to flee by boat to Malaysia, young Trinh was sentenced to a month in Prison No. 7.

It was a full day before my wife and I emerged from La Veranda. We were massaged, fed, pampered at the swimming pool and on the beach by a locally recruited and trained staff whose eagerness to please and unfailing politeness more than compensated for its struggle with foreign languages. We checked out a trip to Ganh Dau on the northwest coast: Scuba diving, including transportation, lunch and equipment, was $80 for the day; snorkeling, $25. The water, we were told, was 88 degrees with a visibility of 30 feet. Instead we hired a taxi with a driver who spoke some English and set out to explore the island. The cost for three hours would be $30.

Scores of beachside bungalow-style hotels with open-air bars and restaurants were tucked unobtrusively among clusters of palms on the coastal road south. Some charged as little as $25 a night. French road markers along the way showed the distance to the next village. Hammocks, often occupied, hung in tree-shaded front yards. Peppercorns lay drying on faded blue tarpaulins, a reminder that Vietnam is among the world's largest exporters of pepper. Sometimes we caught a whiff of nuoc mam fish sauce, which the Vietnamese use to flavor almost every dish. We stopped at one of the many pearl farms, where a clerk showed us a $9,000 necklace. Happily, Sandy settled on a pair of $70 earrings.

The fishing boats had long since pulled out of An Thoi and other little ports, having left at dawn not to return until sunset, by the time we reached Coconut Prison. It was built by the colonialists in 1953, a year before Vietnam defeated France at Dien Bien Phu. The Americans and their South Vietnamese allies took over the 1,000-acre site in 1967, and for a time it held 40,000 North Vietnamese prisoners of war. More than 4,000 were said to have died there.

Guard towers still loom over rows of windowless tin POW barracks that are surrounded by coils of concertina wire. Except for an occasional tourist, the place was silent and empty. The small nearby museum (admission is 3,000 dong, about 16 cents) is not for the faint-hearted, with its scenes of torture depicted by chillingly real life-size mannequins.

The grimness of the place seemed incompatible with the tranquility of Phu Quoc, and leaves one thankful that Vietnam has known 35 years of peace. And what changes that peace has wrought. Less than three decades ago Vietnam had no tourist industry, and Vietnamese were forbidden to speak or socialize with foreigners.

Today, Vietnam attracts nearly 4 million tourists a year and luxury resorts — which numbered one when the five-star Furama opened on Da Nang's China Beach in the mid-1990s — reach up the coastline from Vung Tau, south of Ho Chi Minh City, to Thanh Hoa, near the former demilitarized zone.

With tourism creating jobs and spreading wealth, Phu Quoc's population has surged to 70,000, even though the northern part of the island, home to a large national park, is mostly uninhabited. Phu Quoc absorbs well the 50,000-plus visitors it draws annually, but changes are afoot.

The government has a master plan to develop Phu Quoc into a high-quality eco-tourism destination by 2020, when it aims to attract 2.3 million visitors a year. An international airport is scheduled to open in two years to accommodate nonstop flights from Japan, Thailand, Singapore and Hong Kong. Roads and bridges are being rebuilt and a deep-water port is being dug at An Thoi. Life may never be the same for an island that now uses generators to produce much of its electricity and gets its water from wells.

Driving north from An Thoi at sunset, watching the fishing boats return to port, we passed Duong Dong's night market, where $2 gets you a fresh seafood dinner, and got out of the taxi to walk on a deserted beach the last mile to La Veranda. Phu Quoc, I hoped that warm, star-lit night, would not lose its character in the tidal wave of coming development, because even by the toughest of standards, it's just about perfect as it is.

Source: Chicago Tribune

October 05, 2010

'Tour' por la guerra de Camboya - Viajes Cambodia

La belleza y la muerte. La grandeza del talento del ser humano y su degradación más absoluta. Los templos de Angkor y el legado de los Jemeres Rojos. Viajar a Camboya significa encontrarse frente a los dos extremos a los que puede llegar un ser humano.



De izquierda a derecha, prisión S-21 y Casa de Pol Pot en Along Veng. Carmen Gómez MenorActualizado miércoles 22/09/2010 17:41 horas

Los fantasmas de la guerra son todavía demasiado recientes en Camboya, y en algunos de sus destinos más turísticos, el lujo del presente se mezcla con un pasado sangriento que todavía puede adivinarse en la cara de muchos camboyanos. Entre 1975 y 1979, cerca de dos millones de personas fueron asesinadas por el brutal régimen de Pol Pot, en nombre de una mezcla de maoísmo radical y nacionalismo jemer conocido como los Jemeres Rojos.

Ahora, 14 lugares que formaron parte de la historia sangrienta de los Jemeres Rojos van a ser abiertos al turismo, incluido su último escondite en la jungla en el que permanecieron 20 años y el crematorio de su líder Pol Pot en Chong Chom, cerca de la frontera con Tailandia.

La mayoría de las nuevas atracciones de este turismo de genocidio se concentran en una zona a 125 kilómetros al norte de los templos de Angkor conocida como Along Veng, el último bastión de resistencia jemer en Camboya. Fue aquí donde, en 1997, el propio Pol Pot fue juzgado por sus antiguos camaradas jemeres y condenado a arresto domiciliario por el asesinato de su otrora mano derecha, Son Sen. La casa del líder jemer Ta Mok –también conocido como el carnicero o el Hermano Número 5- donde se llevó a cabo el juicio, también puede visitarse. Y fue en el mercado de Along Veng onde finalmente fue arrestado Ta Mok en 1999.

Colegio, prisión y ahora museo
El carnicero murió en la cárcel de Phnom Penh en 2006, de un ataque al corazón provocado por el estrés que le causaba el proceso judicial por el que debía hacer frente a sus crímenes. El mismo proceso que todavía esperan seis líderes jemeres y que ha costado a las Naciones Unidas más de una década poner en marcha.

Hasta ahora, era en Phnom Penh donde el viajero recibía una clase magistral de historia reciente. Lugares como el Museo del Genocidio Tuol Sleng, un antiguo colegio reconvertido por los jemeres en centro de interrogaciones y prisión conocido como la S-21, muestran con toda crudeza el sangriento legado del sueño de un loco.

Fotos de los prisioneros, estremecedores testimonios gráficos y camas con cadenas y manchas de sangre dejan constancia de que la distancia entre nuestra sociedad civilizada y el horror no es tan grande. Quizá lo que más impresiona sea su desgarradora sencillez, que no ha sido alterada para agradar al turista en este parque temático del sufrimiento, sino que se ha dejado exactamente como era cuando estaba en funcionamiento.

Morir por llevar gafas
A poco más de 14 kilómetros de Phnom Penh, los campos de la muerte de Choeung Ek con su fotografiada urna que contiene 8.000 calaveras humanas, ofrece una visión aterradora y fascinante al mismo tiempo.

El gabinete del primer ministro, Hun Sen, que aprobó el plan a principios de este año, declaró que la intención es que «los visitantes nacionales e internacionales conozcan y entiendan a los últimos líderes del régimen genocida».

Las críticas al gobierno no se han hecho esperar entre los que creen que este es un movimiento oportunista con el que beneficiarse de la peor tragedia del siglo XX. Queda por ver si las imágenes que llenarán las cámaras digitales de los turistas junto a las de los templos de Angkor lograrán que alguien entienda lo absurdo de morir por llevar gafas.

Como Llegar
A falta de vuelos directos desde España, la mejor manera de llegar a Camboya es pasando por Bangkok. Thai Airways (www.thaiairways.es) vuela desde Madrid a Bangkok tres veces por semana.

Una vez en Bangkok, se puede continuar hasta Siem Reap con Bangkok Airways (www.bangkokair.com) en alguno de sus cuatro vuelos diarios. Desde Siem Reap, lo mejor es alquilar un coche con conductor para llegar hasta Along Veng.

Datos Utiles

Documentación. Se necesita visado de entrada que puede conseguirse a la llegada previo pago de 20 dólares americanos, copia del pasaporte y una fotografía tamaño carnet.

Clima. Camboya tiene dos estaciones, la lluviosa y la seca. De mayo a octubre es la estación de lluvias, cortesía del monzón del suroeste. Normalmente llueve de manera intensa una o dos veces al día todos los días durante la estación de lluvias. La estación seca se prolonga de octubre a abril, con la temperatura más agradable de noviembre a enero con unos 20º C de media.

Idioma. El jemer es el idioma oficial, pero en las localidades más turísticas el uso del inglés está muy extendido.

Moneda. La divisa oficial del país es el Riel, aunque en todas las tiendas y centros turísticos se acepta el pago con tarjeta y en dólares americanos.

Más información
. Camboya no tiene embajada ni consulado en España, la más cercana se encuentra en París.

El operador turístico local
.
Agencia de ViajeIndochina
W: http://www.viajeindochina.com
E: info@viajeindochina.com
Fuente: ocholeguas.com

September 30, 2010

A World of Romantic Adventure Awaits You in Da Lat, Viet Nam

Perched high in the Southern Central Highlands amidst valleys, lakes and waterfalls, Vietnam’s Dalat is known for its mountain scenery and delightfully cool weather.

Dalat, Vietnam

Bike Dalat, Vietnam

Originally inhabited by the Lat and Ma Hil tribes (Da Lat meaning “stream of the Lat People”), who now live in nearby Lat and Chicken Villages, Dalat became a holiday resort for commanders who tired of the tropical Vietnamese climate during the French Colonial era. It remains Vietnam’s “Le Petit Paris” and its “city of eternal spring”, its colonial mansions and over 2000 remaining French villas still reflecting its French influence.

Dalat has a lot to offer travelers interested in trekking, motorcycle trips and natural sights – its surrounding lakes, waterfalls, and parks offer boating and windsurfing. This is a great place to get to know Vietnam’s highlands.

Dalat is home to Emperor Bao Dai’s summer palaces. Built in 1933 and set in a lovely pine grove near Lake Xuan Huong, this art deco style palace houses portraits and sculptures, and royal living quarters of the deposed imperial family. Nearby, Lake Xuan Huong stretches for nearly 5 km., offering windsurfing and boating adventures, though long walks around the lake seem to be most popular.

Dalat features several interesting buildings and lovely pagodas, among them the Lin Phuoc Pagoda , a contemporary structure with a gold Buddha and a spectacular garden. The Hang Nga House and Gallery, nicknamed “crazy house” by locals, is probably one of its most fun sites, especially for youngsters. The house is designed with cave sitting rooms, a concrete giraffe tea room, helter- skelter hallways and stairways and fish heads containing guest rooms for overnight stays. Its bustling, lively central market is unlike most Vietnamese markets, characterized by a highly unusual open promenade for shoppers and passers-by.

Just out of town, a lovely park, Thung Lung Tinh Yeu Park , known as “The Valley of Love” is a popular spot for honeymooners and lovers who stroll through its paths or sail on its small lake. The region around Dalat is punctuated with coffee farms and colorful small villages. Lat Village and Chicken Village are home to several hill tribes who were enticed down from Dalat. Chicken Village, where peoples of the Koho minority reside, is famous for its giant concrete chicken, caught mid-strut, in the village center. In the highlands, there are opportunities to visit coffee farms, sing karaoke or just enjoy local drinks at some of the small inns perched on the valley’s hills.

Further afield, there is much to see and do for nature lovers. Several scenic waterfalls dot the area: Prenn Falls, located about 10 km. from Dalat, at the foot of the dramatic Prenn Pass, is a great spot for enjoying a brief hike, its breathtaking waterfalls cascading from above to create a silver sheet pouring into a pool below. Behind the falls, a bamboo bridge enables visitors to cross the waters. Gouganh Falls, some 40 km. from Dalat offers an amazing view of waters splitting at the center to create numerous falls, each streaming in a different direction. Lan Bien Mountain, its five volcanic peaks rising to 2100-2400 m, is a trekker’s dream, as is Tuyen Lake, known for its emerald green waters and backdrop of mountains.

Dalat and its off-the-beaten-path surroundings and many wonderful natural sights are very different from Vietnam’s popular coastal areas and are well worth the visit for the countless adventures and natural sights it has on offer.

Source: familyadventuretravelworks

Recommended tour:
Dalat tours
Bike Dalat

September 28, 2010

ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA focus on promoting Active Travel in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in 2011

Activetravel Asia refers to an approach to travel and transport that focuses on physical activity (walking and cycling) as opposed to motorized and carbon-dependent means. Doing so would have the multiple benefits of increasing levels of physical fitness and reducing rates of overweight and obesity, whilst reducing the consumption of fossil fuels and consequent Carbon emissions.

Why ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA (ATA) focuses on active travel? Global climate change due to fossil fuel usage and the continued increase in obesity and overweight are amongst the most serious health and environmental problems the world is currently facing. A shift towards active travel is being increasingly presented as an effective approach to tackling both these challenges. ATA makes strong recommendations that promoting and facilitating cycling, walking, trekking and kayaking should become key components of an integrated anti-obesity strategy, as this would represent "...physical activity incorporated into the fabric of everyday life."


Sapa terrace field, Vietnam
Sapa Terraced Field Vietnam

Studies have shown that the recent global increase in levels of overweight and obesity are in large part due to the decrease in physical activity by children and adults. Partly this is explicable through an increase in more sedentary forms of leisure (TV, video games) but to a large extent low levels of walking, cycling, trekking and kayaking are also implicated.

In response to this, in UK, Public Health and environmental had campaigns to advocate for stronger policies and practices that promote active travel, and make cycling and walking safer and more attractive. The intention being that these modes could in many instances replace car usage for everyday journeys to school, shops, public services etc. To facilitate this would require local planning and highway authorities to invest in ensuring safe routes are available to these destinations especially in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia (danger from other road traffic is frequently cited as the primary reason for not cycling.) In many areas in Vietnam, Laos & Cambodia, the current focus of development for cycle, trek and kayak provision are on isolated leisure trails, resulting in highly fragmented cycle routes and pavements/sidewalks, which do not link effectively to everyday destinations.

Actions on Active Travel

ATA have studied the itineraries in local areas for Active Travel which helps travelers have habits to increase in walking and cycling after holidays as well as effective response to the steadily increasing problem of overweight and obesity, and also help reduce carbon emissions.

Recommend some itineraries

Vietnam

- Sapa trekking & homestay
- West to East biking exploration
- Kayaking Halong bay

Cambodia

- Cycling Angkor Wat
- Trek Angkor Wat

Laos

- Trek Luang Prabang
- Trek Luang Namtha

September 17, 2010

Vietnam attractions: Da Nang

Da Nang, Vietnam doesn't have the history of Hue, nor the charm of Hoi An. What it does have are pristine beaches, cool mountain hideaways and the relaxation that comes with being away from most other tourists - and most of the people whose job it is to bug the other tourists - as well as beachside restaurants.

Bamboo fishing boats in Danang beach


One clam is never enough. Two, not even close. They make their way to the table in a steaming bowl, the scent of lemon grass and sea salt summonsing the drool of any diner within a 10-metre radius. They're plonked in front of you, swimming in a pool of cloudy liquid, the steam quickly whipped away by Da Nang's ocean breeze.

"You have one first," says Ngo, reaching into the bowl and picking up three of the open shells, shoving them in front of me. There's a pause as I eye my prey.

"Like this," Ngo sighs, using a small fork to tear the plump flesh from its bi-fold shell, dipping the meat in a small saucer of salt, pepper and lime juice, and shoving it hungrily into his mouth, closing his eyes in pure joy as he chews.

I copy him. The clam explodes in my mouth, rich flavours of salt, lemon grass, chilli, lime and the juicy flesh drowning my tongue. It's incredible. It tastes of both the country it was cooked in and the ocean it came from. One clam is never enough.

Never mind that this is just the entree at our bustling beachside restaurant. Never mind that a typical Vietnamese lunch seems to involve eating as much as is humanly possible, then getting ready for the main course. The fight over the clams is intense.

It soon degenerates into a table war of flying elbows and small forks. You take no prisoners in this battle - only clams. Once they're finished, however, little fried fish served with a clay pot of rice arrive, and grilled cuttlefish, and marinated prawns, and mussels, and fish stew ...

You can forget that old wives' tale about not going swimming for half an hour after eating - we'll be doing well if we can make it off our chairs before dinner is served.

Of all the attractions in Da Nang, surely nothing can match its culinary delights, especially the seafood - it's cheap, it's tasty and it's everywhere.

And until recently, the port city didn't have much competition.

See, Da Nang never used to be a tourist destination. It was merely a beachside speed bump between two of Vietnam's big hitters: the ancient capital of Hue, to the north, and the quaint, heritage-listed Hoi An to the south.

Da Nang was like the middle child between two over-achieving siblings, who was largely left to do its own thing.

Vietnamese tourists have known about it for a while, drawn in droves to the city's white-sand beaches and slower pace of life.

(That's slower by Vietnamese standards, of course. The roads still appear insanely dangerous to the average Westerner, although Da Nang's boulevards are far removed from the chaos of Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City.)

Of the mountains, Ba Na is the furthest away and also the furthest from reality. Once a French holiday resort during colonial occupation, it's still a holiday resort, although things have changed.

Where once there were 200 villas dotting the mountaintop, the Vietnamese knocked them down for fear that the French might want to return. The villas have recently been replaced with a few, ironically, French-inspired hotels and a cable car to whip visitors up 1487 metres to the mountain-top.

Those not wishing to stay the night at Ba Na can still catch the cable car to the top and bask in the cool air for a day. While it's always stinking hot at sea level, Da Nang residents like to say Ba Na has four seasons in every day: winter at night, spring in the morning, summer at noon and autumn in the afternoon.

Spring - or, morning - is the best time to take in the views from Ba Na to the ocean and to visit the various Buddhist pagodas while avoiding resident monkeys.

You can still spot the remnants of villas. As it stands, though, one of the few relics of the colonial era tourists can still visit is a concrete tunnel designed to be used as a wine cellar. Plans are afoot to turn it into a bar, an idea the original inhabitants would surely approve of.

Justify FullDanang Resort, Vietnam

Back at sea level, Da Nang's main attraction is its beach. Nha Trang might be Vietnam's famous coastal resort town but Da Nang's beaches are a lot more attractive to those not looking for parasailing rides or jet-ski hire. People are queuing for a piece of the beachside action, too - that much is clear from the mass of waterfront construction going on. Within a few years, those sites will be towering five-star hotels. Furama Resort has been here for the long haul, though, so stays will be blissfully free of bulldozers or cranes; it's five-star rooms and access to that beach, in all its white-sand, calm-ocean glory.

Da Nang has two mountains close to the city; both have been conveniently named to avoid confusion about what you'll find there: Monkey Mountain and Marble Mountain.

Monkey Mountain has, yes, monkeys, plenty of them.

It was also the site of a US military stronghold during the Vietnam War and has only recently been reopened to the general public. There's precious little infrastructure - just a small restaurant, a couple of disused radars at the peak and a gigantic statue of Buddha at the base.

Marble Mountain, at the other end of the beach, is actually a series of mountains that erupt from the earth, not unlike the islands in Halong Bay, in the north of Vietnam.

They're so named because, yes, they're full of marble, and yes, you can buy marble carvings from the shops at the base.

Finally, there's Da Nang's river, which is not really there for tourists to enjoy - it's a working river; fishing boats and cargo barges plow up and down the murky waters as they go about their business.

Fortunately, however, the river is lined with plenty of cafes in which to enjoy one of the true delights of a stay in Da Nang: a thick, strong coffee. It's a nice palate-cleanser before you head off in search of those clams.

TRIP NOTES

Furama Resort Da Nang has 198 guest rooms and suites overlooking the ocean on one side and a freshwater swimming lagoon and gardens on the other.

There are plenty of metered taxis in Da Nang or, for the brave, unmetered motorbike taxis. To get to Ba Na Hill, it's best to arrange transport through the hotel or a local travel agent.

Take a day trip to Hoi An. The heritage-listed city is a short drive away, its streets meant for wandering in, or having some clothes made by a tailor.

Spend a day in the Cham Islands, a small group just off the coast. Ferries leave from Hoi An and there's plenty of time to explore the main island of Hon Lao and go scuba diving or snorkelling before returning to the mainland.

Relax on the beach. It's easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of trying to fit in all the attractions before you go home, so set aside some serious chill-out time. You may have the beach pretty much to yourself during the day.

There's plenty for children to do as most outdoor attractions are suitable for kids. Most of the larger hotels, including Furama, also offer daycare facilities.

Source: stuff

Recommendations for tour in Danang, Vietnam:
Danang City guide
Hoi An tours