February 11, 2010

Special Vietnam Motorcycle Tours with Taste of the Ho Chi Minh Trail 2010

This trip offers a stunning motorcycling route with great exploration of nature and culture of northern Vietnam. The trip is organized for first time riders and easy adventure travelers.

Motorcycling tour with Activetravel Asia

The legendary Ho Chi Minh Trail was the supply line used by North Vietnam to link North and South Vietnam during the American War. Soldiers, ammunition, and supplies were carried by hand, bicycle and truck for hundreds of kilometers through the otherwise impenetrable jungle that covered Vietnam's mountainous border with Laos. A testimony to the ingenuity, fortitude and commitment of the northern Vietnamese, the trail slipped from use at the end of the war and was taken back by the jungle. Recent road work that follows original sections of the trail has changed this.

Start this trip in Hanoi, travelers have Hanoi city tour to visit Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, and the "Uncle Ho" house and other famous sight-seeings and a relaxing cyclo tour through the ancient part of Hanoi.

Next day, travelers take a short bus drive the Ho Chi Minh Trail Museum on the outskirts of Hanoi. After the visit to the museum travelers will jump on Minsk and spend sometime to get familiar with the bikes. Crossing two short mountains passes then descent to the mountain valley settlement of Mai Chau, travelers will have dinner and overnight in a stilt house of the Thai people.

Following day, travelers then head South on a beautiful winding road which follow the banks of the Ma River. After 2 hrs riding along the river travelers have a stop to see Fish Ferry Stream which is a great mystery of nature. It is a stream with thousand of big fish peacefully swimming in sallow water. Travelers jump into Ho Chi Minh Highway and head to Khanh village, which is home to Muong ethnic minority and overnight in a local house.

Last day, travelers we ride to Hoa Lu, the ancient capital on Vietnam which date back from 9th century. After here travelers have a stunning ride on village road to Tam Coc, which is called “Halong Bay on the rice field”. Travelers will have a relaxing boat trip on river. After lunch travelers ride back to Hanoi

Promotion Validity is from May 1 to September 30, 2010

Promotion offers:
- Free-of-charge add on boat trip on Ma River in the afternoon day 1
- Free-of-charge traditional Thai musical show for group from 6 persons
- Free-of-charge silk sleeping bag
- Discount 40% of bike rental fee if upgrade to dirt bike 175CC, 250CC

More information click here
More motorcycling tours click here

Sapa – the trekking wonderland in Vietnam

The mountainous town offers a glimpse into a world of mysterious minority cultures and luscious landscapes. The Red Dao, named for their colorful headdresses, take a break during the long trek to the market.

The Queen of the Mountains in Vietnam, Sapa, overlooks a beautiful valley with lofty mountains towering over the town on all sides. The spectacular scenery surrounding Sapa includes cascading rice terraces which spill down the mountains like a patchwork quilt. The mountains are often shrouded in mist that rolls back and forth along the peaks, offering tantalizing glimpses of what lies in wait on a clear day. The valleys and villages around Sapa are home to a host of hill-tribe people who wander around town buying, selling and trading.

Trekking in Sapa, Vietnam

Finding Neverland

It is quite easy to undertake day hikes through the valleys around Sapa without the assistance of a guide. However, for overnight stays in villages and longer treks into the mountains, it is advisable to hook up with a minority guide. There are endless beautiful places for trekking. The villages and the surrounding landscape are now part of Hoang Lien Reserve Park.

The nearest village within walking distance is Cat Cat, three kilometers to the south. Like other amazing inhabited areas, it’s a steep and very beautiful hike down. This is a fantastic spot to witness the daily activities of minority group residents and admire the magic of nature while shopping for local handicrafts.

Another popular trek is to Ta Phin Village, home to Red Dao and about 10 kilometers from Sapa. There are also overnight community-based tours to the nearby H’mong village of Sin Chai that offer a chance to learn about textiles or music and dance. Other popular communities to visit include the Giay village of Ta Van and the Black H’mong village of Matra.

Trekking to Fansipan Mt, Sapa, Vietnam

Surrounding Sapa is the Hoang Lien Mountain range, named the Tonkinese Alps by the French, at the tail end of the Himalaya. These mountains include Fansipan, not only Vietnam’s highest peak but also the Indochina Peninsula’s “roof” at a height of 3,143 meters.

The summit towers above Sapa, although it is often obscured by clouds and is occasionally dusted with snow. The peak is accessible all year to those in good shape and properly equipped but don’t underestimate the challenge. It is very wet and can be perilously slippery and generally cold. However, some local wildlife such as donkeys, mountain goats and birds plus the unique beauty of nature offers explorers a memorable expedition.

Just a stone’s throw from downtown Sapa to the foot of Ham Rong (Dragon Jaw) Mountain, the journey up to the peak provides a panoramic view of the whole Sapa where colorful wildflowers bloom almost all year round. Visitors to Ham Rong Mountain also have the chance to admire the orchid garden and numerous caves and stones in extraordinary shapes.

The incredible road between Sapa and Lai Chau crosses the Tram Ton Pass on the northern side of Fansipan, 15 kilometers from Sapa. At 1,900 meters, this is the highest mountain pass in Vietnam. Even if you are not planning to fully explore Vietnam’s unique northwest, it is well worth coming up here to experience the incredible views from the top of this pass.

Alongside the road, about five kilometers toward Sapa, is Thac Bac (Silver Waterfall). With a height of 100 meters, it is one of the highest waterfalls in the country, and the loop track is steep and scenic.

Unique distinctions

The main attraction of this area, apart from its natural beauty, is Vietnam’s largest concentration of ethnic groups including Red Dao, H’mong, Giay, Tay, Xa Pho, Kinh and Hoa. Their dress, buildings, traditions and lifestyles are a big magnet for visitors.

Sapa would be of considerably less interest without the H’mong and Dao people, the largest ethnic groups in the region. The billowing red headdresses of the Red Dao are visible all over town, a surreal sight amid the accelerating development. The H’mong are more numerous and canny traders. Their villages may look medieval but most will have a mobile phone and an email address to stay in touch. Traditionally, they were the poorest of the poor but have rapidly learnt the spirit of free enterprise. Most of the Montagnards have had little formal education and are illiterate, yet all the youngsters have a good command of English, French and a handful of other languages.

Sapa is also famous for its love market, which takes place on Saturday evenings. This cultural highlight used to be the place for tribal locals to find a partner and get married.

Tradition has it that young Red Dao hill tribes used to come to Sapa to sing songs to find their partners. Girls sang hidden in the dark and when a boy found them - if they liked each other - they disappeared into the forest for three days. Some of them got married after that.

But with the development of tourism, the real love market does not take place anymore. Currently visitors can only see a representation of the love market. Do not miss it, however, anyway if you are staying here on Saturday night.

Food, drinks and souvenir stores can be found near the stone church in the downtown area. The restaurants here offer a wide range of interesting Vietnamese and European meals at very affordable prices. The food is delicious and well-presented. The dining establishments also have respectable wine lists with French, South American and Australian wines, also at reasonable prices. The staff are very friendly and welcoming and usually speak quite good English.

With its beauty and unique lifestyle, Sapa is a rewarding destination where all the hustle of daily life vanishes.

Source: TN News

Recommendation in Sapa, Vietnam:
Sapa Travel Guide
Sapa trekking and homestay
Trek Fansipan Mount, Sapa, Vietnam

February 09, 2010

The Great Red Spider Vietnam Motorcycle Tour with ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA - Part 2

Continue with Red Spider Group motorcycling 16-day in Vietnam. This entry told their days in the centre and centre highland of Vietnam. Let check it out!

Saturday January 23rd
Today was a day of many experiences. We rode from Dong Ha to A Luoi, via Khe Sanh, the famous and deadly USA base in the mountains of mid Vietnam just south of the DMZ. We started our ride in a shower, then a steady rain and then a downpour. Clearly today was our most challenging ride of the trip in terms of the weather.

Ethnic people village, Khe Sanh, Vietnam

We arrived Khe Sanh after a long and wet ride. All of us recall the name Khe Sanh, one of the toughest and worst places for any soldier of either side during the VN war. The ride up was steep, cold and wet. Upon arrival the sun came out and at least started to dry out those of us who did not have rain gear. We visited the war museum there. It had an impression on all of us but probably Bruce Wingman the most. We saw the Huey helicopters like the one Bruce Wingman Gouldsberry jumped out of and we saw pictures and stories at the museum that were heartbreaking.

Khe Sanh, Vietnam

One of the most disturbing things was the locals peddling the dog tags of American, British and Australian servicemen who lost their lives in the place commonly referred to as HELL. While the people we have met along the way so far could not have been nicer or more friendly, to see the dog tags of our lost troops being sold as meaningless pieces of metal was disturbing to all of us. Several of us bought tags, only to get them and find the rightful owners.

After the visit to Khe Sanh, we headed back across the mountains again for about another 100 KM's. The weather improved and was dry and we followed a beautiful river the entire way through winding roads and spectacular views of a river valley that was simply stunning. We visited an ethnic village and were greeted....as we have been all week, by very friendly people. Interesting contrasts of poverty, but satellite dishes for TV viewing. We had earlier in the day decided on a picnic lunch....much to the dismay of our Vietnamese team. We stopped by a bridge and enjoyed bread, peanut butter, cheese and mandarin oranges washed down with freshly made coffee.

contrasts of poverty, but satellite dishes for TV viewing

We continued our travels to the east south east for the balance of the day and made it to A Luoi around 4:30 in the pouring rain after another day of roughly 200 KM's of riding.

Tomorrow we head for Hội An, on the coast in mid Vietnam. And we are hoping for a dry day!!

Sunday January 24th
Today we start day 6 of our 10 day ride and we are headed for Hội An on the coast just south of the DMZ and near Da Nang. Our 240 KM trip gives us a total now of about 1,100KM's or about half, give or take, of our 2,200KM trip. Today's ride was advertised as "the most beautiful ride of the trip" and we must say it lived up to that while at the same time being quite an experience and very challenging at times as you will see in the videos and pix.

Beautiful day on road to Hoi An, Vietnam

In the morning we headed out of A Luoi under a partly cloudy sky which was a relief after the two days of rain. but as we drove into the mountains the slight fog, turned into a huge fog and visibility went down to about 1 tenth mile at many points. We were climbing, climbing, climbing up the mountains but beyond the guardrails we could see nothing but fog. We knew it was a long way down and the view spectacular but no dice.....could not see a darn thing. Going was slow in the fog and the moist winding roads. To top it off, we ran into several landslides which had totally wiped out the normal road and passing was through a mass of mud and debris. Actually running the bikes through the mud as you will see in videos was a quite a lot of fun....and we did not lose anyone down the mountain in the process.

It was slow going and then about noon the sun burst through the fog and lit up a mountain landscape in a half dozen colors of green. The views were spectacular and the ride for the rest of the day was indeed the best we have had....just a bit better than yesterday. We followed several rivers up and down through the mountains for several hours and went through a number of landslide areas, to frequent to count. Some easier than others but overall some impressive sights.

Hoi An hotel, Vietnam

We stopped in Thang My for a lunch of Noodles at one of Kenny's (our guide) favorite restaurants. Then we made it into Hội An which is a major coastal city and a major tourist area. For the first time since we left Hanoi on Tuesday we saw other westerners and, to be honest, we did not like it. We have enjoyed our adventure in the absence of the normal tourist trappings and to see the touristy Hội An was a bit of a shock to our systems. We took our weeks worth of clothes to the laundry across from the hotel and headed out for dinner. There were many options and this is clearly the best area for dinners we have seen in a week and we enjoyed it very much.

The really big news for tonight is that we will get our laundry done!!!! Tomorrow we head for Khum Doc and a short ride of about 190 KM's.

Monday January 25th
Today we left Hội An, a beautiful port city and headed for Kham Duc a small city in the mountains. Our ride today was about 180 KM's so rather short compared to several recently. Weather excellent today, sunny and puffy clouds to cool us from time to time. Overall, we would say today was the least interesting of the trip....other than the drive through Hội An and several other cities where our driving skills were tested to the max dodging bikes, trucks, people, road muffins, cattle, and you name it.

My Son, Vietnam

Our first stop were the ruins at My Son where in ancient times the Cham dynasty lived and built all sorts of temples to honor their Hindu god Shiva. After the visit to the ruins we headed south to Kham Doc for a nice ride in the foothills and lower portion of the mountains. There is a massive dam and road relocation project on going in this area so the biking was challenging again at times much like the mud of yesterday but now gravel.....which is actually lots tougher to drive on. But we all made it with no problems.

Kenny took us to the usual local restaurant for lunch and we hit Kham Doc about 4 PM just in time for a cold beer.

Kenny taking us out for some local food tonight....just like most nights. We hear that we are having venison tonight, and maybe a little pooch on the side!!

So stay tuned and we will keep you up to date. Tomorrow we head about 250 KM's straight south along the Cambodian border to Kon Tum. Should be a nice ride if the weather stays nice.

Tuesday January 26th
Greetings followers of the Red Spider Vietnam Bike Trip. A couple statistics to catch you up on. Today, Tuesday finished our 8th day of riding. We have traveled just short of 1,400KM's since leaving Hanoi. We are about 1,400 KM's from Ho Chi Minh City. We have two days of biking remaining that will cover about 500 KM's. The last part is our one hour flight from Nha Trang to HCMC on Friday mid day. The trip has been awesome overall and everyone has enjoyed it.

Dave & waterfall

Another couple of statistics. We have been having an ongoing 31 Card Tournament and so far Bruce has won 3 matches, Kenny one and Bill one. The Burrows brothers have bowed out early in each round. A match is worth $120.00. Also, our room situation is that there are 5 travelers and three rooms. This means that each night somebody gets a single and the others share rooms. That contest is decided nightly by a cut of the cards and so far Bruce has two wins....including one super suite with a Jacuzzi. So on the side games, Bruce is clearly in the lead......but we have a few days left.

Today was two days built into one. We awoke in Kham Doc with a downpour. It had been raining since about midnight. Our trusted guide Kenny assured us that our rain would only be on the west side of the mountains where we were and as soon as we got on the east side of the mountains, it would be sunny. So off we went, in our rain gear headed for Kon Tum.

We traveled in the mountains, with a steady rain, a foggy mist and everything looked like a place where King Kong would step out at any minute. In spite of the rain, we enjoyed the ride, beautiful waterfalls and lush jungles on all sides.

Then as we passed over the tops of the mountains, just as Kenny said, the skies cleared the sun came out and the temperature warmed considerably. We shed our rain gear and into our short sleeve shirts and away we went. Not only did the sun shine, but we actually went from a tropical jungle environment into a desert. It became very dry and dusty and much like the area like southern California around Palm Springs.

In this area we went through a long area where the infamous Agent Orange was clearly used. Across the mountains in nearly all directions we could see areas that are still bare with the exception of a bit of grass. Old dead trees dot the landscape in these areas. And, to compound the initial damage that Agent Orange did, the new problem created is that these large barren areas cannot stand up against the rain and therefore collapse into a landslide very easily. Throughout this part of our trip we saw many new landslides like a few days before, but at least this time we did not need to bike our way through mud.

After a nice lunch of BBQ we motored down the road and headed for Dac To, a location where one of the worst battles in the war took place. Hundreds of US soldiers were killed, more than 30 planes shot down and thousands of South Vietnamese solders were also killed. No telling how many soldiers from the North were killed. We paid our respects at the memorial and headed for our final destination Kon Tum.

In Kon Tum we arrived about 3pm, so we had time to go to the Banhar ethnic village and to a Catholic Church and Orphanage. We met with the headmaster of the orphanage and school and saw many happy kids there.

After this, we had just enough time to go to a sidewalk cafe and enjoy a cold one or two as the sun set over Kon Tum. Enjoy the video and pix for the day and wish us well on our next phase of the trip, a long ride of +240 KM's for our Wednesday to the next city which is Buon Ma Thuot.

Source: peterb.yolasite.com

Vietnam Motorcycling recommendation:
Motorcycling travel guides
Motorcycling tours in Vietnam

February 03, 2010

Vietnam's Tet traditional food - Legendary Chung Cake from Thanh Khuc Village

Thanh Khuc (or Tranh Khuc) Village at Duyen Ha Commune, Thanh Tri District, Hanoi is famous for making their traditional Chung cake. This is a place where the spirit of Tet comes alive the earliest in Hanoi.

Tranh Khuc Village is particularly busy at the end of the year. Although Tet is approaching next month, the entire village is preparing to make Chung cake. You cannot find such a traditional feature of Tet anywhere other than here.

La dong is bought from Thanh Hoa, Nghe An and Northern mountainous  provinces

La dong is bought from Thanh Hoa, Nghe An and Northern mountainous provinces

Chung cake is a traditional Vietnamese cake which is made from glutinous rice, mung bean, pork and other ingredients. Its origin is told by the legend of Lang Lieu, a prince of the sixth Hung King, who became Hung King 's successor thank to his creation of Chung cake and Giay cake, which symbolised respectively the Earth and the Sky. Considered an essential element of the family altar on the occasion of Tet. The making and eating Chung cake during this time is a well-preserved tradition of Vietnamese people, and the specialty of Tranh Khuc Village.

“Daily, we wash la dong (a special kind of leave which is popular only in southern Asia), rice, beans and then wrap chung cake. We cook it for a night and the next day we will sell it. We keep working day and night,” said Nguyen Thi Thuy, a villager.

Preparation for chung cake wrapping

Preparation for chung cake wrapping

Each family here has 10-25 workers with 5-10 big pots to cook chung cake. Their business used to be retail sales but now it has grown to wholesale.

Making Chung cake is a traditional business in this farming village and has remained very successful. It helps them to improve their livelihood.

Ngan’s family is among those becoming wealthier thanks to making chung cake. “My family’s economic situation has been much improved thanks the Chung cake business. We just inherited a legacy left by our ancestor and continued to develop it,” said Ngan.

A professional Chung cake wrapper can make hundreds of cake per  day

A professional Chung cake wrapper can make hundreds of cake per day

However, the title of “Chung cake Master” belongs to Nguyen Minh Tan, who is over 50 years old but has spent 30 years making chung cake. He has about 20 employees working for him. His entire house is full of la dong, strings, and sticky rice.

He has sold thousands of Chung cakes. The first time he exported Chung cakes was back in 1994. He exported 4,000 cakes to Germany in addition to Australia and Russia.

“It looks simple because every family makes Chung cake on Tet holiday but when it becomes a business, it needs a lot of effort, experience and preparedness. We want to maintain our prestige and reputation for our off-spring,” said Nguyen Quoc Trieu, a villager.

In order to make a good Chung cake, we need to buy and select high quality ingredients. For example, la dong should be bought from Thanh Hoa, Nghe An or Yen Bai, Lao Cai and Ha Giang provinces because they are soft, hard to be broken and have a nice green colour after cooking.

La dong and giang strings have to be washed carefully in order to preserve the taste of the cake. Giang strings may be soaked in salt water or steamed so that they can become flexible enough for wrapping. Fat and lean pork is prefered for Chung cake because its fatty flavour associates mixes well with the glutinous rice and bean, developing a special taste, according to Trieu.

“We make Chung cake for the whole year. We can earn VND10,000-15,000 ($0.5-0.8) per cake. But during Tet, we can earn much more money,” added Trieu.

The people here prepare for Tet beginning in early December and keep busy for the entire month. They welcome the New Year after the last cake has sold.

Tranh Khuc Village has 90 percent of its population making Chung Cake. They have been famous for 40-50 years. They don’t even need mould to wrap Chung Cake in the right manner. Many masters can make hundreds of cakes of the same size.

Source: dtinews.vn/by Quang Thanh

Recommendation in Vietnam:
- Vietnam Cultures and Customs
- Adventure tours in Vietnam
- Short Excursions in Vietnam