July 28, 2010

An unforgettable experience in Hoi An, Vietnam

Located 30 kilometres away from Da Nang City, the ancient and legendary Hoi An, Vietnam is one of Asia’s top destinations.

Cua Dai Beach, VietnamCua Dai Beach, Vietnam

Famous Thu Bon River, Cua Dai Beach, rice fields and old streets are adorned with souvenirs. The people are known to be friendly, honest and hospitable.

Hoi An vendors have earned a reputation for treating visitors well and not overcharging. The prices are very reasonable and the “foreigner tax” rarely, if ever, is applied. There are many small scale hotels for backpacking tourists.

Hoi An also offers unique culinary specialties such as Mi Quang, Cao Lau (two styles of vermicelli noodles native to Quang Nam Province), and Com ga (Chicken rice). Ba Buoi’s stall is very famous for Com ga and virtually anybody in Hoi An can show you the way to this stall.

Cua Dai Beach is just 4 or 5 kilometres away from Hoi An. It has many hotels and resorts with traditional style.

The Hoi An RiverSide and Hoi An River Beach are resorts looking over the beautiful Thu Bon River and all boast very beautiful views. Tourists can see farmers working in fields or storks searching for food, soaking in a peaceful countryside area.

In addition, tourists have another choice. They can stay in resorts looking towards the sea such as Palm Garden Beach Resort and Spa, Hoi An Beach Resort, Vitoria Hoi An Beach Resort and Spa or the Golden Sand Resort and Spa. They all have a modern design.

Cua Dai Beach is seemingly untouched. Its water is so clear that beach goers can see their feet. They can go to the beach all day and enjoy their dinner without having to leave.

Visitors can also see such sights as My Son Sanctuary, Cu Lao Cham Island in Quang Nam Province or Son Tra Peninsula, Ba Na cable car in Da Nang.

Below are some photos on Cua Dai Beach and hotels, resorts in Hoi An:

Coconut leave umbrellas at Cua Dai beach, Hoi An, VietnamCoconut leave umbrellas at Cua Dai beach, Hoi An, Vietnam

Nice swimming pools in Hoi An, VietnamNice swimming pools in Hoi An, Vietnam

Sunset over Thu Bon River, VietnamSunset over Thu Bon River, Vietnam


Recommendation in Vietnam:
Beaches in Vietnam

July 26, 2010

ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA announces to join in American Society of Travel Agents

ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA has been member of American Society of Travel Agents, the world's largest association of travel professionals. They are the leading advocate for travel agents, the travel industry and the traveling public.

Activetravel asiaACTIVETRAVEL ASIA

American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) offers many benefits to its members and the traveling public. The majority of ASTA's members are travel agencies. However, travel suppliers, such as airlines, hotels, car rental firms, cruise lines, and tour operators join ASTA. They also have membership categories for students, travel schools, retired travel professionals, retail travel sellers, and others. ASTA is the organization for anyone related to the travel industry!

The mission of the American Society of Travel Agents and its affiliated organizations, is to enhance the professionalism and profitability of members worldwide through effective representation in industry and government affairs, education and training, and by identifying and meeting the needs of the traveling public.

ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA (ATA) is a Vietnam Tour Operator, who offers a wide selection of Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar adventure tours, including hiking and trekking, biking, motorcycling, overland touring and family travel packages.

Their packages and custom itineraries will take you through exotic destinations to really experience the culture, history and nature of Asia. Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy an unforgettable active vacation. They run the most adventure tours available in the area. Their active trips are designed for all levels of outdoor enthusiasts, real people seeking real fun and adventure

ATA joined in ASTA to promote and grow the sustainable and responsible adventure travel market especially in Australia, Euro and North America as well as spread of their brand name to global adventure travel network.

To be the member of ASTA, ATA expressed their effort to serve clients with the best services which is guaranteed, responsible and sustainable. Additionally, ATA is very happy to work with other Tour Operators, Travel Agencies, and Wholesales….as their partners for a mutually beneficial co-operation.

To be the clients or partners of ATA, you are all always welcome to their promisingly policies, unique adventure products and truly experiences.


July 19, 2010

Escape and explore Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam

A vacation is a great escape from the drudgery of everyday life. So even if it is for a short break, it’s time to say Goodbye Vexation and Hello Vacation. Where better to go than Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam just an hour’s flight away.

Notre Dame Cathedral front side, Ho Chi Minh (Sai Gon), Vietnam

An intoxicating mix of colonial past, ancient civilisation rich in tradition and culture, architectural splendour, exotic food and friendly locals makes Ho Chi Minh City (HCM) an ideal getaway.
On the banks of the Saigon River, the Khmer people established a civilisation extraordinaire — having warded off invasions, won a war against a superpower and constructed a city of commerce. It’s a tale of courage under fire, a saga of people prevailing against the odds.

Earthly beauty

From old colonial wonders to gleaming skyscrapers, HCM gleams at night. Home to almost seven million people, the city is the financial and economic hub of the country. During the day, HCM grips you with its heady scents and stupefying sights. A lingering aroma of jackfruit and coffee fill the air everywhere you go.

It’s a city of gaiety; you can inevitably sense its soulful presence everywhere you wander — in the various lanes, caf├ęs, and markets and in the eyes of its smiling people.

The best place to stay is in District One. It is dotted with prominent tourist attractions Some famous hotels here include Hotel Continental, Rex Hotel, Hotel Majestic, Grand Hotel, Park Hyatt Saigon, Riverside, New World and Sheraton Saigon.

City highlights

There are many ways to commute here, but a good way to see HCM is on foot.

The Vietnamese are very amicable and hospitable. Asking for directions is never too hard. With its wide boulevards and magnificent French villas, HCM is truly the Paris of the Orient. Some examples of splendid French architecture include the General Post Office, Reunification Palace, City Hall, the Municipal Theatre and the Notre-Dame Basilica.

Begin your tour around the city by visiting the History Museum. It houses an incredible collection of artifacts from Vietnam’s 2000-year history.

The museum also houses a water puppet theatre. The show about mythical goddesses, dragons and talking fish goes on for about an hour and will enchant the kid in you.
Outside, hop on a colourful cyclo. The ride is sure to bring peals of laughter and excitement as you go sightseeing.

Architectural beauty

One of the most interesting spots is the General Post Office, the biggest in Vietnam.

Built in the early 20th century when Vietnam was part of French Indochina, its interior is a sight to behold. Resembling a European railway station with a huge clock in its central pavilion, this fascinating building is an outstanding display of design influenced by the Renaissance era. The elegant interior with its glass canopy and huge ceilings will charm your senses.

General Post Office, Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamGeneral Post Office, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Attracting tourists to its neo-Romanesque style architecture, the Notre-Dame Basilica was anointed by the Vatican in the 1960s when an archbishop was assigned to Saigon. Its red bricks were imported from Marseilles which still glow bright until today. Do not fail to walk around this magnificent structure that has survived WWII.

Chinese influence

Next, stop by Cho Lon, HCM’s Chinatown. Built by Chinese immigrants in 1778, Cho Lon meaning “big market” is a riot of colours where Ben Thanh Market is situated. This shopaholics’ paradise needs haggling skills. Patience will find you great buys in footwear, bags and accessories.

For a dash of “fabulosity”, walk along Dong Khoi Street; a paradise of high-end fashion stores like Gucci and Louis Vuitton.

Apart from the Roof Top Garden Restaurant at the Rex Hotel, one of the best places to dine is at Ben Thanh. Numerous sidewalk restaurants serve authentic Vietnamese food; deep-fried fish and spring rolls are some of their specialties. Also, try the dragon-boat dinner cruise and enjoy glittering views and scrumptious seafood.

A few kilometres out is the revered Emperor Jade Pagoda, known for its symbiosis of Tao-Buddhist traditions.

Although entrance is free, a donation will be appreciated. Whilst there, don’t forget to purchase a few birds to be released as offering to the Gods.

Explore & excite

If you have kids, escape to Suoi Tien Amusement Park. The park that includes a zoo and a man-made beach features a beautiful waterfall. It displays the spiritual imagery of the Vietnamese people through sculptures of dragons, lions, turtles and the phoenix.

No trip to HCM is complete without experiencing the Cu Chi tunnels; a labyrinth of underground tunnels leading all the way to Cambodia. Built by the Viet Cong, these tunnels played a vital role in the Vietnam War.

Only a 30-minute drive from the city, the 121km complex network of tunnels is a war memorial park. If you are up to it, crawl through the tunnels and sample the simple food of the Viet Cong fighters.

Also, fire off an assault rifle at the shooting range for an adrenaline rush.

Visit this captivating city — pleasant surprises await around the bend.

Source: the star

July 14, 2010

Laos: Drifting amid lost dreams

With 17 years' experience navigating the Mekong River, Mr Puoy is reckoned to be the best riverboat captain in southern Laos. The watery labyrinth he works in contains a reputed 4000 islands, so he needs to be pretty good.

Sunset in Dondet, LaosSunset in Don Det, SiPhanDon, Laos

But right now, at the end of a harsher than usual dry season, the region's Laos moniker Si Phan Don (Four Thousand Islands), seems just a tad inaccurate.

In a fading tropical dusk, Mr Puoy is steering the imposing teak-trimmed hulk of the Vat Phou through a dynamic environment of sand bars and swirling eddies, ripples and rapids.

Rustic nets are being cast in graceful arcs from low-slung boats bobbing just centimetres above the waterline, as local ferries transport monks, buffaloes and backpackers across the Mekong's silvery expanse.

Like any good riverboat, the Vat Phou comes with an interesting backstory. It used to transport teak and rice down the Mekong, and was once owned by a Laos princess.

Recently rock royalty Sir Mick Jagger chartered the whole shebang, replicating our own itinerary of visiting local villages, French-colonial towns, and Khmer temples.

In a telling reminder of the area's remoteness, apparently no one recognised rock's most iconic hips and lips.

David Beckham would no doubt be mobbed by the kids playing on the Mekong's sandy makeshift football pitches, but in one of Indochina's quieter corners, music's most kinetic 65-year-old was just another skinny falang with a flash camera.

Si Phan Don hasn't always been drifting off the edge of the map. On the tiny islands of Don Det and Don Khon lies evidence of a grand French plan to transform Asian trade in the 19th century. Linked by a bridge from French colonial times, the twin islands are now a sleepy haven for backpackers who arrive for a night and stay for a month.

Amidst the scrawled signs for bumpy onward transport to Vietnam and Cambodia, a compact French locomotive and a few metres of rusted track are all that remain of Paris's designs.

Downstream the Khon Phapeng waterfalls thunder towards the border with Cambodia. During the wet season the cataracts swell to a width of 11km, and year round, travel and transport upstream is impossible.

The French planned to link the Mekong's southern and northern banks by Don Det's toytown railway, eventually hoping to expand the lucrative trade caravan all the way from Beijing to Saigon and the South China Sea. The weed-strewn and rusted hulk of a locomotive remains a poignant counterpoint to lost colonial dreams.

More colonial ambition lingers in the sleepy riverside town of Champassak. Before the Pathet Lao Socialist revolution in 1975, the town was the seat of Laos royalty, and amid the Chinese shophouses and wandering cows and buffaloes are glorious French mansions. The faded ochre residences are now dusty and overgrown, but still stately and elegant, if curiously out of place in the shimmering tropics of Laos.

More layers of history reside at the nearby Wat Phu temple, arrayed on the gentle slopes of the Phu Pasak range, and trimmed with mini-glens of frangipani. Sanskrit and Chinese inscriptions confirm the Unesco World Heritage site was inhabited in the 5th century, but the star focus in contemporary terms is the pair of gracious Khmer temples - male and female - that predate Cambodia's Angkor Wat by several centuries.

Compared to the tourist bustle of Siem Reap, this is a sedate and relaxing scene, with just a few Lao tourists ascending the temple's 180 steps slowly in the afternoon heat.

By the 12th century, the focus of Khmer society had moved on to the architectural overachievement of Angkor Wat, and this sleepy but spectacular slice of Indochina again drifted into languid obscurity until the thwarted 19th century dreams of Paris merchants. And despite a recent visit by an incognito rock superstar, it's still in little danger of becoming the Next Big Thing.

Four thousand islands, they reckon. On a river cruise this laidback and relaxing, who's counting?


Getting there: One of the best ways to get there is to go on Cathay Pacific to Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City and then connect with Vietnam Airlines.

Cruising: Mekong Cruises runs three-day trips on the Vat Phou in southern Laos, and two-day cruises ending in Luang Prabang on the Luangsay in northern Laos. Accommodation is in well-appointed, air-conditioned cabins. All meals are included, with a focus on Laos, Thai and Vietnamese cuisine.

Source: nzherald

Recommendation for travelling in Laos:
Laos Travel Tips
Luang Prabang Trek

July 08, 2010

Two months in Southeast Asia - Travel Vietnam, Laos, Thailand

Since my second backpacking trip through Europe, I wanted to journey to Southeast Asia.

I chose to visit Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, and developed a loose itinerary, starting in Bangkok, Thailand.

Halong Bay, VietnamHaLong Bay, Vietnam

Bangkok was everything I expected. The number of people everywhere was staggering, but before long I got used to the crowds, the heat and the food.

I visited many temples and shops, including the Grand Palace and the famed Khao San Road. The Grand Palace was amazing. Inside there were countless statues of Buddha. To my disappointment, Khao San was the typical tourist trap, with vendors selling T-shirts and bootlegged CDs.

After a few days I headed to Phuket, where I played beach bum for a few more days before flying to Saigon, Vietnam.

Scooting around Vietnam

Now, that was exactly what I pictured an Asian city to be - scooters everywhere! Crossing the street in Bangkok was like crossing a street in Des Moines compared to trying to cross the street in a Vietnamese city. The first time in Saigon was a big leap of faith. The trick is to just walk and keep your head turned to oncoming traffic.

I spent three weeks in Vietnam traveling from south to north. The highlights were eating the food in Hoi An, enjoying Hanoi’s famed Bia Hoi beer gardens and eating snake, and seeing the rock karsts of Halong Bay.

I had many choices of border crossings into Laos from Vietnam but I chose the crossing near Vinh in central Vietnam. This meant that I had an eight-hour bus ride from Hanoi to Vinh followed by a 14-hour bus ride to Phonsavan, Laos.

Phonsavan is famous for its “Plain of Jars” fields. These are fields of stone jars, each about 4 feet tall and 2 feet wide, scattered everywhere. Other jars are scattered in jungles surrounding Phonsavan.

Floating through Laos

After a day in Phonsavan I headed to Luang Prabang for a few days and then to Vang Vieng. My time in Vang Vieng was some of the best. There I went on a two-day trek that included hiking over mountains, spelunking through caves and kayaking the Nam Song River that runs through the town. The town has become a hotbed for young tourists who tube down the river. The river has a number of bars along its banks. Some have zip lines, bungee jumps and slides for the patrons to enjoy and all blare techno music.

Cambodia was the biggest surprise of the trip because I knew the least about it. The biggest draw to Cambodia is Siem Reap where Angkor Wat is located. Many people go only to see Angkor Wat but there are many more temples around Siem Reap and Cambodia. I felt like I was on another planet when I went to Angkor Wat to watch the sun rise over the temple.

I spent two months in Southeast Asia and there are still parts I didn’t see. I enjoyed every minute. Many people ask if I felt safe. I did.

July 02, 2010

South-East Asia: Gently down the stream, Laos

There's something incredibly romantic about being woken by the crowing of a rooster. Unless of course, it's midnight, which is the time most Laos roosters seem to think appropriate to start their morning reveille - a performance which finishes, ironically, about the time the sun rises six hours later.

Vientiane, LaosVientiane, Laos

Laos might be quieter in most senses than neighbouring Thailand, but at night it's a symphony of fauna - the roosters compete with fighting dogs, screaming cats, chirping geckos and the buzz of mosquitoes - all of which manage to rise above the clunk of the struggling air conditioning system in my guest house. I'm in Vientiane, the Laos capital.

Although Vientiane has a functioning airport, I journeyed from Bangkok by overnight train, saving on travel costs and a night's accommodation. No trains cross the Thai-Laos border: instead a combination of tuk-tuks, buses and taxis are employed to take travellers to the Thai border, across the "Friendship Bridge", and from the Laos border into Vientiane itself. The process is needlessly confusing and takes far longer than any border I've encountered in my travels - welcome to Communist Laos.

Perched on the banks of the Mekong River, Vientiane doesn't offer much in the way of unique attractions - there are the usual markets, temples and culinary delights - but Patuxi, Laos' take on the Parisian Arc de Triomphe is worth a visit. It was built as a monument for those who fought the French for independence, funded by US aid intended for an airport.

Coming from Bangkok, Vientiane's greatest gift was a chance to relax: sitting down for a drink, watching the sun set across the Mekong, free from constant interruptions from wandering street vendors. Later, walking along the dusty city streets without tuk-tuk drivers harassing us to take a ride, or sex workers offering, well, much the same. Yes, the drivers still advertise their wares from the street corner ("tuk-tuk?" during the day becomes "weed?" after sunset), but there's no hassle.

With a population of just 200,000, Vientiane is a sleepy capital. After dark the riverside food stalls come alive for a time, but nightlife is pretty limited. After a few days in Vientiane, it's time to head north.

Luang Prabang, LaosLuang Prabang, Laos

There's a well-worn trail from Vientiane, to Vang Vieng, and up to Luang Prabang, but the two stops couldn't be more different. If you're looking for a romantic or family-friendly destination, forget Vang Vieng. There are only two reasons for coming here - tubing and partying. The latter is self-explanatory, hundreds of backpackers in various states of inebriation and undress, all trying to do their bit to expand the global gene pool. The tubing however, is unique, and has a lot to do with the state of the backpackers later in the evening.

There's a lot to be said for reclining on an inner-tube, gently floating down the Nam Song river, admiring the huge limestone cliffs to one side. Add to that the makeshift bamboo bars every 50m or so, enticing you to stop for a cold beer, a flying fox or rope swing, and a shot of home-made Laos-Laos (rice whiskey), and there are definitely worse ways to spend an afternoon. Towards the end of the ride (which could be an hour, or several, depending on how many bar-stops you make), a pumping bass beat grows ever louder. Rounding the bend is the biggest bamboo bar yet, with every backpacker who has preceded you dancing around bonfires in their swimsuits.

Source: nzherald

Recommendation tours in Laos:
Luang Prabang trek
Vietnam – Laos Adventure