April 23, 2013

A Motorcycle Adventure in the Mountains of Vietnam

 By Joseph Ferris

My Minsk motorcycle
Vietnam is my favorite country. Lots of people “backpack” through Vietnam this way without ever actually strapping on a backpack. Of course, many people enjoy this style of travel and leave Vietnam satisfied, but if you would like to experience a more authentic, friendly and adventure, I suggest choose motorcycle tour through the mountains northern Vietnam.

In the countryside of northern Vietnam the Minsk motorcycles rule the roads. I went to Sapa, Lao Cai, the beautiful French Hill station. Sapa is a popular destination and most backpackers on the train to northern Vietnam will be heading there. Not to be missed are some smaller mountain towns to the east of Sapa. One rainy morning I visited a hillside market located only four miles from the Chinese border. The Minsk can easily handle the rough terrain of northern Vietnam. I swiftly passed by the stuck Land Cruisers and found them still waiting on my return. After spending a few days in the eastern tribal region, I drove to Sapa, and a few days later continued west along the Dien Bien Phu loop road.

The scenery on the trip is amazing. The town of Sapa sits perched on a dramatic mountain valley. A short drive from Sapa is Mt. Fansipan. With an elevation of 3143m, the peak of Mt. Fansipan was shrouded in the clouds as I drove over the pass.

Ethnic Minorities in your way
There are many colorful ethnic minorities living in the mountains along the loop road. In Sapa, the girls from the local ethnic minorities will offer to guide you on hikes to their villages. These girls speak English amazingly well, learned only by listening to the foreign tourists. I never went along on one of their hikes, but it was reported to me to be a great experience. You will encounter many other different ethnic minorities along the way, each with their own style of distinctive and colorful traditional dress. This area of Vietnam is well off the beaten track. As you travel through the mountains you can rest assured that the ethnic minorities will be dressed in their costumes not to satisfy the demands of a mass tourist industry, but because of tradition.

The southern half of the loop journey passes through the more industrialized hinterland of Hanoi. At this point there are more options for how to return to Lao Cai. I chose to go north of Hanoi, throw away the map, and navigate by the sun until I met with the northbound route back to Lao Cai. I reached the mountains south of Lao Cai with only minor trouble, getting lost only a few times, and enduring two days of rain. Although there is not much to see in this area, the people are very friendly.

I stopped frequently to dry off, warm up and drink coffee with the local people. At one rest stop, the owner of the small cafe served me tea and then ran off to fetch her daughter. The daughter was home on vacation from college in Hanoi, and would practice her English by acting as our interpreter. Initially I was not so sure if her husband felt the same. He later appeared dressed in his old NVA militarily jacket. Giving me a hard stare and a stern look he asked me that if being an American, I was afraid that the Vietnamese would kill me. Through his daughter I told him of course not, and that I considered the Vietnamese to be the nicest people I had ever met. He broke out in a big smile and proudly declared, “very good!” The rest of the family also seemed very pleased by my answer and we had a pleasant afternoon of talking, eating fruit, and waiting for the rain to stop.

The entire family rushed out clapping and cheering in disbelief. I assume they had given me up for dead and banked my deposit. That night they fed me, let me take a shower, and arranged my train ticket back to Hanoi. Those two weeks had been amazing, and probably the biggest influence for why I regard Vietnam as my favorite county and I continue to daydream about future trips.

Practical advice for a successful motorcycle adventure

For the perfect trip, you should prepare both the physical and mental carefully. To be back home intact, you should follow some rule of Vietnam like riding on the right of road, turn on the signal when turn right or left, move slowly at intersection, school, and hospital. You also can refer adventure tours of trust travel companies to be less risk such as ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA, which have 7 years experience in operating motor biking tour.

April 17, 2013

Top Biking Adventures in Vietnam

As a country with every terrain imaginable, Vietnam offers a memorable bicycling adventure for any and all peddlers, regardless of experience or condition. The flat expanse of the Mekong Delta grows to rugged mountains in the central expanse and then blends into the widest variety of difficulty north near Hanoi.

Traffic and Bicycle Laws
Along with standard laws like not causing traffic problems by racing or zigzagging, Vietnam has few laws targeted specifically toward the bicyclist. It is important to remember not to carry cumbersome loads, carry children over age seven with you or ride more than two abreast. No sort of helmet or lighting is required, but bicyclists are not allowed to ride with open umbrellas. One can only guess what happened to make this law.

Common Trips
For those interested in adventure and active trips, there are some routes that will take you through and explore the backcountry while providing some modicum of modern amenities. ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA_one of the travel companies offering cycling tours in Indochina_ is received good reviews of adventure travelers.

Biking Mekong Delta

The easiest of these is around the Mekong Delta. With a terrain nearly devoid of any rise, these trips are easier, but by no means less scenic, than the others. Traveling through the expanse of rice paddies dotted with the occasional copse of trees, the rider will be joined by children cycling to or from school or women returning from the market. People in the villages will be pleasantly surprised to see a foreigner riding into town and a circuit from Ho Chi Minh to any of the surrounding villages is an easy ride. With the flat terrain and abundance of villages it is easy to take a trip of any length, whether only a day or two weeks, a rider can tour without backtracking.

Biking Mai chau, Hoa Binh province
The northern area allows for more wooded scenery while still allowing for easier trips. For the more adventurous, the northern area provides a greater degree of difficulty through the hills surrounding Hanoi. This trip offers a great opportunity to see the two area of outstanding nature beauty; the North West highlands of Mai Chau and the limestone mountains of Ninh Binh. Biking is a great way to see this fascinating and visually stunning part of Vietnam, offering both physical activity and the unique opportunity to observe a way of life that has changed little over the centuries. As we ride in Mai Chau we encounter Muong and White Thai minorities and are guests in their traditional stilt houses allowing us to see firsthand how these minority peoples live. In Ninh Binh we explore the beauty of “Halong Bay on the rice fields” on bikes.

Biking Ho Chi Minh trail
A new trip for the adventurous would be along the historical Ho Chi Minh trail. The so-called Ho Chi Minh Trail is one of the most renowned legends of the American War. The complicated road system winds along the Truong Son Range, which that facilitated movement of soldiers and war supplies from North Vietnam to battlefields in South Vietnam. Now the historic trail is being turned into a highway and hotels and towns are springing up speedily beside it. The route is incredibly beautiful with new mountain views around every corner, very little traffic, and virtually no tourists.

Weather in Southeast Asia is a big consideration and it is recommended to go from Late September to December or March to late May. The weather in the southern area of Vietnam stays warm and humid averaging 26°C with its rainy season from June to September. BE WARNED: Vietnam sees monsoonal rains starting in June, peaking in August and tapering down in September. This season varies depending on location; Hanoi in the north generally has a rainy season that peaks earlier while Ho Chi Minh City may not see its rains slack until early October. Vietnam, especially central Vietnam, often floods and can hold up a trip for a week before the waters recede.

The hot season will see temperatures averaging 30°C, with the south staying warm all year round and the north seeing winter trends averaging 15°C. Depending on the time of year, it would be advisable to take a jacket to keep off the chill, especially if riding in the highlands, and a hat to protect against the sun.

Other Considerations
Visas must be applied for at least six months prior to entry date. Tourist visas are granted for one month, but may be extended after arrival in Vietnam, and only allow one entry into the country. Tourists must fill out arrival/departure papers and declaration papers, keeping both with the passport at all times. It is also recommended having a few extra passport-size photos with you as local authorities may request these and it is always a good idea to stay on the good side of authorities.

With over two-thirds of its roads unpaved and those paved roads sporting an abundance of potholes, the road conditions almost require a mountain bike. 
The lush landscapes and warm hospitality provide anyone with a good biking tour of Vietnam. Take the time to look around and smell the proverbial “roses”.

April 16, 2013

Top Three Temples in Cambodia

Angkor Wat - Cambodia

You will only work out why this temple complex is so perfect to the human eye as you venture into the interior and observe the precise symmetry of the architecture. From the intricate reliefs to the staged cone peaks, the buildings shun human imperfection for the religious ideal of the perfect equilibrium. Concentric circles are intrinsic to the shapes here and they symbolise Mount Meru, a holy Hindu mountaintop. This mammoth complex contains 1200 temples and Angkor Wat is both the name of the complex as well as the main temple that most armchair travellers are familiar with - the one facing what looks like a lake. That lake is in fact a rather extravagant moat. Built by a King, Angkor Wat is testament to the once-great Khmer empire which stretched from Malaysia to Burma.

The Khmer empire ruled until the 15th century and after that the temples were maintained by monks who reside in the temples to this day, making it an active religious site. While it was built as homage to Hinduism, Buddhism was introduced as the official religion at the end of the 12th century. The monks buoy the temples with brightness and life and if you manage to photograph the robed men as they walk with heads bowed between the black and white temples of Angkor Wat, you'll have a photo worthy of National Geographic.

Angkor Thom, Cambodia

The Bayon temple is in the centre of Angkor Thom, the last of the extravagant Khmer cities to be built. More modern than Angkor Wat, it marks the time when Buddhism began to take hold in this region. With more than 50 towers, each side of the tower has a face carved into and out of the stone.

They represent both the ego of the King, allegedly who they slightly resemble and the enlightened beings or bodhisattvas of Buddhism. These faces peer out subtly but they are realistic enough to be startling. With a benevolent smile and eyes you can't be sure are open or closed, some refer to them collectively as the Mona Lisa of South East Asia. The faces look serene and satisfied and with a length of 4 metres and a direction facing each point of the compass, they have a good view of the majestic Angkor region.

Another building in the Angkor Thom complex is Phimeanakas which was built long before neighbouring structures. Take time to find it and you will be rewarded with what appears to be an ancient stairway to heaven. The ruins have depleted just enough to render this a stone staircase with no end point - just a vertical drop off at the top in the sky.

Ta Prohm, Cambodia

Is it a tree supporting a temple or a temple supporting a tree? You decide in this, the most magical of temples where nature mingles with man's designs for higher beings, the goddess of wisdom in this case, to whom the structure was dedicated to. The jungle has stone upturned by tree scaffolding and leaves have embedded into sandstone after centuries of erosion. Seeing saffron-robed monks wander between stone embedded with tree roots and branches makes this destination more than a historic monument.

Discovered by French naturalist Henry Mouhot in 1860 the temple was intentionally left as found, overrun by jungle. It was used to film Angelina Jolie's film Tomb Raider and for the more vintage film fans, Indiana Jones. There is, in fact, a Tomb Raider tree where Jolie picked a flower and was sucked beneath the earth in the film. The film setting needed no embellishment - this place is as surreal as it gets. It is maze-like and with alleys shaded by vine you will feel like you are in your own adventure film. It is considered the third most important temple in Cambodia - after Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, placed first and second respectively.

The complex of temples is a World Heritage site. Many of the Hindu statues have been removed and replaced with sculptures of Buddha and numerous renovations are underway. Time seems to have stood leaving an imprint of mystique. You won’t forget interesting experience with adventure tours to explore Cambodia of ACTIVETRAVEL CAMBODIA.

ACTIVETRAVEL CAMBODIA (ATC) is member of ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA offers a wide selection of Cambodia adventure tours, including hiking and trekking, biking, motorcycling, overland touring and family travel packages. Our packages and custom itineraries will take you through exotic destinations to really experience the culture, history and nature of Cambodia. Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy an unforgettable active vacation.

Telephone: +844 3573 8569
Fax:        +844 3573 8570
Email: info@activetravel.asia
Website: http://www.activetravel.asia/
Address: Floor 12 Building 45 Nguyen Son Street, Long Bien district, Hanoi, Vietnam.


Winner announcement week 3

A huge congratulation to ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA‘s lucky travelers in summer promotion program 2013.

Here are the winners in week 3 (8/4-13/4/2013):

1. FREE: Airport pick-up in Dong Hoi, Quang Binh
Harvey Burdett, ATVR008 
Tour: Son Doong cave discovery

2. FREE:  01 meal in restaurant for two travelers
Ms. Jim, ATVR009
Tour: Trekking Sapa

Please check the email if you are lucky winner.

Thank you so much for your participation!

Join with our event  “ https://www.facebook.com/events/125745387611125/” to receive lucky gifts for your jouney!

April 13, 2013

Luang Namtha Trekking Experience.

Luang Namtha_ an ASEAN Heritage Site, now has a reputation as being one of South East Asia’s premier trekking destinations. 

This article is intended to help you to make a good choice:

Nam Ha National Protected Area (NPA) primary forest is amazing!

 Nam Ha forest, Luang Namtha

1. Decide exactly what you want to get out of your Luang Namtha trekking experience: 
The 2 big draw cards of this area are the impressive Nam Ha national protected area’s mountainous jungle and the different ethnic minority villages that reside outside (sometimes inside) its borders. So do you want the culture or the nature or a mix of both? Do you want to trek, kayak or bicycle (or do a combination tour)? How many days do you want to go for? Do you want to stay overnight in the forest immersed in nature or learn about a different culture doing a homestay? Once you have decided what you want to do it will be much easier finding a tour that fits the bill instead of being inundated by all the options.

2. Find a professional tour operator:
 In Luang Namtha (as in the rest of Asia) you get what you pay for; the cheaper tour agencies usually won’t have equipment, guides, accommodations, food and itineraries as good as the slightly more pricey ones. Some operators try to cut costs by not actually going into the NPA. Ultimately shortcuts taken here to save a few dollars could jeopardise what should be a “must do” experience in Laos. Find out if your tour company supports local villagers, guides, and what they do to maintain their jungle trails and jungle houses.  You can refer travel companies operating adventure tour in Nam Ha NPA as ACTIVETRAVEL LAOS, a member of ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA offering a wide selection of Laos adventure tours, including hiking and trekking, kayaking, biking, motorcycling, overland touring and family travel packages.

Trek Nam Ha Forest, Luang Namtha
3. Ask the right questions: 
To maximize your trekking experience you need to be informed; ACTIVETRAVEL LAOS recommends you some infomations:
- Does the trip go inside the National Protected Area? Get shown exactly what areas of jungle and villages on a map.
- Is there any primary forest in the area of the trail? How much will there be compared to secondary/bamboo/rubber/agricultural crops/rice paddy?
- How difficult is the trek? 
  3-days trekking tour, 6-7hours trekking per day
- Do you trek to villages or is it purely jungle? What is the ratio?
   Combine villages and jungle.
- What are the sleeping conditions (if staying overnight)? You should get mattress/blanket/mosquito net/pillow or a sleeping bag provided.
   Overnight at the forest camp 2 nights.
- How much water is provided? 
   01 bottle of water per day
- What type of food is provided?
The Khmu forest camp our village guide and villagers will show us how to collect wild vegetables for dinner.

Trek Nam Ha forest, Luang Namtha

4. Get a group together: 
If you go on your trip with a group of different minded individuals it will not only be cheaper but be a much more unforgettable experience. Putting you trust in a good tour agency you think is capable of attracting a group for your tour is very important. You can even be really proactive about forming a group by going around town yourself and finding out if nice people you meet want to join you. You can also check the group sign-up list, see where the people are from and how old they are to ensure it is a good fit for you, a good tour operator will give you the chance to meet them beforehand.

5. Knowing what to expect from your trek:
 One of the most common comments people make about trekking in the Nam Ha NPA is “that was harder than I expected” so, be prepared to challenge yourself on the steep uphill and often slippery (especially in wet season) downhill sections of the mountainous NPA jungles. A trek in Luang Namtha is definitely not a gentle walk in the park as some people expect, it is real trekking! Trekking in the primary (first growth) forest is the most challenging but also the most rewarding. Other things you should expect from your trek are:
- Insects; wear long sleeves and pants while trekking and at night.
- You probably will have to carry your own water (3 or 4.5 litres per day) for the duration of the days walking.
- Showering will usually be in a river or using a bucket of water; so bring soap. Girls should do as the local females      and wear sarongs.
- Toilets will be of the squat variety, or a ‘dig your own’; BYO toilet paper is a very good idea.

Now you should be informed enough to have an outstanding trekking experience while in Luang Namtha. We recommend Forest Retreat Laos.

Recommend Trek Nam Ha Forest Camps, Luang Namtha by ACTIVETRAVEL LAOS

This trek is entirely within the Nam Ha National Protected Area, an ASEAN Heritage Site. The 3 days trek is entirely in the forest. This is a trip for those who want a true forest experience. The villagers of a Khmu village will host us at our first forest camp deep in the forest. At the second camp Akha villagers will be your hosts. The camps, built out of bamboo and wood by the villagers themselves, are places to immerse oneself in the beauty of the jungle. Along the way, local Khmu and Akha guides will explain the forest products used by villagers for food, medicine, materials and religious ceremonies. Rise early on the third day for the sunrise and go with an Akha bird caller to learn how the Akha can call wild birds in.

Jungle trails
Jungle lodges
Guided by the Khmu & the Akha guides

April 10, 2013

Tips for travelers when visit Cambodia at Khmer New Year

Cambodian New Year or Chaul Chnam Thmey in Khmer is the name of the holiday that celebrates the New Year in Cambodia. There’s plenty of fun to be found, but visitors should be prepared for busy roads, closed banks and increased interest in their personal belongings.
Khmer New Year
The holiday lasts for three days usually starting on April 13th or 14th. The farmers enjoy the fruits of their harvest and relax before the rainy season begins. It’s a very popular festival and is spread over three days:
  • Maha Songkran: is the name of the first day of the new year celebrations. It is the ending of the year and the beginning of a new one. People dress up and light candles and burn incense sticks at temples. The members of each family offer thanks for the Buddha's teachings and for good luck people wash their face with holy water in the morning, their chests at noon, and their feet in the evening before they go to bed.
  • Virak Wanabat is the second day of the Cambodian new year celebrations. People contribute charity to the less fortunate, help the poor, servants, homeless people, and low-income families. Families may also attend a dedication ceremony to their ancestors at the monastery.
  • Tngay Leang Saka is the third day of the new year celebration. Buddhists cleanse the Buddha images and elders with perfumed water. It is thought to be a kind deed that will bring longevity, good luck, happiness and prosperity in life. By bathing their grandparents and parents, children can obtain from them best wishes and good advice for the future.
Khmer New Year still stands apart as one of the major festivals in the calendar. There’s plenty of fun to be found, but visitors should be prepared for busy roads, closed banks and increased interest in their personal belongings.

Songkran Cambodia.
Khmer New Year celebrations begin with a rush to the countryside. Families pack their SUVs and shared minibuses full to bursting with tinselled presents, pagoda offerings and new clothes to return to their home province for three days of celebrations. On village roads, barricades are set up by groups of youngsters armed with water bombs and white powder. Passing motorbikes are drenched and dusted to howls of delight, before a small fine is demanded to allow passage. These 500 riel dues are spent on yet more ammunition, ensuring the fun continues all day.

Houses are given some glitz with tinsel decorations and fairy lights, with an offering table of banana leaves, candles and incense placed outside. Families gather to drink, eat and dance to unbelievably loud music. Special games, reserved for the holiday, get underway with teams of enthusiastic teenagers making the most of flirting opportunities. Bos Chhoung involves two teams singing a traditional song and throwing a balled scarf at their love interests. A cross between petanque and bowling, Bos Angkunh uses big fruit seeds as targets and ball, with the losers having their knees pounded by two seeds knocking together. The name for the seed in Khmer sounds like the word for ‘knee’ so it’s perfectly logical, as well as painful.

Khmer New Year
In Phnom Penh, your best chance of seeing and joining in these games is at the Vietnamese Friendship park opposite Wat Botom, or coming across a bunch of teenagers playing in the streets in the evening. For a village experience, arrange a trip to Kandal province (just across the Mekong river) with a motodop or tuk tuk, and remember to take plenty of small notes for the ‘tolls’ and prepare to get wet (and while you’re in Kandal — check out the pagodas). There’s usually fireworks near the riverside and those who haven’t escaped the city will be making parties of their own, spilling out into the streets.

While Khmer New Year is fun, it can also be frustrating for visitors. Banks, embassies and many businesses will be closed, so if you need to get a visa or make onward travel plans, you’ll need to think ahead. Tourist attractions such as museums also shut down, and there’s less choice of restaurants and bars than usual. Those that are open will usually have less staff, so a little patience may be required. Transport providers also go home for the holidays — expect to be asked for a little extra on the fare when you do find a tuk tuk driver who’s willing to work.

Finally, the run up to Khmer New Year has been dubbed ‘robbery season‘ as bag snatching and thefts increase. Take extra care and be vigilant, so you don’t start the New Year subsidising someone else’s party.

Susadai Chnam Thmei! (Happy New Year!)

April 01, 2013

WINNER ANNOUNCEMENT WEEK 1 (25/03- 31/03/ 2013)

A huge congratulation to ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA‘s lucky travelers in summer promotion program 2013.

Here are the winners in week 1  (25/ 03- 31/03/2013):
Winner Annoucement week 1
1.  Discount up to 15% on the total cost.
           Isidoro Mazzoni, ATVR005.
           Tour: Trek Fansipan

2.  Free 01 night hotel for two people (shared room):
            Simon Chapman, ATVR 001.
              Tour: Family Adventures in Vietnam

3.  Free airport pick-up or drop off (one way)
            Hayley Windle,  ATVR003.
             Tour: Family Adventures in Vietnam

4.  Free 01 package cruise for 2 persons on Halong Bay (2 days 1 night)
           Alfonso Carreras, ATVR006
           Tour: Trekking in Pu Luong Nature Reserve

5.  Free 01 meal in restaurant for two travelers
          Malanie, ATVR004.
          Tour:  Biking Mekong

Please check the email if you are lucky winner.

Thank you so much for your participation!

Join with our event  “ https://www.facebook.com/events/125745387611125/” to receive lucky gifts for your jouney!