August 24, 2013

Five Reasons to Visit Vietnam


Written by Ellie

Having spent some time travelling in Thailand, I’m eager to visit more of south-east Asia, and visiting Vietnam is next on my list!

After researching the country and jealously listening to recommendations given by other travellers, I’ve come up with a list of my top reasons why I want to travel to Vietnam.

1. Delicious Food

Despite the huge focus on other Asian cuisines such as Thai, Chinese and Indian food, I’ve heard great things about Vietnamese food and some of the dishes sound divine. Vietnamese food is also considered as one of the healthiest cuisines in the world which is always a plus!

Many Vietnamese recipes include fresh ingredients such as lemongrass, ginger, lime and basil which all contribute distinct flavours to a recipe. Some dishes I’ve been recommended are Cha ca Thang Long which is fish marinated in turmeric topped with dill, Phở, a herby noodle soup served with either beef or chicken and the strange-sounding elephant ear fish, which is crispy, salted and served with herbs and vegetables. They all sound delicious and I plan on trying as many as possible on my Vietnam trip!


2. Halong Bay

No Vietnam travel experience is complete without a visit to the stunning Halong Bay, and winding round the limestone islands and visiting the ancient caves sounds like something special.

I’ve heard the sunsets and sunrises are incredible to watch so it would be amazing to see these – I'm planning to stay overnight on one of the traditional Halong Bay junk boats so hopefully it will be easy enough to see both.

Halong Bay

3. Tropical Beaches

Again, it seems that Vietnamese beaches are underrated with more focus given to the famous Thai beaches. I'd take advantage of this by spending some time on the deserted white sands before other tourists catch on...

With white sands, towering palm trees and aqua blue waters some of the Vietnamese beaches such as this one on the tropical paradise island of Phu Quoc  below looks heavenly. Perfect for catching some rays and lounging with a cold beer...

 Tropical Vietnam Beaches
4. Atmospheric Cities

Vietnam is home to cities full of character and there are several that I would love to visit. Hanoi, the lively capital is full of classic Vietnamese architecture, food and things to do, such as visiting the preserved body of the former president Ho Chin Minh – something a bit different!

Not forgetting the smaller city of Hoi An where you can wonder round the narrow streets, lounge on the city’s nearby beaches or shop in Hoi An’s world-famous Vietnamese tailors.
Lastly Ho Chi Minh City (the largest in Vietnam) is packed with museums, shops, bars and restaurants so there is plenty to do!


 Bustling Hanoi

5. Local People

Finally, the people of a country can really complete your experience and I’ve only heard great things about the people of Vietnam – that they love to smile and are friendly and genuinely interested in getting to know the travellers that visit their country.

I hope to meet them as soon as I can so I’d better get saving!

ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA would like recommend Kayaking Halong Bay 3 days tour.

This tour offers you a great chance to discover Halong Bay, the wonderland of karst topography with 3,000 limestone and dolomite islets sprinkled over an area of 1,500 square km. The calm sea provides an ideal location for sea kayaking as we paddle through a maze of islets amid dramatic natural scenery. With our modern kayaking equipment, we are able to maximize on speed and maneuverability as we explore the open sea and the many hidden lagoons and stalagmite caves that are difficult to access by any other means. As with our other kayak tours, this tour offers flexibility in activity levels while still combining the best of sea kayaking. Designed with this in mind it is a good tour for both novice and experienced kayaker alike with a little more time to spare.

Highlights:
  • Amazing limestone formations
  • Inclusive junk for overnight
  • Beautiful and different kayaking route
  • Support boat all the time
  • All meals included

August 20, 2013

Vietnam to honour Sapa's terraced fields

Authorities in Lao Cai Province’s Sapa tourist town will hold a ceremony to celebrate its 110th anniversary of tourism development in early November.
  
The event will take place on November 2 at the town’s central stadium. It will also be past time to announce the government’s decision to recognise the terraced fields there as a National Heritage.
Nguyen Van Thang, from the provincial Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, told DTiNews on August 14 that they would organise a series of activities from October 15 to November 3 to celebrate this occasion.

“Major activities will be organised for three days: November 1-3,” Thang noted.
Under the programme, an international seminar on preserving the cultures of ethnic groups in mountainous areas will be held in combination with sustainable tourism development.

Several other activities include: the Fansipan Mountain Discovering Programme and the Sapa street festival plus a programme on discovering the cultural heritages of ethnic minority groups in Sapa.

“Visitors will also have a chance to enjoy Hat giao duyen, traditional folk songs by Dao Do ethnic minority people and wedding rituals by Giay ethnic minority people,” he said.

The department will, in co-ordination with Sapa District People’s Committee, organise a photo exhibition to provide visitors with updated information about tourism in Sapa and its development plans.

According to the department, Lao Cai welcomed 640,290 tourists, including 278,700 international arrivals during the first half of this year. Its tourism revenues reached nearly VND1.3 trillion (USD61.35 million) during the period.

Some photos taken from Sapa terraced fields:








Source:dtinews.vn

At 3143m Mt. Fansipan is the highest peak in Vietnam and the entire Indochina peninsula. This remote trek provides plenty to see and absorb, from the scattered rocks inscribed with drawings and designs of unknown origin, to the French influenced hill retreat town of Sapa with its minority groups, beautiful villas and cherry forests. Our trek to the top of Mt. Fansipan is challenging and will be fully supported every step of the way by our guides, porters and cooks who's local knowledge and understanding of the different hill-tribe cultures we pass along the way will add to the uniqueness of this exhilarating journey. ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA would like recommend Conquer Mount Fansipan - Heaven Gate Route -The shortest challenging route to the roof of Indochina 

Highlights: 




  • Awesome scenery
  • Great view from the summit
  • Challenging trails
  • Fully supported

August 19, 2013

7 best places to visit in Vietnam


With its wild jungles, fantastic street food and white sandy beaches, Vietnam deserves to be on every traveller's hitlist. From Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, there are a number of sights and sounds that draw the crowds.

But it's not just all about the star turns. In a country where exotic Asia fuses with Parisien chic, there are many surprising sights and fascinating places to explore. Our girl on the traveller's trail, Catherine McGloin, shares seven of her favourite places in Vietnam.

1. Huế
For culture vultures, there is no shortage of temples, tombs, pagodas and crumbling palaces to admire and explore. The UNESCO World Heritage site of Huế is home to the Citadel, once the emperor's private residence, and the Forbidden Purple City, where he housed his many mistresses. When your feet are weary, grab some bún bò buế  (beef noodle soup) and watch swan pedalos cruise the Perfume River as the sun sets.

 Huế, Vietnam
2. Hoi An
Foodies can feast on street food in Vietnam's culinary capital. If you fancy trying your hand at Vietnamese cuisine, many restaurants offer half-day cooking courses. Sounds too much like hard work? Hit An Bang Beach instead for a day lounging on the deserted sand, sipping on ice-cold cocktails at the bar.
More: Street food named desire - the greatest on-the-go grub: in pictures

Hoi An, Vietnam

3. Sapa
Go trekking in the hills of Sapa for amazing views across the jungle and mountain ranges of north-west Vietnam. Equipment is cheap and easy to come by so don't worry if you're not a natural mountain goat, you'll soon be up there, gazing at the views as the mist rolls in across the peaks.

Sapa, Vietnam

4. Halong Bay
Sail among the jagged rocks of over 2000 islands in the Gulf of Tonkin at Halong, which translates as 'where the dragon descends in to the sea'. If you want to get a closer view, hire kayaks and explore the caves or find your own deserted bay.

Halong Bay, Vietnam

5. Hanoi
The hustle and bustle of Vietnam's capital can at first seem intimidating, but don't let the weaving motorbikes and screaming street hawkers put you off. Behind the hustle and bustle you'll find tranquility in the Temple of Literature, peace at One Pillar Pagoda, and more charming French patisseries then you could wish for.

Hanoi, Vietnam

6. Ben Tre
A little off the beaten track, head to Ben Tre to experience life on the banks of the Mekong without the tourist crowds of spots like My Tho. Cruise along the river, stopping at a coconut candy factory to sample the sweet treat the area is famous for. For a touch of romance, set sail at dusk to catch fireflies and watch the sunset.

Mekong, Vietnam
7. Ho Chi Minh City
Former Saigon is now Vietnam's international business hub. Get your gladrags on and head up to one of the many skybars, found on the top floor of the city's sleek skyscrapers. Cocktail in hand, admire the best view of Ho Chi Minh City by night.

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Source: skyscanner.net

Recommend Vietnam tour by ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA:

Highlights:

  • Stunning scenery
  • Historical sites
  • Charming ancient trading town of Hoi An
  • Relaxing in Dalat
  • Encountering ethnic minorities
  • Just you, no others travelers
  • All inclusive

August 15, 2013

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Written by Mikey

So, the big one: Angkor Wat! Travis, Mike and Tracey have all been telling me it’s an incredible sight and that Siem Reap is incredible too. I must say, I was pretty sceptical. I’m the kind of person who will visit the Eiffel Tower, look at it for about 2 minutes, then turn around and watch people watching it instead!

But I must say, for the first time since my first trip to Ha Long Bay, I’ve had a tourist attraction live up to the hype. It’s absolutely incredible, and I want to a) let you know exactly what to expect, and b) why it is as incredible as people say it is.

Angkor Wat Temple
First of all when people refer to ‘Angkor Wat’, they are not normally referring to the Angkor Wat temple (the famous one, above); they are normally referring to the whole area of hundreds of temples, of which the temple is undoubtedly the most visited and most famous. The area lies just outside the town of Siem Reap, which acts as a launchpad for your visit and is full of hotels of all standards, and restaurants of all types of cuisine.

To visit the temples, you will normally get picked up from your hotel by a tuk-tuk driver (cycling is possible, but the distances are quite large). There are two main ‘routes’ around the main temples in the central region, but ultimately if you have done the research and wish to deviate from these paths, it is totally possible; your driver will take you where you want to go and when you do. Having said this, they know the area intimately, including the normal path of the crowds, so it can pay to heed their advice.


Angkor Wat Temple
I’ll deal with the main temple itself in a minute, but first I want to list some highlights that should not be missed. First is the temple of Bayon, in the centre of Angkor Thom (very close to Angkor Wat, much more spread out and less of one impressive structure). This temple, built in the 12th or 13th century is famous, for its multitude of mysterious faces looking out at you from every pillar. The size and number of them, along with the enigmatic smiles leave you feeling like it was built by some mysterious other worldly power. The picture below goes some way of showing what I mean, but it’s nothing compared to being literally surrounded by them.

The next temple of note is Ta Phrom, often referred to by the drivers as the ‘Tomb Raider Temple’. Yes, it features in the Lara Croft film ‘Tomb Raider, but it’s so much more. This was probably my favourite of them all. More so than any of the other ‘main temples’, it has a sense of being reclaimed by nature. Some of it is in ruins, but none of the sense of scale is lost, and many of the ornate carvings still remain. There are parts that are more tree than temple, and if the tree was to be removed the temple almost certainly collapse. It can get quite busy, but it’s not too hard to slip away from the crowds to find a place to sit alone and contemplate this really unique and special place.

Ta Phrom

Now seems a good time to mention the maintenance work throughout the complex. In many parts of the temples you will see maintenance work being done – machinery, scaffolding, bricks with identification numbers etc. Some people I spoke to expressed disappointment at this, but I think if you look at the information boards regarding restoration it is worth it. (I even thought seeing the ancient stone work, and the jungle both juxtaposed against the moden equipment looked kind of cool in its own way!) It is in itself a wonder in itself that in the early 20th century, archaeologists were able to reconstruct from ruins in the centre of the jungle with very little equipment and no computers. Finally, some of the carvings have been restored and are not original. At first this can be off putting as you don’t know exactly how old what you are looking at is, but after a while it becomes easy to tell. It is a difficult debate, because restoration allows you to see otherwise ruined temples in their former glory, but it loses some authenticity. All I can say to this is they seem to have struck a nice balance between leaving some temples as they were found, and some restored.

This brings me on to the last of the other temples I want to focus on – Banteay Srei. You’ll have to make a special request of your driver to get to here, as it a 30km drive through countryside to get there, but it is so worth it. If you go, go early and you may even get the place to yourself if you’re lucky. Hidden away in the middle of dense jungle, you begin to imagine being one of the original explorers who were told by the locals there were temples in the jungle ‘built by the gods’. This is one of the best temples to visit if you like the ornate carvings on the walls, as these are mostly in very good condition. Visit the museum there to learn about the restoration works.

Monks
So with my highlights out of the way – the big temple itself, Angkor Wat. Yes, it’s crowded. Yes, it’s not the most ornate. What it is, is the most stunning example of what an early 12th Century civilization could do. With the central tower standing 65 metres tall, a grand walkway leading up to the central area, and a 190 metre wide moat surrounding the whole thing, it is hard to even begin to picture the amount of man-power needed to complete this wonder. It’s hard to say whether to see this first, or save it for last – we went for sunset of day 1 and it was reasonably quiet, but by then the carvings on the wall were not as jawdropping as the first ones we saw. Having said that the sheer scale, and it standing there in front of you, free from any overgrowth or collapsed wall eclipses anything you’ve seen before it. I think the best thing is to speak to your driver and see what he thinks it will be like on that day, but make sure you go at some point in your itinerary. The steps to the viewing platform close at around 5 though, so be careful (we missed it!).


Cycling Angkor Wat Temple
So to summarise; no trip to Asia can do without seeing these amazing sites. In fact, if you miss it on your first trip, it tends to mean you are not finished with South East Asia – you’ll be back! Nowhere else is the incredible history of this region as obvious, as magical, and as intriguing as here, made all the more unique by the collapse of the Khmer Empire and other tragic events in more recent Cambodian history. And in Siem Reap you have the perfect place to relax after a hard days exploring. Sure, it’s getting more developed and touristy by the day, but it is still so far off the situation at the pyramids you can still enjoy it without feeling like you’re on a conveyor belt, surrounded by McDonalds and tour buses. If you have not been here yet, add it to your list of future trips right now – you won’t regret it.

Recommend Cycling Angkor Temples and Kayaking Halong Bay by ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA:

Highlights :

  • Beautiful cycling roads
  • Impressive Angkor temples
  • Boat trip on Tonle Sap
  • Hanoi tour
  • Halong Bay kayaking
  • Overnight on junk



August 14, 2013

Trekking Luang Prabang

Written by Julian and Sarah

After catching a flight to Luang Prabang we spent the first day finding an agent to trek with the following day and in the evening we headed out to the night market to scoff our faces before our trek.

Trek Luang Prabang
We set off on a bumpy and dusty road in the back of a van with two other men (Tony from Switzerland and Migon from Argintina). We also had two local guides, Nick and Tim. Two hours later we arrived at the start of our adventure! We were told to carry as much water as we could as it had to last us two days as the village we were staying in didn't have any drinking water. We squeezed as much as we could (10 litres between us) into our small rucksacks and headed off across a bridge and up a steep hill. The trek was up hill for the first two and half hours with no shade in the mid day sun!

Trek Luang Prabang
We had drank quite a lot of our water at this point and decided that we had best start rationing if it was going to last the two days. 
The start...The start...
Trekking Luang Prabang
The start...made our first stop at a Hmong village   consiting of 100 or so people. We visited the school within the village which had lots of children and only one teacher. We bought writing books and pencils at the market the previous day to give to any children we saw whilst trekking, so we donated the majority to the school. We stayed for a while helping the children and listening to them sing songs. Although our time their was short, It was one of the things we enjoyed the most. After that it was back to the trekking and 6 and half hours in total in the blazing sun we arrived at our Kamoot village,, hurray, very thirsty and absolutley knackered!


The village was very poor but the people were really friendly. We were staying with the chief of the village and his family and they made us feel very welcome in their home. We were told each family in the village had roughly eight children, babies everywhere :0). We were then shown to our room (4 of us in a bed) very cosy! We were told that we could rest untill dinner so in desperate need of a clean Local women putting us to shame.Local women putting us to shame.


Local women putting us to shame.we headed to the shower/ pots and pans washing/ animal watering and bathing area. There was a bit of a que for the hose pipe in the middle of the village. But everyone quite happily sat watching the other get naked and have a scrub down. It was eventualy our turn although Julian opted to keep his pants on I decided I didnt smell that bad after all :-) 


Trekking Luang Prabang
We played with the children in the village and then were invite in for dinner, sticky rice and soup. Lots of the kids had gathered around at this point waiting till we finished eating so we could play games and sing songs together. Julian broke into song and statrted with "Old Macdonald" whilst I followed with ''Head shoulders knees and toes'', Julian then went on to show them how to play thumb wars and a hand slapping game, we had a great night. 

The following morning we were up at 5am to the sounds of the animals and the men of the village getting ready to hunt or farm in the fields. After an early breakfast we had started the trek by 8am. We walked mainly through jungle.

We'd pretty much ran out of water after another 2 hours of walking but luckily enough we had reached the end of our trek. We had stopped for lunch at the river, where we had a cool off and caught a boat to our pick up point. An hour or so waiting for the bus we were back on the dusty road to our hostel.

Hope your well, 

Recommend Luang Prabang Trek tour by ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA:

Highlights: 
  • Awesome scenery
  • Combination of jungle trails and village roads
  • Home-stay in tribal villages
  • Cruise on the mighty Mekong River