November 20, 2013

Cambodia is Colorful

 "SHOES OFF," read the sign at the entrance of the temple. Remembering that shoes are not allowed to be worn inside of Buddhist temples, I slid my sandals off and placed them on the nearby shoe rack.I continued into the temple sans les chaussures, feeling the hot,sun-soaked tiles under my feet. My jaw dropped as I walked into my very first Buddhist temple, Wat Phnom. 

Colorful Cambodia
The first thing I noticed was the bright colors of Wat Phnom. Saffron candles stood proudly in the temple's corners.  Burgundy bunches of incense released silver streams of smoke past the silent, yellow gold Buddha. Lilac-hued flowers lay on the ground and jasmine petals lay immersed in silver jars of water. Every inch of the temple seemed to glow.

Colorful Cambodia
While my eyes were drawn to all that was glittering and gold, Wat Phnom was a feast of scent and sound as well. I could hear the whispered chanting of loyal Buddhists who knelt before the golden alter. A light breeze stirred a clamour from tiny bronze bells. Invigorating jasmine cut through the smoky, rich scent of old-world spices that hung in the air.

I slowly walked around the central alter, upon which sat a gilded Buddha figure. The Buddha was quite stunning but my eyes were really drawn to the temple walls. Covered with murals, the walls of  Wat Phnom are painted with scenes from Buddhist mythology such as from the Reamker, the Khmer version of the Ramayana. I reveled in the paintings of gods, goddesses, elephants and men. 

Colorful Cambodia
Looking up, I noticed even more murals on the ceiling of Wat Phnom! It seemed like every inch of this temple was covered in vivid color. To this day, Wat Phnom remains one of the most impressive religious sites I've ever seen. These murals are really hard to beat!

Even the floor of Wat Phnom radiated color! I loved how delicate the fushia and cream lotus pods looked as they rested delicately over the printed tile floor. 

Colorful Cambodia
After circling the central alter, taking in the gorgeous murals and people-watching for a bit, I continued outside to have a look at the exterior of Wat Phnom. Because it is situated atop a man-made hill, Wat Phnom offers some nice views of the city. I had to dodge a few wild monkeys while walking around the temple but I found the temple's exterior to be lovely!

Colorful Cambodia
I walked down the naga-lined stairs to see a sculpture in honor of the Khmer King Sisowath. I learned that he was king during a time of fierce conflict within the country when French colonial rule became norm.

I enjoyed the beauty of Wat Phnom and I think it was a perfect introduction to Cambodia, Phnom Penh and Southeast Asian Buddhism. If you're traveling through Phnom Penh, Wat Phnom shouldn't be missed. 

ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA would like to recommend Cambodia Discovery  tour.Ancient temples, empty beaches, mighty rivers, remote forests... and (outside Angkor) only a handful of tourists. But the word is out - Cambodia has emerged from decades of war and isolation and is well and truly back on the Southeast Asian travel map. From Phnom Penh we fly to Siem Reap. At Angkor we have 3 whole days to explore the complex; from the splendor of Angkor Wat to the enigmatic faces of the Bayon and the haunting Ta Prohm temple, enveloped in the clutches of the jungle.

November 19, 2013

Motorbike travelling in mountainous areas in Vietnam

When coming to Vietnam, beside big cities’ well-known tourism destinations, many foreign travellers love spending their time chasing the wind on the road of the wildly mountainous areas by motorbike. We tell you How and Why!

Motorbike Vietnam
Reasons for choosing motorbike
Motorbike is considered the best means of transportation for travelling mountainous areas due to its convenience and initiative. With a motorbike, one is free to go wherever he loves, despite all kinds of road’s condition. He can stop whenever he feels like to take photographs or relaxing, instead of depending on the driver or tour guide. Motorbike helps integrating people with nature and fresh air, and one will never be afraid of motion sickness. If choosing a car, people are likely to waste hours sleeping in passenger’s seat with air condition, not to mention the car sick caused by consecutive slopes and mountain passes. Riding on the motorbike means living on every single kilometer of your itinerary! Moreover, one can ride a motorbike in any kind of terrains, and it is much easier to repair in case of breaking down.

Motorbike Vietnam
Which kind of motorbike and when?
100 cc-or-more semi-automatic motorbikes are all suitable for roads in Northern Vietnam’s mountainous area. The main criteria for choosing motorbike are strong engine, gasoline-saving and flexible packing space.
Weather is one of the most essential issues regarding planning for motorbike trip. The best time for exploring those mighty areas is from late September to the beginning of December or after Tet Nguyen Dan, when there is almost no rain and the temperature is cool. The spring’s rain and summer’s heat in high region somehow are hazardous for health as well as damaging to the road’s quality.

Motorbike Vietnam
Be well-prepared!
There are indispensable things that one has to bring whenever travelling to remote areas such as specialized clothes and shoes, personal stuff, map, contact information and medical bags. However, a motorbike trip requires more than that. One will have to be well-prepared with a protective helmet and a motorcycle repair tool kit, and of course, certain skills of mending engine. An extra spark-plug and motorbike’s key are always in need. Remember to maintain the whole motorbike before setting off, change the oil and check its tyres, brakes, mirrors, horn and light. Fill up your motorbike with gasoline and know the location of gasoline station!

Motorbike Vietnam
On the way
If possible, travelling in groups of two or three motorbikes with one experienced leader is advisable. All members of the group are required to have detailed itinerary to get rid the risk of getting lost. People should not ride parallel to each other and talk while controlling the motorbike, thus, stop the bike if feeling a need for a conversation.

Pay attention to the bend and ones driving contrariwise and do not drive into other lane. Sometimes, there may be animals like buffaloes, cows, dogs or even pigs crossing the road, so one should decrease the speed and avoid making them panic. At night or in rain weather, when the vision is limited, travellers had better pause the journey for resting and safety reasons.

Motorbike Vietnam
Other things to remember
  •  Do not ride when you feel tired or sleepy.
  •  Do not ride after drinking alcohol.
  •  Avoid riding too fast or stop without noticing.
  •  Observe carefully and pay attention to road signs.
  • Bring your identity paper and driving license because there will be police checking along the road ( however, they will not be very strict to foreigners)
  •  Be extremely careful when crossing the stream; be sure about the depth of the water to have the best arrangement.
  •  Respect the ethnic minority people and their distinctive culture.
  •  Protect the environment and always remember: Safe is of primary important.
ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA would like to recommend Motorcycling adventure in Northern Vietnam tour.The mountainous area of Northern Vietnam has long been famous for its beautiful scenery and great diversity of ethnic minorities. With our adventure motorcycling trip you will make a big loop to experience all the bests that area can offer. Starting in Hanoi you will explore Northwest before jumping into Northeast, back to Hanoi after a day relaxing in Ba Be Lake. The perfect itinerary and the support crew ensure you get the most out of the trip in terms of comfort, enjoyment and adventure. Along the way we encounter dramatic landscapes and sweeping panoramas as the rural population goes about its business. Highlights include the terraced valleys of Sapa, beautiful Ban Gioc Waterfall and many different colorful minority groups. 

November 15, 2013

Travel in Vietnam’s Countryside

Leave Hanoi when you hunger for a countryside dip of the Real Vietnam Countryside! Although Hanoi is a great place to stay, it is still a big city with everything you need. After a while you are just curious what is out there. Because we’ve got loads of time, we’re staying in Hanoi for a while (we will travel through Vietnam in a few weeks together with family who’s coming over) but making short trips to areas not far from here. So, the last few days we’ve stayed in a little village called Mai Chau. Maybe you already read some of my posts about the local market in Mai Chau where we’ve seen a lot of interesting and shocking things as well.

 Vietnam Countryside
This time I want to tell you about what I’ve seen on the way to Mai Chau and about the people there. Starting at the beginning of our stay, the drive up to Mai Chau. Picked up by a big van in Hanoi, we left the busy city for a bit less chaotic atmosphere. After 2,5 hours, the driver stopped at a local plant/animals/food market on top of a mountain along the road. Have a look…
 Vietnam Countryside

The village is not that special. A lot of concrete buildings, shops and big trucks on the main road. Behind these concrete building are hundreds of rice fields and locals working on the field. Did you know that the women maintain the fields? This is from a long long time ago when the women worked on the fields and the men did nothing. Nowadays the men have some business to attend but the women still work on the field. This is a pretty hard job, working in the sun all day, bent over or squat. That’s why they wear these typical Vietnamese hats, to protect them from the sun.

Vietnam Countryside
In these rice fields you can find rice plants and lots of water of course, but did you know that there are also snails, snakes, crabs, frogs and eels living in these waters? Some men go frog or fish hunting during the night as these animals are a good income and apparently delicious.. Oh by the way the frogs make a awful loud sound during the night.

While we were there, we stayed at Mai Chau Nature Place which has bungalows and a homestay in the village. I would recommend the bungalows or a dorm, as these are situated a bit more out of the village and more in the rice fields. They serve you breakfast, lunch and dinner if you want to. All vietnamese food! You can rent bikes here and they have a dance show with traditional Thai dance almost every night.
Vietnam Countryside
Are you interested in the crafts they do in Mai Chau? The women make their own bags, cloths, bracelets and much more by sewing, embroidery and weaving every day. I’ve written a post on the Dutch DIY Blog de TweakFabriek in Dutch, but the pictures will explain the whole story. Have a look for my posts on this amazing blog where you can find really great DIY and inspiration posts.

In area around Mai Chau they build their houses a bit different than the ones in Hanoi nowadays. In former times the people who lived there, had a lot of trouble with the rain fall and floods. That’s one of the reasons why they build their houses on stilts. The other reason is because at that time there was still a wild tiger living in this area. The schema of the houses is very simple. There is only one big room on one side of the house and a kitchen on the other side. That’s why they builded two stairs to enter the house. One staircase was for the men, to receive guests and the other staircase was for the women to go to the kitchen.

Vietnam Countryside
The main big room was usually used as a living room and bedroom. The Thai people slept on the floor with a blanket. The whole family lives together and eventually the children have to take care of their parents. When one of the kids get married, the last one that does, has to take care of their parents. They will live together in one house and if they want “a few nights of privacy” as our tour guide explained, they have to sleep in the kitchen.

These houses are build from wooden stilts, beams and bamboo flooring. I’ve to admit, it felt pretty stable
and safe but you have to be comfortable with vermin. Insects and other little animals are every where. By the way, do you see the concrete on the right side of the rice field? That’s how they regulated the water for the fields. It’s amazing to see their irrigation.

It’s also a lot of work to maintain the rice fields. As you can see there is a lot of weed growing on the sides and also between the rice plants. They have to remove this every day as otherwise the weed will use the water instead of the rice plants.

This is the kitchen floor of a typical Mai Chau house. Bamboo flooring, which is very strong but maybe not so hygienic. As I told you, there is a lot of vermin walking around the house. This is a good example of the methods they use to keep these little animals away from food. This bowl with water keeps ants from climbing up the pantry for food.


ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA would like to recommend Trekking Mai Chau tour.Mai Chau is a mountainous area of outstanding natural beauty, inhabited by a Thai and H’mong ethnic minority groups. This trip offers a great combination of cultural expedition and trekking. We trek for three days through the spectacular scenery, visit remote and stay overnight in local homes where we have the chance to get to know these hospitable villages. From the mountainous region of Mai Chau, we travel back to the nation's capital, Hanoi.

  • Awesome scenery
  • Homestays in villages of ethnic minorities
  • Beautiful trails
  • All meals included

November 14, 2013

8 reasons why Laos is a lovely country!

For the past 5 days or so I have been exploring Laos, first visiting Luang Prabang followed by a trip up north to visit remote villages and see some spectacular scenery. It is been an utter joy to be back in Laos, and I have re-fallen totally head over heels in love with this amazing place. Below you will see my top 8 reasons why I love Laos! 

1: The colourful & varied markets:

2: The delicious food:

3: The lovely people:

4: The simple lifestyles & rural villages:


5: The Amazing scenery:

6: You can choose to relax or be adventurous:

7: The staggeringly beautiful ‘Wats’ and temples:

8. The beautiful plants!

There are fewer than 7 million people in Laos, and the landscape is mostly jungle covered mountains and rivers with  small villages and a few towns sprinkled across the land. Some places are difficult to get to and if you visit you will undoubtedly experience a bumpy road or two, but the country is amazing and well worth the extra bit of effort to get off the main tourist trail to explore!
Source: InsideVietnam

ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA would like to recommend Luang Prabang Trek tour.This tour takes you into forest and several villages of the most prominent ethnic groups in Northern Laos: the Khmu and Hmong. The Khmu are also called "Laos Theung" and settle at a medium altitude, the latter, sometimes called "Laos Soung", live in high regions along the mountain ridges.


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

November 12, 2013

Beauty of the special houses of Ha Nhi ethnic minority people

Houses made from soil, which are cool in summer and warm in winter, share this special architectural feature of Ha Nhi ethnic minority people in Y Ty Commune.

Houses of Ha Nhi ethnic minority
Houses of Ha Nhi ethnic minority
Every year, after each crop, Ha Nhi people often build new houses to replace those that are old and deteriorated. After selecting suitable soil samples, they put them  into moulds and then use a pestle to squeeze the soil in as tightly as possible, which helps to create a firm wall. The wall is between 40-50 cm thick and 4-5 metres high. The average area of the houses is from 60-80 square metres.

Houses of Ha Nhi ethnic minority
Houses of Ha Nhi ethnic minority
After that, they install the parts for the roof. Previously, they used to go to the forest to collect Alang grass for roofing, therefore, when a family began building the roof for the new house their neighbours traveled  to the forest with them to help gather the grass. The grass layers are then weaved into a roof which is up to 50cm thick.

Houses of Ha Nhi ethnic minority
Houses of Ha Nhi ethnic minority
Bat Xat District has been focusing on tourism development, with tours to places such as Muong Hum and Y Ty, thus, more tourists have come to Y Ty and have had a chance to see these special houses.  However, recently, many local households have replaced the grass rooves with corrugated iron roofing sheets, so that currently, fewer than ten houses with grass rooves are left in Y Ty Commune.

ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA would like to recommend Motorcycling adventure in Northern Vietnam tour.The mountainous area of Northern Vietnam has long been famous for its beautiful scenery and great diversity of ethnic minorities. With our adventure motorcycling trip you will make a big loop to experience all the bests that area can offer. Starting in Hanoi you will explore Northwest before jumping into Northeast, back to Hanoi after a day relaxing in Ba Be Lake. The perfect itinerary and the support crew ensure you get the most out of the trip in terms of comfort, enjoyment and adventure. Along the way we encounter dramatic landscapes and sweeping panoramas as the rural population goes about its business. Highlights include the terraced valleys of Sapa, beautiful Ban Gioc Waterfall and many different colorful minority groups.

November 08, 2013

Roadside Smiles: Cambodia

Family in Cambodia

When people say they've visited Cambodia, it usually means they have been to Angkor Wat. This ancient temple complex is often listed as one of the top travel destinations in the world. Many travelers fly in and out, bypassing the rest of the country.

At first glance, Cambodia doesn't have the elements most travelers are looking for in a bike trip — there are few paved roads and lots of dust. The country is relatively flat, so no epic mountain passes to climb. And yet, this small country is one of our favorites. Ask us (and just about any other cyclists who has braved the bumpy, dusty roads) why we loved it, and the reply will come quick ... the people.

 Bikking in Cambodia
Maybe that is the answer to why I've loved every country I've traveled. But the people of Cambodia hold a dear place in my traveler's heart. Pedal the back roads of Cambodia and you will be greeted with a tapestry of smiles more beautiful than a hundred Sistine Chapels.

One afternoon, Kat and I were pedaling near the Mekong River. We stopped to fill our water bottles at a roadside pump. There was a little girl, struggling to fill a five gallon plastic container. Her little muscles could barely move the pump handle. I offered to help, and took to the task with gusto. The little girl laughed. Then we heard a chorus of giggles and laughter and looked up to see a dozen faces looking out of the doorway and window of a wooden dwelling on stilts across the field. The harder I pumped, the louder they laughed.

It was just one of the hundreds of daily encounters. Nothing truly epic about it. And yet it is one of my fondest memories of our time in Cambodia.

Grand vistas please the traveler's eye ... but simple smiles warm the traveler's heart.

ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA would like to recommend Biking Coastal towns and Phnom Penh tour.This trip is for those who want to see a different and true Cambodia by discovering coastal towns in southern Cambodia. The ride through small towns and villages give you a great experience of this beautiful country. The trip is balanced with challenging biking day and laid back time on Sihanoukville beach and Rabbit Island.


  • Beautiful cycling roads
  • Sihanoukville beach
  • Phnom Penh tour
  • Rabbit Island

November 07, 2013

Cuc Phuong offers a break from city buzz

Cuc Phuong National Park, the first national park in the country, is a relaxing place for tourists to enjoy a few days exploring tropical rainforest and a wonderful place to escape to and provides the perfect backdrop for profound thoughts and musings about life. 

Trekking Cuc Phuong National Park
Established in 1962, the 22,000ha forest stretches across three provinces: Ninh Binh, Hoa Binh and Thanh Hoa. Cuc Phuong hosts more than 2,000 kinds of plants, 2,000 kinds of insects, 122 kinds of reptiles and amphibians, 65 kinds of fish, and 133 kinds of animals. 

Before reaching the forest, deep inside the Tam Diep mountains, the local motorway leads travelers through Ninh Binh's karst mountain ranges, where they can enjoy scenic lakes, caves and rice fields and glimpse the lifestyle of northern countryside farmers. 

A stop at big fields feasts the eyes on immense green young rice paddy and scattered lakes where herds of ducks and buffaloes swim. The peaceful villages are bordered with ranges of karst mountains. 

Yet the most relaxing moments are inside the forest, whether they are riding a bicycle along the lanes, jogging around Mac Lake near the entrance of the forest or trekking to the 1,000-year-old cho xanh (East Indian almond tree, or Terminalia Myriocarpa). 

Trekking Cuc Phuong National Park
The pleasant 3km walk to the tree offers some interesting lessons on wildlife. Equipped with trekking shoes, long-sleeved shirts, hats and water, necks and arms soaked with mosquito repellant, the travelers followed tour guider along the path. 

The smell of wild grass and the moist air and absolute quiet of the old forest drew them in. It seems that time had stopped. There was no signal in our mobile phones. Deep in this forest, they were one with nature. 

A green twig was moving in the green. Tour guider explained that it was an insect called bo que, or walking stick (carausius morosus), famous for its capability to camouflage itself in the environment. 

"Such an insect can disguise itself as a green twig or a brown one depending on the tree that it lives in," adding that there are 25 species of that insect in Vietnam, of which 20 can be found in Cuc Phuong. An adult "walking stick" can reach 60cm in length. 

Through a vast land populated by wild banana, the guide said it was the most reliable source of fresh water in the forest. "Water from wild banana trunk tastes pretty acrid but it is safer than water from streams,". 

"If you get lost, you can cut a wild banana trunk 20-30cm from the ground, make a horisontal hollow in the middle of the trunk and wait a few minutes. The water will soon come through the banana root to fill the hollow," he said, pointing to a wooden climber running along the path, flying from tree to tree, and said it was called day bam bam (woody liana). The longest one in the forest runs 2km long, he said. 

Trekking Cuc Phuong National Park
Passing some small springs, deeper into the dense forest, tour guider stopped at a banyan tree that almost completely covered the weak tree below. He explained that many banyan seeds were brought by birds to host trees. The seed grew thanks to nutrition from the host tree, which it gradually swallowed. For this reason, banyans were sometimes called "tree killers", he said. 

The environment might look friendly to tourists, but for animals and plants there was fierce competition to survive. After more than one hour, they finally reached the famed thousand-year-old tree, which measures 45m in height and 5.5m in diameter. From the wide root emerge two steady trunks, which stand firmly on the ground and grow stunningly tall. 

Travelers enjoyed the scarce rays of light leaking through dense layers of leaves as they returned to the car park, felling happy that we had done exactly as the forest management reminded: "Leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but photographs."

Source: VNA

ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA would like to recommend Trekking Cuc Phuong National Park tour.This tour offers a great opportunity to discover the rich fauna and flora of Cuc Phuong National Park, the most important site for biological research and conservation in northern Vietnam. The challenging trail combines with unique home stay experience making this tour is a real eco & community support tour for those who want to travel actively and responsibly.The second day is relaxing with a boat trip to see the unique “Halong Bay on the rice field” before heading back to Hanoi.
Highlights :
  • Primate Rescue Centre
  • Jungle trails
  • Homestay in village
  • Thung Nang - "The Halong Bay on the rice field"

November 05, 2013

White mustard flower season in Moc Chau

The Moc Chau prairie in the late fall days are immersed in a fairy space with immense white mustard flowers in floating morning mist, green tea fields or brilliant wild sunflowers and poinsettias.

 Moc Chau, Son La, white mustard flower
Approximately 200 km from Hanoi, Moc Chau is one of the glamorous destinations of backpackers and photographers, especially in the blooming season of white mustard flowers in October.

The weather in Moc Chau in late autumn is cold, with fog in the early morning and sunlight at noon. In the autumn, Moc Chau is very charming, when wildflowers blossom along the road.

Along the road of 3 km long from Moc Chau town to Nong Truong town, visitors are in stupor before fences of yellow wild sunflowers embracing little houses which are sleeping in the sun.

All the fields and hills in Moc Chau are covered by the pristine white of mustard flowers. According to backpackers, the pine forest of Ban Ang (Ang village) is the most beautiful place. Dozens of hectares of fields in this area is covered by white mustard flowers, mixed with the green color of maize, the red color of poinsettias warm and the deep brown color of soil.

From a distance, the valley of white mustard flowers looks like a spongy white cloud floating above an immense field, soaked in sweet floral fragrance and the cool mist.

This land not only has white mustard flowers but also beautiful green tea hills. When the sun rises, every young green tea leaves are shimmering with tiny dew drops as beautiful crystal.

On the way to the Ngu Dong – Ban On, visitors are surprised to see a tea hill in the shape of five interlocking hearts. In the autumn, amid the immense white mustard flower field, tourists with colored sweaters and scarf are busy taking photo. Moc Chau also welcomes visitors with specialties such as veal fried with ginger and citronella, grilled stream fish, fried mustard and sweet taro with pork bones.

ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA would like to recommend Motorcycling Northwestern Trails tour.Discover Vietnam’s rugged and scenic northwest and its people first hand. By taking to the roads and riding from the capital Hanoi to the remote area of the northwest we can see life as it truly is for the Vietnamese. The perfect itinerary and the support crew ensure you get the most out of the trip in terms of comfort, enjoyment and adventure. Along the way we encounter dramatic landscapes and sweeping panoramas as the rural population goes about its business.

  • Stunning scenery
  • Challenging roads
  • Stunning Pha Din Pass and Tram Ton Pass
  • Terraced valley of Sapa
  • Colorful ethnic minorities