Thursday, September 18, 2014

Characteristics Of Floating Markets In Vietnam

By Kimina
Floating market is a original feature of deltas of Mainland Southeast Asia, where has thousands of rivers and canals in various sizes. In Vietnam, floating market is a specific cultural part of the Southwest. If you tend to explore Mekong delta, you should not skip a cruise to floating markets

The market is held in rivers, among a vast waterway with hundreds of boat, junk and canoe of residents.

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A floating market in Vietnam
The floating market opens up a whole day, but it is usually the most bustling in the morning, when it is cool. The more it turns to noon, the hottest the weather is, the fewer customers are. So you should visit floating markets in early morning.

Boats are loaded fully of goods. Fruits are the most popular kind of merchandise. The peculiar point of boats is that in each has several poles. People dangle products which they sell on these poles. Therefore, customers just only look at the poles, they can know whether the boat has things they need or not. By this original marketing way, customers from a far distance can see clearly items.

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Residents hang products they sell on poles.
These are general characteristics of Vietnam floating markets.

- Market is the place where trade and exchange actually local produce of local inhabitants, comprising agricultural products and foodstuff. 

- Stores or boats normally do not have any sign. Sellers hang products which they sell on poles or over prows; sell oranges hang oranges, sell mangoes hang mangoes, sell coconut hang coconut, etc. People call these poles as “cay beo”. These “cay beo” are erected on prows or hang horizontally on boats. 

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"Cay beo" is erected on the prow.
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"Cay beo" is hang horirzontally
- If wanting to know the area which a boat belongs to, just regard into a side of the boat, which is written a province code abbreviated by two first letters. For instance, “Tien Giang” province is written as “TG”.

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Vinh Long province was abbreviated as "VL" on this boat
However, there are still three circumstances:

1. “Hanging things which are not for sale.” They are just clothes. Residents of the floating market commonly live in boats, so their clothes are also dried in sun on boats.

2. “Things are for sale but not hung.” These boats are food or beverage stalls. That goods cannot be hung.

3.  “Hang one thing but sell another thing.” If you see only a few pineapples hung on a boat, this means that the owner want to sell this boat. So, hang pineapples, but sell the boat.

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Hang pineapples, but sell boats
Some famous floating markets you can visit are Cai Be (Tien Giang province), Phung Hiep (Hau Giang province), Chau Doc (An Giang province), Can Tho and Phong Dien (Can Tho city).

Any Mekong delta tour also set an excursion to floating markets for you. You can choose biking around Mekong countryside to discover the cultural life of local residents.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A Funny Expedition To Hang En And The Largest Cave in the World - Son Doong

By Romping & Nguyening
Now on to what you’ve all been waiting for – THE LARGEST CAVE IN THE WORLD! I’m going to start with 2 things:
1. Hang is the Vietnamese word for cave.
2. Pictures never do justice.


Son Doong cave was discovered by Khanh Ho in 1991, but wasn’t thoroughly searched and surveyed until 2009 by the British Cave Research Association, led by Howard and Deb Limbert who are now in Phong Nha full time to help run the Son Doong tours. Its first year of tourism began in August 2013, with the limit of ~200 tourists per year.

Our tour consists of 2 scientists (including Deb Limbert herself), 2 National Park rangers, 1 Vietnamese English-speaking guide, Khanh Ho (the discoverer of the cave), and 24 porters (like sherpas) are all there to accompany the 8 tourists on the expedition. In sum, there are 30 others needed for the 8 tourists, for a total of almost 40 people! For these days, the 24 Phong Nha Vietnamese porters carry 35-40 kg sacks on their backs (filled with food to feed everyone, tents, sleeping bags, and our belongings), traverse the uneven path, climb and crawl over and under sharp rocks and steep hills, and have the campsites ready for us upon arrival. Despite their undaunting size, their strength was remarkable.


After we bid farewell to our last breath of air-conditioned air from the van, we trekked about 10 km through jungle and river valley to our first campsite, located in Hang En, aka Swallow Cave. By Swallow, I mean the bird (they’re actually Swifts, but the name stuck), and the reason why it is called Swallow Cave is because tens or hundreds of thousands of swifts fly in and around the cave (fun fact: they use echolocation — like bats — to fly in the dark cave). In order to get to Hang Son Doong, you actually have to go through a cave (Hang En) to get there! It’s basically a cave within a cave. 

The porters begin the journey first:

Son Doong tour 1

There is 1 village in Phong Nha National Park. It is an extremely poor village of 28 people, half whom are children. They build their own homes, raise their own livestock, and grow their own crops. Occasionally they can hitch a ride into the nearest town of Phong Nha, which is about an hour away. 

Son Doong tour 2

Son Doong tour 3

These villagers were TINY! Look how giant I look next to this woman:

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Some nice rest stops:

trekking Swallow cave 1

trekking Swallow cave 2

And finally, our destination: Hang En! It is not the largest cave in the world, but its size is still magnificent. You can easily book a trekking Swallow cave tour if you are unable to do Son Doong. Check out Hang En below. 

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Chris brought a cord so he could turn it into a clothesline for our wet clothes. Yay!

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After breakfast, we trekked through and exited Hang En to make our trekking Son Doong!
Here are some photos exiting Hang En: 

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A short break after hiking uphill in the tiresome heat: 

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The entrance to Son Doong, the smallest cave entrance into the largest cave in the world! There was a lot of crawling, roping, and some real downward vertical caving involved. Fortunately the guides were there to help us descend into the dark cave. 

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trekking Son Doong 5

We trekked through the dark for a while, slowly climbing over large and small boulders and crossing small rivers. Finally, we arrived at our second campsite of the trip, which was located near the first roof collapse of Son Doong. This is what the campsite looked like from a distance:

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We spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out and exploring the campsite, anxiously waiting for tomorrow’s famous views and photo opportunities.


The first and second days were “wet” days, meaning we crossed many streams and rivers so our shoes, socks, and feet were wet the whole day. The third day was a dry day – no rivers to cross! However, there were many sharp rocks and boulders we had to climb over and under, but we were rewarded with some of the most amazing landscapes imaginable.

Here we are exiting camp toward the first roof collapse. 

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Look at how sharp these rocks are. We had fun going under and over them! 

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Up and up we went! We were rewarded with lush greenery along beautiful “terraces” carved out by flooded rivers. During the rainy season, there are no tours in Son Doong because the flooded rivers practically fill up the cave, carving out wonderful but sharp rocks and boulders. The rivers later recede, and sunlight pours in from the collapsed ceiling to give life to the jungle within the cave.

Son Doong expedition 1

Son Doong expedition 2

Son Doong expedition 3

From the top of the hill, you could look down to the side where you last stood before the climb: 

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Son Doong expedition 5

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Or look up:

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Walk a bit further up past the trees, and there’s more playthings: 

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After hanging out on these mounds, we proceeded to finally go DOWN. Below the mounds were amazing formations carved from the flooded rivers:

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After we finished climbing up and over these formations, we turned around and were treated to the climax of the whole expedition, one of the most famous views of Sơn Đoòng. Those mounds that we just hung out on? Well, those mounds are the tops of the hills in the photos below. We enjoyed our lunch here.

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We spent quite some time here, admiring the scenery and taking more photos. Mist would quickly appear and dissipate, creating an eery atmosphere. We continued with the trek through the dark cave, and when we saw another sliver of light in the distance, we knew we were nearing the second roof collapse, the site of our final campsite. See the tents below?

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Going down is kind of scary, more so because of my fear of heights.

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Our third and final campsite! 

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The tents lit up at night:

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Friday, August 29, 2014

Hoian cycling: Passing through Realities

By Mpom
I finally met someone who spoke English at my most frequented Hoi An culinary hotspot: the local market on the road to Cua Dai beach. Trinh, donning a mandarin satin uniform from her hotel shift, informed me I was eating banh bot loc, bite-size clear rice noodle pockets of shrimp and potato lathered in oily chili-garlic fishsauce and sprinkled with chives. She also equipped me with a number of useful phrases.

The next day, lathered in sweatproof 50 spf, I am prepared for a day of cycling Hoian with my Canon camera, large water bottle, and Vietnamese “hello” “what is this” “how much” “thank you” “what is your name.” Anxious to escape the countless tailor shops and chorus of Vietnamese-accented “hellos” ringing with the single-minded pursuit of cash, I peddle off toward the Cam Thanh fishing village. Past rice fields, their moist, sweet smell overtaking the toxic exhaust of whirring motorbikes. Past dry fields sprouting solitary concrete shrines, miniature marigold-painted, red-roofed temples perched on posts and filled with the incense remains of prayers past. Past a wedding reception, punchy Vietnamese hip-hop and raucous laughter spilling through the gauzy red and pink decorations onto dusty streets. Past tightly packed teams of bamboo trees standing in shallow water dotted with wooden canoes; the owners shade their faces with conical hats fashioned from tan, slender leaves as they pull clear fishing lines from the water without end, like magic trick ribbons from a spectator’s ear. 

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I happen upon a small farmers’ protest in a town clearly surviving on the bamboo leaf industry, open-air sheds filled with drying stacks. Ten old men and women, skin shriveled brown and their few surviving teeth like cracked and blackened bits of corn, quack poorly coordinated group chants. They clank sticks on hollow bamboo poles, shouting as police in olive uniforms half-heartedly herd the farmers’ bare feet down the town’s one cement road. A few meters later, I discover two young men who accept my hand gesture request to watch them as they make bamboo siding. Around the corner and four thousand dong ($2) later, an eager woman, clearly awaiting any lost tourists who happen upon her home, paddles me amongst the bamboo forest, the easy-going whoosh of her paddle gliding us through narrow water alleyways winding amongst the trees.

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After many thanks and photos, I decide to take a coffee break on the riverbank. As small restaurants and cafes are merely extensions of the family living room, I join an extended family as its three women make sugar cane juice and skin bamboo shoots while four men of various generations drink their 10 am beer and idle in hammocks. It is a dirt road town with few diversions beyond its natural beauty; I quickly become easy entertainment. An entire wedding party arrives and sheepishly indicates they would like a photo shoot with the disheveled American biker. (They are one of the 13 wedding parties I will see July 17; I find out over my dinner noodles that it is an auspicious day for weddings amongst the Buddhists in the area). We snap approximately twenty-three group photos and a series of individual shots, me in a sweat-darkened grey t-shirt, the men in their suits, and the party’s primped and whitened women in brightly colored and sequined ao dai, high-neck long-sleeved tops that fall to their knees slits up the thigh showing matching loose pants. (I love when enthusiastic, camera-happy groups attack me; it redeems me and gives me good travel photography karma.) Like confetti, the giggling party blows on down the street.

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Seeing the fun has passed, a sinewy old man, one of the four boozers slouched in the hammocks, begins crafting bamboo leaf glasses so he can swap me for my black plastic frames. The family collapses in jovial howls. We start our own photo session using my camera. Then my coffee is finally finished. I wave and proceed to peddle around the area for another six hours before returning to my hostel near the Old City.

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A few custom-made shoes and sandals, one more night in my slanted-ceiling, and a relaxing day at the beach later, I board an overnight sleeper bus to Nha Trang en route to the mountain town of Dalat, famous for its flowers and honeymooners. Away goes the swimsuit, out comes the jacket.  Fast-forward two days: I am riding on the back of Vietnamese Khein’s motorcycle on the winding roads beyond Dalat, poncho flapping around my body. I take in the chilly hillside.  It is a scene from my childhood: a Kansas patchwork quilt of fields, but here stretched over the rolling land and sprinkled with trees.

And this is what I love most about traveling: passing—biking, walking, hitching, swimming, busing—through people’s day-to-day routines. Rumbling along on the back of the cycle, I am seeing the 6 pm near Dalat. I can imagine the 6 pm Hoi An market with its faithful food stall vendors, perhaps wondering where the odd solo American girl has gone after nine meals in their company. Or maybe the absence goes completely unnoticed. In New York, I can see my friends on subways headed home from work. In Kansas, Mom is driving home about to feed the horses. For now, in biking Hoian, I am passing through these realities, like a  person entering a dance after it has begun, enjoying the beat while it is in full swing, and then gracefully bowing out before the music has a chance to trail off. It is the ability to enjoy each local’s unappreciated routines as if fabulous novelties. Traveling through these varied alternatives is the should-tap-whisper-in-the-ear that the reality of one place simultaneously exists amongst a million others, including the place I call home. And how quickly, when I once again begin to make my circles in that home place, my reality will misguidedly  become the world.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Ha Long Bay - Surprising Cave and Kayaking

By Jennie Mckie
One of the most famous areas in Vietnam is Ha Long Bay situated in the North East of Vietnam 4 hours away from Hanoi. All around Hanoi you will find loads of different Halong bay tours which will take you around the area. 

Halong tour 1

We were picked up early in the morning and driven to Ha Long Bay to board our boat and where we would be sleeping that night. Straight away you could see the famous limestone cliffs every way you turned however once we set sail the sheer size of them was incredible! Our guide explained that Ha Long actually means ‘descending dragon’ and legends told of how the dragons protected the country from invasion until they finally laid to rest in the sea and the jagged cliffs you see are actually the dragons that had fallen down!

Halong tour 2

Ha Long Bay consists of 1969 islands and the scale of it was way bigger than I first thought! The pictures do not do the place justice and it’s hard to explain just how beautiful the scenery is. We had lunch on board the boat of chicken, spring rolls and seafood all while watching the beautiful scenery pass us by!

We stopped off at Sung Sot Cave one of the ‘most beautiful’ caves in the area and also known as the “cave to heaven” or “surprising cave”, it was only discovered in 1993 by a fisherman and not opened to tourists until 1998. The caves reminded me of the Nigili Caves in Australia but with much higher ceilings!

Halong tour 3

Halong tour 4

It was lit up in all different coloured lights and the effects were staggering! We walked through as our guide pointed out all the rock formations in the shape of all different animals and people such as the dolphin, the lion, dragon, Buddha and our favourite… the giant boob! Some of these require a LOT of imagination but it makes you think about the first people down the caves who would have been down here before all the lights and must have seen all the rocks like ‘WAA there is a lion!!!’ Half way round the cave we reached the point where the fisherman first came through to find the cave and where the cave gets its nickname as high up there is an opening, and when the sun shines it sends a beam of light down into the cave as though it is coming from heaven.

Halong tour 5

My favourite area of the cave was ‘Romeo and Juliet’, again you need an imagination for this however as you look into the rock the shadow looks like a man (all be it a man with a beer gut!!) and he is looking up to another shadow that looks like a girl. It is quite sweet despite ‘Juliet’ looking in the opposite direction! The caves are ridiculously humid and everyone in our group had sweat pouring down their face by the end!

We got back onto our boat and headed off for our next area. We stopped at a tiny floating village and started our kayaking Halong trip, taking them out to explore the area around Luon Cave.

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Kayaking around going under the massive cliffs it really does feel like you are in some sort of dream or movie. It is exactly like scene in Avatar where they fly through the floating cliffs except that obviously the cliffs are in the water!! We kayaked around the area for about an hour in what was literally breathtaking scenery, heading back to the boat we took our kayak around the village with tiny kids shouting hello and guard dogs barking away. The dogs are there to protect the fish farms and the whole thing seemed so weird as the closest land to village is about 2 hours away by boat!!

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kayaking Halong bay 5

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Setting sail again we had time to chill out on the deck of the boat, lying on sun loungers as giant cliffs sailed past us. Dinner was on the boat where we made our own fresh spring rolls and had amazing fish and honey chicken all while listening to what I think must have been a 90s power ballad CD including some Titanic classics! It was a hectic day and after dinner Andy and I decided to head to our room on the boat and get showered and changed for bed ready for day two on the majestic Ha Long Bay…

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