Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Have a foggy, jolly, Christmas in Sapa, Vietnam

Temperatures in Sapa, the most famous tourist site of northern Vietnam, are less than 4oC, but the town is very crowded with foreign and local visitors who come to celebrate Christmas. VietNamNet reports in photos:

Despite the cold spell, ethnic minority girls still travel to town from their far-away villages.

The cold doesn’t stop visitors.

All hotels decorate their entrances to welcome Christmas.

Hoang Manh Dung, Director of the Sapa Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, told VietNamNet that the number of foreign visitors for Christmas has risen sharply in 2009.

The town’s church in fog.

Source: PV/VNN

Recommendation for Trekking Fansipan , Vietnam:
Sapa Travel Guide
Trekking Travel Guide
Trek Fansipan Tours

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas spirit grips Viet Nam’s big cities

Although Christmas does not have historical roots in Viet Nam, people across the country are filled with the holiday spirit. Huong Ly, Phuoc Buu and Hoang Ha report.

No need to wait until December 25, one can easily sense Christmas coming to many big cities in of The whole country is singing Christmas carols together.

Shopping for Christmas time in Hanoi, Vietnam

The streets and buildings in Ha Noi have been lavishly decorated with Christmas trees, reindeer, presents, and so on. Windows are framed with multi-coloured lights, and Christmas songs float through hallway speakers. Gift-shopping and present-wrapping have been in full swing

Walking along Hang Ma Street in Hanoi, Nguyen Hoang Yen browses through colourful ribbons and decorative balls to pick out several favourites. After finally taking a package of tiny bells and golden balls, Yen also picks up wrapping paper imprinted with Santas and the unmistakable phrase "Merry Christmas".

Although Yen’s family is not Christian, she says a Christmas celebration has been their custom for several years.

"My children simply assume Santa Claus to be a Western Buddha and they can wish not only for luck, but also for various gifts," she says

Hanoian Ngo Truong Sinh, who recently married a Christian woman, says he often went to the Christmas Eve mass even before he met his wife.

Hanoi Cathedral before Christmas night

Sinh and his friends often visited churches in Ha Noi on Christmas Eve merely to join in with the atmosphere of the crowd, take a couple of pictures and have fun together.

After twice accompanying his wife to observe rituals in the Cua Bac Church, he said he felt a deeper respect for Christmas and its meaning.

"My feelings are now quite different," he said. "Despite my lack of religious obligation, I feel more excited about Christmas than ever before and consider the holiday part of my life."

Christmas seems to have become a special occasion for the whole community, which can be obviously seen by what is going on in Hue these days.

Despite more than 600 pagodas that exist in the former royal city of Hue, the religious holiday of Christmas has been embraced by nearly everyone in the area: Buddhists, Christians and even non-believers.

"Christmas has become an international holiday and cultural event," explains Bishop Anthony Duong Quynh of the city’s Phu Cam diocese, which has 5,560 Christian parishioners.

"Guests who come to visit our cathedral during Christmas include Buddhist monks. We respect each other’s religion. Christmas is not just for Christians," he adds.

Hue’s Phu Cam Cathedral, one of its biggest churches and well-known for its architectural features, was built in 1960 on a hill where an orange plantation once stood. On Christmas Eve, people walk en masse on the streets to the church square and later attend mass.

"I was extremely happy to see thousands of people gathered around the cathedral waiting for the Christmas Eve service last year," Bishop Quynh says. "I love the peaceful atmosphere of the crowds."

"The strongest feeling I had was peace."

Known in Viet Nam as Noel after the French introduced it and Catholicism to the country years ago, the holiday has various meanings for many people. But all agree that the bells ringing at midnight on Christmas Eve signal the universal desire for peace.

Source: VNS

Recommendation for Christmas Season in Vietnam:

Biking Tours in Vietnam

Hue excursions

Monday, December 21, 2009

Halong Bay, Vietnam Travel guide

Ha Long Bay was officially placed on the list of the World Natural Heritage twice, attracts visitors more and more.

Ah.......almost a week in Vietnam and we have so far managed to avoid eating dog! That is some feat over here because dog is very popular on the menu in cafes.

We have just got back from three days in beautiful Halong Bay where we lived on a big wooden boat with our own room and bathing facilities. The rooms on board the boat were amazingly even better than many of those in Hanoi city.

The trip included kayaking through caves and untouched lagoons. We also visited floating fishing villages where many Vietnamese people live. The villages even had little floating schools for the local children to attend.

The food on the boat was fantastic, especially considering the basic kitchen facilities the staff on board had to work with.

We travelled with a number of awesome Australian families on the boat who had great children of all ages. The kids all loved Nikki and I as we made the trip fun for them by getting involved in karaoke in the evenings.

One of the funniest things out in the bay was the local women in little wooden rowing boats who sold chocolate, crackers, cigarettes and alcohol. They somehow happened to be there, in the middle of bloody nowhere, when our boat stopped for a break. The women could be heard yelling out "buy Somsing (something)" whenever we stopped. Clearly they are aware of our consumer driven nature.

Source: mytripjournal

Recommendation for Ha Long Bay Junk:

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Gathering steam in Sapa, Vietnam

The age-old traditions of the Red Dao people, a hill tribe known for its medicinal culture and expert herbalists, infuse an all natural spa in the mountains.

After a long day of hiking the steep hills and terraced rice paddies of the mountains around Sa Pa, an all-natural herbal steam bath was just what my aching muscles needed.

Herbs pot to boil in preparation for the spa, Sapa, Vietnam

At Red Dao Spa, I was led into a small bath full of fragrant steam wafting from the large wooden tub. First, I washed down with some herb-infused water, a dark reddish color, and then sat in the warm water for a 20 minute soak.

The Red Dao people in Sa Pa are known as the best herbalists in the area thanks to a vibrant medicinal culture centered on herbal remedies. Living near thick forests, Red Dao communities have taken advantage of the rich source of medicine to keep them healthy and full of energy. The Red Dao use herbs to treat everything from flu to skin diseases and muscle problems.

For generations, the Red Dao people have used traditional herbal spas to treat a variety of ailments. Their baths include ten different kinds of herbs collected fresh from the forest before each soak.

The leaves, some fresh but some dried, are boiled for 3-4 hours. Then they are mixed with fresh water at 30-37oC. The bathtub, put in a small room to keep the steam and fragrance of the herbs, is usually made from fir or another aromatic wood.


Red Dao Spa is run by Sa Pa local Ly Lao Lo in Ta Chai Village, Ta Phin Commune, around 12 kilometers from the center of the town.

The spa is small and sparsely furnished, but welcoming and comfortable. I visited after a Sa Pa woman suggested the place.

Once I arrived, I was briefed about the history of the herbal therapies I would be given and the properties of each herb.

Then I had my soak. Sitting in the warm, red water, I felt all my senses tingle and my muscles eased and relaxed. A soothing feeling crept up and down my body. After 20 minutes, I was thoroughly relaxed.


The only problem with Sa Pa’s new Red Dao-style spas is that there are a lot of them and it’s not easy to tell which ones are authentic.

“The thing that worries me is if people sell the service when they don’t really understand it and do not use the herbs properly,” said Lo.

“It also saddens me to see villagers working very hard to collect the herbs when the spas don’t pay them very well.”

With help from doctors at the Hanoi University of Pharmacy, Lo has also established a small company producing soap with traditional Red Dao herbs and leaves. To make the product, which can be found in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, Lo has hired some 40 families in his village to grow the herbs themselves.

Try the true Dao’s spa at:

Red Dao Spa: Ta Chai Village, Ta Phin Commune, Sa Pa District, Lao Cai Province

Tel: (020) 871 756/098 897 5704

Tour to Sa Pa can be booked at:


31 Alley 4, Dang Van Ngu St., Hanoi

367 Ngo Quyen St., Son Tra Dist., Da Nang

50 Bis Co Bac St., Dist. 1, HCMC

Support number (24/7 service): (04) 3 573 8569

Source: VietNamNet/Thanh Nien

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA inspects Hoa Binh lake for new kayaking tour in Vietnam

ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA (ATA) inspects Hoa Binh reservoir, Vietnam to design a kayaking tour in this beautiful hidden area. This new kayaking tour will help tourists to have more options for exploring the Vietnamese natural charm by kayaking.

“We are going to launch this new adventure tour in Jan, 2010” said by Mr.Tony Tran - Product Manager.

Hoa Binh reservoir is located on a section of the Da River which has stream flow from Van nam Province, China to Phu Tho Province, Vietnam with total length is 910km including 383km of chinese territory and 527km of vietnamese territory.

Hoa Binh Lake, Vietnam

In Vietnam, the start point of the Da river is Muong Te district - Lai Chau Province. The river flows through the northwestern provinces of Lai Chau, Dien Bien, Son La, Hoa Binh, Phu Tho and ends at the Da Hong fork, Tam Nong district, Phu Tho province.

When the biggest hydro power plant in Southeast Asia – the Hoa Binh Hydro Power Plant – was under construction in the 1980s, the Da River was stopped up to keep water for a reservoir. The water level then rose and submerged the valley together with hundreds of mountains, turning them into islands.

Today, Hoa Binh reservoir is not only plays an important role in providing a huge of electricity for daily life, but also famous for its significant scenery. The reservoir is surrounded by many limestone hills with height from 10m - 100m above water surface. Islands of different shapes and sizes are embraced by the spacious reservoir. The water also brings out the green colors of the surrounding countryside.

Kayaking Hoa Binh Lake, Vietnam

"There is no word that can describe my feeling when I saw the reservoir. Nothing difference between here and Halong Bay but the geographical name” said by Mr. Tony Tran - Product Manager.

The ATA’s inspection team scans the Hoa Binh reservoir to design new outdoor tours for adventure travelers. The potential outdoor activities can be designed in this area is kayaking.

“If you find somewhere for kayaking, this is where to stop your search” added Tony.

Kayakers are able to have short break to visit temples or discovery caves along riverside.

If you need a light meal on the lake, Muong ethnic people can enchant you with the crispy roasted meat of the Muong boar. There’s a large number of Muong ethnic people living in the region.

ATA plans to launch new kayaking tours to Hoa Binh reservoir early Jan, 2010 and they would offer good promotion rate for first bookings. The new tours will be for travelers as it shows in the company’s motto “Actively exploring hidden lands.”

By Eric Nguyen

Kayaking Recommendation in Vietnam:

- Kayak Travel Guide
- Kayaking Tours in Vietnam

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Cycle Asia: The Hills of Vietnam from Dalat to Nha Trang

After cycling, sweating, and occasionally slogging through over 1,600km of SE Asian roads, we’ve experienced more than a few epic rides. While consistently beautiful beaches, the stunning temples at Angkor, and a myriad of rural towns that we’ve cycled through were all certainly impressive and scenic, it’s the challenging hill-climbs that remain the most memorable.Maybe it’s the combination of cool temperatures and great vista views, though perhaps some sort of subtle self-indulgent pseudo-masochism might be closer to the truth. Whichever, one day’s ride has set our cycling benchmark so ridiculously high that we were literally in the clouds: the 140km journey from Da Lat to Nha Trang, Vietnam.

Da Lat is a famed former French hill-station, now a prime honey-moon spot for the Vietnamese, with the prerequisite cable car, flower garden, and kitsch that such a place seems to require. There’s even a hotel-cum-crazy-house, a former imperial mansion in which tourists can play dress-up, and plenty of coffee-shops to while away an entire lifetime. After three days of relaxation and rain-delayed plans, we were certainly ready for what we got: a real cycling adventure.

Great view & Distant waterfall - Bike Dalat

The day started typically enough, as our hazy directions to the “new road” — which would save us about 100km — involved going past a train station that we never saw. However, all the people along the way kept pointing straight ahead, so without any current maps or any real certainty we proceeded up into the hills. We’d been told that this was not the primary bus route, so we took the lack of traffic to be a comforting fact, and the enthusiastic waves from passing motorists were encouraging. Plus the road actually was new, which made the terrain much more manageable, reassuring us that while we might be cycling into the unknown, it was at least the correct unknown.

Subtle hills soon gave way to monstrosities, and though there was the occasional downhill to rest our legs, the reality was the road just kept going up.

There was some construction early on, but in general the clean black pavement just kept winding skywards, and the layers of hills in front of us gave no indicators of how long we’d have to pedal. Three hours in, with just over 40km cycled, we pulled over, exhausted, to refuel our starving bodies with some of our few remaining Lara Bars and to assess the situation.

It seemed that we were near the top, though the brief flat stretch we’d paused on sat just before a massive curve, with the path ahead obscured by yet another hill filled with trees and stones. Our water supply was starting to become a concern, though we’d each brought about 2 litres, more than we usually carry, our constant gulping had left us with little more to drink. Laying down and pathetically doing a few stretches, or even smiling at the infrequent honking trucks, proved a challenge. But with time and weather as equal enemies as exhaustion and thirst, we knew every minute we lingered was a minute we might spend drenched, or in the dark, later in the day.

Down hill is more like this - Bike Dalat

Slowly riding onwards then, and ascending yet another hill, we could tell that we were closing in on the clouds. The road wriggled like a worm, clearly a feat of engineering at such a height (2,000 metres perhaps) and in such thick hills, but it turned out we had plenty more to ascend as each hill we climbed merely gave way to another still higher beyond it. As 40km turned to 60km, respite finally arrived as we entered the clouds themselves. The air was cool and the wind strong, forcing us to dig deep within our depleted reserve of stamina in order to pedal up one final hill.

Beyond it we could see only clouds, which by now was the most comforting feeling in hours. Coming around a tight corner, on the edge of both precipice and delirium, a most joyful thing occurred: the road headed downhill. Disbelief quickly turned to elation, our legs eager to catch a break from the relentless pedaling. Then one miracle led to another, as high up in the hills, we ran into a Vietnamese tour group that had stopped for photos of the cumulus variety. Their English-speaking guide assured us that it was all downhill from here, for at least an hour.

Energised, we headed downwards at a breakneck pace, pulled by gravitational forces to speeds we can usually only dream of. After briefly stopping to buy water from a grumpy grandmother at a small shack, for the next 45 minutes we hurtled down the mountain-side, frequently pausing for photos. All around us there were waterfalls, some massive and others just cracks oozing water. Trees had fallen onto the road in some places, their roots no longer able to support the weight, and the numerous signs warning of falling rocks were not exaggerating. Coming down the mountain we passed few vehicles, mostly just brave moto drivers forcing their cycles ever upwards, and impressively parts of the pass were under heavy construction.

Covering 30km in three-quarters of an hour was exhilarating, though keeping a proper speed in the hairpin turns was challenging and at times a little frightening: this is a place where accidents can easily mean death. Since this isn’t being written post-mortem, nor is it dedicated to a fallen comrade, we obviously survived intact, although our general lack of food meant starvation was beginning to appear in our thoughts as we made the descent. Finally, as the cool mountain air slowly departed, warmed by the incoming sea breeze, we came to a small village with a couple of restaurants. Our meal had more nutritional value than anything else, but we didn’t need a culinary masterpiece, just calories.

Refueled, but still weary, we knew we had to keep moving since another 50km remained, and at 3pm darkness was already close on the horizon. This third leg of our journey proved the most taxing, since while the small hills were nothing like what we’d done earlier, our bodies lacked the stamina to easily climb them. The road was also in abysmal condition, at times merely a rough dirt track, almost always bumpy, and occasionally still being built. At least the route was open, but apparently it’s far from completion, and while it did sprinkle a few times we were gratefully spared any sort of typical monsoon downpour.

After about ninety minutes of ups-and-downs we finally returned to a smooth, paved road, and for the first time all day it was even flat. As day turned to night, we feverishly pedaled onwards, the street lights of greater Nha Trang a most welcoming sight. Eleven hours in, almost twice our previous longest day, we entered the city itself and eventually arrived at the ocean. Quickly getting our bearings, we headed towards the welcoming tourist ghetto, found another of Vietnam’s well-equipped cheap hotels, and began undoing the damages of the day.

As the rain pounded down in torrents on the roof above, we scrubbed mud and blood off under a stream of hot water and then fell into the comforting embrace of our beds. We did manage to get to dinner, hobbling pathetically through the streets in a daze, and for once we were far from concerned about eating in an otherwise empty restaurant. As we sat and ate, chewing and reflecting simultaneously, we couldn’t help but bask in our own glory a bit, yet we know that the Vietnamese hills were just a taste of what awaits us in Laos!


Related sites:
- Dalat Travel Guide
- Biking tours in Dalat, Vietnam
- Short excursions in Dalat, Vietnam

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Halong Bay in Vietnam

After visiting Hanoi, the author have been to Ha Long Bay with a memorable overnight sailing junk cruise.

Our next side trip from Hanoi was to Halong Bay on an overnight sailing Junk cruise.

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

The boat that was recommended to us was sold out when we called to book and so we were given the option to go out on the company's private boat for only $20 more. With a whole little sailboat to ourselves our captain gave us the option to follow the larger boats and partake in the evening karaoke party with the larger group or dock in the quieter section of the bay that is only open to smaller boats. Those of you who know how much I love to sing and Vic loves to be singled out will know that we opted out of that "party".

We spent the first day kayaking through a fishing village, enjoying a calm cruise through the breathtaking scenery of Halong Bay and having a super romantic seafood dinner on the boat deck. Sleeping on the boat was great aside from some very persistent mosquitoes. We spent our second day exploring the surprise cave and climbing to the top of a lookout point for a view of the bay.

Our tour guide kept us entertained asking questions about our lives in Canada and telling us about his life, friends and family in Vietnam. We found it interesting to learn that young Vietnamese follow the trends of South Korea. We also got a good laugh hearing that they spend family weekends eating a barbecue of grilled fish and chicken followed by a long night of karaoke. They don't eat snake or only once a month and not the family pet... you get the gist.

Very enlightening. What a great way to end our time in Vietnam!



Ha Long Bay Cruise