Thursday, January 28, 2010

Cham island, Vietnam – A part of the world’s lung

Lying in Tan Hiep commune, in the central province of Quang Nam’s Hoi An town, Cu lao Cham or Cham island is a cultural historical monument that is closely associated with the establishment and development of Hoi An town for a thousand years.

The island has become one of 15 Vietnamese maritime reserves since 2007. However, in May, 2009, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) accepted Cham island as a world biosphere reserve thanks to its topography, the biodiversity value and the unspoilt and attractive landscape.

Cham island, Vietnam – A part of the world’s lung

The sapphires

The island consists of eight islets, including Hon Lao, Hon Dai, Hon Kho me or the mother Hon Kho, Hon Kho con or the child Hon Kho, Hon La, Hon Tai, Hon Ong. Each islet with a distinct feature of beauty and wonderful sand beaches make an ideal landscape. The abrupt mountain slopes, big waves and floristic composition makes these islets like unpolished sapphires. The island is, therefore, an ideal destination.

Kingdom of aquatic animals

With 500 hectares of sea-weed alga, marine algae and sea grass and 165 hectares of coral and sea creatures, the island is considered a kingdom of aquatic animals. Of which, the coral has 135 species, algae and sea grasses have 500 species, fish 202 species, lobster 4 species and mollusks 84 species. Under the clear fresh water is coral and shoals of colorful fish. If you go for a scuba dive you will encounter a beautiful marine world.

Cham island, Vietnam – A part of the world’s lung

Go and discover

Cham island is 15 kilometres from Cua Dai beach and 20 kilometres off the coast from Hoi An ancient town. If reach the island by hi-speed boat, it will take you just 30 minutes. Meanwhile, boat ticket prices are very reasonable. Therefore, there will be no reason for you to miss the chance of taking a visit to such a natural and unspoilt landscape, fresh air and cool climate. From Cua Dai beach, you can also take a trip to the island by a normal boat.

However, before starting the trip, you should be aware of environmental protection. You should not bring anything made from plastic or anything that could damage the environment.

After starting the boat, you will quickly reach the largest islet- Hon Lao, that covers 1.317 hectares and is 500 metres high. This islet is, therefore, considered as the rooftop of these islets. Continuing on the trip you can visit the historical monuments of Hai Tang Pagpda-a 300-year architecture located among three mountains called Bat Long, Ngoa Long and Tiem.

There are so many wonderful landscapes on Cham island that you can not visit far-away places on a day tour. However, destinations that you should not miss include Lang Ong, the old well, Huong fishing village, and an exhibition of nature and the Cham island people’s culture.

Come and enjoy

If you come to Cham island you will have chance to join in many water sports, including swimming, water skiing, paragliding, kayaking, kite flying and boat racing. You will also have chance to scuba dive and go on glass-bottomed boat that allows you to discover the underwater world. At night time, you can also participate in cultural activities on the beaches until late.

Finally, there is nothing that could bring you a more enjoyable feeling than enjoying the special fresh seafood at reasonable prices after your trip or tour.

Source: By Nho Trung /

Related sites:
- Vietnam City Guides
- Bike Ho Chi Minh Trail

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Bac Ha, a white highland in Vietnam

Visiting Bac Ha Highland in Lao Cai province on early spring days, tourists will be treated with a pure and special selection of beautiful Tam Hoa plum flowers covering villages with its white colour.

Villages of ethnic minorities such as the Mong Hoa, Tay, Nung, Phu La in Ta Chai, Na Hoi, Ban Pho, Nam Mon, and Lung Phin areas, all of which are 1,000 metres above sea level, are covered with white plum flowers. That’s also the reason why Bac Ha is called, “A white Highland”.

Source: By Ngoc Bang Pham/

Recommendation in Lao Cai, Vietnam:
- Visiting Bac Ha Market
- Trekking tours in Vietnam

Monday, January 18, 2010

An enjoyable feeling with - three days at Halong Bay, Vietnam

"Once we left the Ha Noi city to Ha Long Bay, we passed big wide fields where rice was grown". Here are some of excited things which the author and her travelling companion saw.

We were collected early from our hotel in Hanoi for the three hour drive north to Halong Bay. Once we left the city, we passed big wide fields where rice was grown - all empty now as they only have one rice season a year in this area.

After a stop at the inevitable souvenir shop we arrived at the port area for Halong Bay. We were shocked to discover that 300 tourist boats now ply the waters of the bay - and most were offloading guests when we arrived. Eight years ago only 30 boats were sailing in the area. Thankfully the government is not granting permission for any new operators here now.

We were ushered after about an hours wait on the jetty via a small. We were a small group - 4 couples and three girls - as the junk only carries 12 guests. It was very comfortable - small but clean cabin with ensuite.

We were greeted with drinks and cool cloths before the ship motored away from the main group. Lunch soon followed and was of a high standard - eight small courses mainly comprising of seafood. Over the 3 days all the food offered was prepared differently, served with crisp linen and beautifully decorated. And it all tasted fabulous.

After lunch we visited a big cave complex which was interesting - full of stalacites etc. , all colourfuly lit up with lights. There were of course many other people viewing the caves with us.

Next they took us to a small island beach with a look out above it. I decided to stay on board and read in the shade on deck - they had comfy wicker lounges - but everybody else went ashore. Jerry climbed to the lookout - much opnce there we realised that many of the junks we saw previously at the dock were for day trippers only as the bay we spent the night in wasn't over crowed.

In fact it was very pretty after dark with all the lights sparking in the water. We sat on the rooftop with a glass of wine and watched the sun set behind the peaks. It was very beautiful - the area was very similar to the glorious scenery around the Li River in China - with water instead of rice paddies. A lovely dinner followed and then an early night.

The next day was fabulous from start to finish. After breakfast we were all put into small 2 person kayaks (I definately had reservations) but thoroughly enjoyed it.

We spent the morning rowing around the bay and visiting some of the grottos which were within some of the peaks. It was really peaceful and beautiful. There were no other boats around as we had motored away from everybody else.

We only spotted a few other boats in the distance for the remainder of the day. There were many tiny little wooden boats with local fishermen bobbibg around us. Later most people onboard spent an hour jumping into the water from the decks of the boat - again I read. I'm not totally comfortable in the water at the best of time.

Late afternoon we were back in the kayaks for a long paddle to and around the fishing village which floats on the waters of the bay. The houses were very simple, made of wooden planks, with electricity but all fresh water had to fetched from on shore each day.

The guide on our boat said that the people were very poor and had a very difficult life. This I can definately believe. One wonders how they still manage to find fish in the water - you would think that the supplies would be depleted. The locals all seemed happy to see us - we got plenty of waves anyway! Another sunset, the rest of the bottle of wine drunk whilst watching the stars and another happy day finished.

Next day, after breakfast it was back in the kayaks for another paddle before heading back to the harbour. A brunch was served on the way back -

we all ate it of course but it really hadn't been long since breakfast. The tip envelope was presented to us before the bar bills.

We loved the trip - the scenery was spectacular, especially on the middle day, but we were very pleased that we did two night trip and not just the one night. You would not have got much time kayaking on the shorter trip - we spent at least 4 hours on the water.

The ladies from the fishing village who rowed up to the sides of the junks with their boats loaded with everything you would want. They even had the beers on ice!

Returning to the dock we pushed our way through the crowds, stood waiting for our bus from Hanoi to bring the new guests before it took us back the 3 hours to the city. That evening we had tickets booked on the overnight train to Sapa in North West Vietnam.

We had visited the area on a previous trip but were expecting to see major changes there. Eight years previously they were still buiding roads around Sapa. A few hours spent in a cafe, then off to catch the night train.

Source: travelblog

Recommendation in Ha Long Bay:

Ha Long Bay Cruise

Ha Long Bay Kayaking

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Pedalling the Northwest of Vietnam

In colonial days, the mountains surrounding Sapa were known as the Tonkinese Alp for the quasi-European climate, with the town functioning as a former hill station, built by the French as a retreat from the heat for vacationing military officers. It is also home to Vietnam’s highest peak, Mount Fansipan, which towers above the town at a height of 3,143 metres.

Terraced fields, Sapa, Vietnam

Planning a cycling trip in these remote areas of Vietnam as a solo traveller might not be the wisest decision, primarily due to the need for special permits in the less well-discovered areas, but I knew I could do without, having lived for nearly 8 years in Vietnam.

I decided to initiate my 18 year-old son, Sacha, to the art of cycling his first bicycle trip ever. Our first challenge was to put the bikes on the train from Hanoi to Lao Cai and then bike 40 kilometres uphill to Sapa. There are many trains from Hanoi to Lao Cai. However, almost all sleeper seats are controlled by travel agents. It is impossible to buy sleeper tickets. Some seat tickets or a few second class sleepers may be available at the train station without pre-booking. Ask the travel agents for the departure.

Our first day: on reaching the Lao Cai train station, at about 6am, you have two choices: bike the 35km uphill if you are up to it or take the minibus.

The country has 54 ethnic groups, giving Vietnam the richest and most complex ethnic makeup of Southeast Asia. The majority of the ethnic minorities live in the hilly regions of the Northwest, with other tribes scattered in the Central Highlands and the South. However, the Northwest is the best place to start, as traditional dress in the central and southern parts has been displaced by a more casual approach.
Sapa speaks the language of tourism and is no longer a secret but one can not escape its exquisite views. It is also home to Vietnam’s highest peak, Mount Fansipan, which towers above the town at a height of 3,143 metres.

The Black H’mong and the Red Dao are two of the main tribes in this area. The Dao shave their eyebrows and the hair around their faces to highlight their beauty and are very distinctive with their cherry head coverings, jingling with silver coins. The Black H’mong, in contrast, knots their long dark hair inside tall headdresses, and wears indigo-dyed clothes that shimmer in the light. Dressed in their traditional finery, these tribal women cheerfully intermingle on the streets of Sapa, often inspecting each others’ handwork, while packing sleeping babies on their backs in beautifully embroidered cloth carriers.

Our second day: Ban Ho village, located more than 26 kilometres away from the famous resort town of Sapa and home to the Tay minorities. Situated alongside a turquoise fast growing stream, you must take the time to explore this village before pushing on over the suspension bridge and trekking through rice fields to the Red Dao village of Nam Toong.

Even though Ban Ho is not too far from the centre of Sapa, not many tourists have visited the village because of the tough approach road, which is under construction and slippery in the rainy season.

However, the village is also accessible by riding from Sapa. I recommend staying with my old friend Mr. Son, the chief of the village and his wife, Ms. Lu Thi Ut. The best homestay in the village for the night with a traditional Tay dinner and breakfast.

Our third day: we covered the 26 kilometres and went back to Sapa in the morning, and biked the 15 kilometres from Sapa to the remote Ta Phin village which still retains the traditional customs and lifestyle of ethnic minority groups. Set within a valley with a touring peaking mountain at one end, this village is alive with the daily life of the Kinh, Red Dao and Black H’mong people.

The valley floor is layered with rice paddies and dotted with 20 small home communes. Above them are some smaller communes and a patchwork of corn and vegetable fields. When heading off to Ta Phin village from Sapa, biking up and down the 15 kilometres of hilly terrain is a good choice as travellers will see local people working in terraced paddy fields, or travelling back and forth from the market to their homes. And after a long day of biking on the windy roads and hills you can soak your bones and muscles in a traditional Red Dao herbal bath in one of the homestays. All around the village there is an energy generated by the daily life of the locals here.

The Red Dao, distinguished by their impressive headdress, and the Black H’mong, in their shiny indigo-dyed clothes have lived here for almost 400 hundred years.

Our fourth day:
early rising from Ta Phin village and continue winding our way through the scenic hills and valleys from Sapa to the new Lai Chau town. Passing the Silver Waterfall, we cycle up to Tram Ton pass at 2,000m above sea level. Our most challenging day with 115 kilometres to the new administrative town of Lai Chau.

Our fifth day:
a very picturesque, easy riding and mostly downhill 40 kilometres to a beautiful hotel made of bamboo and rattan where we settled on the edge of a national park. The vegetation in the valleys is out of this world.

Our sixth day:
75 kilometres to the old Lai Chau, a small town nestled in the heart of a beautiful valley carved from spectacular mountains by the Da River. The town, no more than half a mile in length, initially had little to offer, but the area itself is a biking goldmine. The weather can be pretty hot here, so you need plenty of water for biking, but the views as you rise up through the valley are well worth it. In June and July temperatures can rise as high as 40 degrees centigrade making this the hottest place in Vietnam; the rise in temperature is related to the southeast summer monsoon blasting in from the Indian Ocean with the surrounding mountains enclosing the heat.

Our seventh day:
100 kilometres to Dien Bien Phu. The city lies in Muong Thanh Valley and is surrounded by sleep, heavily forested hills and mountains. This valley witnessed the extremely heroic attacks by Vietnam People’s Army (VPA) against the French forces. On May 7, 1954, the VPA forces overran the headquarters of the beleaguered. Since then, Vietnam has been famous for its resounding victory at Dien Bien Phu.

Those French men who were involved in the Dien Bien Phu battle are particularly interested in returning to Vietnam to visit the old battlefield. Places of interest in Dien Bien Phu include Hill A1 and Hill C2 (known as Eliane 2 and Eliane 4 by the French) where fierce fighting took place.

Other places worth seeing are the headquarters of Correal de Casles and the shelter of Pirot, commander of the French artillery, who killed himself in despair on March 15, 1954 in his shelter. Also open to tourists is the cemetery for fallen Vietnamese soldiers.

Our eighth day: the return to Hanoi a one-hour flight from Muong Thanh airport in Dien Bien Phu will take you to Hanoi, Noi Bai airport.

Further information

- More than 6 trains daily. Duration and price depends on the train. Tickets can be paid with Dong. Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi takes about 48 hours on local train. Reunification Express takes 36 hours.

- Hard seats: Wooden seats. Very uncomfortable on long journeys.

- Soft seats: paddling more comfortable. Tall westerners will feel them a bit tight

- Hard seats: wooden seats with just a tight touch of paddling 6 person compartment

- Soft beds: very comfortable but expensive 4 person compartment

- Reservation necessary: Recommended to reserve 2 or 3 days in advance. Tickets sold at train station booking office have special concern for foreigners. Travel agents are sometimes still secure tickets early when the station tells you that they are sold out.

Flight service

- Returning to Hanoi, a one-hour flight from Muong Thanh airport in Dien Bien Phu will take you to Hanoi, Noi Bai airport. US$65 one way and free for the bikes.

Seasons for the North-West of Vietnam

- Tourist Peak & Dry seasons: March to May, October to November

- Vietnamese Tourist Seasons: June and July

- Rainy: June to August

- Water: January and February, especially cold at night

Hotels and Homestays

- Along the way, you will find centrally located and comfortable hotels with private facilities. Standard hotels have a three star rating. Homestays in villages are simple in terms of bedding and amenities.

You are provided with a mutter, pillow and mosquito nest and sleep on the floor like the locals. Accommodation and amenities may be shared with the host family. Toilets are usually western style. Hot water is not always available for showers.

Biking days

A typical cycling day starts at around 6.30am. We aim to reach the next overnight stop between 4.30pm and 5.00pm. During the day you have short breaks for rests, snacks and there’s plenty of opportunity for photographs. Depending upon the distance, terrain and weather, the day can be shortened to 50km a day.


Need 21 speed hybrid mountain bikes and good quality helmets, saddle bags, cycling shorts, cycling shoes or runners, comfortable slip-on shoes for evenings, light weight shorts and long pants, t-shirts, raincoat, hat, sunglasses, sun block, insect repellent, toiletries, flashlight, air pump, water bottle, small towel, camera and spare batteries’ charger, pen and paper, passport and photocopies of passport and visa, small amount of money for shopping in markets, toilet paper, zip lock bags, small first aid kit. Bring warm clothes for the cooler midnights of November to January.


You will find small garages everywhere along the way.

Source: dtinews

Recommendation in Sapa, Vietnam:

Biking travel guide

West to East Biking Exploration

Exploring Mekong Delta by bike

Thursday, January 7, 2010

ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA announces to join in Adventure Travel Trade Association

ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA has been member of Adventure Travel Trade Association, who operates and promotes sustainable adventure travel as well as trusted tour operators online

Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) is a global membership organization dedicated to unifying, networking, professionalizing, promoting and responsibly growing the adventure travel market as well as operates and promotes sustainable adventure travel as well as trusted tour operators online. ATTA members include tour operators, destination marketing organizations, tourism boards, specialty travel agents, guides, accommodations, media and service providers.

Host of the annual Adventure Travel World Summit executive conferences, the ATTA provides professional support, development, education, research, marketing, career building, networking and cost-saving resources to its members.

ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA (ATA) is a Vietnam Tour Operator, who offers a wide selection of Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar adventure tours, including hiking and trekking, biking, motorcycling, overland touring and family travel packages.

Their packages and custom itineraries will take you through exotic destinations to really experience the culture, history and nature of Asia. Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy an unforgettable active vacation. They run the most adventure tours available in the area. Their active trips are designed for all levels of outdoor enthusiasts, real people seeking real fun and adventure

ATA joined in ATTA to promote and grow the sustainable and responsible adventure travel market especially in Australia, Euro and North America as well as spread of their brand name to global adventure travel network.

To be the member of ATTA, ATA expressed their effort to serve clients with the best services which is guaranteed, responsible and sustainable. Additionally, ATA is very happy to work with other Tour Operators, Travel Agencies, and Wholesales….as their partners for a mutually beneficial co-operation.

To be the clients or partners of ATA, you are all always welcome to their promisingly policies, unique adventure products and real experiences in the different way “ACTIVELY EXPLORING HIDDEN LANDS…”


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Alleys form soul of old Hoi An, Vietnam

Falling in love with Hoi An in the central province of Quang Nam is to fall in love with its wonderful alleyways, which for locals are the soul of their home town.

According to the town’s documents, major roads in Hoi An, such as Tran Phu, Nguyen Thai Hoc and Bach Dang were formed in the 17th century along the Hoai River. A system of alleyways then gradually evolved to link those roads.

Narrow alley in Hoi An, Vietnam

Many alley names remind locals and visitors of historic and folk legends. Sica Alley once had the French Sica alcohol stores, and Ba Le Alley had the Ba Le well with water that was sweetest and coolest in Hoi An.

There are other wells believed to be blessed by beneficent genii, the ancient spirits that were part of the seventh century Champa Kingdom, a Hindu-Buddhist culture with trading routes around Southeast Asia.

Alleys in Hoi An are often so narrow they can only fit two or three people walking alongside each other- and their sides are the sides of houses or garden walls.

Narrow alley in Hoi An, Vietnam

The alleys are long and covered with moss and lichen and many contain small well that have witnessed families and neighbours gathering for generations.

Thai Te Bieu lives in a home in an alley on Tran Phu Street with four generations of his family. His son and daughter have set up businesses in the city centre.

"If my descendants must, they can move to other places, but I can’t leave this alley," said Bieu. "There are so many memories."

The director of the Hoi An Centre for Monument Management and Preservation, Nguyen Chi Trung, said the alleys were integral parts of Hoi An’s architecture, establishing its links with the past.

"For so many years, the ancient houses have existed along with the lanes to serve them," Trung said.

"Many tourists have fallen in love with Hoi An just because of the alleys," Trung said. "They provide a sense of a countryside community in the town."

For Hoi An people, the alleys are bridges for neighbourly affection. Pham Thi Loc and Tran Thi Cung, who live in an alley on Nguyen Thai Hoc Street, realise this after decades of togetherness.

"We live in two different houses, but it’s just like one," they said. "Although we are not relatives, we love each other like sisters and are always together.

"A special thing is that tourists quickly acquire our way of behaving," Loc said. "As the paths are narrow, they always give way to others with friendly smiles."

Trung said the meaning of alleys would be promoted in the future when Hoi An became a city completely without cars and motorbikes.

"People will prefer to walk through alleys to save space and time," he said.

Hoi An authorities said they were determined to keep the alleys intact as some had become busy trading points with booming tourism. "To preserve the soul of the city, we attach special importance to keeping waves of traders from entering the alleys," Trung said. "Streets without motor vehicles were moves to keep that soul."

"We believe that locals and tourists comprehend the spiritual value of each alley they are living in or walking through."

Source: VNN/Travel

Recommendation in Hoi An, Vietnam: