Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Floating in paradise in Halong Bay on luxury junk

GETTING to Halong Bay in Vietnam's northeast has been quite a journey.

It has taken almost four hours by road to cover the 180km from Hanoi, and all the while we are dodging a typhoon. Earlier in the morning our trip was cancelled when authorities ordered all vessels out of the World Heritage-listed bay.

Kayaking Halong Bay, Vietnam

Kayaking Halong Bay, Vietnam

Disappointed, we console ourselves with the thought that while we might miss out on seeing one of the world's most beautiful geographical treasures, we could always go shopping.

Then the captain of the Bhaya junk calls to give the all-clear. The typhoon has changed course, yet again, and it is now safe to set sail.

Arriving at Halong Bay
It is mid-afternoon when we finally arrive in Halong, and we don't have time to catch our breath before we are ushered on to a tender that takes us to the luxury junk waiting patiently in the warm waters of the bay. We are hot and tired, but then something magical happens.

The junk, a traditional oriental wooden vessel with sails, sets off and soon we are embraced by dozens of limestone islands that rise majestically out of the calm waters. It is serene and breathtaking, and it is now you thank your lucky stars you made the effort.

Cruise director Bac - who is also a tai chi master - welcomes us on board with an ice-cold cocktail and a list of instructions. Paramount is to relax and have fun, and Bac and his team are determined to make that happen.

The junk has 20 cabins, all airconditioned and with ensuites, on the lower deck. The upper deck is open-plan for eating and dancing - Bac likes to dance - and there is a sundeck upstairs.

You can do as much, or as little, as you want on the two-day cruise. The energetic can opt for a swim and a walk through the many caves dotted around the bay. There is also fishing at dusk and tai chi at dawn. Or, like me, you can sit back and take in the spectacular views.

About 1600 people live on Halong Bay in the four fishing villages of Cua Van, Ba Hang, Cong Tau and Vong Vieng. Most live on floating houses where washing flaps in the breeze on deck and children swim as their parents fish.

Foodies delight
Lunch is a delicious Vietnamese buffet and during the meal we plan our afternoon activities. Some of our group jump on board the tender for the quick trip to the beach for a swim; others have booked a massage that can be done on deck or in your room.

Dinner is a seafood buffet, followed by drinks on the deck as Bac turns up the music and encourages guests to follow his lead on the dance floor. At about 10pm, the typhoon threatens again and we are forced to take shelter in a nearby cove. If there is a storm, I don't notice. I sleep like a baby. We wake to light showers, and although the weather never appears threatening to us nautical novices, the captain decides it will be safer to head to the harbour.

After breakfast Bac takes a tai chi class on the sundeck and then turns up the volume for a farewell dance with guests as the junk calmly heads home. Halong Bay - its name means Bay of Descending Dragons - passes peacefully by as we drink green tea on deck. The tender returns us to shore for the journey back to Hanoi.

It has been about 15 years since I was last in Halong, and there have been many changes in the city. There are now 300 hotels and even a casino to cater for the ever-increasing number of tourists that is expected to rise to about 2.5 million this year.

Some things will never change, however. You can rest assured this bay of beautiful islands will always remain serene and spectacular.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A day floating on Cai Be market in Mekong delta, Vietnam

Tourists who like eco-tourism will find many places in Tien Giang Province that will interest them, including the Cai Be floating market.Tien Giang Province is now just over 40 minutes drive from Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.

Cai Be market, Mekong Delta, VietnamA tourist looks out to Cai Be Floating Market from a cruise

For anyone unfamiliar, the floating market is a strange concept. However, visitors will understand as soon as they see the boats filled with vegetables, fruit and various consumer goods running back and forth along the river that runs through Cai Be town to make sales transactions, from early morning until late in the evening.

Tourists can hire a powerboat to sail along the river to experience exactly how buoyant and animated a floating market is. Cai Be market begins from about 5 a.m. as merchandisers purchase their goods there and then sail to other provinces. It is currently one of the biggest wholesale markets in the Mekong Delta region.

The wooden boats sell flowers and agricultural products, domestic goods and food. On the deck of one boat, we can see a family and even some dogs, pigs and chickens as the boat is their mobile home. The boats can stop to bank at land whenever and wherever their drivers like.

Tourists can also enjoy their breakfast, a hot bowl of Hu tiu My Tho (My Tho-style noodle soup) with a dark coffee, on the boats.

The special market forms on the place that meets the river flows of Vinh Long, Tien Giang and Ben Tre and gathers hundreds of boats which carry goods, especially agricultural goods from other provinces, including Vinh Long sweet potatoes and Hau Giang pumpkins. Cai Be Town, where those rivers cross, is renowned for its fruit including the terracotta colored oranges, the sweet Hoa Loc mangoes or Xa Li guavas.

Tourists need not ask what each boat sells, as products are clearly visible, allowing customers to choose the boat they would like to see.

Alongside the floating markets are houses and construction sites built close to the river or even on the banks, as people there mostly earn their living by fishing or selling products on boats. At sunset, sailing along the river to contemplate the old and new buildings casting shadows on the water will give tourists unforgettable memories.

After sailing on the river for a while, tourists can drop by a farmer’s house to take a rest, spending the day in fruit farms, tasting local cuisine and produce, and listening to old stories.

For those who have a tight schedule, visiting Cai Be floating market or the fruit farms will only take one day.

Source: VNN/SGT

Recommendations in Vietnam:
- Mekong Excursion one-day
- Mekong delta & Angkor Wat - Summer Promotion 2010
- Hot Summer Promotion Adventure Tours in 2010

Monday, April 12, 2010

Cat Tien National Park in Vietnam drawing tourists

For enthusiasts of ecological exploration, bird watchers , forest trekkers and river adventurers, Cat Tien National Park is a rewarding destination.

Vietnam National ParksCat Tien National Park, Vietnam

About three hours from Ho Chi Minh City on National Highway 20, Cat Tien is in a winding section of the Dong Nai River in Dong Nai, Lam Dong and Binh Phuoc provinces.

The park is not only an attractive eco-tourist site but also an archaeological project associated with culture, history and religion.

Cat Tien’s waterfalls create large sand banks like beaches. The biodiversity includes bamboo woodland, grassland, wetland and primeval forest. The park has over 1,360 species of flora including 34 listed in the Red Book and many types of precious woods. There are 77 species of mammal, 320 species of bird, 58 species of reptile, 26 species of amphibian and 130 types offish. Some are threatened with extinction such as the Java rhino, bull, Asian elephant and fresh-water crocodile.

Watching the birds looking for food and then bringing it to the tops of the green trees is a nice experience. So is discovering the green forests and the secrets of the plants.

Some tree-trunks are hollow but still stand imposingly with other normal trees. Some have giant roots tied together like greeting gates.

After passing through the forest, travelers should relax on the large rocks and listen to the birds sing in harmony with the murmurs of the streams and be dazzled by the waterfalls. Tourists can also visit artifacts of Oc Eo Culture and many cultural and historical features of ethnic people.

Source: VNN/SGT/Vietnam

Recommendation in Cat Tien National Park, Vietnam: