Monday, February 28, 2011

Motorbiking in Southeast Asia: two-wheeled adventures from mountain to coast

Southeast Asia is home to some of the greatest adventures on earth. Throw a motorbike into the mix and you’ll have the time of your life. Here’s our guide to a two-wheeled adventure in the Mekong region.

Vietnam and Laos – sublime scenery from mountain to coast

Ho Chi Minh Trails, VietnamHo Chi Minh Trails, Vietnam

To kick off, the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail has been upgraded into a major highway running along the spine of the country and offers some sublime scenery. The stretch from the old US airbase of Khe Sanh north to Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is a beauty.

Elsewhere in Vietnam, Ha Giang is the final frontier for motorbiking aficionados in Indochina. Like Halong Bay on high, karst peaks protrude from the top of rolling mountains and secluded villages are home to a colourful mosaic of ethnic minorities. The gorge road from Dong Van to Meo Vac is the stuff of biker yore, its towering cliffs looming high above and plummeting to the Nho Que River in the distance below. Just remember to keep an eye on the road, despite the breathtaking scenery. A word of caution, however, Ha Giang still requires an official permit to visit more remote areas.

Ha Giang, VietnamHa Giang, Vietnam

If the coast is more your cup of tea, then try the Top Gear thing and ride notorious Highway 1 between Saigon and Hanoi. The traffic can be daunting around major cities, but there are some remote and desolate stretches with empty beaches. Aim high over the Hai Van Pass, ignoring the tedious tunnel that has been conveniently burrowed through the mountain.

Take the Top Gear theme further and team up with some friends to ride a Minsk, a Vespa and a Honda Cub. Converting the bikes to amphibious vehicles to explore Halong Bay might be a step too far for a holiday.

Back to the Ho Chi Minh theme, for experienced dirt bikers, it is possible to explore remnants of the old Ho Chi Minh Trail across the border in Laos. Rusting tanks and forgotten field guns litter the jungle of Southern Laos. Combine a ride through the region’s recent history with some of the most remote and wild regions of the country in Salavan and Attapeu.

Recommended tours:

Motorbiking Adventure Vietnam
Motorbiking Adventure Cambodia

Source: lonelyplanet

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Travel to Dong Van Plateau, Explore Global Geo-parks Network in Vietnam

During the traditional Tet holiday 2011, there were nearly 4.000 domestic and foreign tourists to Dong Van karst plateau Geopark to excursion and travel. With total tourism revenue reached over 3 billion.

Under the instruction of Ha Giang province People’s Committee, all relevant districts has implemented well-organized culture, sports, entertainment and travel activities to meet local people and travellers’ needs. Performing the external politics very well, Vietnamese national visit to their homeland during Tet holiday.

Numerous travellers visit to Vuong palace, Ha Giang, VietnamNumerous travellers visit to Vuong palace, Ha Giang, Vietnam

In particular, after nearly 3 years to prepare, Dong Van karst plateau has been recognized as a member of the Global Geoparks Network. Creating an important premise for tourism development of the province, Development of cultural community tourism villages as well as concerned about the investment and development of tourism infrastructure.

Ha Giang has promoted powerful of tourism forms such as eco tourism, adventure discovery travel, cultural tourism and so on. Ha Giang have alot of tourism sites has attracted numerous visitors to the city in the New Rabbit Year, namely, Dong Van karst plateau Geopark, Lung Cu flag tower, Dong Van Old street, Vuong Dynasty’s artistic architecture monument (Dong Van district), Co Tien double mountain (Quan Ba district); Ma Pi Leng Pass.

Ma Pi Leng Pass, Ha Giang, VietnamMa Pi Leng Pass, Ha Giang, Vietnam

Come to Ha Giang, tourists enjoy not only the traditional food of all tribes but also yourself in the life of the highlanders. Especially, they will have opportunity to attend the traditional festival of ethnic minorities of the province such as Long Tong Festival of Tay ethnic group, the crop-praying festival of Dao ethnic minority, fighting buffalo ceremony, fighting chicken festival. They also have chance to participate in traditional games like pushing stick, throwing con, walking on stilts, jumping .etc. It’s cultural identity of the ethnic groups.

About Dong Van karst plateau Geopark:

Dong Van karst plateau Geopark consists of four districts, namely, Meo Vac, Dong Van, Yen Minh, Quan Ba. Located in the North of Ha Giang province, Viet Nam. The karst plateau is created by at least 80 percent limestone and many fossils of ancient creatures species from 400 - 600 million years ago. Its average elevation is 1400 -1600 meters above sea level.

Dong Van Plateau, VietnamDong Van Plateau, Vietnam

Dong Van karst plateau Geopark is situated in a temperate climate and divided into two seasons: Rainy and dry seasons. The annual mean temperature is 24 -28 degree Celsius, while the winter temperatures may be down to 5 degree Celsius.

Dong Van rocky highland Geopark was official 77th member of the Global Geopark Network on 3/10/2010. It became the first global Geopark in Viet Nam, the second in Southeast Asia.

Source: dongvangeopark - Edited by Tony Nguyen - Active Travel Asia

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Spanish magazine spotlights ‘Great Wall of Vietnam’

Spanish writer Mark Jenkin has extolled the wonderful beauty of Son Doong (Mountain River Cave) in Quang Binh central province.

In a reportage entitled “Vietnam Cave” published in theNational Geographic magazine in January, M. Jenkin wrote “There is a jungle inside Vietnam’s mammoth cavern.”

Son Doong Cave, VietnamSon Doong Cave, Vietnam

M. Jenkin cited his teammate Jonathan Sims, who was a member of the first expedition to enter the cave, as saying that his team could explore two and a half miles of Son Doong before a 200-foot wall of muddy calcite stopped them.

They named it the Great Wall of Vietnam.

Explorers stop to contemplate a rock wall looking like a waterfallExplorers stop to contemplate a rock wall looking like a waterfall

The passage to Son Doong is perhaps 300 feet wide, the ceiling nearly 800 feet tall: room enough for an entire New York City block of 40-storey buildings, he wrote, adding that “And the end is out of sight.”

Vietnam Cave
Located in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park recognized as a world natural heritage site by UNESCO in 2003, the cave, 200m high and 150m wide, is believed to be almost twice the size of the current record holder, Deer Cave in Sarawak Malaysia.

The massive cavern currently said to be the largest-known cave on Earth was discovered by a local man named Ho Khanh in 1991.

However, not until 2009 was it made known to the public when a group of British scientists from the British Cave Research Association, led by Howard and Deb Limbert, conducted a survey in Phong Nha-Ke Bang.

Source: en.baomoi

Recommended tours:

Friday, February 18, 2011

How to find safe travel in Halong Bay Vietnam

Having read the news about tourist boat sunk in Halong Bay, Vietnam some days ago, killing 12 tourists from 9 countries, ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA would like to give out some advices about how to travel safely and enjoyably in Halong Bay. There are some something you should concern about as you plan your trip there.

Halong Bay, VietnamHalong Bay, Vietnam
1. Overnight junk (vessel) or hotel?

When you travel you can stay in hotel anywhere, anytime and that is just so normal. If you want to have a unique travel experience in Halong Bay it worth spending a night aboard of an overnight vessel amongst thousands of islands and islets. Though the recently tragedy incident happened to an overnight vessel I still vote for it. The question now is how to minimize the risk.

2. How to choose a reliable overnight vessel?

Stick to popular names like Indochina Sails, Huong Hai Junk, Bai Tho Junk, Hai Long Junk,… there are many boat fleets recommended or not recommended on Trip Advisor by travelers. We all know that the big brand is likely a guarantee for the quality. In this case, it is so true. A wooden vessel of a big fleet after some year in operation would be sold to smaller fleet who is targeting at cheap services. These old wooden vessels are not reliable especially in bad weather.

When you book overnight vessel ask your travel consultant or reservation license of the vessel for doing its business. That can tell a lot how reliable your overnight vessel is.

3. What else a popular big vessel fleet can offer?

Their crew are better trained and more discipline. They concentrate on what they do better than crew of a small and unorganized fleet. The vessels are well maintained and safety equipment aboard are better equipped. There are many more things about quality and safety that a small and cheap fleet can not offer traveler since they just target at cheap services.

4. Already aboard, what you should concern?

There should be a hummer in your cabin which can be used to break the glass window in case of emergency. The hummer should be hang right on either sides of the window and you have locate it so you can have it when you need (hope not). If you do not find the hummer you should ask for one from the crew or you make something yourself for that purpose.

There should also be life-vest in your cabin. You have to be sure that you have them ready in case.

Scan the whole vessel for emergency escape way, fire extinguisher,… that would be useful in case of emergency

 See Halong kayaking and cruising adventures by ActiveTravel Asia, at here:

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Travel Cambodia by Photos

We’ve never had a disappointing photo trip to Cambodia or Myanmar (Burma) and once again both destinations delivered for us on our recent photo tour.

Angkor Wat and the Angkor Temples

Sunrise at Angkor Wat is a “bucket list” type experience and of course we were no exception. The only problem is that it always seems like every tourist in Cambodia has the same idea. It’s still possible to get some incredible images (I took the one to the left despite the scene around me looking like the image below).

One great thing about photographing Angkor from the West at sunrise is that the structure itself is silhouetted. That can be important as there is nearly perpetual restoration work on the temple itself so there are always some unfortunately colored green tarps somewhere on the towers that are hard to hide and painful to remove in Photoshop. But of course with a silhouette shot it is much easier to ignore them.

Once the sun is up you begin to realize just how many other amazing structures are lurking in the forest nearby. Some of them like Angkor Thom are actually larger than Angkor Wat and offer even more impressive photo opportunities like those we found at the North and East Gates and the Bayon towers. This year Cambodia was blessed with a very strong rainy season so many of the pools at the temples had plenty of water.

Since much of the source of power for the Khmer empire was their irrigation system—allowing them to have two or three rice crops per year, freeing up citizens for the army and temple building—and the temples are in many cases built to help glorify those efforts it is always special to see them in their natural condition with the various ponds and reflecting pools clean and full.

Cambodia Today

As inspiring as the many ancient temples are they are only one reason to visit Cambodia. This primarily rural country has many small villages full of friendly people, colorful markets, and lots of opportunities to learn about and help with some of their unique problems.

A large portion of the Cambodian population was either imprisoned or killed under the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s. Their “liberation” by the Vietnamese communists who then governed the country for another twelve years was only a relative improvement. But since their independence in 1980 the Cambodians have made great strides in creating the institutions of democracy and a market economy.

But the legacies of decades of war are still visible. One of the most horrific was the seeding of the country with millions of landmines from the literally dozens of different armed groups that were involved in the string of conflicts that raged through Southeast Asia in the 50s, 60s and 70s.

Temples off the Beaten Path

Some of my very favorite temples are ones which are a little off the beaten path or not on the “whirlwind tour” list of sights. Standing beneath their towers in the dead quiet jungle you can almost imagine that you were back a thousand years ago when they were built.

It is hard to believe when you first see the mammoth stone edifices but the Khmer never invented the arch, so all of the temples are made of stacks of large blocks of rock using either lintels or corbelling to create interior space.

More incredible is that they did not use any type of mortar so the structures were all “dry-stacked” together, in many cases so carefully hewn that a piece of paper would not slide between blocks each weighing many tons—and hauled as far as 60 miles from where they were originally quarried.

Beng Melea has been left nearly untouched from the way it was found in the jungle. Since it was surrounded by landmines until it was cleared just a couple years ago it is also very well preserved.

Wandering around it makes you feel a little like Indiana Jones.

Srah Srang Reservoir at Sunset. Water was central to the Khmer empire, whether it was the huge lakes used to feed their irrigation systems or “decoratitve” reservoirs like this one used by royalty.

Bantay Samre is nearly as intricate as the larger Angkor Wat, but because it is a little harder to get to it is much less crowded.

Stairs in this temple, like many, were steep on purpose as the “stairway to heaven” was supposed to be difficult. Today many of them are protected with wooden overlays which will preserve their rock faces and make climbing much easier for visitors.

Beyond Angkor—Rolous

Many tourists never get a chance to get very far from Siem Reap and the Angkor temples, since it typically requires having a driver and vehicle and it helps to have a Cambodian guide to translate as needed with the locals.

We always take a day to venture a little further afield and visit both the Rolous Group of temples—the pre-Angkorian Khmer temples—and the surrounding towns, monasteries and markets.

Many of the more remote temples are treated as a regular feature of village life by the locals. This girl was on her way to school cutting through the temple grounds when she stopped to pose for Alison to capture her portrait. Many of the children enjoy having their photos taken and even posing for shots in exchange for getting to look at the results in the LCD.

By: David Cardinal

US TV station highlights Vietnam’s tourist attraction

KPVI News 6, the local NBC (National Broadcasting Company) affiliated television station for Idaho, has advised Americans to tour Vietnam to get to know “Southeast Asia's rising star".

According to the TV station, as the world discovers more of Vietnam's treasures, this Southeast Asian country is climbing higher on travellers' must-see lists. A Vietnam tour is often the most effective way to take in the best of this fascinating country's attractions including the highlands of the far north and the beaches of the south.

One pillar pagoda in Hanoi, VietnamOne pillar pagoda in Hanoi, Vietnam

In its website, KPVI News 6 writes that travellers won't want to miss Hanoi, Hue, Da Nang and Ho Chi Minh City.

In Hanoi, Vietnam's capital, its citizens are justifiably proud of that long history. However, most visitors find that Hanoi isn't just stuck in the past - it's a forward-thinking metropolis even though it's filled with the elegantly crumbling vestiges of French colonial architecture and dotted with ancient temples and pagodas.

The best historic sights are the One-Pillar Pagoda, built in 1049 to resemble a lotus bud; and Hoa Lo Prison, which might be more recognizable by its other moniker, the Hanoi Hilton. One of the country's delightful folk traditions with an evening at a water puppet theater performance, which have been held for centuries, is advisable.

Also according to the website, few visitors to the former imperial capital of Hue are disappointed. The city's incomparable art and architecture make an impression with the grandeur of former imperial residences and temples. Ones should visit the Citadel and take part in Hue's legendary cuisine, which is renowned throughout the country as being uniquely refined.

Citadel, Hue, VietnamCitadel, Hue, Vietnam

Da Nang is described as Vietnam's appeal as a relaxing beach destination; a bustling, lively city, with ample opportunities to shop and play in the waves and a reputation for great food.

Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon, is an essential stop. Its reputation is that of a pulsing, vibrant metropolis that is always on the go. It's more modern than Hanoi, but there are still plenty of historic sights to see - like the History Museum, Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral and Giac Vien Pagoda - between stops at the city's many shopping boutiques and great restaurants.

Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral, Ho Chi Minh, VietnamNotre Dame Cathedral, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

KPVI News 6 concludes that many travellers find that Vietnam fits well into a longer itinerary that also takes them to other popular Southeast Asian destinations like Cambodia and Thailand.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Travel Tips and advice from Active Travel Laos

After years of war and isolation, Southeast Asia’s most pristine environment, intact cultures and quite possibly the most chilled – out people on earth mean destination Laos is fast earning cult status among travelers. Active Travel Laos ( ) shows some travel tips and advice in Laos.

Vientiane, LaosVientiane, Laos

Laos is a country that offers plenty of challenging terrain, interesting sites and activities for the adventurous. You can kayak or go boating down the Mekong, trek through jungles atop an elephant, go exploring and even rock-climbing in limestone caves, hike mountains in search of remote and ancient temple ruins or camp out in wildlife conservation parks.

Below on this Laos Country Guide is some useful travel information for visitors contemplating a trip to Laos, including suggestions on where and when to go, visa requirements, money used, information about Laos food and drink as well as a handy Travellers' Dos and Don'ts list.

Traveller Dos and Don'ts

- Do dress modestly when entering temples, museums, official buildings and government offices; no shorts or sleeveless shirts, tank tops or beach wear. Shorts that cover the thighs are acceptable everywhere else. Be clean and neat in appearance whenever possible.

- Do like the locals and keep your sense of time flexible. Expecting punctuality will often lead to frustration.

- Do remove shoes when entering temples and homes (it is convenient to wear slip-ons or sandals).

- Don't point your feet towards people or Buddha images. When sitting in a temple, keep legs together and to the side in a mermaid position.

- Do consider leaving a small donation when visiting temples.

- Don't take pictures posing with Buddha images, handle, climb or sit on them.

- Don't, if you are a woman, touch monks, hand them objects, sit with or talk to them outside of temples. Any offerings need to pass through the hands of a man first.

- Do ask permission before taking pictures of people, particularly in villages outside the cities where the people may have superstitions against being photographed.

- Don't touch people or children on their heads.

- Don't lose your temper in public - speaking loudly and angrily is often counterproductive.

- Don't engage in public displays of affection.

- Do greet someone who is greeting you - by nop, handshake or a polite bow and smile - but don't offer a kiss!

- Do respect the Laos' interpersonal space - there is little physical contact or closeness between individuals who are not family.

- Don't be surprised if someone goes right past you to get to something first - Laos generally do not queue up for anything.

- Do bargain for goods in markets and shops (except where there are fixed prices) but do so with a good attitude and smile. Prices are generally not inordinately high to begin with as they may be in other Asian cities.

Luang Prabang, LaosLuang Prabang, Laos

Visas and Passports


Passport with at least six months remaining validity required by everyone who enters Laos.


Required by all nationals from the UK, Australia, Canada, USA and EU countries.

Visa requirements are subject to change and you should check with your embassy to check the latest visa requirements.

Visas on arrival are for 30 days for most nationalities and this can be extended a max of two times for up to 30 days each time.

The Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs states that visas can be issued upon arrival in Laos to tourists at the following ports of entry: Wattay Airport in Vientiane; Pakse and Luang Prabang Airports; Friendship Bridges in Vientiane and Savannakhet; and land-border crossings at Boten, Huay Xai and Chong Mek.

Visa Cost

Visa cost ranges from $20 (China) to $42 (Canada). Sweden is $31, $35 for the USA, UK and most of Europe, $40 for India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka and $30 for Australia. The full list is on display at the Visa Application window.


All visas are issued for single entry and must be used within two months of date of issue.

Applications to: Consulate (or consular section at embassy) or an officially recognized tour operator. A visa valid for Laos can also be obtained from travel agencies in Bangkok (Thailand) or on arrival.

Active Travel Laos is member of ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA offers a wide selection of Laos adventure tours, including hiking and trekking, kayaking, biking, motorcycling, overland touring and family travel packages. The travel packages and custom itineraries will take travelers through exotic destinations to really experience the culture, history and nature of Laos.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Vietnam: A land of beauty rises among memories of war

A 15-minute drive and 20-minute boat ride from Dalat, you can climb into a makeshift seat atop an elephant and begin a bumpy and pleasant ride into the jungle, guided by a tiny, barefooted man who straddles the elephant’s head with ease.

Tea and English

Sometimes I remember the story beginning as we stepped out of the airport, greeted by a wave of oppressive humidity and hundreds of Vietnamese holding signs for someone named “Nguyen.” Getting into a Vietnamese taxi that wove its way through a sea of cars and bikes and motorbikes that would’ve terrified us had we not been too tired to care after the 17-hour flight. But in reality, we spent our first two hours in Vietnam trying to leave the airport. Trying to convince the customs officers that, although we did attend a Baptist university, we weren’t there to convert the defenseless masses. Our first encounter with a communist nation.

The entrance to Tan Son Nhat airport, Ho Chi Minh, VietnamThe entrance to Tan Son Nhat airport, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

Most visitors to Vietnam have come to experience what they imagine is a culture about as foreign to their own as any still in existence. But what most Vietnamese are anxious to show visitors is how well they can speak English. As we walked into an English class at a university in Ho Chi Minh City, the topic for the day was the impending threat of helmet laws for motorbike riders. Riders who maneuver traffic everyday that makes New York or even Rome look like the Disney’s Autotopia. Most Vietnamese couldn’t afford a helmet if they wanted to buy one, let alone pay the fines imposed if this law passed and they didn’t. Still, the conversation took a strange turn. “Helmets look funny,” one boy complained. “Yes,” another girl chimed in, “When you get to your date, your hair not look pretty.” Consensus was that the law shouldn’t pass.

After class, students migrate to the nearby “Tea & English.” If you appear foreign or let slip a word of English, expect to make new friends. For them, learning the language means they can get a job at a hotel or restaurant or shop — and maybe, one day, get to America.

The other side of the war

Visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels is often on the list of things to do for the first-time visitor to Vietnam. Before going down into the tunnels, government employees acting as tour guides lead you into a room where you sit in neat rows, staring at the ever- close- of Ho Chi Minh’s head floating on a backdrop of red until the video begins. The video gives the history of the Trail, explaining how it was built and the decisive role it played in the war.

Next, visitors stop to pose for photos on top of a rusty American tank; meanwhile, the tour guide explains how the Vietnamese stopped this tank in its tracks, killing the soldiers inside. Adding to the feeling of being in a war zone is the constant gunfire from the nearby shooting range — open to tourists for an additional fee — and the sound of mock land mines detonating if your foot trips one of the wires strung across the path. You then get a taste of travel down in the tunnels, which were clearly not sized for American frames. As you bend and squat and scrape your elbows on the jagged rock walls, you imagine Vietcong plots being hatched in the underground meeting room. Be sure to visit the souvenir/snack shop that finishes off the tour.

Chance encounter in a college town

Two lakes, a famous pagoda and one large waterfall draw many tourists to Dalat, six hours northeast of Ho Chi Minh City. There, in spite of its renown as the honeymoon Mecca of the nation, one feels a bit more as though they’re in their imagined Vietnam. Tiny women with brown, wrinkled skin waddle down the dirt roads balancing a stick with baskets of bread and vegetables on either side. Conical hats are everywhere and fewer people speak English, though enough to help the steady stream of tourists get by.

Xuan Huong Lake, Dalat, VietnamXuan Huong Lake, Dalat, Vietnam

The street market in Dalat is an experience unlike any other. Thousands of people pack the street so tightly that, when looking down on the scene from the balcony of a nearby restaurant, the ground is hardly visible. When you are in the middle of the throng, you are being called in every direction: “Flowers!” “Pigs’ feet!” “Baskets!” “Fish!” The vendors lines the road, further excited by the sight of what they can only assume are wealthy foreigners. The meat market can be a bit overwhelming for the faint of heart. Nevertheless, this singular experience is worth getting up at 6 a.m. to witness (and hear and smell...).

A 15-minute drive and 20-minute boat ride from Dalat, you can climb into a makeshift seat atop an elephant and begin a bumpy and pleasant ride into the jungle, guided by a tiny, barefooted man who straddles the elephant’s head with ease. Plastic sheets are provided to protect you from the rain that comes without warning and exposes the surrounding jungle for its most vibrant of greens. After a 45-minute ride, with only a brief interruption to adjust the seat that’s begun to slide around to the belly of the beast, you’ll arrive at scattered bamboo homes lining a creek that swells by the minute with the falling rains. There, you may choose from one of several one-room “cabins” planted firmly on the ground, or you can bravely venture into the “tree house” towering 30 feet in the air.

Saying goodbye

Throughout the trip, the fact that you are in a Communist country is difficult to forget. And with that farewell, I said a regretful goodbye to the nation of Vietnam.