Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Exploring Vietnam’s resort town of Nha Trang

It is a striking contrast from the cool, misty town of Dalat high in southern Vietnam’s central highlands — built by the French as an escape from the sweltering heat and humidity of Saigon to the glittering seaside resort of Nha Trang, which is barely a three hour drive away.

Leaving Dalat in the cool of the morning, we wound our way down through the forests and sub-tropical jungles of the Truong Son mountain range. We passed endless villages and small towns — all a hive of activity — before finally hitting the coastal lowlands and the warm sea breezes of the East Sea and Nha Trang Bay.

Nha Trang, at first look, is certainly a touristy beachside holiday town with its wide seaside boulevards, high-rise hotel towers, tourist shops, flashy bars, restaurants and streams of motorbikes and cars.

Nha Trang Beach, Vietnam
The hustle is only exacerbated by the heat of the day and thousands of holidaymakers. But this is a resort town Vietnamese-style, where more than a millennium of history, culture and tradition combine with hectic local markets, night food stalls and a myriad of small family-run restaurants and cafes. These generate an atmosphere way beyond that of your typical Western beachside destination.

Nha Trang is certainly a town to shop, to eat on the streets and to wander, soaking up the atmosphere along the way. It is also very friendly; the locals busy making a living and getting on with life as fast as they can, after enduring so much turmoil in their recent past.

For shopping head for the Cho Dam central market near Nguyen Hong Son Street, which is a maze of stalls stacked with brand name bags, shoes, jeans, leather, silk and plenty more, and a place where bargaining is the name of the game.

Nearby is the busy Phan Boi Chau Street, full of shops, and lined with colonial-style shuttered houses. It is this constant juxtaposition of the old and the new — from colonialism to ancient temples, to modern Vietnam, that makes the place so interesting. It all fits in together nicely.

Perched on a hill overlooking the city, Xong Bang Bridge and the vast Cai River estuary, is an incredible temple complex known as Cham Pongar that dates back to 700AD. The four temples, intricately carved, are dedicated to the gods and are a place of pilgrimage for many Vietnamese; the chanting of monks and incense filling the air. Families, couples and school children all come to pay homage and pray.

Po Nagar Cham Towers, Nha Trang
Below, in the Cai River estuary, Nha Trang’s traditional wooden blue fishing boats, trimmed in red, line the shore. Nha Trang, at its heart, is a fishing village and the boats still head out daily in their hundreds to the East Sea — their catch filling restaurant plates every evening. In the dark of night you can see their lights twinkling way offshore.

Unlike Thailand, there isn’t a huge massage industry in Vietnam, but one excellent way to relax is a soak in the mineral and mud baths of the Thap Ba hot springs. And for a group all in a hot mud bath together, it is loads of fun — though rather intimate.

The bubbling mineral water is 40 degrees and rich in sodium silicate while the mineral mud — a glorious thick, hot brown — stimulates the nerves. And yes, you do feel bizarrely rejuvenated when you finally wash it all off.

Nha Trang is, of course, changing. On the way to the airport the big Western-style resorts are now gaining a foothold. But hopefully, with so much imbedded history and culture, Nha Trang will not lose that individuality that makes it so attractive.

Source: travelweekly

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Active Travel Asia promote tours to Sapa - the Cloud city of Vietnam

Nestled among the Hoang Son Lien Mountains, Sapa is an excellent gateway to the H'mong and Dao villages that dot the landscape of Vietnam

The first thing travelers should know about Sapa is that it is one of highlands in Vietnam - 1,600m above sea level. That means a leisurely stroll to the nearest tribe village is more like an hour-long trek up and down some steep slopes. It is not a destination that travelers should tackle without some mental and physical preparation.

Having said that, Sapa is a sight to behold. The Hoang Son Lien range of mountains, which dominates it and includes Fansipan - Vietnam's highest peak at 3,143m - is the eastern extremity of the Himalayas.

Conquering Fansipan mountain Vietnam

On a good day, travelers’ view is a myriad of colors merging onto textures of landscapes as vivid sky hues blend into the browns and greens of the mountains before cascading back into the blues as rivers and streams mirror the skies.

Even on wet days, the landscape is not a total washout: Rolling mists blanket the valleys and lowlands, giving it a veil of mystery.

When travelers were there in October, the temperature hovered between a cool 16°C and 19°C but travelers were told it could dip to zero in winter and push the mercury to 29°C in summer.

The best time to visit this quaint town is from March to June, when it's warmer and drier - making the mountains easier to scale - or from September to December, if travelers want to escape the heat.

When it's wet, escape into the many cafes about Sapa town where a piping hot coffee or rich hot chocolate will return the color to traveler’s faces. Once a French colony, Sapa's pastries and breads are the softest and fluffiest travelers’ve ever had, with toasty crusts to thaw traveler’s frigid fingers.

Myriad cuisines, from Indian to Italian, can be found in Sapa town. The adventure of tourism has ensured that different palates from all over the world are catered to. Although, personally, nothing warms the tummy like slurping up a hot bowl of pho.

Take a short walk from Sapa town to the bus station and travelers find themselves surrounded by eateries proffering steamboat, grilled meats and pho.

The clean air and water give the mountain greens an added crunch and a delicious natural taste, that even non-vegetable lovers will leave their plate bare.

Terraced field in Sapa, Vietnam

Sapa is located at the Lao Cai province in north-west Vietnam, bordering China. Lao Cai is also a station to cross into China from Vietnam. Treks into the neighboring hill tribes of Black H'mong (say "her-mong") and Red Dao (“zhao") are a must. The Black H'mong is characterized by the indigo vests they wear while the Red Dao is identifiable by their red headgear.

A local guide from the hill tribes can be hired for expeditions into the villages. English-speaking guides can be found easily at the hotels or tour offices around town. The level of spoken English is pretty good, with many of the guides sporting British, Australian and even American accents.

A fee must be paid at guardhouses located at the entrance of the tribes before entering the village. These go towards development of the villages, with a budget set aside for schools which kids attend for free. A guide we met at a tour office warned us against going into the villages alone as authorities have been known to penalize unaccompanied travelers. Besides, having a guide offers some insights into tribe culture.

A trek through the Black H'mong village took travelers four hours, at a leisurely pace. The cool weather and the friendly Black H'mong villagers made the experience a very enjoyable one.

Travelers learnt the hard way that travelers should ask before travelers take pictures as some of the tribes’ people may not be receptive. But the locals are more than happy to pose for travelers if travelers ask nicely.

To get to Sapa, Vietnam travelers need to take a train from Hanoi to Lao Cai. From there travelers will take a mini bus up in to the town of Sapa. Transportation from Hanoi to Sapa can be arranged for a reasonable price. Travelers might also be able to take a bus but it takes much longer. Railway tickets can be bought locally, via travel agents or at train stations.

Local hotels and travel agents offer daily bus and private car between tourist attractions in two ways.

Active Travel Asia (844 3573 8569; www.activetravelvietnam.com) offers package trips in Sapa, Vietnam with some activities like trekking & hiking include accommodation, meals, guide, activities and return ticket from Hanoi to Lao Cai and vice versa and transfers.

Motorbiking Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam - an unforgettable travel adventure

The 125-cubic-centimetre engine of the scooter was screaming for forgiveness, throwing off so much heat it burned through my jeans, singeing my leg hair.

All morning I'd been mercilessly holding the throttle wide open, climbing hills so steep it seemed like the bike might die any minute under the weight of my wife and me. We maneuvered around potholes the size of bomb craters at full speed (which was about 80 kilometers an hour, downhill, with no wind), just trying to keep a faint trace of our guide's rear tire in sight as he pulled ahead effortlessly on his 250-cc Suzuki dirt bike.

Children on their way to school, Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh Trail.

We finally caught up to our guide, Quang, on the other side of a long tunnel at the top of a mountain pass. He pulled over for a bathroom break in the thick growth that borders the road, explaining to us that, at that moment, on that deserted mountainside road, we were neither in Vietnam nor neighboring Laos but in between them both.

Two signs confirmed this -the one behind us that read Vietnam and the one 100 meters in front of us that read Laos. The fact that it was completely unguarded speaks to its isolation. Well, that and because no matter how far I looked out into the horizon, I saw nothing but green jungle and blue sky.

I tried to remember the last car we saw on the road, which would have been just outside of Da Nang, right before we pulled off the highway and on to five hours of back roads.

Riding a motorcycle on the storied Ho Chi Minh Trail was something I said I would do given the chance -if not for the sense of adventure at least to say I did it -but until we met Quang I never gave it much more thought.

But after traveling for half a day on endless mud roads through remote villages on a scooter that was clearly not meant for it and then hearing our trusted guide, a former soldier during the Vietnam War, tell us how easy it would be to make us disappear, I was beginning to wonder if we made the best choice.

If time isn't an issue, it's possible to ride the Ho Chi Minh Trail all the way from Saigon in the deep south to Hanoi in the far north (this very trail, after all, was how the North Vietnamese army covertly shipped its supplies to the south during the Vietnam War). But since time was an issue for my wife and me, we decided to take the abbreviated tour from Da Nang to Hue.

To take the scenic route, however, through villages of thatch-roofed huts, past the most vibrant green rice fields you can imagine, around the infamous Hamburger Hill, up the Ho Chi Minh Trail and then back down a winding mountain road into Hue's city centre, takes three days.

Stunning view on Ho Chi Mịnh Trail,Vietnam

A benefit to having a guide is that he or she can act as a default translator. While it's not uncommon to hear English spoken in large touristy cities, in the mountains it's an entirely different experience. Menus will only be in Vietnamese, and they won't come with pictures like they do in Ho Chi Minh City. Since my Vietnamese is limited to ordering iced coffee, this proved invaluable and I was happy to partake in the many roadside coffee stops that Quang insisted on.

Well, I did go up in the mountains for an adventure (as well as a photo beside the Ho Chi Minh Trail sign). If you can call riding down a steep mountain incline, 1,000 meters above sea level in the middle of the jungle, pulling over every few minutes to dry heave while you swat flies the size of M&Ms off the back of your neck adventurous, then I guess I accomplished my mission.

Source: canada.com

Friday, March 18, 2011

Ba Be National Park recognised as Wetland of Internationnal Importance

The Ba Be National Park in the northern mountainous province of Bac Can has been named on the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands List as a Wetland of International Importance.

The biodiverse 10,048-ha park is home to 1,268 species of flora and fauna. The site earlier was recognized as an ASEAN Heritage Park in 2004.

Ba Be National Park, Vietnam

As summarized by Marian Gwilliam, regional assistant advisor for Asia-Oceania, Ba Be National Park supports the only significant natural mountain lake in Viet Nam and is the most important wetland in the country's protected area system because it is the only site that has a natural lake surrounded by a mountainous karst ecosystem.

Ba Be National Park is the third Wetland of International Importance in Viet Nam, joining the Xuan Thuy National Park in the northern province of Nam Dinh and the Bau Sau in the Nam Cat Tien National Park across the southern provinces of Dong Nai, Lam Dong and Binh Phuoc.

According to director of the Ba Be National Park - Nong The Dien, the decision will mean that the site will join an international network of wetlands that are important for the conservation of global diversity.

The Convention on Wetlands - known as the Ramsar Convention - is an intergovernmental treaty that embodies the commitments of its member countries to maintain the ecological character of their Wetlands of International Importance and to plan for the "wise use", or sustainable use, of all of the wetlands in their territories. Viet Nam first participated in the Ramsar Convention in 1989.

Source: VNN

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Vietnam for adventurous explorers

Dense jungles, brooding mountains, endless waterways, towering cliffs, and hairpin bends: the potential for adrenalin fuelled adventure is limitless in Vietnam. Whether you prefer to scale the heights of jagged peaks or plumb the depths of coral reefs, Vietnam will deliver something special. Just being here is one long adventure, but these experiences will take it to a whole new level.

Kayak Halong Bay

Use paddle power to explore this incredible forest of karsts that jut out of the South China Sea like stone sentinels. Kayak where other boats cannot, such as into hide caves and secret lagoons, and will reveal to you the very best of the bay.

Conquer Mount Fansipan

OK, so it’s not Mt Everest, but at 3143m, it is the highest peak in the country. Meet some of the minority peoples on the trek before tackling the elements to arrive on the roof of Vietnam.

Ethnic Black H'mong girls at Tram Ton Pass in northern Vietnam.

Motorbike through the deep north

Saddle up for the ride of a lifetime in the mountains of Vietnam’s deep north. The roads are absolute rollercoaster, the scenery is simply stunning.

Cycle the Mekong Delta

Forget about those newfangled engines and pedal through the back roads of the Mekong Delta – a patchwork of emerald greens. Stick to the roads less traveled or jump on the odd boat or two for the full Mekong experience.

Dive beneath

See Vietnam from a different angle by scuba diving off its curvaceous coast. Tank up, buddy down and explore the reefs off Nha Trang. Other options are Phu Quoc Island or, the final frontier, Con Dao.

Kite surf above

If all that underwater stuff sounds too deep, then float above it all with something more carefree like kite surfing. Mui Ne is the unashamed kite surfing capital, but the sport is (literally) taking off, up and down the coast.

Explore Vietnam’s national parks

Long-tailed Macaque monkeys in trees near park entrance, Cat Tien National Park, Vietnam

Vietnam’s jungle is massive – well at least in some of the protected areas. Track shy wildlife, hike to hidden waterfalls or mountain-bike down paths less traveled in one of the country’s remote national parks, such as magnificent Cat Tien.

Recommended tours:

Trekking Nam Cat Tien National Park
Mekong Explorer

Source: lonelyplanet

Friday, March 11, 2011

Travel to Cambodia, an Exotic Place for Adventure in Southeast Asia

I feel somehow changed by my visit to Angkor Wat. I have been to many wonderful venues in the world, but none made me feel the awesomeness of human determination and accomplishment as did this visit to Cambodia.

Visit to Angkor Wat Recharges the Spirit

Waking up before dawn in Saigon, Vietnam, today I would venture into Cambodia. Cambodia was a land I had heard so much about and had only dreamed of ever getting to visit.

Crossing into Cambodia was like entering a different world, though. Immediately things were not like in Vietnam. The bus ventured on for another seven hours to Siem Riep, the small but charming town that accommodates visitors to the magnificent and awe-inspiring Angkor Wat.

Angkor Wat

I had heard so much about Angkor Wat over the years of my life that is seemed more like a place in myth rather than in reality. I wanted to see it for myself to determine whether all the things I had heard about its magnificence were indeed true.

Angkor Wat temple

Angkor was actually more than just temples. As in any other city, there were houses, shops, medical facilities, and government offices. But only temples were considered important enough to be made of stone. All the other structures were made of wood and have long since ceased to exist. Only the temples, and a library building, remain today.

The spiritual feeling that the visitor to the temple gets is indescribable. I am not a religious person, but I cannot deny that I felt such an intense measure of peace and well being there that I sensed some kind of divine presence. It was so strong that I did not want to leave the temple. It really does capture your spirit and takes your breath away.

There is something magical about some places on earth, and Angkor Wat is certainly one of them.

My words are futile, worthless really. For what words can give life to such a powerful creation, something that is really larger than life itself, and certainly beyond words?

After such a great, uplifting experience exploring Angkor Wat and the other temples, the tour group decided they wanted to explore a floating village on a small river flowing from the gigantic Tonle Sap, Southeast Asia’s largest freshwater lake.

A floating village on the Tonle Sap River

It was yet another interesting adventure in this exotic land. None of the structures that comprise the village – houses, shops, schools, and even a library – was built on land. Every facility was actually a boat that constantly floated on the river. The fluidity and detachment of this village stood in marked contrast to the seeming permanence of the temples of Angkor.

Source: hubpages.com

Thursday, March 10, 2011

In Touch with the Real World: Vietnam Biking Tour

People who had traveled to Vietnam agreed that it was an interesting experience in general, but the bicycle tours definitely brought more adventurous excitements.

Vietnam borders Cambodia, Laos and China. Its coastline is 3,200 kilometers. The climate is tropical monsoon climate with dry and wet seasons, and it can be extremely hot and humid depending on the elevations.

Because the technology makes traveling easier than it was hundreds years ago, today people fly from places to places to experience the different cultures in various countries. Vietnam, however, is one place that people think it is the place left in the world that is so close to the “reality.” Many destinations have not yet been explored by travelers.

Vietnam is a bicycle-friendly country. Many people use bikes to commute in Vietnam. If you choose this method to sightsee in Vietnam, time can be the issue. Plan a trip with time flexibility to ensure a good quality trip.

Vietnam biking tours

Cycling in Vietnam, time and energy are what you need. Knowing basic techniques to take care your bike would be a plus, and you can usually find some locals to help you with the bicycle problems.

There are two directions you can go. From north to south, you can visit Hanoi, Hue, Danang and Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) in that order. Or choose the other way travel from south to north. You can fly to Saigon and bike to Danang, Hue and Hanoi.

According to some experienced bicycling travelers, it will take about three weeks to finish the route, but it really depends on how much time you want to spend in these places as a tourist, meaning sightseeing and just hanging out to relax.

Beginning from national capital Hanoi, a city called the “Paris of the Orient” because of the beautiful lakes and shaded streets.

One Pillar Pagoda, Hanoi

The beauty of the bike tour is that you can meet the locals and observe what they are doing every day. Friendly smiles, sunshine beaches and yummy food, they are all the amazing things to attract biker’s attention on the way to their next destination.

While hanging out near Hanoi, Frenchtown, Ho Chi Minh Museum, Presidential Palace, Hoan Kiem Lake, and Ngoc Son Temple are hot spots to visit. Hanoi is a historical town where visitors can find evidence of the history.

Hue, known as one of the most beautiful cities in Vietnam, is the royal family’s former residence. Hue is also the heart of culture, religion and education. After days of biking, visiting the Thien Mu Pagoda is a peaceful journey.

Thien Mu pagoda, Hue

Start from Hue and bike 108 kilometers south, you arrive at Danang. It might sound like a long way, but you will enjoy the view of Lang Co Beach and Hai Van Pass

The China Beach (Non Nuoc) is about 15 kilometers from Danang and about one kilometer away from the Marble Mountains. The beach is a popular surfing and swimming resort from March to August. Sponsored by the Vietnamese government and other various organizations, there is a surfing contest held in the area every year. Danang is also the third biggest city in Vietnam.

Finally, you reach Saigon. The city had been through so many times of name changes. Today, it is known as the Ho Chi Minh City worldwide although not many Vietnamese use it. Saigon is probably the most famous city in Vietnam due to its frequent media exposure.

Recommended tours:

West to East Biking Exploration

Mekong Explorer

Source: bootsnall

Friday, March 4, 2011

Discover Stunning Terraced fields in Northwest Vietnam

The terraced fields in the mountain district of Mu Cang Chai in Yen Bai, Vietnam are associated with the developmental history of the Mong ethnic minority group. They are considered not only a source of food production but also an asset for developing local tourism.

When we arrived, Giang A Su, a farmer in Che Cu Nha commune, was carrying his hoe to his 5,000 sq.m of terraced fields to expand their area. Seeing everyone’s surprise at his traditional equipment, he explained that making terraced fields does not require modern equipment.

The farmers with traditional equipmentThe farmers with traditional equipment

Looking at the impressive fields, it is hard to believe that they were created in such a simple way. Su said the most difficult about making terraced fields is finding water resources and fertile land because they are very rare in mountain areas. It usually takes a very long time to find a suitable area for terraced fields, said Su, adding that it depends on both the Mong people’s experience and the Creator.

Hard-working day on the terraced fieldsHard-working day on the terraced fields

Tourists are usually enchanted by the stunning terraced fields along the mountain slopes made by the hard-working Mong people. As the mountains are usually 2,000 metres above sea level, it is impossible to use modern machinery so the people must use simple equipment and create small fields. It is the most effective way for the ethnic Mong people to increase their productivity.

Terraced fields are found in all 13 communes of Mu Cang Chai district and it takes tourists hours or even days to travel on the paths around the mountains and contemplate the beauty of the nature and the terraces.

Mu Cang Chai’s most beautiful terraces are in La Pan Te and Che Cu Nha communes. Everyone stops to see the lovely green and yellow-ripened rice fields when passing through these areas. When viewed from above, the multi-level terraced fields look like trays of sticky rice lying between streams and the great expanse of coniferous forests.

The ethnic Mong girlThe ethnic Mong girl

The higher visitors climb, the more interested they become as they can enjoy both the beauty of the mountains and the terraced fields and the ethnic Mong people’s beauty and hospitality which counteracts the cold weather in the mountain areas.

Stunning terraced fields in Mu Cang Chai, VietnamStunning terraced fields in Mu Cang Chai, Vietnam

Mu Cang Chai has a total area of 2,200 ha of terraced fields, 500 of which are in La Tan Pan, Che Cu Nha, and De Xu Phinh communes. Being properly preserved, they still maintain their original beauty and were recognized as national heritage sites by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism in 2007.

To take advantage of the potential of the terraced fields, people in Mu Cang Chai are making great efforts under the leadership of the district’s Party Committee and authorities to increase the productivity, protect the natural environment, and preserve the fields and traditional festivals, all of which make an attractive tourist destination in the northwest of the country.

Source: VOV