Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Rice and warm in the north (Sapa trekking tours & ecolodge, Vietnam)

NOTHING can disturb an urban traveller more than silence.

Real silence. This is my early morning thought on the balcony of a stone cabin perched atop a peak in north Vietnam.

On a nearby mountain, hand-carved rice terraces spill down into the valley and farther away there are chiselled ranges that will change colour and texture as the sun moves across a giant sky. Then I hear the distant chatter of women passing the cabin on their way to breakfast, the first sounds I've heard since dinner last night. Television and telephones are forbidden around here. The manager tells me there's no wild night life either, apart from frogs.

Topas Ecolodges - Sapa tours

Topas Ecologdes

Most people come to Topas Ecolodge in a shuttle bus from nearby Sapa, but I hire a local motorbike taxi for a slow ride through intermittent heavy mist along 23km of a runnelled dirt road that is regularly washed by clear-water run-off from the mountains.

We pass through the Muong Hoa Valley, strewn with mysterious, ancient carved stones; the origin and meaning of their inscribed patterns of couples in sexual embrace, the sun and parallel lines still baffle scientists.

This region is home to about 30 Vietnamese minority groups, some of whom moved here from China during the past 200 years. A carved stone, metres long, is fenced off opposite the small local museum. Somewhere around here a French scientist is taking stone impressions the old-fashioned way, with carbon paper and ink, while assigning locations to each one via GPS.

The road snakes through the Hoang Lien Mountains, now recognised as one of the most biologically rich in Vietnam. There's a race to preserve what is left: years ago, poor Vietnamese used to kill, stuff and sell birds and animals to tourists in the local markets. That seems to have stopped, but the Indochinese tiger has become a prized stock for pharmacies across the border in China and there are fewer than 2000 left here.

Every now and again a human form takes shape out of the mist and is swallowed again. Then the curtain rises and a series of fairytale valleys is revealed. I glance down on earthen terraces of rice stubble and turbid water. Once or twice we dismount the bike to ford a gushing stream: my taxi driver, Hahn, walks through and I jump across rocks.

I want to ride forever but we run out of road and into the Ecolodge. Brilliantly clothed Red Dzao women are sitting and sewing at the entrance. They look so much more relaxed than the Hmong and Red Dzao women in Sapa, trapped in their created cultural villages.

The lodge features 25 white granite and hardwood cabins clustered on one side of the mountain top, all with solar panels. The surprise centrepiece is a huge, reconstructed Tay (minority) meeting house that now houses the bar, upstairs restaurant and office. On the restaurant's doorstep is a rice field and down the path is the lodge's organic garden, which supplies ingredients for contemporary Vietnamese dishes: lime and chilli-splashed salads and spiced seasonal vegetables served with tender beef and chicken on silver platters.

The bar is fire-warmed and there is a menu of local rice wines, crystal clear or tinged pink, which slide delicately down the throat like the best malt whisky.

So much of life in rural Vietnam revolves around rice-growing and to every thing there is a season. In July the Red Dzao harvest the rice around the lodge; months later they will plant young rice shoots again. In just two days, the average stay here, you can slip easily into this seasonal rhythm. Or get active. A group of Danes straggle in from a morning walk to nearby villages: the difference between a walk and trek is that the latter, apart from being longer, comes with a swarm of porters drawn from local villages.

"When we have a rush of visitors, we can always call on our neighbours to help us out at short notice," says manager Walter Ariesen. "That's one of the many benefits of having built a strong relationship with people in our community." That philosophy, and the sublime location, is what makes Topas Ecolodoge unique.

Topas Ecolodge, near Sapa, north Vietnam. Phone +8420 872 404; www.topasecolodge.com. Tariff: Depends on the season and package inclusions. In December, for example, double or twin is $US115 ($145), including all food and transport.

Getting there: Topas Ecolodge will transfer guests by bus from Sapa.

Checking in: International guests, mostly Germans, Australians, Danes, French, Canadians, Japanese and Taiwanese.

Wheelchair access: All cabins are accessible from a footpath, but there's a lot of uphill. Suggest an advance request for wheelchair assistance.

Bedtime reading: The Light of the Capital, three short Vietnamese classics from the 1930s (Oxford), translated by Australians Greg and Monique Lockhart.

Stepping out: Breathtaking treks, biking, kayaking, walks to nearby minority villages. Climb Vietnam's highest peak, Fansipan (3143m).

Brickbats: A torch and umbrella should be standard additions for each room, given the distance from the restaurant. Menu could do with more variety.

Bouquets: Staff are friendly and relaxed and the lodge has a community feel. Vietnamese-grown Arabica coffee is brewed here and served with the Western breakfast. In 2004, the lodge joined Australia's GreenGlobe21, a worldwide benchmarking and certification program facilitating sustainable tourism.

Article from: The Australian

Suggested other Itineraries in Topas Ecolodge, Sapa, Vietnam:
Active itineraries: Sapa trekking tours & overnight Topas ecolodges
Excursions: Sapa tours - trekking and stay Topas Ecolodges

Related to Sapa, Vietnam:
- Trek Fansipan & Sapa Travel
- SaPa Hotels
- Sapa Tours & daily excursions
- Trek Mai Chau

Saturday, June 13, 2009

ATA Promotes Unique Set-Departure Trekking Tours in Northern Vietnam "Conquer Fansipan-Cat Cat Route"

With 6-day trekking tour to conquer Mount Fansipan, the travelers will have challenging experience and victorious feelings at the top of Indochina roof when travelers join in Conquer Fansipan - Cat Cat Route tour in Northern Vietnam

 Sapa TRekking tours

Fansipan trekking tours

The key of ATA to organize many safe and successful trips in the high remote mountains which travelers should assure the stamina, good heath with a careful preparation on trekking gear such as: walking pole (extends 27 to 53 inches), gaiter for jungle trek like in Vietnam, radio to manage group, compass, water proof tent, inflatable mattress, sleeping bag (for summer or winter), torch, anti-insect repellent to prevent from mosquito... All is noted clearly at Trip Notes part on each tour of ATA.

ATA guarantees Set-departure of group arranging from 1 to10 persons and the best price for independent or solo traveler who wants to join in the group. These set-departure tours are the good chance for travelers to make friends, exchange the experience and enjoy the beautiful mountainous scenery in Vietnam.

The travelers will have one night on train before approaching Lao Cai train station and transferring to Sapa town. Then travelers enjoy the first day to explore the specific characteristics about ethnic culture, people and custom of this incredibly picturesque mountain town.

The second day is the trekking-day to the first campsite. With the help of the assigned supported crew carries all equipments, foods and clothing, travelers just carry pack with water, jacket and camera. Travelers will be trekking through terraced rice paddies, descending into the Cat Cat village and crossing Muong Hoa River, then travelers start upward trek to reach an elevation of 1.700m. The terrain becomes steeper and more difficult as travelers trek through massive arrowroot plantations.

The next day, travelers will pass through primary forest containing giant, century old trees and expanses of bamboo. Travelers will enjoy the challenging feelings when travelers trek up to an altitude of 2,900 from the elevation. Travelers will have an imposing view of Mount Fansipan with amazing and unique photos. Continuing over boulders and down a fairy steep slope, travelers will stop near a mountain stream, have dinner and overnight at the base camp.

The following day is the summit day, travelers climb upto the roof of Indochina - the peak of Mount Fansipan. After taking three hours through dense bamboo forest, travelers will spend soaking up the best panorama in Vietnam. This is the last day before coming back to Sapa and having night train to Hanoi.

This remote trek provides plenty to see and absorb, from the scattered rocks inscribed with drawings and designs of unknown origin, to the French influenced hill retreat town of Sapa with its minority groups, beautiful villas and cherry forests.

More information at: Conquer Fansipan-Cat Cat Route

Monday, June 1, 2009

Hoi An lights up - Discover traditional Vietnam's Ancient Town

The old port town of Hoi An has always been one of Vietnam’s most charismatic and seductive tourist spots and at Lunar New Year hundreds of lanterns added to its charm

Hoi An Lantern

Hoi An ancient town with lanterns, Vietnam

On the last day of the Lunar New Year, the ancient streets of Hoi An were filled with the thick scent of incense and anticipation. The typically relaxed locals were fluttering around hastily making arrangements before one year ended and another began.

Dust and dirt were swept outside while shopkeepers piled up offerings -- traditional cakes, fresh fruit and flowers -- on tables inside. But customers still had to be assisted. This is high-season for tourists, so tailors and souvenir shops have to make the most of it!

Among the most popular items for tourists are silk lanterns. Like the town itself, Hoi An’s silk lanterns are a blend of Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese elements. The silk lanterns are iconic – almost every café and restaurant in town incorporates lanterns into the interior design. You can find a myriad of shapes and designs in every kind of colour you can think of.

Catering for those who like to travel light, craftsmen have designed lanterns that easily fold up into bags or suitcases. There must be Hoi An lanterns swinging from ceilings in every corner of the globe.

After the sun goes down, Hoi An takes on an evocative, magical appearance. In an effort to create a tranquil ambience, authorities have long since banned motorbikes from the old town’s streets in the evening. Everyone just ambles around as lanterns rock in a gentle breeze.

During Tet this year the town was even more breathtaking than usual as the inaugural lantern making contest was held. Students, craftsmen and artists from around the town entered designs and the best 79 lanterns were displayed in the An Hoi Statue Garden on the bank of Hoai River.

The rest of the lanterns were hung throughout the town. It was truly a festival of lights that left tourists and locals in a happy, dreamy daze,..

By Hoang Van and Duc Hanh report/timeout

Related to Hoi An Ancient Town, Vietnam
- Family adventure tours in Vietnam
- Hoi An tours & Excursions
- Hoi An hotels & resorts