Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Mu Cang Chai: charming and peaceful

Mu Cang Chai, lying at the foot of the Hoang Lien Son Mountain Range in Yen Bai Province about 350 kilometers from Hanoi and 1,000 meters above sea level, is one of the poorest mountainous regions in Vietnam and is home to many terraced fields which have been recognized as a national heritage and as Asia’s most beautiful terraced fields.

Vietnam trekking tours

A view of Mu Cang Chai's terraced fields.

The wonderful landscape is made of endless terraced fields lying together in the valleys of La Pan Tan, Che Cu Nha and Ze Xu Phinh and stretching to the horizon.

Dawn is a busy time, especially in the market.

Under the sun, the green and the gold of the fields create attractive curving lines that dazzle the eye. Clinging to the mountainsides, the fields mingle with the white and blue of the clouds and sky.

This is a place to breathe slowly and deeply to embrace the scents of the rice and the fertile earth and the clean air, driving away the smell of calculation so common in big cities.

The honest and innocent faces of the farmers who work the land here in their colorful costumes reveal a sense of simple happiness.

People often visit Mu Cang Chai in the post-harvest time and are sometimes asked by locals, “Why you come here at this time, nothing nice to take photos?”

However, Mu Cang Chai’s terraced fields after the harvest are not sad or deserted. They remain charming as each stalk, now yellow, is piled up nicely. Somewhere in the distance a house is visible against the yellow and green.

So peaceful! But people who nourish a dream of preserving nature worry that one day modern civilization will devour the land and replace the primitive beauty with company headquarters, factories and resorts.

Spending the night in this remote area where the Mong ethnic tribe lives is an experience worth the effort.


Sapa Culture Week promises surprises

A week-long cultural festival will be held in Sapa, one of Vietnam’s top holiday and relaxation destinations, from April 30 to May 4, in an effort to increase the northern mountainous area’s tourism potential.

Sapa Trekking Tours

Sapa Market, Vietnam

Called ‘Walking in a Cloud in Sapa’, the festival is designed to lead visitors from surprise to surprise with a series of activities highlighting the rich and distinctive aspects of Sapa’s diverse ethnic cultures.

Visitors can join local ethnic minority people to discover how they dye, weave and decorate their garments, or make their sandals.

They will have the chance to take part in forest tours to pick medicinal herbs and learn how to use the plants as well as preparing the traditional meals eaten by the various ethnic minority groups and explore the customs of the Dao ethnic minority people.

The festivals organisers also plan to make the famous lovers market as authentic as possible.

Throughout its history, Sapa’s lover’s market on a Saturday night was a destination and opportunity for young, single Hmong, Dao, Tay and Ray ethnic minority people in the surrounding areas to go and find their true love.

Those already married also seldom missed the event, as it offered them an opportunity to revisit old flames and relive the experience of young love.

Other events including a photography exhibition and fairs of Northwestern cuisines and orchids will also be held as part of the festival, said the organisers.

Source: VNA

Monday, April 26, 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

Thursday, April 22, 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.

Source: news.com.au

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Great Red Spider Vietnam Motorcycle Tour with ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA - Part 3

Coming to the last part of Spider Group's story, let’s discovery the fascinating scenery with the wide open feeling when they were riding and other 2-day relaxing in Ho Chi Minh city before they came back home.

The Great Red Spider Vietnam Motorcycle Tour with ACTIVETRAVEL ASIAThe Great Red Spider Vietnam Motorcycle Tour with ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA

Wednesday January 27th
Well we left Kon Tum this morning for another 280 KM or so ride and now we have arrived in Buon Ma Thuot, from now on referred to BMT. We left KT and hit the road. The sun was shining brightly and very hot all day. The ride was good, but long, especially since we took a couple wrong turns and ended up adding about 30KM's to our trip, which may not seem like much but is nearly an hour. This city is the capital of the Dac Lac province and the site of the last battle of the Vietnam war in 1975.....which was long after the Americans left.

This region is well known for its coffee and in fact Vietnam is the second largest coffee exporter in the world behind Brazil. And.....Vietnam has the largest per capital consumption of coffee in the world. This is hard to imagine after the coffee we have been having each morning. We passed through rolling hills the entire time with numerous coffee plantations. They are beautiful large green bushes with many white flowers. They put off a very pleasant aroma that fills the air. Driving along the roads in this area, we go by countless homes with the green coffee beans spread out on the front "driveway", if you will, drying. Some are very fresh and green, some are red and some are clearly nearly dried and more brown in color.

We also passed through many kilometers of rubber trees and there are pix of them in this section of the update. Seems like a very antiquated process but, nonetheless, there were literally thousands of trees for many KM's dripping slowly the rubber from the trees into small pans attached to the trees.

We have all decided that the North of Vietnam is has a lot more going for it than that part of the south we have seen.
  • Roads much better
  • Much cleaner
  • Better scenery
That said, we did have a good ride and stopped in Pleiku, which Bruce Wingman was stationed for a small amount of time during the war. We ended the day by riding on the most dusty, traffic jammed road we have yet to be on, which was under construction. It was a mass of cars, people, dust, trucks, buses and us of course. When we got the hotel we each went to rooms and when we turned on the showers, the black dirt just ran off our bodies.

Oh, and the latest 31 Card Game and who got the single update is in from yesterday and today. Bruce now has 4 wins after a face off with Kenny for the pot last night. And, Bruce also won the draw for the single room tonight meaning he would have it for the THIRD time. But being the good guy he is, he donated it to Dave Morocco Dryden.

Tomorrow is our last day of riding. We are headed for Nha Trang, which is directly east of here about 200 KM's and supposedly has the most beautiful beaches in all of Asia. We plan to leave early so we can get there for an early afternoon lunch and enjoy the place. We plan a going away party Thursday night in Nha Trang for our bike guide Kenny, our driver Luc and our mechanic Qin who will not be going on with us on Friday to Ho Chi Minh City.

Tomorrow is our last day of riding. On the one hand it seems like we just started the trip and its sad to be at the end of the ride. On the other hand, I think we are all happy to get back to civilization, a soft clean bed, a hard and hot shower and the little things that make travel more enjoyable. We are all looking forward to getting to Nha Trang and also onward to HCMC.

Thursday January 28th
Today we leave BMT for Nha Trang, the beautiful resort coastal city for the final push of our Hanoi to Nha Trang, 1,800 KM Journey. Five years ago or more I read a book entitled "Up Country." It was the story of a guy who rode a motor bike from Hanoi to Saigon investigating a murder that occurred during the Vietnam war. I promised myself that I would one day do a motorbike ride in the same fashion. After coming to Vietnam many time for business, this was the experience of a lifetime, a way to check off something in my Bucket List. A sense of accomplishment and happiness for sure.

As we pulled out of BMT this morning, everyone was aware that it was the last day of our long ride together. Strangers other than Steve, we became good friends, had great laughs and enjoyed a great experience together. The ride from BMT was across the high plains of Vietnam, the Highlands as they call them. About an hour into the ride, we rode up into the last set of mountains we would see before descending to the sea and the port of Nha Trang.

Dave Dryden reminded us that this road was the site of the largest exodus of people in the Vietnam war. When Buôn Ma Thuột fell in the final battle in 1975, thousands, if not millions of South Vietnamese fled down the road we rode on today. Fleeing for their lives from the North Vietnamese army.

The ride through the mountains was beautiful. A reminder of all the gorgeous mountains, passes and beauty that we have seen throughout our trip. As we descended down the steep hills we began to get a whiff of sea air every now and then and we know our journey was coming to a close.

Then as we rounded a bend and a steep decline, there it was, the ocean and the most beautiful scene we could have possibly imagined. We rode hard and reached the last 10 KM's of road that ran right along the seacoast. What a great last ride that was. The wind in our face, the cool air, the smell of the sea. We really soaked it up.

Later we had our farewell lunch with Kenny, Loc and Qin our guide, driver and mechanic. We toasted some beers and sent them on their way back to Hanoi. The bikers then went to a beach bar and reflected on the trip, our new friendships and the exciting next few days we have to enjoy Ho Chi Minh City. Its been a great trip, with great guys and memory of one sort or another for each of us.

Enjoy our last biking day pix and videos below, and be on the look out for our updates from Ho Chi Minh City in the next couple of days.

Friday and Saturday January 29th, 30th Ho Chi Minh City
We left Nha Trang on Friday late morning for a short hour flight to HCMC. Upon arrival we were very surprised to have a special greeting, arranged by the AB importer and distributor, Walter Gannon. He sent his large Bud Bus and Bud Angels as they call them to greet us at the airport and give us VIP travel for the 45 minute ride to our hotel.

We chilled out in the afternoon and mostly just walked around downtown HCMC. We are staying at the Caravelle Hotel, in the center of the city. There is lots of activity here. Then in the evening, Walter arranged for a reception in our honor at the Park Hyatt Hotel out on a veranda. It was USA-like BBQ and he invited all his management to come and join us. He also invited the US Ambassador to come and he did. He is in a group shot with us standing next to Bruce. After a fun evening at the reception, we returned to the hotel for a good night sleep.

Today on Saturday we had a tour of several places. The War Museum which was a horrible place where we saw the harm and torture that all sides in the conflict performed. We visited the Presidential Palace, most known for the scene when the VC tanks burst through the gates and took over South Vietnam, officially ending the conflict. We visited the Notre Dame Cathedral which is a replica of the one in France. We also saw the famous Post Office with its fabulous design.

We ended the tour with a lunch at a local restaurant which was excellent and had an old guy playing piano throughout. Then we had a farewell coffee with Dave Dryden who is flying out of HCMC back to London this evening. The rest of the crew will be hosted tonight for dinner by Amy Wu, former AB China and now the General Manager for the Circle K convenience business for Vietnam.

We depart the hotel at 4:00am Sunday morning to catch our departing flight, which leaves at 6:00am local time to Hong Kong and then on to Chicago. So this will be the final update for the Red Spider Motorcycle Tour. We hope everyone enjoyed following us on our exciting adventure. We had a great time, but everyone is ready to come home and see family and friends again.

Source: peterb.yolasite.com

Vietnam Motorcycling recommendation:
Motorcycling tours in Summer Promotion 2010

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Vietnam vacations experience - Beat it!

The Vietnamese are masters of the two-wheeler. People carry their entire lives, families and livelihoods on the back of their mopeds – no matter how diminutive. On the lush, green three hour drive past the rural expanse of paddy fields from Hanoi to Halong Bay I saw a man with a whole live, twitching pig strapped to his backseat. Some women ride the things side-saddle, many seemingly unconcerned (even on a high-speed motorway) with the small trifle of holding on. Others go one-handed, mobile phone, cigarette or rainbow-striped umbrella not inhibiting their ability to maneuver amidst the busy traffic.

Vietnam travelVietnam rural area

It was fearlessly then, that Bing, our Vietnamese cookery teacher and chef from the Nam Hai hotel, led our party of three on bicycles from the hotel to the local market where we were to buy some produce to cook. This may sound idyllic, and indeed it was – but before we could immerse ourselves in the charm of the local culinary commerce we had to get there, and this involved cycling down a fairly major road and crossing a big junction – a feat indeed for one of the only girls in school to fail her cycling proficiency test, and who has barely graced a saddle since.

The day before had been mostly spent recovering from the exertion, excitement and pollution of Hanoi, lounging by the hotel’s picture-perfect pool, which looks onto the sandy expanse of China Beach. There we sipped Chi Chis (a blend of vodka, pineapple and coconut cream) and slurped bowls of fragrant pho before heading into Hoi An – a charming riverside town characterised by Chinese architecture and merchant’s houses. We ate fish grilled in banana leaf and piquant, crunchy banana flower salad at Canh Buum Trang restaurant on Tran Hung Dao street with local sisters My (pronounced Me) and Vy (pronounced Vee), who complimented me on my full figure (always a great way to charm a food writer) and seemed thrilled by the way I devoured what is for them rather prosaic, everyday fare.

After lunch we went to their shop at 63 Nguyen Thai Hoc street and were fitted for bespoke dresses (Hoi An is the capital of tailoring in Vietnam and having clothes made is shamefully cheap) before heading back to the hotel just in time for happy hour and the warm embrace of complimentary cocktails. So cycling in the morning heat was the most physical exertion we’d done in a while, and it felt great to glide past the countryside, negotiating our way amidst the agricultural trucks and moped drivers on our way to the market.

The market was a humid, labyrinthine hive of food and life – the air thick with the strong smell of nuoc mam – Vietnamese fish sauce. There women sat crouched on the makeshift tables selling their wares and eating bowls of stir-fried morning glory and garlic. While I was distracted by the tiny miniature Vietnamese onions (the size of garden peas) my friend sussed out a stall selling televisions, one of which was blaring out karaoke, and somehow, microphones were thrust into our hands and before we knew it we were performing an impromptu rendition of Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’ - enthralling stall holders and local people who gathered to watch and laugh at the weird spectacle we made. I thought I might get roped into karaoke at some point on this trip – but never did I imagine it would be in the midst of a cookery class in the deepest depths of a rural food market.

Source: spectator.co.uk blog

Recommendation in Vietnam:
- Travel guides in Vietnam
- Adventure Tours in Vietnam

Monday, April 19, 2010

Vietnam in Asia's Top 3 most popular destinations

Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia experience the fastest growth in popularity in Asia, according to Cheapflights UK, a British website for price search and comparison in travel. Searches for Indonesia are up 116 percent, followed by Vietnam with 94 percent and Malaysia with 79 percent.

“While Thailand has long been a British favorite, neighboring East Asian countries have experienced a dramatic rise in search recently and we are starting to see a popularity shift into places like Vietnam,” says Nadine Hallak, Travel Expert for Cheapflights UK.

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Price conscious travelers will find value in all three destinations. Vietnam is the easternmost country on the Indochina Peninsula. Bordered by China, Laos and Cambodia, the country features two World Natural Heritage sites and six World biosphere reserves. Vietnam is ranked 16th in biological diversity, and 16 percent of the world’s species can be found here, including 794 aquatic invertebrates and 2,458 sea fish. While tourism has grown steadily to almost 4 million visitors over the years, prices remain relatively low.

Malaysia is made up of three main regions covering over a thousand individual islands. West and East Malaysia are separated by the South China Sea and share a largely similar landscape of coastal plains that rise to often densely forested hills and mountains. 38 designated marine parks are home to shipwrecks, coral gardens, black-tip reef sharks, barracuda, groupers, parrotfish, puffer and angelfish are common sights.

With a population of 230 million, Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populous country. Only about 6,000 of its 17,508 islands that stretch along the equator are inhabited. After Brazil, Indonesia supports the world’s second highest level of biodiversity. The Komodo National Park, the Banda Sea, Raja Ampat and the Bunaken National Marine Park feature some of the best scuba diving in the region.

“Travelers are more up to going the distance not only in flight time, but also in adventure. Whether it’s helping to feed an economy that’s fighting to grow or getting better acquainted with one that’s already booming,” said Hallak. “Perhaps the two most interesting trends to come out of the recession are a heightened global conscience and a thirst for exploration.”

Source: dtinews

Recommendation in Vietnam:
- Travel guides in Vietnam
- Adventure Travel Tours in Vietnam
- Adventure Tours in Big Summer Promotion with Activetravel Asia

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Travel tips for adventure holidays in Vietnam

Imaginative travellers looking to head to south-east Asia might want to make Vietnam a priority stop-off, as a website has provided tips on how to survive a stay in the country.

Vietnam adventure holidays

Ha Giang Province Vietnam

Suite101 has reported that following the culmination of war in recent years, the nation's economy has started to "boom" and visitor numbers are on the increase.

It has thus offered some guidance on the best ways to stay safe and save money while journeying across the place.

An easy - and relatively cheap - way to get between destinations is to fly, the portal has advised, although those who do not fancy taking to the sky can travel by rail - along such routes as the Reunification Express.

Sturdy walking shoes are a must for those wanting to venture around by foot, along with sunscreen, shorts and loose clothing - although access to some temples and restaurants may require people to cover up.

Suite101 recently recommended a boat trip along Vietnam's Mekong Delta to individuals hoping to experience the country's diverse food and culture

Source: imaginative-traveller.com
Adventure Travel Resource

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 Parks

Cat 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:
- Trekking Nam Cat Tien National Park, Vietnam - Hot Summer Promotion, 2010
- Cat Tien National Park information
- Adventure Travel Tours - Hot Summer Promotion 2010

Friday, April 2, 2010

Cycling around the amazing countryside of Vietnam - City Slickers

I've been on vacation over the past few weeks and have to apologise for the upkeep of this blog. I've been busy cycling around the amazing countryside of Vietnam where I've had the experience of a lifetime.

Vietnam bicycle toursThere's no better way to immerse yourself in a country than traveling by bike
Photo: Wade Wallace

There was a time in my life when I would have never considered riding a bike to see a country. It seemed too cumbersome, too challenging, too tiring. The point of a vacation is to relax, right? How my mind has changed. The trips I've taken by bike have been the most fulfilling and satisfying vacations of my life.

Cycling allows you to get up close and immerse yourself in a country. It gives you the flexibility to go with the flow and allow unplanned experiences to take you away. It takes you off the beaten path. You can take detours or change your plans on a whim. It slows things down and it becomes obvious that it's all about the journey and not about the destination. You'll get photos of things that no other tourists get while on route.

When you want to stop at a restaurant or cafe, all you have to do is simply pull over and walk right in. People will be curious of your journey and it always leads to conversation with interesting characters. The best part about it is that you can eat anything and everything you want. You'll be burning through the calories and earning your next pastry. There's no such thing as a post vacation diet.

The appealing thing about a cycling vacation is that everyone in the world can relate to the bike. There's an instant connection to so many people. You immerse yourself in the country and the bike is a symbol of someone who has taken down the barriers. The incredible experiences I've had on my cycling vacations would have never come about if it weren't for the doors opened by the bike.

Have you ever taken a cycling holiday? What is your best experience that was brought upon by being the bike?

Source: Wade Wallace from smh.com.au

Recommended cycling trips

- Vietnam cycling tours

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Why travel to Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh city ?

A vacation to Southeast Asia is a bargain hunter's paradise, once you get past the airfare prices. Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City can provide travelers with worldwide cuisine, tailor-made shopping deals, and bustling nightlife, all on the cheap.

Ho Chi Minh city tours

The U.S. dollar will get you about 18,685 Vietnamese dong (as of press time), and many travelers can comfortably get by on less than the equivalent of $50 per person per day. The region's countless options for affordable food, accommodations, transportation, and tours make sticking to a budget easy. The city's infamous street food carts offer delicious options for all three meals, but there are also plenty of higher-end establishments if you want to splurge.

Airfare from Los Angeles starts around $900 in April and May, and I found a three-star District 1 downtown hotel from $49 per night. For two people traveling together, base prices start at $2,143 for a week's vacation.

Let's compare prices to New York City, another major metropolis, commercial center, and major entry point for overseas travelers. Flights from Los Angeles start at $230 in April and May, and I found a three-star hotel in the Financial District from $175 per night. For two people traveling together, the base price comes to $1,685 for a week's vacation.

At first glance, Ho Chi Minh City seems more expensive—$458 more, to be exact. But let's take a closer look at your per-day costs. Realistically, travelers in Vietnam can expect to spend about $50 per day for food, attractions, and transportation. In New York City, that daily budget may be tricky (if not near impossible) to stick to. Consider that the average cost of a meal in the city is roughly $42; you're already planning for an inflated per-day budget. And back in 2007, the average price of a cocktail was $10. Going out for dinner and drinks could quickly cost you upwards of $100. Of course, there are ways to find cheaper eats, attractions, and transportation deals, but you've got your work cut out for you. That extra $458 in New York City may only go as far as a few meals, museum fees, drinks, and cab rides.

Consider, too, that Ho Chi Minh City provides the chance to travel halfway across the world for not much more money, as well as the opportunity to experience a different culture up close. Leaving your comfort zone and seeing a new country firsthand offers a whole host of benefits that can't be replicated stateside.

Once again, look at your travel habits critically when comparing possibilities. Do your tastes and activities tend to inflate your budget? How far will your money go once you're at your destination? Comparing average costs is a smart way to get the true value of your chosen location.

Source: usatoday.com/travel/deals/inside/2010-04-01-six-affordable-hot-spots_N.htm

Related site
- Saigon hotels
- Saigon Vacations and short excursions

SNV Vietnam also works with tour operators to help poor communities

An NGO says community-based tourism can help poor communities that have gone uninvited to the industry’s profit party.

Sapa tours in Vietnam
The village of Chieng Yen in Moc Chau District of Son La Province is not on the top of most tourists’ lists.

Located about 150 km northwest of Hanoi and with a population of only 3,500, it has been largely untouched by modernization and is home to the Thai, Dao, and Muong minority communities.

A community-based tourism program developed three years ago by SNV Netherlands Development Organization has begun bringing in tourists to village as part of a program country director Tom Derksen says aims to include disadvantaged locals in “mainstream tourism.”

SNV uses Chieng Yen to cater to tourists seeking authentic village life, cuisine and the opportunity to get involved in volunteering, such as teaching English.

“In all the work that we do, we always ask ourselves the question: why doesn’t the market work for the poor?” Derksen said. “So we’re not just talking about charity improvement for a particular group of people or community, but helping them in a longer term.”

It’s estimated that tourism is now a US$3.8 billion industry in Vietnam, with the travel and hospitality sector employing about 250,000 direct and 600,000 indirect laborers – a number that is likely to reach 1.2 million in total by 2010.

But far too often, the locals living in many communities, even those at major tourist sites, do not benefit from tourism development.

“If you look at the increasing tourism numbers in the country, both domestic and international – about 25 million visitors in total, and the benefits that are made from all of the increase by local people, their additional income is proportionally very, very low,” according to Derksen.

According to SNV, most ethnic villagers have little understanding of the tourism industry and only benefit from selling tourist products or services at extremely low prices.

SNV is thus operating community-based tourism programs in Hue, Sa Pa, the Mekong Delta as well as promoting agro-tourism in the Northwest provinces, where visitors can experience agriculture firsthand.

According to Phil Harman, SNV Vietnam’s Pro-poor Sustainable Tourism Program leader, the organization works to train local and authorities in sanitation, food preparation, and language skills.

The organization also partners with local authorities to help local residents collect fees for providing tourist accommodation while also helping design and build trails for trekking and hiking.

SNV supports programs in which a percentage of the fees tourists charged for homestays and other services go into a fund managed locally. The fund can then be used for environmental protection, education or social development, according to the organization.

“When we develop tourism, it’s important that the benefits do not just go to one or two homes that are going to have tourists,” Harman said. “You need some benefit sharing mechanism that puts the rest of the community better off.”

Harman said identifying and developing off-the-beaten-track destinations can lead provincial authorities to increase access to these villages by building additional roads and improving power lines.

SNV Vietnam also works with tour operators, particular members of the Responsible Travel Club such as Active Travel Asia to design tours that are more environmentally friendly to local sites and share more of the tourist dollars to the residents.

Harman said there’s a growing tendency toward responsible tourism.

For example, recent SNV research conducted in Sa Pa showed that 40 percent of visitors were put off by the amount of traffic and more than 30 percent were not happy with the level of litter in public places and pollution in waterways, which “are signs that tourism needs to be better managed,” he added.

In addition, 97 percent were more willing to pay more for a holiday that was more environmental friendly and inclusive of the poor, according to SNV.

“People can move on to the next destination,” said Harman. “There are a lot of places to go in the world. If you don’t like it, why bother coming back?”

Source: TNS

ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA (ATA) promotes Biking Tours in Vietnam & Cambodia, 2010

ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA (ATA) kicks off two biking tours in Vietnam and five others in Cambodia for Summer Promotion 2010. Travelers are guaranteed with luxury services and best add-on values on the trips.

Biking Mai chau, Vietnam - Summer Promotion with ATA, 2010Biking Mai chau, Vietnam - Summer Promotion with ATA, 2010

Joining these tours, travelers will pedal through beautiful areas, interact with local passers-by. The Promotion focus on add-on values, thus traveler will get the different offers from each country.

In the North of Vietnam, ATA offers great biking adventure into the beautiful valley of Mai Chau and also an insight into culture of the Thai ethnic minority.

Tour name: Biking Mai Chau (2D/1N)
Promotion offers:
- Free-of-charge 01 cooking class at Hidden Hanoi Restaurant (joined class)
- Free-of-charge 01 traditional Thai musical show in Mai Chau for group from 6 persons
- Traditional Thai foot massage every day after the trek
- Free-of-charge silk sleeping bag

In the South of Vietnam, a biking trip participates truly in the everyday life of the Mekong Delta. This biking adventure offers a short introduction to the exciting city of Saigon.

Tour name: Mekong Explorer (4D/3N)
Promotion offers:
- Free-of-charge half-day guided Saigon city tour for group from 5 persons
- Free-of-charge 01 Water Puppet Show
- Free-of-charge silk sleeping bag

Spend the travel time relaxing with the breathtaking natural backdrops of Cambodia's provinces, local treats and French colonial architectures, worth to witness in every pace of the ride. Moreover, get the worth values from ATA’s promotion.

The five tours in Cambodia:
1. Biking Angkor Wat
2. Cycling Angkor Temples
3. Biking Coastal towns and Phnom Penh
4. Biking Coastal towns and Angkor Wat
5. Biking Phnom Penh to Angkor Wat

Promotion offers:
- 01 Foot massage in Siem Riep
- Welcome Dinner in Siem Riep for group from 6 persons
- Free-of-charge Visa-on-arrival fee
- 5% discount on any pre or post trip to Vietnam or Laos

Note: Promotion Validity is from May 1 to September 30, 2010

Related sites to Summer Promotion 2010 with ATA:
All Summer Promotion Tours in Vietnam & Cambodia