Thursday, July 29, 2010

Taking it easy motorcycling on the historic Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam

Motorcycle adventures are gaining popularity among young, adventurous Vietnamese and foreign travellers. No stops, no fixed schedules, just jumping on the bike and going- these are just some of the reasons why people are opting for motorcycle travel, especially motorcycling on Ho Chi Minh trail, over traditional train and bus journeys.

Motorcycling tour on Hochiminh trail, Vietnam Motorcycling tour on Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam

Tired of the scorching heat in the city? Why not grab a motorcycle and drive off in to Viet Nam's beautiful, cool countryside?

I bumped into Nick Villa (New Zealand) and George Marjak in Ha Noi one afternoon when they had just returned from a bike tour along the former historic Ho Chi Minh Trail. After living in Viet Nam for six months and understanding a bit of Vietnamese, the two young foreigners decided to take a spontaneous adventure on their rented Minsks, rather than booking an ordinary tour.

The legendary Ho Chi Minh Trail was the supply line used by North Viet Nam soldiers to link the north with South Viet Nam during the American War. Soldiers, ammunition and supplies were carried by hand, bicycle and lorries for thousands of kilometres through the otherwise impenetrable jungle that covered Viet Nam's mountainous border with Laos.

If relentless bombing did not stop him, it took a North Vietnamese soldier as long as six months to make the gruelling trek down the narrow jungle path that was the trail. Today, you can speed along the same route at 100km/hour, past peaceful hamlets and stunning mountain scenery. "I was very emotional as we drove along the road filled with so much history," Villa says.

The trail has been transformed into a highway, more than 1,200km of which are open to traffic. It begins at the gates of Ha Noi and ends at the doorsteps of HCM City. In between, the route passes battlefields like Khe Sanh and the La Drang Valley, skirts tribal villages in the rugged Central Highlands and offers easy access to some of the country's top attractions — the ancient royal seat of Hue, the picturesque trading port of Hoi An and long, sandy white beaches that seem to go on for days.

With a map, two bikes, and bags packed with jungle essentials such as: clothing, Wellington boots and first-aid kits, the two Germans started on their journey. They began on the outskirts of Ha Noi, where the journey was quite easy and peaceful at first. On the first day, there was nothing but a calm, smooth road and the sunset on the horizon. As they made their way through the city of Da Nang, Villa and Marjak visited the Non Nuoc tourism site where they met Pham Van Hung, a motorcycle and dirt bike tour guide who leads trips along the trail.

Taking advantage of their chance meeting, the two foreigners began their real adventure the next morning. As they passed through Pa Hon Village (Dong Giang District) they could not help but admire the stunning views. They took pictures of every little detail of the ethnic village, and asked Hung to take their pictures too. One thousand snapshots later, they left picturesque Pa Hon.

At midnight, they arrived at Prao, a mountainous town in Dong Giang District. Even though it was late, they still found the strength to wander around the town.

"I like to drench myself in the secluded atmosphere of the mountains, and in every detail of people's lives here. You can only enjoy these things by travelling like this. I love the spontaneity, I love that I can stop wherever I want, which I cannot do with a strict schedule on a booked tour led by a guide wearing a tie. My guide on this trip is not so bad either," Marjak shared.

The next morning, they continued their adventure from Quang Nam to Thua Thien – Hue.

I also met up with a Dutch couple Marcus Kamp, 33, and Bree Angelique, 28, who recently returned from their own journey along the HoÀ Chi Minh Trail in the opposite direction as the two Germans, from Hue to Quang Nam. They each had a dirt bike and went with two tour guides named Duong Tien Hung and Le Van Son.

On the first day of the trip, Kamp and Angelique enjoyed the fresh air under the trees along the A Roang – A Tep Pass between the two provinces while listening to their guides introduce the fascinating tales of Cong Troi (Heaven Gate) and of this legendary road during the war. They stopped in Ta Vang Village (Tay Giang District). Kamp could not help sharing his emotions: "The strange feeling when we set foot in the traditional village of the Co Tu ethnic group was amazing. It definitely boosted our enthusiasm for the bike trip."

They explained that they met about a dozen expats who were also travelling on bikes during their two day trip along the trail. All of them were ecstatic about the amazing views of Truong Son Mountain and the surrounding jungle. What amazed them even more was the life and culture of the people they met along the way.

Marco Bouwer, a 31-year old German tourist who rode the trail shared: "We are really relaxed and comfortable in nature, away from the heat and traffic that overwhelm the cities. Also, the people were friendly and curious. We often caught them looking and laughing at us, which in a way was pretty funny. We didn't mind."

If you find yourself in the mood for a spontaneous adventure, you do not have to get online to plan your journey alone. The tour guides these travellers met along the way said they work in a group of about 20 people. They each worked on their own in the past, but eventually they came together and launched a website to promote their business. They all agreed on one fair price for their services and they share in the business.

They speak English and can help in virtually any situation. They grew up here, so they have thousands of stories to tell you along the road. For just a little cost a day, you can enjoy a reliable companion and a wonderful adventure on the historic trail.

Source: VNS

Recommendation in Vietnam tour:
Motorcycling the Ho Chi Minh Trail - Half Challenge
Taste of Ho Chi Minh Trail

Friday, July 23, 2010

ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA announces to join in American Society of Travel Agents

ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA has been member of American Society of Travel Agents, the world's largest association of travel professionals. They are the leading advocate for travel agents, the travel industry and the traveling public.

Activetravel asiaACTIVETRAVEL ASIA

American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) offers many benefits to its members and the traveling public. The majority of ASTA's members are travel agencies. However, travel suppliers, such as airlines, hotels, car rental firms, cruise lines, and tour operators join ASTA. They also have membership categories for students, travel schools, retired travel professionals, retail travel sellers, and others. ASTA is the organization for anyone related to the travel industry!

The mission of the American Society of Travel Agents and its affiliated organizations, is to enhance the professionalism and profitability of members worldwide through effective representation in industry and government affairs, education and training, and by identifying and meeting the needs of the traveling public.

ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA (ATA) is a Vietnam Tour Operator, who offers a wide selection of Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar adventure tours, including hiking and trekking, biking, motorcycling, overland touring and family travel packages.

Their packages and custom itineraries will take you through exotic destinations to really experience the culture, history and nature of Asia. Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy an unforgettable active vacation. They run the most adventure tours available in the area. Their active trips are designed for all levels of outdoor enthusiasts, real people seeking real fun and adventure

ATA joined in ASTA to promote and grow the sustainable and responsible adventure travel market especially in Australia, Euro and North America as well as spread of their brand name to global adventure travel network.

To be the member of ASTA, ATA expressed their effort to serve clients with the best services which is guaranteed, responsible and sustainable. Additionally, ATA is very happy to work with other Tour Operators, Travel Agencies, and Wholesales….as their partners for a mutually beneficial co-operation.

To be the clients or partners of ATA, you are all always welcome to their promisingly policies, unique adventure products and truly experiences.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

An unforgettable experience in Hoi An, Vietnam

Located 30 kilometres away from Da Nang City, the ancient and legendary Hoi An, Vietnam is one of Asia’s top destinations.

Cua Dai Beach, VietnamCua Dai Beach, Vietnam

Famous Thu Bon River, Cua Dai Beach, rice fields and old streets are adorned with souvenirs. The people are known to be friendly, honest and hospitable.

Hoi An vendors have earned a reputation for treating visitors well and not overcharging. The prices are very reasonable and the “foreigner tax” rarely, if ever, is applied. There are many small scale hotels for backpacking tourists.

Hoi An also offers unique culinary specialties such as Mi Quang, Cao Lau (two styles of vermicelli noodles native to Quang Nam Province), and Com ga (Chicken rice). Ba Buoi’s stall is very famous for Com ga and virtually anybody in Hoi An can show you the way to this stall.

Cua Dai Beach is just 4 or 5 kilometres away from Hoi An. It has many hotels and resorts with traditional style.

The Hoi An RiverSide and Hoi An River Beach are resorts looking over the beautiful Thu Bon River and all boast very beautiful views. Tourists can see farmers working in fields or storks searching for food, soaking in a peaceful countryside area.

In addition, tourists have another choice. They can stay in resorts looking towards the sea such as Palm Garden Beach Resort and Spa, Hoi An Beach Resort, Vitoria Hoi An Beach Resort and Spa or the Golden Sand Resort and Spa. They all have a modern design.

Cua Dai Beach is seemingly untouched. Its water is so clear that beach goers can see their feet. They can go to the beach all day and enjoy their dinner without having to leave.

Visitors can also see such sights as My Son Sanctuary, Cu Lao Cham Island in Quang Nam Province or Son Tra Peninsula, Ba Na cable car in Da Nang.

Below are some photos on Cua Dai Beach and hotels, resorts in Hoi An:

Coconut leave umbrellas at Cua Dai beach, Hoi An, VietnamCoconut leave umbrellas at Cua Dai beach, Hoi An, Vietnam

Nice swimming pools in Hoi An, VietnamNice swimming pools in Hoi An, Vietnam

Sunset over Thu Bon River, VietnamSunset over Thu Bon River, Vietnam


Recommendation in Vietnam:
Beaches in Vietnam

Monday, July 12, 2010

Escape and explore Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam

A vacation is a great escape from the drudgery of everyday life. So even if it is for a short break, it’s time to say Goodbye Vexation and Hello Vacation. Where better to go than Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam just an hour’s flight away.

Notre Dame Cathedral front side, Ho Chi Minh (Sai Gon), Vietnam

An intoxicating mix of colonial past, ancient civilisation rich in tradition and culture, architectural splendour, exotic food and friendly locals makes Ho Chi Minh City (HCM) an ideal getaway.
On the banks of the Saigon River, the Khmer people established a civilisation extraordinaire — having warded off invasions, won a war against a superpower and constructed a city of commerce. It’s a tale of courage under fire, a saga of people prevailing against the odds.

Earthly beauty

From old colonial wonders to gleaming skyscrapers, HCM gleams at night. Home to almost seven million people, the city is the financial and economic hub of the country. During the day, HCM grips you with its heady scents and stupefying sights. A lingering aroma of jackfruit and coffee fill the air everywhere you go.

It’s a city of gaiety; you can inevitably sense its soulful presence everywhere you wander — in the various lanes, cafés, and markets and in the eyes of its smiling people.

The best place to stay is in District One. It is dotted with prominent tourist attractions Some famous hotels here include Hotel Continental, Rex Hotel, Hotel Majestic, Grand Hotel, Park Hyatt Saigon, Riverside, New World and Sheraton Saigon.

City highlights

There are many ways to commute here, but a good way to see HCM is on foot.

The Vietnamese are very amicable and hospitable. Asking for directions is never too hard. With its wide boulevards and magnificent French villas, HCM is truly the Paris of the Orient. Some examples of splendid French architecture include the General Post Office, Reunification Palace, City Hall, the Municipal Theatre and the Notre-Dame Basilica.

Begin your tour around the city by visiting the History Museum. It houses an incredible collection of artifacts from Vietnam’s 2000-year history.

The museum also houses a water puppet theatre. The show about mythical goddesses, dragons and talking fish goes on for about an hour and will enchant the kid in you.
Outside, hop on a colourful cyclo. The ride is sure to bring peals of laughter and excitement as you go sightseeing.

Architectural beauty

One of the most interesting spots is the General Post Office, the biggest in Vietnam.

Built in the early 20th century when Vietnam was part of French Indochina, its interior is a sight to behold. Resembling a European railway station with a huge clock in its central pavilion, this fascinating building is an outstanding display of design influenced by the Renaissance era. The elegant interior with its glass canopy and huge ceilings will charm your senses.

General Post Office, Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamGeneral Post Office, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Attracting tourists to its neo-Romanesque style architecture, the Notre-Dame Basilica was anointed by the Vatican in the 1960s when an archbishop was assigned to Saigon. Its red bricks were imported from Marseilles which still glow bright until today. Do not fail to walk around this magnificent structure that has survived WWII.

Chinese influence

Next, stop by Cho Lon, HCM’s Chinatown. Built by Chinese immigrants in 1778, Cho Lon meaning “big market” is a riot of colours where Ben Thanh Market is situated. This shopaholics’ paradise needs haggling skills. Patience will find you great buys in footwear, bags and accessories.

For a dash of “fabulosity”, walk along Dong Khoi Street; a paradise of high-end fashion stores like Gucci and Louis Vuitton.

Apart from the Roof Top Garden Restaurant at the Rex Hotel, one of the best places to dine is at Ben Thanh. Numerous sidewalk restaurants serve authentic Vietnamese food; deep-fried fish and spring rolls are some of their specialties. Also, try the dragon-boat dinner cruise and enjoy glittering views and scrumptious seafood.

A few kilometres out is the revered Emperor Jade Pagoda, known for its symbiosis of Tao-Buddhist traditions.

Although entrance is free, a donation will be appreciated. Whilst there, don’t forget to purchase a few birds to be released as offering to the Gods.

Explore & excite

If you have kids, escape to Suoi Tien Amusement Park. The park that includes a zoo and a man-made beach features a beautiful waterfall. It displays the spiritual imagery of the Vietnamese people through sculptures of dragons, lions, turtles and the phoenix.

No trip to HCM is complete without experiencing the Cu Chi tunnels; a labyrinth of underground tunnels leading all the way to Cambodia. Built by the Viet Cong, these tunnels played a vital role in the Vietnam War.

Only a 30-minute drive from the city, the 121km complex network of tunnels is a war memorial park. If you are up to it, crawl through the tunnels and sample the simple food of the Viet Cong fighters.

Also, fire off an assault rifle at the shooting range for an adrenaline rush.

Visit this captivating city — pleasant surprises await around the bend.

Source: the star

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Two months in Southeast Asia - Travel Vietnam, Laos, Thailand

Since my second backpacking trip through Europe, I wanted to journey to Southeast Asia.

I chose to visit Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, and developed a loose itinerary, starting in Bangkok, Thailand.

Halong Bay, VietnamHaLong Bay, Vietnam

Bangkok was everything I expected. The number of people everywhere was staggering, but before long I got used to the crowds, the heat and the food.

I visited many temples and shops, including the Grand Palace and the famed Khao San Road. The Grand Palace was amazing. Inside there were countless statues of Buddha. To my disappointment, Khao San was the typical tourist trap, with vendors selling T-shirts and bootlegged CDs.

After a few days I headed to Phuket, where I played beach bum for a few more days before flying to Saigon, Vietnam.

Scooting around Vietnam

Now, that was exactly what I pictured an Asian city to be - scooters everywhere! Crossing the street in Bangkok was like crossing a street in Des Moines compared to trying to cross the street in a Vietnamese city. The first time in Saigon was a big leap of faith. The trick is to just walk and keep your head turned to oncoming traffic.

I spent three weeks in Vietnam traveling from south to north. The highlights were eating the food in Hoi An, enjoying Hanoi’s famed Bia Hoi beer gardens and eating snake, and seeing the rock karsts of Halong Bay.

I had many choices of border crossings into Laos from Vietnam but I chose the crossing near Vinh in central Vietnam. This meant that I had an eight-hour bus ride from Hanoi to Vinh followed by a 14-hour bus ride to Phonsavan, Laos.

Phonsavan is famous for its “Plain of Jars” fields. These are fields of stone jars, each about 4 feet tall and 2 feet wide, scattered everywhere. Other jars are scattered in jungles surrounding Phonsavan.

Floating through Laos

After a day in Phonsavan I headed to Luang Prabang for a few days and then to Vang Vieng. My time in Vang Vieng was some of the best. There I went on a two-day trek that included hiking over mountains, spelunking through caves and kayaking the Nam Song River that runs through the town. The town has become a hotbed for young tourists who tube down the river. The river has a number of bars along its banks. Some have zip lines, bungee jumps and slides for the patrons to enjoy and all blare techno music.

Cambodia was the biggest surprise of the trip because I knew the least about it. The biggest draw to Cambodia is Siem Reap where Angkor Wat is located. Many people go only to see Angkor Wat but there are many more temples around Siem Reap and Cambodia. I felt like I was on another planet when I went to Angkor Wat to watch the sun rise over the temple.

I spent two months in Southeast Asia and there are still parts I didn’t see. I enjoyed every minute. Many people ask if I felt safe. I did.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Exploring Villages of Northwest Ethnic Minorities, Vietnam

According to exploration of some tourism companies, tourists could choose Northwestern Vietnam as an ideal destination for trekking, cycling, climbing, kayaking, and exploring traditional culture of the ethnic minorities…

Mai Chau, VietnamLandscape from Mai Chau, Vietnam

Mother nature has given special favour for northwestern Vietnam with grandiose mountains, fanciful caves, lots of bumpy streams and winding rivers. Besides, it’s the unique traditional culture of the ethnic minorities that creates the seductive beauty for the northwest.

One of the favorite traveling programmes for foreigners is trekking through the mountainous villages of the northwest region. This is a new kind of tourism for those who love to discover, experience, and learn about manners and customs from many cultures.

The Muong ethnic group still transmits orally the saying “First Bi, second Bang, third Thang, forth Dong”. The saying names four accent mountain villages of the Muong ethnic minority. These are the biggest villages that the Muong ethnic group gather and settle down.

In Hoa Binh province, some villages are being exploited for tourism purposes. 10 kilometers from Hoa Binh City, Giang Mo village lying at the foot of Mo Mountain includes 106 houses on stilts. These houses are kept in their original form in structure, daily life activities, water system, rice mortar, bow and cross-bow, farming method, tradition and custom of the Muong people.

Being guests in these houses, you will be warmly greeted, enjoy folk art performance; buy tiny souvenirs made by the Muong people. It is even more interesting when you have a chance to listen to the host playing the flute and monochord beside the traditional wine jar (drunk through pipes).

Mai Chau village is 60 kilometers from Hoa Binh City. It has been a popular, tourist attraction. The houses on stilts are quite large and are covered by palm trees. The floors are made of bamboo’s wood. The windows not only are big in order to pick up the wind but also hang on orchid of baskets and bird cages. It is difficult for tourists to forget the camp-fire nights playing gongs, communicating with artisans, dancing with Muong girls.

According to Mr. Ha Cong Tim, the head of Lac village, tourism has brought a great change in the ethnic minorities’ life here sice 1993. There are 25 Houses on stilts in Pom village and Coong village to serve tourists. In 2007, more than 14,000 tourists went there; 60 percent of that was from foreign countries.

Only three kilometres from Son La town, you can live in Thai’ ethnic tradition. Thai’ girls who have not gathered their hair in a high bun yet (it means isn’t married) will invite you to their traditional party with wine, bamboo-tube rice, “com khau”, “mang lay”, “ pinh top” etc. Son La also has Mong village which is a green tourism, cultural, and relaxing site in the Hua La commune. Mong village has a hot natural stream named Bo Nam Un. The water has got medical properties. 100 Thai families live in here.

They live in houses on stilts in the edge of mountains. The roofs are well-decorated with the images of elephant tusks and the moon. The handicraft here includes forging, making brocade, knitting, making pottery. The sound of drums, gongs, birds, combining with stretching dance, butterfly dance, Pieu dance and the song “Inh La Oi” in will make good impression for tourists visiting Mong village.

Trekking Mai Chau, VietnamTrekking Mai Chau, Vietnam

Cooking culture with unique dishes is an interesting factor to attract tourists. To name some traditional dishes, they have steamed glorious rice, bamboo tube rice, grilled fish, vegetable, bitter bamboo sprout, dried meat, thin-top mushroom, etc. Coming to Nam Son commune, Tan Lac district, Hoa Binh Province, visiting the original Nam Son cavern, you will enjoy the specialty here: Nam Son chicken.

It is not only soft but also sweet. According to Mr. Bui Thanh Truyen, the president of Nam Son commune, it is one of the three special dishes of Vietnam that is introduced into the famous book Slow Food Editore with 1600 other dishes of 150 countries by Terra Madre Organization (administered by Italian Department of Agriculture and Forest).

In an exploration to some North- West tourist spots, representatives of tourism companies affirmed that mountain villages of the ethnic minorities are a potential advantage. What we have to do is to connect the main tourism spots in Hoa Binh with other provinces to make a route for inter-provincial tourism program including adventurous exploration, mountain biking, trekking, etc. We have to support the trade name North-West Tourism, consolidate the stability of tourism and improve the economical life of the northwest ethnic minorities.

Source: VCCI

Recommendation in Vietnam:
Trekking Mai Chau
Biking Pu Luong Nature Reserve