Monday, January 31, 2011

Vietnam: A land of beauty rises among memories of war

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

Tea and English

Sometimes I remember the story beginning as we stepped out of the airport, greeted by a wave of oppressive humidity and hundreds of Vietnamese holding signs for someone named “Nguyen.”

Getting into a Vietnamese taxi that wove its way through a sea of cars and bikes and motorbikes that would’ve terrified us had we not been too tired to care after the 17-hour flight.

But in reality, we spent our first two hours in Vietnam trying to leave the airport. Trying to convince the customs officers that, although we did attend a Baptist university, we weren’t there to convert the defenseless masses. Our first encounter with a communist nation.

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

Most visitors to Vietnam have come to experience what they imagine is a culture about as foreign to their own as any still in existence. But what most Vietnamese are anxious to show visitors is how well they can speak English.

As we walked into an English class at a university in Ho Chi Minh City, the topic for the day was the impending threat of helmet laws for motorbike riders. Riders who maneuver traffic everyday that makes New York or even Rome look like the Disney’s Autotopia.

Most Vietnamese couldn’t afford a helmet if they wanted to buy one, let alone pay the fines imposed if this law passed and they didn’t. Still, the conversation took a strange turn. “Helmets look funny,” one boy complained. “Yes,” another girl chimed in, “When you get to your date, your hair not look pretty.” Consensus was that the law shouldn’t pass.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Discover real Vietnam on travel review

The idea of Vietnam conjures strong images in the Western mind. Many come from a few iconic Vietnam War films. The country still features those lush rustic landscapes, peaceful now, of course, but modern Vietnam has grown beyond the definition of misty paddy fields and peeling houses, captivating as these certainly are.

Vietnam Travel
Sapa Field, Vietnam

Remnants of war – the Cu Chi tunnels near Saigon, for example – have been preserved for visitors to witness. However, the Vietnamese have very much put hostilities behind them, staying cheerfully focused on the future. These days, most Vietnam tours take in sights that range from pristine French architecture in Hanoi to jungle riverways in the Mekong Delta.

So, when you visit Vietnam, how can you encounter its complete personality? A good start is by leaving your preconceptions at home. Arrive in any country with a fixed idea of what it’s about and you risk overlooking things that don’t fit into your theory. Land in Vietnam with a clear head and you’ll begin to perceive the superb layers of culture that tint, obscure and highlight each other throughout this remarkable country.

Just over 1,000 years ago, long before the French colonised Vietnam, the Vietnamese secured independence from China and flourished, for hundreds of years, under their own dynasties. The emperors considered themselves divine, creating huge ornate palaces, and tombs designed for comfort in the afterlife. Many of these were destroyed by subsequent warfare and colonial development.

Luckily, Hue, on the coast, where the border between North & South once divided the country, has been preserved. Its fortified citadel is enormous: four square miles of forbidden city, once home to emperors and their concubines and inaccessible – on pain of death – to anyone else. This is one of the few places in the country where this era of dynastic Vietnam is still visible.

In 1885 the whole of Vietnam became part of the French Indochina colony. Both Hanoi and Saigon (now officially known as Ho Chi Minh City) are full of astonishing French architecture, from a post office designed by M. Eiffel in Saigon to the ornate Presidential Palace and French Quarter in Hanoi. When the Vietnamese leaders finally re-secured their country’s independence in the 1970s, they began using the old French government buildings as their own. The power symbolized by these imposing foreign structures suddenly belonged to the nation.

Hanoi is also home to the tomb of “Uncle” Ho Chi Minh himself, whose embalmed body is revered and on display for visitors to see. Expect to queue, here, but this somewhat macabre exhibition really transmits the magnitude of relief and gratitude the Vietnamese must have felt when Uncle Ho finally negotiated independence after centuries of occupation and war.

And yet, behind the triumphant modern bustle, along mountain passes and misty valleys, lies another remarkable achievement. Despite all the turmoil, a number of indigenous tribes still lead traditional lives, coming into villages to trade and greet visitors. They’re very friendly – you may be surprised by how well they speak English -and their existing at all demonstrates Vietnam’s determined pride in survival.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Hiking in North Vietnam’s limestone mountains

Three days and two nights in Vietnam’s nature reserve, an experience with ethnic tribes on rice terraces amidst a limestone landscape. Our guide knows this place by heart, every turn of the ridges and hidden waterfalls and shorter trails, every native house where tourists like us will have to stay.

We set off in pairs, in puny 100cc motorbikes riding through 130 kilometers of the country’s ephemeral rural setting – the rice paddies that may one day give way to modern development, small towns bustling with artisans and vegetable markets, vast plantations of sugar cane, and the vision of what was once the heart of Indochina.

The Pu Luong conservation area is Vietnam’s answer to ecotourism. It was declared a reserve only in the past two years, effectively putting a stop to logging and keeping the enclave as alluring and authentic as possible in the eyes of foreign tourists who see Vietnam with a weight for history in this corner of Asia.

A solitary farmer works silently in the rice terraces inside the Pu Luong reserveA solitary farmer works silently in the rice terraces inside the Pu Luong reserve.

On our first day, we arrive in the small village, the southern edge of the sprawling 17,200-hectare nature park in Thanh Hoa province. Mid-afternoon, we chance upon high school students pedaling home in their bicycles, wearing their blue-and-white jacket uniform. All the girls have ponytails down the length of their backs. They smile at us. They know this park is gaining reputation among foreigners.

Monday, January 17, 2011

When to travel Sapa, Vietnam

Travelers to Sapa in summer can feel the climate of four seasons in one day. In the morning and afternoon, it is cool like the weather of spring and autumn. At noon, it is as sunny and cloudless as the weather of summer. And it is cold in the evening.

With no advance warning of a thunderstorm short and heavy rains may come at noon on any summer day. Subsequently, a rainbow appears, transforming Sapa into a magic land, which for years has been a constant source of poetic inspiration, lights up the whole region.

The terraced fields in Sa Pa, VietnamThe terraced fields in Sa Pa, Vietnam

The best time to witness the scenic beauty of Sapa is in April and May. Before that period, the weather might be cold and foggy; after that period is the rainy season. In April and May, Sapa is blooming with flowers and green pastures. The clouds that settle in the valley in early morning quickly disappear into thin air.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA completed the survey in Quan Ba, Ha Giang, Vietnam in a tourism cooperation with Caritas Switzerland.

The ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA (ATA) team spent 4 days (18-22 Dec 2010) to scan three communes of Thanh Van, Quyet Tien and Tung Vai in order to locate the potential spots for home-stay and seek for walking and biking routes that links those spots.

This survey is the first step of the tourism project named “Quan Ba District Integrated Community Development Project, Ha Giang province” which is implemented by Caritas Switzerland in Vietnam.

This project aims to set up sustainable livelihood for the poorest households and the poorest community with attention to indigenous knowledge, strengthening the culture which is facing a risk of oblivion, and obtaining sustainable maintenance of the environment resources.

The ATA team spent 4 days to scan three communes of Thanh Van, Quyet Tien and Tung Vai in order to locate the potential spots for home-stay and seek for walking and biking routes that links those spots.

With the distinguishing natural and cultural features the area has great potential in following tour categories:

Adventure Travel:

Adventure travel is a type of tourism, involving exploration or travel to remote, exotic and possibly hostile areas. Adventure tourism is rapidly growing in popularity, as tourists seek different kinds of vacations. With extreme terrain Quan Ba is ideal for developing adventure tours such as trekking, biking, motorcycling and even river kayaking.

The way to Lung Tam Cao village

The way to Lung Tam Cao village

Culture Exploration:

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Travel to Vietnam & Discover traditional Tet Holiday

The lunar calendar shows that Tet is coming, and from now until then, all things are Tet. The streets are Tet, the talk is Tet, the thoughts are Tet, the shopping is Tet, it's a Tet world in Vietnam right now and everybody knows it.

Tet is the most cherished time of the year in Vietnam. It is when the cities empty out and thousands go back to the countryside where they were born. City dwellers often choose to spend time at home. The streets empty out. The horns quiet, the traffic no longer congests and the hustle and bustle of city life, for a few days every year, comes to a halt.

New year's Eve in VietnamNew year's Eve in Vietnam

As Vietnam develops and its expat population grows, the holiday has also come to hold a special meaning with foreigners as well.

"For me, Christmas was always the big holiday but now, Christmas is just a sign that Tet is approaching," shared Karen Merlin who has lived in Hanoi for over 4 years now. "It's hands down the best time of year, it is a time to catch your breath, relax and reflect on the last year."

Hitting the streets, Tet for foreigners residing in Vietnam means various things. For Stephen McGrath, living in Ho Chi Minh City, "Tet is a cultural event that perplexes and entertains me, but no-one ever knows when it is until a week beforehand," he said jokingly.

Paula, a long-time ESL teacher in Vietnam said for her, "Tet is the one true break I get all year. I cherish every moment and usually spend half in the city with my Vietnamese friends and half traveling somewhere outside of Hanoi."

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Discover Hanoi, Vietnam on traveler's eyes

Each foreign tourist arrives in Hanoi and when they return to their home, they all have an individual impression. Hanoi is ancient and peaceful; Hanoi bustles and is full of vitality; Hanoi has precise and unique gastronomy; Hanoi is brilliant with colours; and Hanoi is passionate and charming.

Common impressions for tourist to easily recognize are the friendly, enthusiastic and hospitable people of Hanoi. Living in California, US, Dr Gish chooses Hanoi capital as the tourism destination for his family. He said that his family had visited many famous landscapes, enjoyed traditional delicious dishes in Hanoi and contacted many people. However, the most memorable impression for his family was the vibrant vitality of Hanoi’s traditional culture.

Sword Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam

Sword Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi leaves good impressions for me because the city has preserved its cultural heritages, for example, Tortoise Tower in Sword Lake, daily life and business activities of inhabitants in the Old Quarter. I think that Hanoi is trying to preserve its essential cultural values of previous years and be determined to develop a modern city at the same time,” Dr Gish said.