Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Report on RTC inspection trip to Pu Hu Nature Reserve, Thanh Hoa province

From May 11 to May 13, The Responsible Travel Club of Vietnam (RTC) launched an interesting inspection trip to Pu Hu Nature Reserve, which is situated in the North - West of Thanh Hoa province. 

Pu Hu Nature Reserve has a big diversity of plants and animals with 508 plants species and 266 animal species. Pu Hu offers great potential for adventure and nature lovers. RTC’ members have committed to promote Pu Hu in coming years.
Pu Hu has a plentiful floristic composition which creates interesting trekking routes. Tourist may see waterfalls from height of 50m-100m flowing down at any time on the way. The green of trees, the eco of forest bring the fresh experience for explorers during the trip.

ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA (ATA), as a founding member of RTC, has gone fast in promoting and supporting Pu Hu by designing and selling an interesting itinerary with motorcyclingtrekking and camping combined. “We strongly believed that Pu Hu will be popular in coming years”, Product Manager of ATA, Tony said.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

How to spend a weekend in Hanoi

There are so many things to see in Hanoi the real question is not ‘How to spend a weekend in Hanoi” but how much can be possibly be fitted into one weekend?

A good place to begin is the Ho Chi Minh Memorial Complex. This attraction was developed around a old French palace. The first unique feature is having to enter the museum passing through a system resembling post-9/11 airport security. Guards ensure visitors do not stray from the accepted area during tours that can require several hours if all areas are visited. The first area, devoted to Ho Chi Minh photos and biographical information has explanatory data in English, French and Vietnamese.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Rice Terraces of Sapa, Vietnam

Emerald green rice terraces shimmered in the distance, as water buffaloes ploughed through the soggy field. In the backdrop, the towering Hoang Lien Son mountain range lay shrouded in mist while clusters of bamboo huts sprawled across its foothills. It had rained the day before and now the poetic landscape seemed even more beautiful than ever. We had left the town of Sapa in Lao Cai province that morning and within a few miles of walk, we were trekking through winding valleys and steep slopes. This is one of the last frontiers of Vietnam, far out in the northern reaches close to the Chinese border.

I had long heard about the beautiful countryscape and the Hmong ethnic groups who inhabit this region — and it didn’t disappoint. While this trail is clearly well-trodden (as with most parts of Vietnam), it didn’t fail to impress – we experienced Vietnam’s backcountry, stayed in a local’s home, and met plenty of Hmong people (who all offered a helping hand during the challenging trek).  Here are some of our photos from Sapa, hope they’ll give you a good glimpse of Northern Vietnam.

Making our way into the remote villages of Lao Cai

A Hmong girl with a baby on her back. Hmong girls tend to marry very young, around the age of 14 or 15.

Water buffalos are used to plough through the rice fields.

Beautiful rice paddies shimmer under the sunshine.

A Hmong lady weaving on the streets. Many of these ladies make a living from selling handicraft to tourists.

A group of Red Hmong ladies gathering for their market day.

Trekking through bamboo forests, we slipped and slided along the muddy paths.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Travel to Vietnam – Top 10 Things to do

1.Take a tour around the legendary Halong Bay
Paddle around Halong Bay in Quang Ninh which is similar to the islands found along the , this is one of Vietnam’s most beautiful areas, Halong Bay has fascinating limestone formations, coves for night-time excursions, sheer cliffs, grottoes, arches and scores of small islets. There are plenty of activities such as Kayaking that are well worth taking time out for as this is one way to really appreciate the beauty of the area as well as a good way to see the fauna and flora without disturbing the nature around one.

2. Get your shirts and suits tailor-made at Hoian
Visit Hoian. From the 16th to 18th centuries, Hoian was a thriving international commercial port for Chinese, Dutch, French, Japanese, Portuguese and Arab traders. These people came to trade primarily for the high-grade silk, which is still produced in the area, and ceramics. The area is now one of four world heritage listed sites in Vietnam and there are lots of interesting things to see and do in the area.

So you think you can ride in Vietnam?

When I landed in Hanoi, Vietnam, motorcycles immediately stole my attention. Motorcycles in Vietnam are everywhere and they are used to do just about everything. Streets in Vietnam are like rivers, but instead of water, motorcycles flow in continuous streams of traffic.

You think you could ride like this?

Though I wasn’t able to ride any motorbikes while visiting Vietnam, nearly all my most interesting memories of the country (like single motorbikes transporting as many boxes as a normal pick-up truck) have to do with motorbikes!

I thought to myself how cool it would be to travel through Vietnam on a motorcycle. For me it would be the flexibility of being able to stop at will, or being able to go to a completely off-the-beat destination in the country. I remember riding in a bus from Hanoi to Halong Bay. During the ride I peeked out the window and saw countless little local Vietnamese restaurants that appeared to be serving amazing unique food – and if I had been on my own motorcycle I could have stopped and enjoyed it.

I was amazed by the motorcycle traffic in Hanoi!

After reading the guide to motorbiking in Vietnam, I realized that touring Vietnam on a motorcycle isn’t quite as easy as just jumping on a bike and heading out – there are a few things to think about and organize in order to ensure your journey is a success.

Choosing a Motorcycle: Great tips on finding a motorcycle that best suits your interests and how to go about fully checking it over (condition of the bike) before committing to purchase it.

Riding Tips and Suggestions: Not only does the guide provide useful tips on how to ride like the Vietnamese (using your horn, focusing forward, accelerating on traffic gaps), it’s also packed with valuable tips on what gear to take and what to wear.

Licensing, Permits, Registration, Insurance (both yourself and bike): No, this stuff is not the most interesting, but it really is the most important information you need to think about when organizing a motorcycle trip in Vietnam
Where to Go: When you’re past the logistics of riding a motorcycle, it’s time to figure out a rough itinerary of where you want to go. Sure you can drive around aimlessly, but since you’ll probably be on a tourist visa, you’ll want to have some sort of rough plan. The guide suggests a few amazing rides and routes that you may want to add to your travel itinerary.

Resources Section: From useful Vietnamese language phrases to a motorcycle specific packing checklist, the resources section is really useful. The guide really made me think through a lot of things I would have never thought of (and that are really important).
For instance, I never would have known to keep my motorcycle gas tank always 1/2 full or more to avoid clogging the gas filter.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

“A memorable first visit to Viet Nam”

As their name suggests, ATA is at their best doing active travel; take advantage of it to get away from the crowds and experience Vietnam in a more direct and authentic way.

We arranged a private, two week, multi-tour package in Vietnam with ActiveTravel Asia (ATA) in October 2011. ATA staff, especially Sunny, worked with us to put together a customized itinerary that met our needs and interests. The result was a remarkable and challenging vacation of dramatic landscapes, intense cultural exposure, physical activity, great food, and beautiful people. Our trip had three major components: a 5D/4N sea kayaking tour of Ha Long Bay (including Cat Ba Island), a 3D/2N trek with homestays in the Sa Pa area, and a 2D/1N bicycling tour with homestay in the Mekong Delta

Monday, May 14, 2012

Getting lost in Hanoi's Old Quarter

Hectic, noisy, chaotic, adjective, adjective. Describing Hanoi's oldest district is somewhat of a waste of breath. No need to ramble on about where exactly to go in the Old Quarter either, as the weaving and winding streets are best explored by aimless wandering. No destination. No pre-planned route. Just left, right, or straight ahead.

There is no road "less travelled" in this part of town. They're all loaded with scooters, cars, bikes and people so the main bit of advice we'd give is to watch your step but be assertive when crossing the road. Don't second guess your moves, look both ways, and enjoy the fact that yes, you are standing in the middle of the road with dozens of scooters whizzing by on both sides.

Hanoi is hot in the summer time. We're talking 30 to 35 degrees Celsius at a very, very high humidity, so for a walking tour take lots of water and expect to sweat. The sweating is worth it, as the view of street life you get by covering the district on foot is fantastic. The neighborhood has over 1,000 years of history coursing through its meandering street veins, pumping with life representing both the past and present.

For those able to stand the heat, one full day exploring should do it. For those with less heat tolerance, taking two days at around four hours each day is recommended. Or simply visit during the cooler Fall or Spring months.


Electrical wires string along many streets in hap-hazard fashion. Much of the infrastructure looks like it is being held together by duct tape.


Old buildings line Hang Dao road, just north of Hoan Kiem Lake.


Rush hour in Hanoi's Old Quarter is an experience. You must be on your toes at all times as the streets fill with scooters, bikes, cars, and people. The rules of the road are "pay attention and whoever flinches first loses the right of way."


The sidewalks can be just as chaotic as the middle of the street. Locals stake out their spots with small plastic stools and the wares of whatever trade they're plying. The ever-present scooters are parked at all angles. Small dogs skitter about. People bargain and negotiate for goods and food, and fans sprout from everywhere.


A family sits and chats in the hot Hanoi summer heat in front of their tombstone business.


The Hoam Kiem lake park is a green, shady spot locals like to use to escape Hanoi's seemingly ever-present frenetic energy. The northern tip of the small lake borders the Old Quarter on P Dinh Tien Hoang road.

One of the Old Quarter's street markets.


A woman relaxes in the market. Expending as little energy as possible is a common strategy for fighting the heat.

Vendors in the market are mainly women.


A woman barbecues on the sidewalk in 32 degree Celsius heat. Hanoi has a rich street food culture, worthy of a book let alone another article.


Crabs and sea snails ready to be bought.


Locals eating a quick noodle meal.


Various animals roam freely in some parts of the Old Quarter. This scrawny little chicken looked too sad for even a bowl of soup.


An old stuffed deer sneering in a rictus death grimace from a shop window. A sight only seen by walking the streets for hours. Similar random sightings can be expected when least expected.


 The Old Quarter has many streets dedicated to specific trades. This was the toy street. Others to be found included streets dedicated to shoes, clothing, tombstones, antiques, and scooter repairs.

These tourists opted for a more comfortable whirl around the Old Quarter. Though it is good to be wary as these rides are often overpriced.

Contact ActiveTravel Asia to have an adorable Hanoi city tour, at here:

Friday, May 11, 2012

My Ha Long Bay Visit

 May 7, 2012  

Before I moved to Vietnam, one of the things that most impressed me about the country were pictures I had seen of Ha Long Bay. The beautiful pictures showed romantic views of limestone islands sitting in gorgeous blue water, and I knew this would be a place that I would have to visit!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Top Five Places in Vietnam That Are Not Hanoi or Saigon

Sure, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) are spectacular, but there’s much more to Vietnam than just those two destinations. Vietnam is filled to the brim with exotic sandy beaches, untapped cultural landmarks and all the rural culture you can handle, from the absolutely stunning beaches and growing nightlife of Nha Trang, to the historical old town of beautiful Hoi An. For those with the adventurer’s sense of traveling, there are more than enough reasons to extend your stay in Vietnam. Here are our top 5 places to go in Vietnam that are not in Hanoi or Saigon.

1. Hue

Hue - Vietnam

One of the best regarded cultural landmarks in the country, Hue is packed with wonderful temples, palaces and pagodas, a true delight for those who want to soak in the country’s rich history. Head over to the Imperial Citadel for Hue’s prime attraction and explore its moats’ gates, shops and pavilions. Then follow up the Citadel with the Tombs of the Emperors, also located along the banks of the Perfume River. Cost aside, the walls of the tombs of Thieu Tri, Gia Long and Minh Mang, surrounded by warrior statues and opulent mosaics are a tribute to Vietnam’s great past leaders.

2. Nha Trang
Nha TrangVietnam

If white sandy beaches and island hopping are the name of the game for you, then look no further. Nha Trang is an increasingly popular destination for those looking to catch a little rest and relaxation while taking in the exotic backdrop of gorgeous Vietnamese coast. Take yourself on a full day boat tour for just $6 that includes lunch, music, snorkeling and trips to the local aquarium, before whisking you away to an island beach. The town has also become more and more developed over the years, with a respectable nightlife, including an interesting night market, an ice bar and delicious sea fare all around.

3. Hoi An
Hoi An, Vietnam

It is no wonder why the 16th and 17th-century former port city of Hoi An is a UNESCO World Heritage Site — it is one of the most picturesque places on the planet. Filled with breathtaking Chinese-style shop houses, each building is as unique as the next. The small but winding city is packed full of great places to do all of your shopping, including garment shops that will hand design pants, shirt, coats, shoes and dresses for pennies on western retail prices. And for the icing on the cake, a 30 minute bicycle ride gets you to a pristine beach with the bestseafood fare around.

4. Sapa
But Vietnam is more than just beaches and cities, take the mountainous and rugged beauty of Sapa. Known for its ethnic heritage and tremendous views, Sapa is a trekker’s paradise. First things first when you go, get to the mountainous view point of Heaven’s Gate – you will never see anything like it ever again. If you go via tour group, it takes about half a day to get there, but the journey is lovely. Afterward, take a tour of the village of Cat Cat, very close by Sapa itself. Here you will get a great sense of the local Vietnamese that inhabit the area, as well as natural sites including art shops and a waterfall – a lovely little hike.


5. Dalat
Located in the South Central Highlands of Vietnam, Dalat is quite different from any of the other hotspots in Vietnam, as it essentially Vietnam, but built by a Frenchman, a virtual cross between both worlds. The city itself is charming, with a small lake at its core and great peaks in the background. The best way to go here is to take buy a packaged day tour, but if not, make sure you take the cable car to Thien Vien Truc Lam Monastery, see the palace of the last emperor, Bao Dai, and take a ride out to the inspiring countryside

Dalat, Vietnam

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Insider’s Vietnam: A shopper’s guide to bargaining

Shopping is a gateway into Vietnam’s cultural, social and culinary heart. In addition to offering affordable textiles, handicrafts and tailored attire, shopping is an easy way to meet local people, boost language skills and give back to the community. The bargaining process, however, can be difficult and overwhelming to shoppers inexperienced in Vietnam.

The following tips will assist you to engage a shop vendor successfully, whether you intend to buy fresh food from local markets throughout the country or electronic goods at one of the few department stores in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City.

 Srart bargaining for basic items such as fruit

Browse items at fixed price stores
A research excursion to a fixed price store provides the greatest indication of an item’s value range - giving an amateur bargainer the confidence needed to later set a price and stick to it. The tourist hubs of Vietnam’s most popular destinations - Phạm Ngũ Lão in Ho Chi Minh City, Old Town in Hoi An - all have fixed price shops with slightly inflated prices. These stores generally display signs in English at the entrance so you can identify them.

Know the exchange rate, or fake it
Stall vendors can quote the price of an item in either US dollars or Vietnam Dong, so it’s important to get to know exchange rates before shopping - at A$1 to 22,124.42 Vietnam Dong on 30 January 2012, it’s difficult to just wing it. Shopping with local currency is generally cheaper than paying in foreign dollars and it’s useful to carry a range of different notes to provide the correct amount of money agreed on through bargaining. In lieu of carrying a currency exchange phone app for assistance on the road, I often create a business card-sized note that lists the local currency in ascending five or ten Australian dollar denominations. This enables me to quickly identify Vietnamese prices in familiar terms.

 Local currency is cheaper than foreign dollars

Learn basic Vietnamese
Communicating in Vietnamese with a shop vendor at the beginning of a conversation sets a positive tone for the negotiation process. In addition, you might just be good enough to fool people into thinking you’re an expat accustomed to local prices and avoid inflated tourist quotes. Simply say “xin chào” (pronounce sin chow) as a greeting, “bao nhiêu” (bow new) to ask “how much?” and use numbers from one to ten, if possible. If you want to give the vendor some tongue ‘n cheek, respond immediately to their starting bid with “đắt quá” which means “too expensive”.

It’s important to remember the Vietnamese language includes six different tones, making it difficult to accurately pronounce words. Even if you fail miserably at speaking Vietnamese properly, keep smiling and trying. Locals often find language mistakes incredibly entertaining!

Pick your time and place, carefully
You should never go shopping in Vietnam during the morning. Vietnamese people believe the sign of the first customer of each day has the power to determine the business’ performance for the rest of the day. For example, if a woman born in the year of the Tiger entered the store of an incompatible man from the year of the Ox, the man could become upset that she has caused his sales to drop. It’s smarter to go shopping after lunch, when most businesses have already received their first order.

Learn from others
One of the best methods for learning anything is to copy the actions of others. If you’re not ready to engage in your own negotiation, watch someone who appears to be good at bargaining - someone who enjoys the process, is confident and pays a fair price. Pay special attention to body language and prices. You will notice that better bargainers approach shopping like a social game and struggling shoppers appear defensive and uncomfortable. The next step is to try bargaining on your own.

 Floating markets at Can Tho, Mekong Delta.

Start low, but not too low
It’s a huge misconception that shoppers should offer only a third of the price quoted to them by the store vendor. This is often too low and can cause offense. If you follow all of the previous steps to now, you will be ready to identify an appropriate price for the item you want and have the ability to successfully negotiate to achieve an outcome that will leave both you and the stall vendor happy. Ask the shop owner to set a price and then make your offer in response, starting a fraction lower than what you intend to agree on. The final price is often 10-50% less than the starting value.