Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Making our way up Mount Fansipan

Mount Fansipan is only half as tall as Mount Everest. Yet this mountain, perched at the eastern edge of the Himalayan range in Vietnam’s uppermost Lao Cai province, is hardly an easy climb.

Mt. Fansipan, Vietnam
Together with a group of friends, I’ve opted to take the chance.

It takes about two hours to reach the campsite from the clearing where we have lunch, according to our guide Dung. From there it’s two more hours to the summit. The mist is thickening.

When we reach the next plateau, it billows around us, covering everything more than ten feet away in a wispy shroud. We decide to save the final ascent for the morning. Dung says he’s only seen the sun shine on the summit twice, but we hope for the best.

The weather is not encouraging. By the time we reach the campsite, a hilly clearing surrounded by bamboo forest, the wind blows in gusts so hard it sounds like rain.

We crawl into our tent, a long blue tube that could have about twenty people cocooned sardine-style, and take refuge in our sleeping bags. Although it is barely 4pm, we can only think of rest. Dung fills a bowl with rice wine from a plastic water bottle.

“The first time I came here I didn’t drink any. Then I couldn't sleep,” he says, taking a generous swig. “It was so cold!” He passes the bowl around. It goes down harsh, but it makes us feel marginally warmer.
Eating on the road
Dinner arrives, prepared by local H’Mong women: stir-fried chicken and ginger, tofu steeped in tomato sauce, garlicky strands of cabbage. We devour ample bowls of rice. Between bites, Dung asks us about America; we ask him what it’s like to grow up in Sapa.

"Around here many children speak English before they can speak Vietnamese,” he says, flushed from the wine. “They don’t go to school. They follow tourists and try to sell them stuff.”
Within minutes, he is sleeping soundly. I fall asleep but wake up soon after, tossing and turning in the darkness. A few feet away the tent flap has come undone, and the wind rushes in, sharp and blistering. I burrow into the hood of my sleeping bag.

Waking again, I see a fierce white light through the crack in the tent. The wind feels more bearable in the sun. A hurried bowl of ramen noodles laden with cabbage and strips of soft omelet, and then we’re headed for the summit.

Bamboo forest on the road to Fansipan
The first few minutes are easy walking, and we keep a rapid pace. When we emerge from the shade of the bamboo forest, Dung lets out an ear-splitting “Woo!” He is always happy, bounding up the mountain in a red fedora and tight jeans. It seems like not even the cold can unnerve him. I step up a final rock after him, onto a broad plateau.

We’re above the clouds now: surrounded by the gentle curves of terra cotta peaks, speckled with trees, and beyond that harsher green ridges. In front of us the mountain slopes upwards, and someone asks if that’s the summit. Dung laughs.

Now we are clambering up boulders again, and the rest breaks grow more frequent. We are not talking anymore, only dragging ourselves forwards with vines and carefully placed bamboo rods.

The current record for scaling Fansipan is one hour and thirty-five minutes. We feel accomplished enough when, two and a half hours after leaving camp, we stumble up the last incline onto flat ground.

On the summit of Mt. Fansipan
The wind hits hard at the summit. Clouds drift across sprawling ridges, mountains that would seem formidable if we were standing anywhere other than the peak of Fansipan.

Somewhere down the Himalayan chain, Mount Everest beckons. Three thousand metres in the air, gazing into the foggy blue distance, I feel a little closer to reaching it.

Source: www.dtinews.vn/

Recommended Mt. Fansipan tour by ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA
" Conquer Mount Fansipan - Sinchai Route "-  A big challenge for Mt. Fansipan's conquerers
Hanoi - Sapa - Fansipan Mt. - Sapa - Hanoi
5-day tour with 3-day climbing Mt. Fansipan
Trekking grade: Challenge

At 3143m Mt. Fansipan is the highest peak in Vietnam and the entire Indochina peninsula. This remote trek provides plenty to see and absorb, from the scattered rocks inscribed with drawings and designs of unknown origin, to the French influenced hill retreat town of Sapa with its minority groups, beautiful villas and cherry forests. Our trek to the top of Mt. Fansipan is challenging and will be fully supported every step of the way by our guides, porters and cooks who's local knowledge and understanding of the different hill-tribe cultures we pass along the way will add to the uniqueness of this exhilarating journey.

Highlights 
  • Awesome scenery
  • Great view from the summit
  • Challenging trails
  • Fully supported

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Stunning trek in Laochai and Tavan village, Sapa, Vietnam

Trek-outside of Sa Pa Day 2 Sunday, December 30, 2012

We wanted an easy walk, so we trekked to two villages, up and down the local hills through the rice paddies of Lao Chai and Ta Van Village. 

We went to firstly Lao Chai village, 6 km from the centre town, where the H’mong people are living. The trek was through rice fields and quite steep. The most difficult part was walking and balancing on the edge of the terraced rice paddies. In my embarrassment of being 65 a village girl had to hold my hand over quite a long stretch that was about six inches wide and straight down a long ways on the right and into the water on the left. I managed to slip into the water several times but the girl kept me from falling down the mountain.

We took about two hours to get down to the bottom to the beginning of the Muong Hoa valley.
Then we went  to Ta Phin village about an hour’s drive and two hour walk from Sapa, the little hillside village located in midst of the Hoang Lien Mountains. Several tribes live peacefully here: the Kinh, Red Dao and Black Hmong people. We had lunch at her village and went on to to Ta Van Village which borders Lao Chai Village.

Tavan Village, Sapa, Vietnam
“Ta Van means “a big turning road” like a basket brim, or tripod-leg line. Vast terrace fields with unique position of a big turning road become a landscape and a destination of Ta Van. Seo Mi Ti scenery-old pine forest, a half day of sloping road away from township centre, is also a particularly interesting eco-tourist site of Ta Van. And Ta van has become an integral tourist site for ecological excursions in Sapa.” 

I am not sure how much the villages are affected by the tourist coming through. They are better off and have built schools off the proceeds so we are doing our little bit. The village by Western standards are quite poor and I am not sure we could live like they do for very long which probably illustrates our materialistic ways.

Children in Laochai village
Children in Tavan vilage
There are six major groups in the Sa Pa area each speaks their own language though they share Vietnamese they do not understand the other village’s languages. Each village has its own culture and beliefs.  Our guide was from the H’mong tribe and she spoke good English. She is Buddhist and she married a fellow from another village. Some villages are Christian some have no beliefs – which is impossible because we all believe something or the other – but they all co-exist and have for I suppose many hundreds if not thousands of years. Apparently they were not affected by the American war in the 1960s and early 1970s and the government has pretty much left them alone, probably because they are so isolated and non-threatening. This is really something to see; we, with all our Western beliefs and wants and to see tribes living like they have for so long makes one believe that society may continue. They will be still here when all the Christians, Muslims, Jews and spiritualists of many hues destroy themselves. The teenagers do not run off to Hanoi but stay in their villages and keep the traditions going.

Black Mong people in Tavan Village
Source: DR. TERRELL NEUAGE’s blog

Recommended Sapa trek tour by ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA

Sapa trek & Topas Eco Lodge - "Stunning trek and great combination of homestay & eco-lodge"

At an elevation of 1,600 meters, Sapa is a delightful former French hill station situated in the mountainous region of Vietnam's northwest, close to the Chinese border. The region is home to many ethnic minority groups, each wearing traditional and colorful attire. This trip includes a trek through the hills and valleys of the Sapa region, discovering several different minorities along the way. You will experience overnight accommodation in the hospitable villages of Dzay and Tay ethnic minorities. Round off the trek with a nice stay in Topas Eco Lodge. The apparent hardships are worth it though as we walk through some of the most spectacular scenery that Vietnam has to offer and experience unique villages culture.

Highlights 
Awesome scenery
Rice terraces
Colorful minority groups
Homestays in minority villages
Topas Eco-lodge

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Lucky Adventure Travel Indochina – Summer Promotion 2013

ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA has launched “Great summer holiday with lucky travels” for summer promotion 2013 in Vietnam, Lao, Cambodia. The program applies for all customers request tour on website from 25 March to 30 September 2013. Variety gifts such as discount up to 15% on tour request, free city tour, free one night at a luxury cruise or at hotel, free meal at elegance restaurant and others are in listing lucky gift. 

Summer promotion ATA 2013
Escape to learn from difference. Instead of staying at home, let’s trek through the jungle closer with wildlife, actively ride on bike or motor along the legendary trail to hotspots, the remote place in Vietnam, Lao , Cambodia to live like local people,  enjoy the amazing  food, learn new language, experience in  rich culture, gain the historic knowledge. Leave everything behind to see the life in the different way. Why not?  

ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA would like to assist all customers to travel in period between 01 May 2013 and 30 September 2013. Just have fun and get luck by request tour on website – get ticket number. Customers chance to receive summer promotion 2013. Each Monday ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA will announce lucky people via website, social network channel. 

Customers have right to get the summer promotion 2013, following the Terms & Conditions:
  • The offer applies for all customers send the request and book tour with ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA from March 25th to September 30th, 2013 for travel period between 01 May 2013 and 30 September 2013.
  • The offer applies for all request of package tour (from 2 days more), cannot be applied to airfares, travel insurance, extra accommodation…
  • The promotion is only valid for request & booking tour in Vietnam, Laos & Cambodia.
  • The request applies for booking which is not too different from the original request in terms of location, activities, duration.
  • The prizes are not transferable and cashable.
  • End of promotion time, the prizes will be no longer available.


ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA (ATA) offers a wide selection of Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia adventure tours, including hiking and trekking, biking, motorcycling, kayaking, overland touring and family travel packages. For more information, please contact ATA for tailoring your very own tour via:

ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA (ATA)
Hotline: +84 902 24 3637
Tel: +84-43-633-9576
Email: info@activetravel.asia 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Ho Chi Minh Trail – A Potted History from a Cyclist

I had five days on bike into south tropical Vietnam following the famed Ho Chi Minh Trail, the supply route that leads thought forbidding jungle celebrated in a thousand Hollywood movies as an inhospitable place alive with all manner of ferocious mammals insects and reptiles all hell bent of inflicting a myriad of horrible experiences upon any wretched soul who has the misfortune to pass this way.


As I learn more about the history of the Ho Chi Minh Trail begins to take shape with a far sharper outline than my previous blurred knowledge of what led to the American War and the necessity of the trail.

From my lessons so far I understand that by 1954 politics were, to say the least, unstable. Ho Chi Minh’s Communist Party was officially in power having given the French a decisive drubbing at Dien Bien Phu and unceremoniously booted them out. Uncle Ho, as he was affectionately referred to, swept to power in the first national election in a jolly long time. Ho’s communists were less than sympathetic to the nations catholic who they saw as friends of the French and American’s, people for whom the Communist Party felt no allegiance and very little sympathy.

The Communist Party had their capital and the parliament that presided over the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in the northern city of Hanoi, whilst in the far south Saigon was the seat of parliament of the Catholic Party, rulers of the Republic of Vietnam, friends of the West, allies of The United States, sympathisers with the French and so, thoroughly dislikes by the communists. At this time Saigon was the most sophisticated city in South East Asia, a city of fine architecture, wide leafy boulevards and a level of development that left Bangkok, Kuala lumpur and Singapore looking like provincial backwaters. The nation was, in all respects, two nations with the country split conveniently across the middle by a UN imposed border 14 kilometers wide with the Ben Hai River running through the middle of it. The border was, apparently, a demilitarised zone, known as The DMZ and was a barrier designed to stop any cross border conflict, a fine and noble idea except that, then as now, nobody took a blind bit of notice of the United Nations.

The small town of Truong Son 

Whilst the folks of Saigon were enjoying the good life, far away in the north the government in Hanoi was becoming a touch agitated with what they saw as the splitting of their nation, a situation they intended to rectify. All was not quite as rosy as it could be in the south either, with a fair faction of the population eager to follow the bidding of Uncle Ho in the guise of The National Liberation Front. This organisation, better known in the Western world as the Vietcong, had been formed to help rid the South of Catholics, imperialists and all other enemies of communism that helped keep Saigon in such a fine condition. These freedom-fighters/guerrillas/resistance fighters/terrorists -delete as you see applicable – needed supplying, as did the ever growing number of Communist troops congregating south of the DMZ.

The logistical problem of supplying the Communist forces in the far south would to most people have seemed insurmountable. The DMZ was around 700KMS south of Hanoi, Saigon a further 1100KMS. Sea was the easiest option for supply but as we all know the advisory capacity of The Americans in this civil war soon became a fully fledged military intervention, and their navy was not inconsiderable. But the jungle was to the Americans what the US navy was to the army of the north, and so it became the ally of the Communist forces in the shape of the route we now follow, Ho Chi Minh Trail.

View from above Truong Son mountain

Originally a series of trails dating back centuries as trade routes through one of SE Asia’s most inhospitable regions a network or trails crisscrossed through jungle, across mountains and through Valleys. The route soon became essential to the military operation of the Communists and by 1964 it was estimated that over 200 tons per day and up to 9000 men per year were reaching the south along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The route, or series of routes, led not only through Vietnam but also through Lao. It was tough, inhospitable and many who set out along it never reached their destinations.

In the year 2000 the then prime minister gave the go ahead to link up the most suitable of these small roads and trails to form an inland alternative to the oh so congested Highway 1. By 2005 it was pretty much complete. In places it splits, with two or more alternative routes. At times we come across smaller roads that parallel the HCM, or cut between the east and west options. Some of these alternatives we explore as we go.

Source: David’s blog


Recommended Vietnam cycling tour by ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA

The so-called Ho Chi Minh Trail is one of the most renowned legends of the American War. The complicated road system winds along the Truong Son Range, which that facilitated movement of soldiers and war supplies from North Vietnam to battlefields in South Vietnam. Now the historic trail is being turned into a highway and hotels and towns are springing up speedily beside it. The route is incredibly beautiful with new mountain views around every corner, very little traffic, and virtually no tourists.

Highlights:

  • Pu Luong Nature Reserve 
  • Phong Nha Cave 
  • Vinh Moc tunnel & DMZ 
  • Hoian 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Some tips for female travelers in Indochina!

The International Women's Day is coming! It is time for you to the woman whom you admire and respect through show your love, gratitude and appreciation.

On this occassion, ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA wishes all female travelers in this world:  “Wishing you’ll get everything to take the world  in your stride. Happy women’s day! “


ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA recommends some tips for female travelers in Indochina:

Female travellers in Vietnam

Vietnam has been strongly influenced by Confucianism, so men regard women as subservient, as do most women. It doesn’t really affect female travellers, apart from an almost universal assumption that a male companion will automatically be the one in charge, and therefore the one to be addressed. Attempting to be politically correct is likely to be met with blank incomprehension.

Your manner of dress and behaviour is important. It’s a common belief among Vietnamese men that ‘western women’ are very liberated, and therefore an easy lay! This belief will be strengthened if you wear ‘sexy’ clothes, and you may well attract unwelcome attention. Ostentatious ‘male’ behaviour, such as drinking beer and/or smoking, will also help to confirm that you are available.

For this reason, it’s wise to avoid tight shorts, hot pants, figure-hugging tops and low cut blouses. Teeny bikinis are not a good idea, and topless sunbathing immediately attracts a crowd of male admirers who will stand and stare at you. It’s also highly likely to land you in trouble with police.`

Apart from the behaviour of men, Vietnamese women are embarrassed when visitors expose large areas of flesh. They’re also perplexed about why anyone would wish to sunbathe – in Vietnam, a white skin is considered beautiful by men and women. A sun tan identifies you as a peasant.

Single women travellers tend to attract more notice, as Vietnamese women seldom travel, and those that do seldom travel alone. However, providing you don’t call attention to yourself by your appearance and ignore would-be admirers, the most you’ll get is minor nuisances from time to time.

Female travellers in Cambodia and Laos

Even though Cambodia has taken on aspects of the Thai sex trade, Kh’mer men have a reputation for politeness and courtesy towards women. Because prostitution is a serious offence in Laos, and is therefore much less common than in Vietnam, Laos is probably the least likely country in Asia for you to encounter sexual harassment.

Laotian men are less likely to associate a women drinking alcohol or smoking with being a prostitute. However, the advice about dressing appropriately and not drawing attention to yourself holds good in both countries.

Practical issues

You’ll find it quite hard to find tampons in Vietnam, so it’s wise to bring a supply with you. Toiletries here are mostly low-quality, and non-allergic products are as rare as snow in June.

Clothes are plentiful and cheap, but most tailor-made garments are designed to fit the Vietnamese frame. Ethnic minority materials and garments are very attractive, but often not colourfast.

If you’re likely to be riding on the back of a motorbike, it’s a good idea to bring a pair of trousers. The alternative is to sit side-saddle, which is quite scary if you’re not used to it.

Health issues

The humid climate prevalent throughout Indochina encourages the growth of vaginal fungal infections such as thrush and candidia. Antibiotics, tights, synthetic material and the contraceptive pill can exacerbate the condition.

If you’re prone to such infections, it might be wise to consult you doctor for suitable medication in advance, or douche regularly with a weak solution of lemon juice or vinegar. Loose fitting silk or linen garments and cotton underwear should help towards preventing discomfort.