Friday, June 28, 2013

Useful tips when climb up to the top of Indochina: Mount Fansipan in Vietnam

So finally I’ve decided to do that trekking trip to the top of Mount Fansipan, the peak of three countries in former Indochina (Laos-Vietnam-Cambodia), located in the North of Vietnam, in the Hoang Lien Son mountain range.
Top of Indochina:  Mount Fansipan
Trekking up to the top of the highest mount to hug that triangle metal piece saying “Fansipan 3,143m” has become a long time tradition among young Vietnamese people. And obviously, Fansipan is also a kind of tourist attraction since it is very close to Sapa, a famous destination for tourists in the North of Vietnam, and a few adventurous and athletic travelers love to combine their Sapa trip with this Fansipan Mount trekking.

Before the trip my travel mates and I had quite a naive thought about the trek. We thought “it’s foot path and we can literally walk up to the top of the mountain(!), only 15km up and 15km down, will be easy, everyone is doing it, we’ll be fine”. However, the whole trip actually turned out to be an intensive training of physical rock climbing, which no one had told us before.

1. Tours and train tickets:

It is quite easy to organize for the trip. All you need to do is do is to book a package tour, then to buy train tickets. To go to Fansipan and Sapa, you need to buy train tickets from Hanoi to Lao Cai then go by bus from Lao Cai to the town. And Sapa is so popular for both foreign and domestic travelers that train tickets sell like hot cakes, especially at weekends. Thus, you’d better go for them at least 2 weeks in advance, or else you may risk having no places at all. 
In the hard sleeper class of the train Hanoi – Lao Cai
Vietnamese trains are quite good if compared with the trains I knew in India or Poland. There are mainly 4 classes: soft sleeper (4 beds in one cabin), hard sleeper (6 beds in one cabin), soft seating and hard seating. Advice is to go for the sleeper or soft seating so that you can sleep a bit on the train (there are only night trains going to Lao Cai). 

2. Tips before the actual trip:

- If you don’t do exercise very often then I’m telling you that you need to do exercise intensively at least 1 or 2 weeks before the trip because it’s going to be brutal rock climbing, 15km up and 15km down, so don’t expect any leisure! And be prepared: there is no fun about this trip, you will just climb up and down, but there’s nothing on top of the mountain, there’s only that metal little thing and the pride of conquering the toughest route ever. 

- Bring warm clothes! Trust me, it’s freezing up there during night time (if you feel athletic you can do the trek within a day, but if not then you’ll have to spend one night in a camp at the height of 2,800m like we did).

- Bring as few things in your backpack as possible, only necessary stuff (such as warm clothes, new socks, scarf, and flash light that can be tightened on your forehead in case you have to go in the dark). It is not easy climbing up with a heavy backpack behind (unfortunately, we did), because the porters have to bring a lot of things on the way up and will not offer carrying the backpack for you.

- Best time to do this whole trekking thing is April and May when the weather is good, not cold (and especially) not rainy, and you will also have a clear view of the beautiful valley with flowers in bloom.

- However, if you are just as unlucky as we were and go on a rainy day then remember to bring rainwear with separate coat and trousers so that it doesn’t obstruct your attempt to climb up (we brought ponchos, which was not so wise). Also bring plastic socks so that your feet won’t get wet (be warned that you will have to wade in mud high up to your ankle). We had to put on plastic bags instead, but that helped.

- Wear sports shoes that can stick, your life depends on it! The rocks are super slippery.


3. Our trip:
I did the trip with my friends. Let the photo stream tell our story:
The path looked really nice when we still had energy to enjoy.
The route started to get tougher but also extremely beautiful. We needed to keep our shoes dry, so no chance to wade in the clear water of the stream (yet). There were many pretty little streams like that on the way.
Lunch in the road to Fansipan
Actually the view from the camp would be very nice if it were not rainy or too foggy. And in fact in dry weather you can even do camp fire here.
Celebrate with a champagne!
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
Full supported

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Vietnam Caving & Home Stay - Unforgetable Experience

Reviewed by Pretty-Rough-Ranch, Eustace, Texas on Trip Advisor

I worked online with Miss Candy at ActiveTravel Asia to create a 3 day tour in the middle of our month long trip to Laos and Vietnam in January, 2013. From my first contact to managing changes occurring during the last moments of our tour, Miss Candy was quick, competent, professional and truly intent on making us happy. She did. Our ATA Vietnam caving/home stay tour was absolutely fabulous.
Son Doong Cave
My husband and I were scheduled to do the Son Doong cave tour. However, the day before we were scheduled to go on the jungle trek to the cave, the rivers flooded, became impassible and our planned trip was washed away. Not a problem! Within a couple of hours, Miss Candy had 3 new alternative plans for us - one including a refund which I am so glad we did not choose.
En Cave
We chose the trip that included a driver, English speaking guide, river boat trip, visit to En cave, a 2-night Chap Lay homestay and a 7 kilometer hike into Paradise Cave, the longest dry cave in the world.

ABOUT MISS CANDY - Use her to plan your trip. Trust her. ABOUT ATA- Clearly a very well-connected company, just what you want when unexpected events occur. Trust them. It will work out.

ABOUT THE CHAP LAY HOMESTAY - We stayed in a guest house behind our host's home in the middle of a field outside a small Vietnamese village. We had a private toilet and shower, no hot water, slightly uncomfortable in January but would not be a problem at any other time of the year. The hostess and daughter-in-law cooked our meals (8-10 delicious food choices) over an open fire in a thatched roof kitchen and they let me watch and help. Even though we didn't speak the same language, we 3 women were still able to communicate and share the important details of our lives.

The men, through the interpreter, sat on the porch and talked. During the meals, when we were all together, our hosts were warm, open and gracious enough to answer all of our questions.
The Chap Lay setting was beautiful and peaceful. Watching the children and farmers and water buffalo at work was remarkable.
Paradise cave, Vietnam
ABOUT PARADISE CAVE - The hiking group included my husband and I, one couple from Japan, our English speaking guide and 2 porters. The 9am to 3pm trek took us through tiny spaces to gigantic cathedral-sized caverns. Using only headlamps, I think we saw and touched every type of cave formation possible. Words are inadequate to describe the awesome beauty of this cave tour. It was a stunning experience, one that I will never, ever forget.

ABOUT THE DRIVER AND GUIDE - They were at our service. If we said, "go over there", they went over there. If we said, "we would rather do this than do that", we did. Our wishes took priority over the ATA schedule, which is just how a private tour should be. Our interpreter was great. During conversations with others, his personality was completely in the background. But when asked for his thoughts and while explaining the history, he was charming and knowledgeable.

SUMMARY - My husband and I dislike group tours and wouldn't do one, but we also are well-travelled enough to know when to hire the experts who can make our trip a 5-Star event. Active Travel Asia were the experts we needed in Vietnam. I would highly recommend them.

ATA would like to inform that Son Doong Cave has been temporarily closed to public. The cave might be reopened by the end of this year. For now, for those who are seeking for an amazing caving experience in Phong Nha National Park we would like to recommend another option of 2 days trekking, caving and camping to En Cave.


Dong Hoi Town – Phong Nha National Park – Dong Hoi Town
2 days trek & camping
Trekking grade:  Moderate to Challenging

Hang Én (Swallow Cave) in Phong Nha Caves in Quang Binh province in central. However, it’s paradoxical that few visitors know the site. The Swallow Cave is 1.645 m long and has three mouths. One is halfway up a mountain and two others are located on another mountain which has its foot on the south-east and north-west alongside Rao Thuong Stream. All of these make the cave different from other well-known caves in the country.
 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Mountain Biking Dalat, Vietnam’s Adventure Town

Adventure travelers, take note: Vietnam has some great mountain biking.

Mountain Biking Dalat
You’ll find it Dalat, a mountain town in Vietnam’s Central Highlands, a 6-hour drive from Saigon, or an 8-hour bus ride, the way many travelers get there. Known for it’s cooler, misty mountain air – an absolute gift if you’re coming from the sweltering heat of Saigon – Dalat is a popular getaway for tourists, but even more so for Vietnamese. The French influence on this place is unmistakable: they established it in the late 1800s as a holiday town, and not surprisingly, you’ll find gardens, wide streets, villas, a picturesque, manmade lake, and a communications tower that – comically, to me – closely resembles the Eiffel Tower.

Biking in Dalat Town
 Oh, the French. Among other Vietnamese towns, it sticks out like a sore thumb, but in a good way: planned, organized, charming, and…cooler. Honestly, I cannot overstate how welcome the weather here is. And, why anyone in Vietnam would choose to live anywhere else.

A few years back, my sister and her husband traveled to southeast Asia on their honeymoon, and Dalat was one of their favorite spots. Among other things, they did an all-day mountain bike ride, almost entirely downhill, from Dalat’s perch in the mountains to the coastal town of Mui Ne. LOVED IT. One of the best things they did, my sister told me.

As a cyclist and traveler, I recommend you may sign up for a tour with ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA (ATA) one of the Indochina's leading adventure travel companies. ATA offers a wide selection of Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia adventure tours, including hiking and trekking, biking, motorcycling, kayaking, overland touring and family travel packages . These guys are the real deal: cool excursions, reasonable prices, well-trained guides, and tasty lunches (including, I might add, awesome baguettes purchased from the local market each morning). To get a sense for their stature in Dalat, all you have to do is look at the trip booklets in the front offices of all the other operators;  Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, right?

For a glimpse at mountain biking in Vietnam, in the highlands surrounding Dalat, scroll down to the photos below. 

Biet, getting it done on the biggest climb of the day
…and past small farming towns, high up in the mountains.
Rickety bridge crossing. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Free entrance to UNESCO sites for central Vietnam festival

Visitors to Quang Nam’s famous Hoi An Town and My Son Sanctuary will be exempt from entrance fees from June 21-26 as part of activities to celebrate the 5th annual Quang Nam Heritage Festival.

Hoi An Town & My Son, Quang Nam, Vietnam
Normally, tourists must pay to enter some sites in the old quarter of Hoi An Town.

The festival, co-organized by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and the local government, will take place across the province from June 22-26, with the most attractive sites expected to be Hoi An and My Son, the province’s two UNESCO-recognized heritage sites.

High on the list of scheduled programs will be the sharing of heritage preservation experiences among Southeast Asian countries and Vietnamese provinces, food festivities and traditional art performances.

Activities will include the “Vietnam-ASEAN Cultural Heritage Space” exhibition; a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage; the 3rd International Choir Festival; the 2013 Miss Ethnic Vietnam beauty pageant; and the Art Festival for Vietnamese Ethnic Minority Groups.

Tourism promotion activities for the province will showcase the uniqueness of Cham culture and gong festivals performed by local ethnic minority artists.

Also for the occasion, an international conference on preserving intangible cultural heritage will be jointly held by the Vietnam Institute of Culture and Arts Studies, UNESCO and the local government of Quang Nam. 

Recommend tours explore the charm of Hoi An, My Son with Activetravel Asia, one of the Indochina's leading adventure travel companies, offering 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)
Telephone: +844 3573 8569
Fax:  +844 3573 8570
Email: info@activetravel.asia
Address: Floor 12 Building 45 Nguyen Son Street, Long Bien district, Hanoi, Vietnam.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

My Stunning Kayak in Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam was one of the destinations that I most wanted to visit in Southeast Asia, and I finally made it there last week!

I kayaked on the still, glassy waters of Halong Bay which was breathtaking, calming and humbling. Gliding peacefully and quietly on the water of this world heritage listed site, surrounded by nature at its untouched best, was an experience I’m truly grateful for.

Halong Bay, Vietnam
Halong translates to ‘descending dragon’ and legend has it that Halong Bay was created by a dragon from the mountains. Although many sailors claim to have seen Vietnam’s very own Loch Ness monster, the ‘tarasque’, sadly I didn’t catch a glimpse of the gigantic sea creature.

Halong Bay, Vietnam
I’m told Halong Bay can be very busy during peak season so I feel lucky to have been in the area when many others weren’t, to really appreciate the tranquility.

Kayak through Caves
So there you have it – I hope you enjoyed some of the snaps of my stunning kayak through the grottoes. And now that the fun is over, it’s back to writing more food posts to share with you! I’ve got loads more up my sleeve so plenty more is coming your way.

I hope you’re enjoying reading my posts as much as I enjoy writing them!

Kayak Halong Bay
If you inspire to explore Halong Bay by kayak, check out the exciting tour of ActiveTravel Asia.  ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA provides you with high quality traditional sea kayaks and equipment, delightful meals, kayak technique instruction, and an overall ecstatic time in paradise. You will learn about the natural world and the efforts to preserve it. The tour leaders are enthusiastic, experienced professionals with the ability to provide you with a safe and enjoyable outdoor adventure. 

Highlights:
Amazing limestone formations
Inclusive junk for overnight
Beautiful and different kayaking route

About ActiveTravel Asia (ATA): ATA is one of the Indochina's leading adventure travel companies. ATA offers a wide selection of Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar adventure tours, including hiking and trekking, biking, motorcycling, overland touring and family travel packages. ATA’s packages and tailor-made private itineraries will take you through exotic destinations to really experience the culture, history and nature of Asia.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Four Vietnamese places among Top 25 Asia Destinations

Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Hoi An and Halong are four of the Top 25 Travellers’ Choice Asia Destinations recognized by the world’s largest travel site, TripAdvisor.

Hanoi is rated fourth on the list while HCM City, Hoi An and Halong rank 15th, 17th and 25th, respectively.
Hanoi, Vietnam
“The charming Vietnamese capital has aged well, preserving its Old Quarter, historic monuments and colonial architecture, while making room for modern development. Lakes, parks, shady boulevards and more than 600 temples and pagodas add to the appeal of this city,” is what the TripAdvisor website says about Hanoi.

Hochiminh City
The travel site also describes HCM City as Vietnam's largest, bustling largest hub which sets the cultural and economic pace of the country.

Hoi An on the central Vietnamese coast is a well-preserved example of an important Southeast Asian trading port from the 15th-19th centuries, and Halong is famous for its stunning limestone islands, rock formations and caves.  
Hoi an, Vietnam
The fifth annual awards recognise 412 outstanding destinations in 38 markets across the globe, including with separate lists for Africa, Asia, Australia, the Caribbean, and Central America, as well as China, Europe, India, Mexico, the Middle East, South America, the South Pacific, and the United States.

The awards are given in two categories: Top 25 Travellers’ Choice World Destinations and Top 25 Travellers’ Choice Asia Destinations. The Travellers' Choice Destinations awards recognize the top travel spots worldwide based on millions of reviews and opinions from TripAdvisor travellers. Award winners were determined based on the popularity of the destinations, taking into account travellers' favourites and most highly rated locations.

If you inspire to explore Vietnam, check out our exciting tours_Activetravel Asia, from day trips to many day experiences. All tours are run by local operators who know Hanoi and Vietnam like the back of their hand: giving you an authentic Vietnamese adventure!

About ActiveTravel Asia (ATA): ATA is one of the Indochina's leading adventure travel companies. ATA offers a wide selection of Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar adventure tours, including hiking and trekking, biking, motorcycling, overland touring and family travel packages. ATA’s packages and tailor-made private itineraries will take you through exotic destinations to really experience the culture, history and nature of Asia.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Hanoi Named the Cheapest Destination in Asia

The capital city of Vietnam, Hanoi has just been named the cheapest city in Asia and the second cheapest city in the world!
Hanoi, Vietnam
The respected TripAdvisor TripIndex for Summer 2013 compares costs across 49 cities in Europe, Americas, Africa, Oceania and Asia. In the comparison are a 4 star hotel, taxi trip, cocktails and dinner, all based on two travellers.

Overall Hanoi has the cheapest dinner for two people out of all 49 cities at 36.71 USD, thanks to a fantastic array of local restaurants in the city. There are a few international restaurants but the majority of the dining in Hanoi is focused around authentic Vietnamese cuisine, with street food remaining a popular option for food on the go.

Daily life in Hanoi proceeds at a frenetic pace and there’s always something going on. The Old Quarter district provides a fascinating insight into the former French colonial rule, with rich period architecture, narrow streets ad traditional shopfronts. The museums are a great way to while away a few hours, with the  Museum of Ethnology, Vietnam Women’s Museum and the Fine Arts Museum my particular favourites. 
Hoan Kiem Lake
At the center of Hanoi is the serene Hoan Kiem Lake where you can (almost) forget the constant buzz of mopeds. And you can’t leave Hanoi without visiting the two key sites of the former leader Ho Chi Minh himself. His official residence is fascinating: with his books, furniture and cars on display. In fact he chose to live his last years in the modest wooden house on site rather than in the Presidential Palace. And the soviet-style Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is a must-see where Uncle Ho lays embalmed whilst travellers and locals shuffle by.

If you inspire to explore Vietnam, check out our exciting tours_Activetravel Asia, from day trips to many day experiences. All tours are run by local operators who know Hanoi and Vietnam like the back of their hand: giving you an authentic Vietnamese adventure!

About ActiveTravel Asia (ATA): ATA is one of the Indochina's leading adventure travel companies. ATA offers a wide selection of Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar adventure tours, including hiking and trekking, biking, motorcycling, overland touring and family travel packages. ATA’s packages and tailor-made private itineraries will take you through exotic destinations to really experience the culture, history and nature of Asia. 

Got any tips of your own? Leave them in the comments section below, or post them on Twitter and Facebook.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Halong Bay - One of 25 Top Destinations of the World for Kayaking.

In 2002, National Geographic Adventures Journal News voted Ha Long Bay one of 25 top destinations of the world for kayaking.

Kayaking in Halong Bay
Kayaking is considered the best way to fully feel the majesty of Ha Long Bay and discover the cliffs with a huge number of wonderful rock tops, dales.

Although kayaking has been in Ha Long Bay since early 90s of 20th century, at first this kind of sport was mainly for the foreign visitors who like adventures. Nowadays, there are many interior guests enjoy kayaking in Ha Long Bay, especially young people. Discovering Ha Long Bay by kayaking, visitors can feel other beauty of this international wonder that can’t be seen from the cruises.

Kayaking alone or with a partner
Kayakers will be surprised with many cliffs which have been acted upon by the waves for centuries, contemplate the sea birds standing tottery on the top of rocks and touch the stalactites which are thousands of years old.

Kayaking alone or with a partner, visitors will discover different emotions which they have never felt before when riding the oars closely to the bottom of rock mountains and enjoying the extremely quietness of the bay.

Kayak crowds into a floating village
When the kayak crowds into the unnamed islands, visitors can directly contemplate the beauties of corals, flocks of freely-swimming fishes and many many strange sceneries which have never been seen in any travelling books. Whenever the oars are moved down or up, thousands of water drops radiate the sparkling beauty under the sunshine.

Sometimes in the short caves, visitors must lay on the kayak as well as using hands to push to the cave ceiling to go inside. They also have to walk and pull the boat when passing the dry parts. Especially, taking part in the night tour on the bay, visitors can enjoy the quite air among the sea.

Kayak through the caves in Halong Bay
On the way back from a Ha Long Bay travel tour, Brian James – an Australia visitor excitedly tells about his interesting memories of the tour, especially the time when he lonely kayaking to discover Luon cave: “I was impressed the most when riding the kayak into the cave. The far I went inside, the darker it is; hundreds of stalactites hang down cross my face, sometimes I had to lay face onto the boat in order to pass. The feeling when hands were weary after finishing the Ha Long Bay discovering tour by kayaking made me very interested.

Kayaking is the best idea to discover every part of Halong for getting an insight to indigenous people life, to taste every corner of mystery lagoon, to gain surreal feeling throughout the dark tunnels.

To find out more about traveling with ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA(ATA) and for your chance to WIN a trip in every edition:  http://www.activetravel.asia/

Monday, June 10, 2013

5 Tips for Planning a South East Asian Motorbike Tour

Many adventure travelers says there’s no better way to see a country than getting on a motorcycle and going on a tour.
Gettng on a motorcycle and going on a tour
There is a silence on a motorcycle, even amid the low rumble of the engine. The wind on your face and the new smells. A leisurely pace through the countryside and the ability to stop when the impulse strikes and see things on your own terms.

Driving conditions can be dangerous in many South East Asian countries, so there is certainly some risk involved, but traffic is much slower once you get out of the cities (although you do need to still watch for people passing carelessly on blind corners in your direction). At any rate, I personally find the rewards worth the risks; though, you’ll have to make your own decision in this department.

Whether in Vietnam or Laos, Cambodia... or anywhere else in the world, for that matter, getting on a bike opens up a whole new world of possibilities. Here are some trips for planning your own biking tour. 

1. Make sure you’re legit
Before you plan your trip, find out about the laws in that country. You might need to get a license for the specific country you’re in, or you may be able to get a permit for your stay. In other cases, the occasional fine paid to a policeman who stops you is enough.

2. Know how to ride
If you’ve never ridden a motorcycle before, take a safety course in your home country before you go, as standards are usually higher. Even seasoned riders learn a lot that is counter-intuitive when they take a rider safety training class. You’ll still need some actual riding experience, but if you start off your journey slow and give yourself some time to adjust, you’ll learn as you go and come out the other end a seasoned rider.

Motorbiking in Vietnam
3. Plan your trip
Planning a trip is usually not too difficult as you will be hard pressed to find a place where people have not gone before you. Get on the Internet and start your Googling. Think about the destinations you definitely want to see, and feel free to mix and match them a little bit to come up with a route that appeals to you.

You might want to do a loop so you can bring the motorcycle back to the place you rented from and fly out of the same city, but if not, you might be able to ship it across the country for a fair price. Do your research on shipping costs ahead of time or speak to the people at the shop to see if they have options for you (keeping in mind that some may not want to rent to you when they find out how far you’re going).

4. Rent a bike
The Internet is your friend once again because renting from just any shop you see is a good way to overpay, get a shitty bike, and possibly get ripped off in the process. So, find out which bike shops in your departure city are reputable, and then check out the bike thoroughly before signing anything. Make sure gears shift smoothly, test all the breaks, and experiment with all lights as well. Take note of all the big dents or scratches and include them on the contract so you have both confirmed which ones were already there.

Also, never leave your passport with the bike shop! If they won’t take a cash deposit and a copy of the passport, go somewhere else.

5. Take your time
Once you’re on your road tour, take your time. The more open your schedule, the more you get out of the experience. You can take detours on small one-land roads and cruise off through endless rice paddies or stay in a charming mountain town for a week or two—this is what motorcycle touring is really all about.

Just make sure you stay current on your visas, and if you have to hop on a visa run or stop by the embassy in a bigger city you pass through on the way, so be it.

Whoever said traveling was more about the journey than the destination was surely referring to motorbike tours; there is nothing like the pace of a bike down country roads on the other side of the world. The vivid jungle colors, the sunsets as you drive along lost tropical coasts, and the simple things you see along the way that you surely would have missed on a tourist bus.

And indeed, the destination is so much sweeter when you get there for all you’ve put into earning its rewards.
Dreaming of a South East Asian escape? Are you looking for that great motorcycle tour holiday in an exotic south-east Asian country? Take a look through all our trips to find the one that blows your hair back. Look no further, you've found the right spot. This is where it's at for a brilliant motorcycle touring holiday in Asia with ActiveTravel Asia at: http://www.activetravel.asia/wild-life-discovery-tours-tl354.html

About ActiveTravel Asia (ATA): ATA is one of the Indochina's leading adventure travel companies. ATA offers a wide selection of Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar adventure tours, including hiking and trekking, biking, motorcycling, overland touring and family travel packages. ATA’s packages and tailor-made private itineraries will take you through exotic destinations to really experience the culture, history and nature of Asia.

Got any tips of your own? Leave them in the comments section below, or post them on Twitter and Facebook.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Across Northern Vietnam on Two Wheels

By David Atkinson
Motorbiking North Vietnam
Traveling around Vietnam by motorbike, seeing breathtaking landscapes, beautiful mountain passes, interesting historical relics, colorful, friendly and happy people…makes you love Vietnam more and gives us extremely special feeling.

I love the thrill of the open road. Shades on, foot to the floor and cruising through alien landscapes with the stereo cranked right up.
But Vietnam was just about the last place I expected to find myself on a road trip. Self-drive isn’t really an option here.
And, as for the State-approved backpacker bus trips, well, let’s just say that rubbing knees with the tie-dye clad hordes and eating in the tourist restaurant, where the bus driver always collects his kickback, isn’t my scene.

Easy rider
It sounded perfect. A way to get my engine running and get out on the highway while staying off-the-beaten-track and seeing the real Vietnam.
Road to Northern Vietnam

Activetravel Asia is one of the Indochina's leading adventure travel companies. They offer a wide selection of Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia adventure tours, including hiking and trekking, biking, motorcycling, overland touring and family travel packages. ATA’s packages and tailor-made private itineraries take you through exotic destinations to really experience the culture, history and nature of Asia.  They have made hundreds of trips into the backwaters of the far north, building up a comprehensive motorbike guide to northern Vietnam.

“The bikes are old 50’s designs straight out of Belarussia. They’re the backbone of the country and used by everyone to haul goods around,” 
“They don’t go very fast, use a lot of petrol and billow out a lot of smoke, but they’ll get you anywhere,” he adds.
“Besides, they’re very easy to fix. If you’ve got a stick and a rock you can fix a Minsk.”

Cruise control 
With the sun in our faces, we join the highway near Hanoi’s Noi Bai airport and start the slow climb northwards. As we progress at a steady 35km/h, overtaking lumbering trucks soon gives way to overtaking lumbering water buffalo who eye suspiciously as we file past the paddy fields.

We stop for dinner that night in Tuyen Quang. It’s a dusty one-ass town dominated by trucker rest stops and so-called bia om or ‘cuddle beer’ outlets where the town’s two attractions make for natural bedfellows.
As we settle down for the night in the shabby state-owned hotel, one of my fellow easy riders, Casey McCarthy from Texas, tells me why she has chosen a severe buttock buffing on a motorbike in the rain for her holiday.

“I’d never seen a Minsk before Vietnam and, although it’s ancient technology, it’s a very easy ride,” she says. “I guess I just wanted to get away from those cattle-truck bus trips and a bike trip is the best way to see the countryside as you decide where and when you want to go.”

The next day we’re up with the light and, after a hearty bowl of Vietnamese pho bo(a rice noodle soup with strips of beef), we’re back in the saddle and on the road for Ha Giang.

As we stop for petrol at what looks like a roadside chemistry set, I ask Digby what kind of people are attracted to the idea of driving around rural Vietnam on a piece of Russian war-era machinery.

“Half are motorbike riders back home or people with some previous experience but not all. I’d never ridden a bike until I came to Vietnam,” he explains, taking a little bottle of engine oil and mixing it with petrol.

“Drive bikes and you will crash but drive slow enough and you’ll be OK,” he adds, handing over a dollar for two litres. “If we go over, we’ll just slide – unless we hit something. But it’s nothing like driving at 130km back home when you get washed up off the road”.

Alien invasion
Hagiang province, Vietnam
The last 50km to Ha Giang is made up of winding country lanes. It’s a drive not best experienced at dusk when huge trucks with dazzling headlights tear around blind corners with scant regard for approaching fellow truckers, let alone a bunch of foreigners on motorbikes in dayglo jackets.

As we make the final approach, it feels like entering a long-forgotten Wild West outpost. The locals stare at us like aliens just beamed down from another planet but Digby is used to it.

“I regularly go to places where only a handful of strangers have ever been before. Just two weeks ago, I took a tour to a place where only three foreigners had ever visited before the new road was built,” he smiles.

“Just as I was thinking that I’d been everywhere possible, the Vietnamese Government has launched a programme to build roads to each commune so a there’s now a whole bunch of new roads to explore,” he adds.

“That’s why I do this. It isn’t so much a tour as a road trip where the guide is having as much fun as the customers.”

More travel information about motorbike northern Vietnam at: http://www.activetravel.asia/motorbiking-tours-vietnam-tl362.html

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

7 Ways Hanoi is Unlike any other Asian City

Roadside breweries, moped madness ... there are so many ways to fall in love with Vietnam's capital.
No. 1 reason Hanoi is awesome to visit: Locals know how to deal with snap-happy tourists.
Traveling in Southeast Asia can get a bit samey-samey after a while. It’s all temples, heat and tourist traps, right? Until you get to Hanoi. 

The Vietnamese capital is like a breath of fresh air. The city is a graceful pastiche of cultural influences from the French and Chinese, while the Vietnamese have stubbornly retained their local ways.

Here are the things that we love about it most and that makes Hanoi stand out from all other cities in Asia.

1. Leap-of-faith traffic

Express faith in humankind; step confidently out on Hanoi roads.

Express faith in humankind; step confidently out on Hanoi roads.
Crossing the road in Hanoi is unlike anywhere else.

It's a little bit like bungee jumping. You just have to believe it when people tell you "it's going to be alright, just keep walking" despite all your instincts telling you not to take the leap.

Once you do take that first step off the pavement, there's no turning back. You can only continue putting one foot in front of the other and hope that the mopeds will swerve around you instead of into you.

And it always works. The road traffic is crazy in Hanoi, but it is organized chaos and somehow pedestrians always make it to the other side. 

On foot it's a test of faith in fellow humankind as you step into moped madness, trusting scooters to avoid you as you cross the road.

On the back of a motorbike, it's like jumping into a river and running the rapids. Precarious and exhilarating.

2. Very fresh beer 

Bia hoi, Hanoi's "morning brew," enjoyed all day.
Hanoi is famous for it's dirt-cheap, unpasteurized beer made fresh daily -bia hoi.

The official Hanoi bia hoi comes fresh daily from the Habeco factory. It ferments throughout the day, consequently tasting different at each vendor.

The flavor depends on the rate at which the beer is being sold and how much the seller has decided to water it down that day.

By day's end, unsold beer goes off and is thrown away. But there's rarely any left each evening.

The ridiculously cheap price and the fact that it is served out of plastic cups makes this the perfect anti-yuppie, anti-elitist brew, suited to the ideals of a socialist country.

Find it on every happening Hanoi corner, sometimes paired with food, other times with a television and karaoke machine offering classic tunes by Abba and Boney M.

The most famous Bia Hoi for travelers are right in the heart of the old quarter on Bia Hoi Corner at the intersection of Luong Ngoc Quyen and Ta Hien streets. 

3. The ultimate old quarter 
Old Quater, Hanoi
Once the guild street of silversmiths, now home to travel agenciee, tourist cafes and tombstone carvers.
The Old Quarter isn't just a figurative phrase in Hanoi.

A maze of at least 36 streets between Hanoi’s famed Hoan Kiem Lake, the Red River and the few walls that remain of the Hanoi Citadel, the Old Quarter is more than 1,000 years old and still going strong. 

The oldest surviving neighborhood in Vietnam, the Old Quarter became a market place where artisans organized themselves into 36 guilds (the guild of silk, silver, bamboo rafts, conical hats, and sweet potatoes to mention a few), each occupying a street. 

The craftsmen have since been overwhelmed by tourism, motor bikes, bars and zippo lighter touts. But small temples, pagodas and hidden communal guild houses still remain from the era of the guilds. 

More iconic now are the tube houses, skinny and tall by force of a land tax on street frontage. Check out tube houses at 87 Ma May Street or at 38 Hang Dao.

To spot French colonial townhouses whose lower floors are often disguised by commercial facades, you just have to look at the roof of the house which is usually preserved in its original state. 

The Vietnamese heart of colonial Hanoi, the Old Quarter is where the anti-French movement originally headquartered itself.

4. Pop war

Long Bien Bridge
The Vietnam War is remembered as much for the atrocities that occurred as it is for the anti-war demonstrations abroad.

A pilgrimage to Hanoi is part of the catharsis sought by veterans of the Vietnam war.

Others who grew up hearing cool protest songs by Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones, remain fascinated by a war that is associated with the rebellious 1960s and 1970s.

It is a war that influenced a decade of youth culture in the U.S. and continues to inform pop culture around the world.

For scars of U.S. bombings of Hanoi check out the Long Bien bridge which crosses the Red River and transported supplies from the port at Hai Phong. Or visit the Hoa Lo prison, dubbed the "Hanoi Hilton" by American GIs.

5. Shoulder-pole retail

Shoulder-pole vendors dance down the streets of Hanoi.
As a tourism capital, Hanoi is surprisingly devoid of mega shopping malls. Instead, there's the rather more interesting one-(wo)man shoulder pole shop.

Whatever you want comes to you in rattan baskets looped through a rope and balanced in pairs on bamboo poles resting on the shoulders.

These are both shop front and transport for foot vendors who can frequently be spotted underneath conical hats, triggering the photographic instinct in tourists.

Buy something -- bowls of pho, mangosteens, bunches of flowers, hair clips, household utensils -- and the photos will be accompanied by a broad Vietnamese grin.

6. Body of interest
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Hanoi is the only city in Southeast Asia with an embalmed leader on display. The real body of Ho Chi Min lies preserved in his mausoleum, much against his own wish to be cremated.

Such is the consequence of being the person in the middle of a personality cult. 

Real emotion pours out of the thousands who come to view his body each day and view the man not as a dictator but as the hero of Vietnam’s independence from foreign control.

7. So French, but not

Joie de vivre translates well in Vietnam.
Whilst people from Hanoi are considered aloof by southern Vietnamese, they have nothing on Parisians.  

The Vietnamese have not forsaken their French colonial heritage and it is a great place to enjoy French aesthetics with Asian hospitality.

Many wonderful French buildings remain, mostly functional and not a few sporting a fashionable bohemian decay.

However, the success of French-Vietnamese fusion is best experienced through Hanoi's food.

French baguettes are stuffed with Vietnamese pâté and pickled vegetables to create the rich and tangy banh mi sandwiches.

Coffee is an obsession passed on by the French. In Hanoi, your espresso drips through a small aluminum filter into sweet condensed milk.  

Cafés are still arranged in the French style, as if the street is a theater and the café is the audience section. But diners are usually perched on humble plastic or rattan chairs that are mere inches from the ground.

More travel information at: http://www.activetravelmagazines.com/