Friday, July 26, 2013

From the Back Seat: Memories On A Motorcycle

Written by Elise
Elise's View From The Backseat
Riding a motorbike from the North to the South of Vietnam was an amazing experience. Now, while I didn’t ride the motorcycle myself (Anthony did an amazing job!) it is still something that will remain with me for the rest of my life. Each day we were faced with new challenges and amazing sights making the journey all the more incredible. I think what made it so momentous was the simple fact that we were in control of where we wanted to go on the trip. It didn’t have to be governed by train and bus timetables (how we normally get from A to B). We were able to stop anywhere we wanted to and take our time to stop and smell the rice paddies! It was hard to pinpoint my favourite memories, but for anyone thinking of doing a trip similar to this, I hope this post inspires you! It was an amazing journey and loved every minute of it!

Rice Paddies
Working In The Fields
I had always wanted to see the bright green rice paddies that I seen in so many photos and our time in Vietnam I defiantly got what I asked for! We would ride for hours and hours through countless rice paddy fields, each one greener than the last. The fluorescent colour of the neat fields would be on either side of us. We stopped often just to stare at the endless plains of the newly growning rice.

Road Butterflies

When we were riding on the Ho Chi Minh Road, there would be stretches of the trail where hundreds of butterflies would flutter up from the road and surrounding trees and shrubs. We would sometimes find ourselves riding through almost hundreds of them-I felt like I was in the forests of Narnia! Anthony said they were just moths but I still protest that they were beautiful butterflies just fluttering by!

Chasing the Rain and Getting Caught Out

For over half of our trip we were lucky enough to escape any downpour. There would be days we would be riding with foreboding clouds above us, but we never felt a drop. That is until the day we left Hoi An for Dak Glei!
We were only about 1 hour away from the town we chose stop at for the night when we turned round a corner of a mountain and right in front of us were heavy black clouds. We could hear the thunder and see the lightening but didn’t feel any rain. Then without warning the skies opened up and the biggest water droplets ever splashed down on us. Of course, that was the day we didn’t have our wet weather gear out and ready! As fast as we could we put our jackets and pants on, already saturated and continued slowly in the rain.
We didn’t need to be told again to always have our rain gear out and ready with our bags wrapped up!

Us In Our Rain Gear
Iced Tea

A common drink in Vietnam is Iced Tea or Tra Da, and it quickly became our favourite drink to rehydrate with whilst on the road. Rather than being a sweet tea it is usually just green tea or another kind of herbal tea with ice added. So thirst quenching and refreshing! We would stop at little roadside cafes regularly to grab one of these cheap and satisfying drinks. Many a time the owners would continually top up our glasses with a big grin. They seemed to be so proud to serve us. At one town, Kham Duc we stopped in and got ourselves tea from a family. Minutes later the wife brought out some freshly baked teacake for us to eat with cream-scrumptious! We had about three glasses of tea each and chatted to the family in broken English. When we were ready to leave and went to pay they would not take our money. No matter how much we plead with them, they would not take our cash. This was true Vietnamese hospitality that we had experienced and were so grateful for.

Beep Beep, Honk Honk!

We passed so many buses and trucks on our trip and at times I really did think I burst an eardrum! The horns they use on their vehicles were so loud and they would go for so long. It didn’t mater which way they were coming from the drivers would be sure to blow their horn at least three times if they were passing you or nearing you. Sometimes the horns were unnecessary and were more annoying than anything. We were thankful when we were along the Ho Chi Minh Road and would not hear a horn for hours on end or even pass anyone else on the road!

A Quieter Road Ahead

Getting Dirty

One day we were taking our motorbike through the countryside around Hue so we could independently visit some tombs and mountains. Since I was in charge of the map it was my job to get us to where we wanted to go. (That was our first mistake!) Bumping along a dirt road I soon realised we were going the wrong way and the actual track was on the opposite side of rice fields. The only way across them was on a muddy road full of puddles! We sloshed our way slowly through but unfortunately our little bike ‘Bullet’ couldn’t handle all the mud and we fell off the road into a muddy rice field below! We weren’t hurt-just dirty, but that didn’t stop us from continuing the day to see the tombs!

Girl Falls Off Motorbike
Being on the open road in Vietnam was unbelievable. Noisy at times, busy most of the time but such a great trip. We did over 3500km in the two months we were there. I love thinking that in years to come I can look back on my trip with Anthony on our trusty ‘Bullet’ and have great stories to tell the Grandkids!

Thinking of travelling to Vietnam? Contact Us for any questions you need answered!

A real exploration of Vietnam - the trip of a life time _ Motorbiking the Ho Chi Minh Trail - Complete Challenge

Hanoi - Mai Chau - Vinh - Huong Khe - Phong Nha - Dong Hoi - Dong Ha - Khe Sanh - A Luoi - Hoi An - Da Nang - Phuoc Son - Kon Tum - Buon Ma Thuot - Dalat - Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)
18-day trip with 11-day motorcycling
Motorcycling grading: Moderate to challenging

Highlights:
  • Stunning scenery
  • Historical sites
  • Charming ancient trading town of Hoi An
  • Relaxing in Dalat
  • Encountering ethnic minorities
  • Just you, no others travelers

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Adventure travel to the North of Vietnam, why not?

North of Vietnam is a region of high mountains and beautiful mountain valleys. Travelers to Northern Vietnam have opportunities to explore the life of hill tribes, and plenty of adventure activities – hiking, mountain trekking, motorbike tours and many others.

High mountain & beautiful valleys 

  
Why travel to the North of Vietnam?
  • North of Vietnam has one of the most beautiful scenery in the country. The region has high mountains, green mountain valleys, beautiful rice fields, waterfalls and lakes.
  • The region has both places with well-established tourist infractructure, such as Sapa, and virtually unexplored places, such as Ha Giang province.
  • Plenty of adventure activities in Northern Vietnam, including motorbike tours and mountain trekking
  • North of Vietnam is the best place in the country to experience the life of local hill tribes
  • Several national parks are located in the highland areas across the region. The most famous is Ba Be National Park, north of Hanoi. It is well accessible, and has organized tours and accommodation options.


Best time to visit North of Vietnam

Best time to visit the North of Vietnam is spring months (mid-March to May). You can see mountain valleys and rice fields in their best spring colours.
  • Autumn months (September to November) is also a good time to visit the mountains in the North of Vietnam. 
  • Winter months bring nearly freezing temperatures to mountain regions. Summer, particularly July and August, is the peak of the rainy season in Vietnamese north.


 Must see places in Northern Vietnam
  •  Sapa
Hiking trip through minority village in Sapa
See our travel guide to Sapa:
  •  Bac Ha
Ethnic minority market on weekends
  •  Ba Be National Park
 Beautiful lake, surrounded by the mountains

Other popular destinations/ travel experiences
  •  Fansipan
Climb the highest mountain in Indochina (3143m./10310ft.)

  •  Ban Gioc Waterfalls
 The highest and arguably the most beautiful waterfalls in Vietnam 
With an adventure motorcycling trip you will make a big loop to experience all the bests that area can offer. Starting in Hanoi you will explore Northwest before jumping into Northeast, back to Hanoi after a day relaxing in Ba Be Lake. The perfect itinerary and the support crew ensure you get the most out of the trip in terms of comfort, enjoyment and adventure. Along the way we encounter dramatic landscapes and sweeping panoramas as the rural population goes about its business. Highlights include the terraced valleys of Sapa, beautiful Ban Gioc Waterfall and many different colorful minority groups.

You can refer itinerary Motorcycling adventure in Northern Vietnam of Activetravel Asia at: http://www.activetravel.asia/motorcycling-adventure-in-northern-vietnam-t245.html

Monday, July 22, 2013

Mu Cang Chai – golden stairs in September

Terraced field in Mu Cang Chai
The northern mountainous province of Yen Bai, Vietnam will hold a culture, sports and tourism week highlighting terraced fields in Mu Cang Chai district from September 26-29 to mark 55 years since President Ho Chi Minh visited the province.

The event offers a chance for ethnic groups in Mu Cang Chai in particular and Yen Bai province in general to look back on their revolutionary tradition and heroic spirit during struggles against the French colonists and American imperialists.

It also aims to promote Mu Cang Chai terraced field, recognised as a national scenic site, as well as the unique cultural identities of the Mong ethnic group to both domestic and foreign tourists.

A string of activities will be held, including a sport festival, a photo exhibition themed “Mu Cang Chai – golden stairs”, a mountainous market, and contests of making Day cake (round cake from glutinous rice) and rice field ploughing.

Tours to the district’s communes will be offered during the event.

Terraced fields in Mu Cang Chai are beautiful all the year round. Visitors in March are treated to the sight of glittering ponds. Locals transplant rice seedlings from April to May. After that, all hills are covered by an everlasting green. The fields start to turn yellow with ripe rice from early September.

The fields are visible from virtually everywhere in the district as they expand over 2,200ha, including around 500ha in Che Cu Nha, La Pan Tan and De Xu Phinh communes. The terraced fields in these villages were recognised as a national heritage in 2007 by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

Rice fields are not only a source of food and income for the Mong; they are an intrinsic part of their culture and of Mu Cang Chai, which is itself a quiet district on the bank of the Nam River.

In addition to terraced fields, Mu Cang Chai was blessed with beautiful flora and fauna and outstanding geographic features, including vast mountain ranges with high peaks which have protected the people for ages.

Source: VNA

Recommend from ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA: September is the most beautiful in year and the best vehicle to experience Northwest is motorbike. You can refer motorbike tour from West to East Northern Vietnam

Hanoi – Mai Chau – Son La – Than Uyen – Thac Ba Reservoir – Hanoi
5-day trip with 5-day motorcycling
Motorcycling grade: Moderate

Highlights:
  • Stunning scenery
  • Challenging roads
  • Thac Ba Reservoir
  • Colorful ethnic minorities

Friday, July 19, 2013

The first Viet Nam – ASEAN UNESCO Heritage Festival

The first Viet Nam – ASEAN UNESCO Heritage Festival will take place from 27th to 31st December 2013 in Da Lat City, Lam Dong Province, coincide with the 120th anniversary ceremony of Da Lat City (1893 – 2013) and the 5th Da Lat Flower Festival.

Dalat Flower Festival
This event aims to honor and promote Viet Nam’s heritage which have been recognized by UNESCO and submitted UNESCO documents; foster sharing experience among Viet Nam, ASEAN countries and partner’s countries in conservation and promotion of heritage values; at the same time contribute to strengthening closer ties and friendship among Viet Nam, ASEAN countries and partner’s countries; introduce the potentials and strengths of Da Lat – Lam Dong and Central Highlands provinces to domestic and international friends.

The festival will attract the participation of ASEAN countries and ASEAN’s partners such as India, China, Japan and the Republic of Korea; Viet Nam’s cities, provinces which have heritage sites recognized by UNESCO, including 5 provinces in Central Highlands, 4 ones in Central Region and 8 ones in Northern Region. Besides, the first Viet Nam – ASEAN UNESCO Heritage Festival also receives the positive response of cities, provinces, which have heritage sites submitted documents to UNESCO.

The first Viet Nam – ASEAN UNESCO Heritage Festival will have many special activities such as: international seminar “UNESCO heritage network in Southeast Asia region: Conservation associated with sustainable development”, discussion “Da Lat flowers and tourism”; exhibition of Da Lat flowers and ornamental plants; performance exchange of Viet Nam – ASEAN UNESCO intangible cultural heritage; carnival of ASEAN UNESCO heritage – Da Lat flower; performance of arrange art reappearing famous cultural works, particularly of 10 ASEAN countries...

In the framework of the festival, Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and People’s Committee of Lam Dong Province will launch National Tourism Year 2014 – Central Highlands – Da Lat.

ASEAN consists of 10 countries with diverse forms of heritage containing unique and distinct cultural – historical values, of which many heritage sites have been recognized as World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Particularly in Viet Nam, with long-standing history and specific cultural tradition of 54 ethnic groups, Viet Nam has 7 heritage sites, 7 forms of intangible heritage and 3 documentary items recognized by UNESCO. The heritage has contributed to developing tourism, fostering economic, society in the localities, where preserve the heritage and also in Viet Nam.

As 1 in 5 provinces containing the heritage of the Space of Gong culture in Central Highlands, Lam Dong is honored to host the first Viet Nam – ASEAN UNESCO Heritage Festival. It is expected that the festival will be held alternately among the countries in the ASEAN region in the coming years.

Source: vietnamtourism.gov.vn

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Trekking Pu Luong,Vietnam - A walk in the cloud!

Trek it , explore it and support it.
Mai Chau Trekking, Pu Luong, Vietnam tours, Adventure tours
Cuc Phuong National Park
“The Pu Luong – Cuc Phuong mountain range is the largest remaining area of lowland limestone forest in northern Vietnam, the Pu Luong range is no exception. Home to endangered animals, the mountain’s underground rivers, caves and caverns also harbour countless unique invertebrates. Its chalky slopes, too steep for cultivation, remain covered in rich forests with rare orchids. Close to Hanoi, Cuc Phuong is a favored destination for sight-seeing while Pu Luong and its traditional Thai and Muong communities are becoming the attraction for trekkers”
Pu Luong, Thanh Hoa, Vietnam
This morning I received an email from Heiwig, my Austrian travel companion, with regards to the picture of us taken during the trip to Pu Luong. My heart skipped a beat when thinking about Pu Luong and the great 4 day trip I joined with Heiwig and his “gang” from Austria.
A walk on the clouds
After leaving Hanoi behind on a cold rainy day, we arrived at the entrance of Pu Luong Nature Reserve area after lunch and started our walk to the village of Hang where we spent the first night. It was great to breathe in fresh air and discover the local life. It was still raining but the view of green mountains and deep valleys covered by a white blanket of cloud and fog make our walk like “ a walk on the clouds”. It didn’t take long to reach Hang Village, we settled in a Thai traditional stilt house, had dinner with delicious food and warmed up with a round of home made rice wine.
Trekking Pu Luong
The next morning we woke early, everybody was in high spirits as it had stopped raining. We said goodbye to our hosts and walked through Hang village and embarked the hillside path, crossed over a wild rocky stream. We passed several peaceful Thai and Muong villages along the green valley between two giant mountains.
Trek through village
It was a challenging trek from Ban Hang to Eo Ken on the second morning, trekking from the valley up to the secondary road C15. The cloud stayed low and it was humid. The day was full of surprises, after lunch we passed by Dong DiengVillage and got lost in the most breathtaking scenery ever. We walked on the red soil road, which lies like a king snake through the green mountain, when wind blew cloud away we could see deep into the forest – giant trees with their white smooth trunks and wild banana flowers blooming. In another second, the cloud closed up and we floated along the cloudy road again.
The highlight of the day was when the valley of Kho Muong appeared in front of us. It was the picture of a happy, peaceful village with a small river feeding water for all. We found Mrs. Be’s stilt house at the end of the village and were warmly welcomed into a relaxing household. We had a good rest and got ready to cross over the mountain the next morning.

The mountain was an exciting challenge. The rocks here are like sharp cat ears so they called it “cat ears rocky mountain”. We spent almost three hours hiking to the other side of the mountain. The feeling when you reach the flat land again is always great and we were very happy to see a cold beer when we reached our next village. As we continued trekking, we reached the biggest market in all over Pu Luong area and spent our last night at The Nature Reserve Office building. That night at Pho Doan market we shared a sleepless night with beers, songs and lots of stories we would bring home to share with our dearest friends.

We ended up our trip with an awesome “xe om” motor bike ride from Pho Doan to La Han ferry, where our driver was waiting for us. Holding on tight, I silently said goodbye to the mountain we were leaving behind.

Pu Luong is a destination I would love to return to and spend longer than four days. For Heiwig, his family and me, we shared an unique experience with Pu Luong in a time where the sky met the mountain and we walked in a dreamlike scene, Pu Luong – A walk in the cloud!


Arriving in Pu Luong Nature Reserve where there are immense green forests and green terraced fields, tourists seem to be lost in a valley, completely separated from the outside world, with many mysteries expecting to be discovered. 

With many foreign tourists, Pu Luong Nature Reserve is the interesting ideal for trekking trips  or cycling options. Biking in Pu Luong is one of the best ways to discover the natural beauty of the region and exotic culture of minority groups. 

Recommend Biking tour or Trekking tour in Pu Luong Nature Reserve  by ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA

Biking Pu Luong Nature Reserve: On biking tour we will ride on the first part of the historic Ho Chi Minh Trail and spend 3 nights in villages of Thai people.  
Highlights 
  • Biking on the first part of Ho Chi Minh Trail
  • Homestay in villages of Thai people
  • Stunning scenery
  • Traditional foot massage

Highlights 
  • Unspoiled Pu Luong Nature Reserve 
  • Friendly ethnic minorities
  • Homestay in villages
  • Beautiful trails
  • All meals included

Monday, July 15, 2013

Culture – Fire Walking in Red Dao Village

On a recent trip to Sapa, it was beyond my wildest dreams that I would find myself in an episode of National Geographic. After all these years of tourism to Sapa, it is very uplifting to find some villages so unaffected by tourism and retaining rich culture and traditions.

Red Dao people in Sapa, Vietnam
After arriving in Sapa on a crisp, clear spring morning, I made my way to a beautiful ecolodge located in Thanh Kim, 20km outside of Sapa, surrounded by Hmong, Tay and Red Dao villages. After spending a day trekking and cycling through dramatic landscapes, I had an unexpected invitation to a Red Dao village to join in their TET (Vietnamese lunar New Year) celebrations. The tables were turned when I arrived at the simple wood-hut village and was greeted by over 100 set of eyes – fixated on me and my foreign appearance. Sometimes as a traveler, I feel like such a voyeur, so it was enlightening to experience a role reversal.

The celebrations involved praying to ancestors and ceremonial dancing to ensure a fruitful year of rice in the upcoming harvest. All the men in the village with the surname “Lee” were involved in these prayers which sent them into a trance-like state before they jumped into a fire and walked on hot coals. YES – WALKED ON HOT COALS. This experience was a feast for my senses….drums beating, fire roaring, chanting and singing, electric-red traditional head dress and the glares and giggles of the children as they tugged on my arms and touched my foreign skin. The ceremony continued for 5 hours, with more dancing, fire walking, beating of drums and the scattering of rice. The Dao ethnic minority is incredibly diverse in all aspects of life: social and religious practices, architecture, agriculture and dress. Rows of terraced rice fields zigzag up steep mountains, creating breathtaking views in an area where farming remains the major source of income. Rice is still the staple crop and this annual ceremony is a very important part of the Dao calendar to ensure a plentiful harvest.

Dao people
Dao people came to Vietnam some six centuries ago and now number around 500,000 in Vietnam, with related groups in Laos, Thailand and China. They boast a particularly striking traditional dress, characterized by a rectangular patch of embroidery sewn onto the back of their jackets, and both men and women sport silver or copper jewellery and tasseled shoulder bags. Dao women wear elaborate headgear, usually a triangular-shaped turban, either embroidered or decorated with silver coins, beads and colored tassels. It’s also common for Dao women to shave their eyebrows and sometimes the whole head, coating the skull with wax.

So to discover this Red Dao village, still so rich in tradition – without televisions and coca cola – was exciting. It was exciting to see that in 2006, travelers can still step into their own personal  Discovery channel. But we must ensure this is how we leave it. To be sensitive and respectful of these local cultures so our children can have the same experiences and our world can continue to be a melting pot of traditions and cultures.

—-
Source: Internet
Recomment Trek in the trekking paradise - Sapa Trekking & Homestay from ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA 
For our Sapa Remote Trek tour, please click here.


Friday, July 12, 2013

One day to explore Sapa Bac Ha market

Visitors to Sapa should not miss Sapa Bac Ha market, a famous highland market throughout the Northwest region

Along the way, visitors will see the high mountain, the terraced fields and encounter each ethnic group laughing gurglingly and leading horses to market to sell. To keep up with the market, they have to get up early. Even there is someone who starts their journey to market from the previous day.

 
Bac Ha market
Previously, Bac Ha market took place on a sloping hill, then this market was built on a concrete floor and divided into sales area so it lost the pristine beauty.

Bac Ha market sells all products of the highlands, the necessary items for the ethnic such as plow, hoe, shovel, knife, fruits, honey..

Booths selling jewelry, dresses, brocade and even attan baskets always attract many tourists. Here, you can optionally select Brocade products, dazzled with the brilliant colors of dresses of Hmong, Red Dzao.

Ethnic minority people in Sapa
Foreign tourists often would like to admire the paintings that are hand-woven with vivid motifs, harmonious colors.
The booths of jewelry attract many tourists
For men, Bac Ha market is also a place where they can meet their fiends and drink around the “thang co” pot (large pot).

Tourists to Bac Ha, they are very interested in exploring life and customs of the locals.

Tourist & local people
The ethnic usually bring baskets of vegetables, potatoes, maize or other crops to sell at Bac Ha market. They also lead the cows, pigs intended to sell in market. The place selling horse always attracts men most, they come from remote villages, even those from the provinces of Bac Giang, Ha Tay..coming here to buy horse.

In the trend of commercializing the highland markets,  Bac Ha market is one of the rare places retaining ethnic identity, unique features of the old market.
Recommend a Sapa Trekking & Homestay itinerary from ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA: 4-day tour with 2-day trek and 2-night homestay

Hanoi - Lao Cai - Sapa - Hanoi 

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 Giay and Tay ethnic minorities. 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

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Riding Vietnam's mountainous north

LEE ATKINSON

We're on an eight-day motorcycling tour of north-eastern Vietnam, riding Honda XR250 trail bikes across the valleys and over the mountain passes of Ha Giang province and through the wild, remote and rarely visited mountainous "frontier lands" along the Chinese border, where roads are narrow, winding and steep, and the scenery is truly breathtaking.

ROADS TO HAPPINESS: One of the group's motorcyclists in the mountainous Ha Giang province.
It's a ride-it-yourself adventure, but we have two guides, Linh and Thon, who know where they are going, which is just as well, because we're having enough trouble just negotiating the traffic. Many of these "small ways and snake roads" - so called because of their sinuous shape rather than any abundance of serpents - aren't on the tourist maps and are definitely off the tourist trail.

Linh and Thon also know how to carry out roadside repairs, skills that prove useful more than once. There are 12 of us in our group - nine experienced riders and three pillion passengers. We've known each other for years and most of us have travelled together before on various motorcycling road trips.

But as we gather on the second-storey terrace of a Hanoi bar the day before we set off, our nonchalance starts to dissipate while studying the chaotic traffic that swirls below us, trying to determine whether there is any method in the madness (there's not!), counting crashes and watching first-time visitors to Hanoi with fear at the prospect of crossing the road.

It's a bit of a blur, but somehow we manage to get out of Hanoi in one piece, and it's not long before we find ourselves riding along back roads beside rice paddies and meandering rivers, sharing the road with tractors, buffalo, dogs, chickens and ox-drawn carts, along with the stream of bicycles and motorbikes.

As we ride through the villages and towns, we're treated like rock stars, kids and adults alike grinning, waving and calling out hello. At first we think it's because they don't get many visitors in these parts, which is true, but then we realise it's because we're riding bikes that are monsters compared with the tiny 50cc-150cc bikes and scooters they ride, and even the petrol station attendants can't resist climbing on our bikes to pose for photos whenever we stop to fill up.

It may also be because we are somewhat overdressed - in Kevlar-reinforced jeans, protective riding jackets, leather boots, gloves and full-face helmets - compared with the locals in their sandals, short sleeves and nifty little hard hats with special holes at the back for ponytails - but I have no desire to experience a Vietnamese road-base exfoliation. Miraculously, in eight days and 1200 kilometres of rough riding, our group of 12 experiences only three tumbles, and none results in any injuries.
 
Ride on road
We ride between 160 kilometres and 180 kilometres each day, which doesn't sound much - at home we ride that far just for fun on a Sunday morning - but at an average speed of about 40kmh, often less, it takes all day. By our third day, we've relaxed into the rhythm of the roads, have more or less got our heads around the organic nature of the traffic flow, and are high on the exhilaration (and adrenalin) of riding some of the world's best (and most challenging) motorcycling roads up and over countless mountain passes, the summits shrouded in mist, the deep-sided river valleys terraced with rice paddies, the distance filled with sawtooth ranges receding as far as the eye can see.

One road in particular has us spellbound, the aptly named Road to Happiness from Ha Giang to Meo Vac via Dong Van, which includes the famous Ma Pi Leng Pass, a stretch so precipitous that workers had to be tethered to the cliffsides during its construction in the early 1960s.

We eat lunch in cafes, throwing our scraps on the floor, along with everyone else's, and stop at roadside stalls for sweet milky coffee and fruit dipped in chilli and salt. When our seats become too hard or the view too beautiful to ignore, we pull over for a rest, which often ends up attracting a crowd, thanks to the wannabe magician in the group - he only knows one trick but it never fails to delight the local kids.

We stretch our legs at village markets, where we rub shoulders with men in indigo suits and women in colourful embroidered costumes who have travelled in from remote mountain villages, usually on foot with heavy loads strapped to their backs, along the same steep roads we are riding.

We spend our nights throwing back shots of lethal local rice wine with our homestay hosts before bedding down on mattresses on the floor beneath mosquito nets in one large communal room built on stilts, infinitely more comfortable than the few local hotels we stay at with the rock-hard beds they favour in northern Vietnam.
 
Ban Gioc waterfall, Cao Bang, Vietnam
At Ban Gioc waterfall we take a short ride on a bamboo raft and get so close to China we can chat to Chinese tourists on the other side, but Vietnam and China aren't exactly best mates, so we're warned not to step ashore on Chinese territory. The next day we get caught in a never-ending line of trucks carrying cheap goods across the border on a dusty road still under construction, which in Vietnam is no impediment to travel. You just weave your way around the road crews and hope like hell a road exists on the other side.

By the time we get back to Hanoi we're road weary and ready to stop - eight days and 1200 kilometres is a long time to spend perched on a wire rack, even with a tower of cushions on top - but if you want to see, smell, hear, touch and really experience Vietnam, mixing it with the locals from behind the handlebars of a motorbike is about as full on as you can get.

Need to know
Riding a motorcycle in Vietnam is a high-risk activity. Check that your travel insurance covers motorcycling and be aware that as a foreigner you will be expected to pay compensation (in cash and probably on the spot) in the event of an accident, even if you are not at fault.

It is not possible to get a temporary Vietnamese driving licence on a tourist visa, but an international driving permit (available from the NRMA) is usually accepted by police — although, officially, no foreign licence is valid in Vietnam, and harsh penalties (determined by the police) can apply for riding or driving without a licence.

Trip notes
Touring there from ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA
The mountainous area of Northern Vietnam has long been famous for its beautiful scenery and great diversity of ethnic minorities. With our adventure motorcycling trip you will make a big loop to experience all the bests that area can offer. Starting in Hanoi you will explore Northwest before jumping into Northeast, back to Hanoi after a day relaxing in Ba Be Lake. The perfect itinerary and the support crew ensure you get the most out of the trip in terms of comfort, enjoyment and adventure. Along the way we encounter dramatic landscapes and sweeping panoramas as the rural population goes about its business. Highlights include the terraced valleys of Sapa, beautiful Ban Gioc Waterfall and many different colorful minority groups.

Motorcycling adventure in Northern Vietnam 

Hanoi - Mai Chau - Son La - Dien Bien Phu - Sapa – Hagiang – Bao Loc – Cao Bang – Ban Gioc – Ba Be – Lang Son – Hanoi
14-day trip with 12-day motorcycling
Motorcycling grade: Moderate

Highlights
  • Stunning scenery
  • Stunning Pha Din Pass and Tram Ton Pass
  • Terraced valley of Sapa
  • Ban Gioc Waterfall
  • Babe Lake
  • Colorful ethnic minorities

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Motorbike Traveling in Mountainous Areas in Vietnam

When coming to Vietnam, beside big cities’ well-known tourism destinations, many foreign travellers love spending their time chasing the wind on the road of the wildly mountainous areas by motorbike. We tell you How and Why!
Motorbiking at the moutain in the North Vietnam
Reasons for choosing motorbike

Motorbike is considered the best means of transportation for travelling mountainous areas due to its convenience and initiative. With a motorbike, one is free to go wherever he loves, despite all kinds of road’s condition. He can stop whenever he feels like to take photographs or relaxing, instead of depending on the driver or tour guide. Motorbike helps integrating people with nature and fresh air, and one will never be afraid of motion sickness. If choosing a car, people are likely to waste hours sleeping in passenger’s seat with air condition, not to mention the car sick caused by consecutive slopes and mountain passes. Riding on the motorbike means living on every single kilometer of your itinerary! Moreover, one can ride a motorbike in any kind of terrains, and it is much easier to repair in case of breaking down.


Which kind of motorbike and when?

Kind of motorbike
100 cc-or-more semi-automatic motorbikes are all suitable for roads in Northern Vietnam’s mountainous area. The main criteria for choosing motorbike are strong engine, gasoline-saving and flexible packing space.
Weather is one of the most essential issues regarding planning for motorbike trip. The best time for exploring those mighty areas is from late September to the beginning of December or after Tet Nguyen Dan, when there is almost no rain and the temperature is cool. The spring’s rain and summer’s heat in high region somehow are hazardous for health as well as damaging to the road’s quality.

Be well-prepared!

There are indispensable things that one has to bring whenever travelling to remote areas such as specialized clothes and shoes, personal stuff, map, contact information and medical bags. However, a motorbike trip requires more than that. One will have to be well-prepared with a protective helmet and a motorcycle repair tool kit, and of course, certain skills of mending engine. An extra spark-plug and motorbike’s key are always in need. Remember to maintain the whole motorbike before setting off, change the oil and check its tyres, brakes, mirrors, horn and light. Fill up your motorbike with gasoline and know the location of gasoline station!

On the way

If possible, travelling in groups of two or three motorbikes with one experienced leader is advisable. All members of the group are required to have detailed itinerary to get rid the risk of getting lost. People should not ride parallel to each other and talk while controlling the motorbike, thus, stop the bike if feeling a need for a conversation.

Pay attention to the bend and ones driving contrariwise and do not drive into other lane. Sometimes, there may be animals like buffaloes, cows, dogs or even pigs crossing the road, so one should decrease the speed and avoid making them panic. At night or in rain weather, when the vision is limited, travellers had better pause the journey for resting and safety reasons.

Other things to remember
• Do not ride when you feel tired or sleepy.
• Do not ride after drinking alcohol.
• Avoid riding too fast or stop without noticing.
• Observe carefully and pay attention to road signs.
• Bring your identity paper and driving license because there will be police checking along the road ( however, they will not be very strict to foreigners)
• Be extremely careful when crossing the stream; be sure about the depth of the water to have the best arrangement.
• Respect the ethnic minority people and their distinctive culture.
• Protect the environment and always remember: Safe is of primary important.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Tips for visiting minority villages when trekking Sapa, Vietnam

When visitting Sapa, espcially if you are a foriegn visitor, you will like to visit villagers here. May be ,thet following tips will help your trips be more exciting.

Visit  minority villages
Coming villages in small groups
For many people, one of the highlights of traveling in Sapa is the experience of visiting minority villages.
If at all possible, it’s preferable to visit the minority villages as a part of a small group, ideally four people or less, as this causes least disruption and allows for greater communication. There is a whole debate about the ethnics of cultural tourism and its negative impact on traditional ways of life.

Most villagers are genuinely welcoming and hospitable to foreigners, appreciating contact with Westerners and the material benefits which they bring.

Remember you are a guest
Behavior that we take for granted may cause offence to some ethnic minority people; remember you are a guest. Apart from being sensitive to the situation and keeping an open mind, the following simple rules should be observed when visiting the ethnic minority areas.
Dress modestly, in long trousers or skirt and T-shirt or shirt.
Dress modestly, in long trousers

When taking photographs
Be sensitive to people’s wishes when taking photographs, particularly of older people who are suspicious of camera; always ask permission first.

When enterting their house
Only go inside a house when invited and remove your shoes before entering.

When giving gifts
Small gifts, such as fresh fruit from the local market, are always welcome. However, there is a view that even this can foster begging, and that you should only ever give in return for some service or as a sign of appreciation for hospitality. A compromise is to buy craftwork produced by the villagers-most communities should have some embroidery, textiles or basketry for sale.

Trekking through villages

Learning local  basic terms of address
As a mark of respect, learn the local term of address, either in dialect or at least in Vietnamese, such as chao ong, chao ba.

Be careful with local environments
Try to minimize your impact on the often fragile local environment; take litter back to the towns and be sensitive to the use of wood and other scarce resources.

Opium using is illegal
Growing and using opium is illegal in Vietnam and is punished with a fine or prison sentence; do not encourage its production by buying or smoking opium.

Trekking practicalities
Foreigners are now permitted to stay in minority villages, which has opened up to the possibility of trekking, and created a small industry focused on Sapa.You can arrange a tailored individual programme through a tour agent; it is important to ask for a guide with a good level of English who is familiar with the villages and the minorities’ culture traditions.

Note that it’s not a good ideal to turn up at a minority’s village and expect to find accommodation; you host may find themselves in trouble with the authorities and there’s also a growing problem of petty crime, particularly around Sapa. Far better to make arrangements beforehand with someone who know the current situation. If you go with local guide, you are also less likely to cause offence and will probably have a more interesting time.

Clothers when walking in mountains
It is very important to ear the right clothing when walking in these mountains; strong boots with ankle support are the best footwear, though you can get away with training shoes in the dry season. Choose thin, loose clothing-long trousers offer some protection from thorns and leeches; wear a hat and sun block; take plenty of water; rain coast and carry a basic medical kit.

If you plan on spending the night in a village you will need warm clothing as temperatures can drop to around freezing, and you may want to take a sleeping bag, mosquito net and food, though may be provided on organized tours.

Carrying a stick when trekking
Finally, dogs can be a problem when entering minority villages, so it is a good ideal to carry a strong stick when trekking, and always be watchful for the poisonous snakes that are common in this area.

Recommend a Sapa Trekking & Homestay itinerary from ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA: 4-day tour with 2-day trek and 2-night homestay

Hanoi - Lao Cai - Sapa - Hanoi 

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 Giay and Tay ethnic minorities. 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

Travel Reveal: Tips from a local Vietnam

March 2013, I plan to Vietnam and Cambodia with my friends, Ann and Robert, and had an real adventure time there.

Fortunately, Liv had a family friend in Australia who had adventure holiday with a local tourist operator, Active Travel Asia, that is Trust adventure company in Vietnam.

We checked out their tours in the website and decided to go with this tour operator. And let's face it - we were impressed.

For the price: $285 pp for a three-day, two-night tour, covering about half the meals, activities and two nights accommodation, it was a very good deal.

This tour was from Hanoi to Mai Chau, Vietnam. On the way, we also saw the Hoa Binh lake look like small Halong Bay - World's Heritage site in Vietnam.

We also used this tour operator to go on two day tour to kayaking Halong bay.

Now compared to booking a tourist through a Australia travel agency, there are definitely some pros and cons. It's really up to you what matters more.

Pros:

We saved some money.

We got to meet more Vietnamese people. On our tour bus we could stop over and take a photos where an amazing spots as well as we have been recommended less tourist and beautiful route along rural ethnic village.

We got a direct recommendation.

Cons:

Peace of mind. I suppose it's nice have someone in front of you booking these things who's done it all before.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Sapa, Vietnam in my tour

Sapa, Vietnam
Sapa is considered the second destination of Vietnam after Halong Bay. This town is located in the Northern mountainous area with the endless terraced field and interesting experience to visit the ethnic villages. You can easily catch up with the heavy rain and storm. However, with me – Jeremy Jones, this is not an obstacles but an exciting challenge though I have to prepare a lot more when the rain falls.

Rain, rain, rain – it always rains

If you are a unlucky guy coming to Sapa in the middle of storm rain or after a rainy week, then you are in the major. The muddy paths made everyone fell down at least once, and our luggage were sent quite a lot of souvenir from mud.

The extraordinary Sapa landscape

Seems like being aware of this, the stalls in the villages offered most of the things to prevent slipping in every kind of terrain. The sellers are quite smart ladies, and especially when you are buying in the tough weather, the price would be indefinable. A raincoat and a pair of rain boot would be the salvation even in just two days.

Do not leave out homestays

Every visitors to Sapa should spend a night or two at homestay, for not only experience the local life experience but also come into the rural life and visit the beautiful places of the land. The further the land is, the more beautiful the landscape. And the homestay will let you see those landscape.

H'mong People in Sapa
Most of the homestay is a spacious house with sleeping rooms being built next to the main house. People say only those who stayed for two nights could experience the traditional house in the second one. However, after six hours of experiencing, the most expectation for the pervasive numbness is a fare hot shower with common conveniences.
Sapa Town, Vietnam
A homestay in Sapa
In the whole or part of the journey, all of the travelers are followed by the sellers in the village in the hope of selling something. These local ladies became the sufficient supporters when they showed us which way to go, holding our hand to “saving” us from falling down.

In general, Sapa is a perfect destination for coming after a hard rain with every conditions of muddy marshy land that you could ever imagine. However for me, I wish I had known how the trip was to prepare myself more carefully and save some cloths for becoming clouts because of mud. I will definitely not prevent anyone from traveling to Sapa in the rain weather, but I would love to suggest them to prepare well. You will not regret.

Recommended Sapa Trekking & Homestay by ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA

Hanoi - Lao Cai - Sapa - Hanoi 
4-day tour with 2-day trek and 2-night homestay
Trekking grade: Moderate

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 Giay and Tay ethnic minorities. 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