Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Showing its true colors of hill tribes Northern Vietnam

A lesser known ethnic minority market in the northern province of Lao Cai is graced with natural colors and simple, straightforward people

Hill -Tribes Women
More women than men buy rice wine at Coc Ly Market, which opens every Tuesday in Bac Ha District, Lao Cai Province

When I visited Lao Cai Province recently, I missed the famous Bac Ha Market that its Hmong residents open every Sunday to exchange goods, the one that has become a famous tourist attraction.

The reason was that I had spent too much time in Muong Nhe District in the nearby Dien Bien Province, thus arriving in Bac Ha District, Lao Cai Town, only on Monday.

Hill -Tribes Women
However, the delay helped me discover the Coc Ly Market in the commune of the same name, not far from the Bac Ha Market.

“You should visit Coc Ly. The market held there every Tuesday is a lot of fun,” a receptionist at my hotel told me.

Following her directions, I rented a motorbike and drove through a road under construction that cars were not allowed on. 

On the way, I saw groups of foreign tourists walking briskly in the same direction, and I wondered at their evident enthusiasm.

I did not have to wonder for long.

Located on the banks of the Chay River, the market is a riot of color. Whether it is the pieces of brocade displayed at fabric stalls or the different dresses worn by women of ethnic minority communities like the Mong, Tay, and Dao, bright colors shone everywhere.

The women gathered in groups at brocade stalls, chatting, while young girls, giggling and laughing, were busy making up and taking turns to be photographed against a landscape poster featuring mountains, rivers and birds. 

Even the farm produce sold at the market added color - green herbs, wild vegetables, red rice, yellow mèn mén – a local specialty in which rice is cooked with finely ground corn.

With green forests and mountains in the background, vibrant and alive unlike the poster that the girls were being photographed against, the Coc Ly Market made a striking picture that one is not likely to forget for a long time.

Kindred spirits
Hill -Tribes Women
Like other markets of ethnic minority people, Coc Ly also trades in buffaloes.

Having visited buffalo markets across the northern western region of Vietnam, I think the one at Coc Ly is the biggest, in terms of the area where the trading takes place, and the number of buffaloes bought and sold.

Moreover, I was touched by the way people sold the animal that they seemed to have emotional attachments to.

Although people were selling their buffaloes because they needed money, they were very particular about choosing a new owner for the animals. If they could not find any suitable person, they would take the animal home, and return for the next market session. Thus, it is not uncommon that at Coc Ly, it took a farmer a few weeks to sell their buffaloes.

Hill -Tribes Women
Even after a deal was struck, people showed their sadness as they watched their beloved animals go off with the buyer. The buffaloes, meanwhile, would turn their heads back with teary eyes and start mooing.

Never had I seen such farewell scenes, not at home and not at famous animal markets in Asia like the one held by the Toraja people in Indonesia’s Rantepao Town, and the Karakol Animal Market – Central Asia’s largest – in Kyrgyzstan.

At rice wine stalls, I saw many women carrying empty bottles waiting to buy liquor; strangely, the men were much fewer in number. 

When I teased a young Hmong woman for buying alcohol, she blushed, shook her head and said: “No, I do not buy it for me; I buy it for my husband!”

With such simplicity and beauty around, it is not surprising that the Coc Ly Market is attracting more and more tourists. It distinguishes itself from those in Sa Pa and Bac Ha, where sellers have become more calculative and are selling increasing volumes of Chinese goods to make higher profits. 

Source: ThanhNien News

ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA would like to recommend Motorcycling West to East Northern Vietnam tour. This motorcycling trip reveals a different route to get from Son La to Thac Ba. It offers adventurous riders stunning scenery and great tribal culture exploration. The route is not yet popular thus you do not share the roads with other tourist but mainly share the roads with the locals who are on their Honda to the farm. The perfect itinerary and the support crew ensure you get the most out of the trip in terms of comfort, enjoyment and adventure.

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

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Five Reasons to Visit Vietnam

Written by Ellie

Having spent some time travelling in Thailand, I’m eager to visit more of south-east Asia, and visiting Vietnam is next on my list!

After researching the country and jealously listening to recommendations given by other travellers, I’ve come up with a list of my top reasons why I want to travel to Vietnam.

1. Delicious Food

Despite the huge focus on other Asian cuisines such as Thai, Chinese and Indian food, I’ve heard great things about Vietnamese food and some of the dishes sound divine. Vietnamese food is also considered as one of the healthiest cuisines in the world which is always a plus!

Many Vietnamese recipes include fresh ingredients such as lemongrass, ginger, lime and basil which all contribute distinct flavours to a recipe. Some dishes I’ve been recommended are Cha ca Thang Long which is fish marinated in turmeric topped with dill, Phở, a herby noodle soup served with either beef or chicken and the strange-sounding elephant ear fish, which is crispy, salted and served with herbs and vegetables. They all sound delicious and I plan on trying as many as possible on my Vietnam trip!

Phở
2. Halong Bay

No Vietnam travel experience is complete without a visit to the stunning Halong Bay, and winding round the limestone islands and visiting the ancient caves sounds like something special.

I’ve heard the sunsets and sunrises are incredible to watch so it would be amazing to see these – I'm planning to stay overnight on one of the traditional Halong Bay junk boats so hopefully it will be easy enough to see both.

Halong Bay
3. Tropical Beaches

Again, it seems that Vietnamese beaches are underrated with more focus given to the famous Thai beaches. I'd take advantage of this by spending some time on the deserted white sands before other tourists catch on...

With white sands, towering palm trees and aqua blue waters some of the Vietnamese beaches such as this one on the tropical paradise island of Phu Quoc  below looks heavenly. Perfect for catching some rays and lounging with a cold beer...

 Tropical Vietnam Beaches
4. Atmospheric Cities

Vietnam is home to cities full of character and there are several that I would love to visit. Hanoi, the lively capital is full of classic Vietnamese architecture, food and things to do, such as visiting the preserved body of the former president Ho Chin Minh – something a bit different!

Not forgetting the smaller city of Hoi An where you can wonder round the narrow streets, lounge on the city’s nearby beaches or shop in Hoi An’s world-famous Vietnamese tailors.
Lastly Ho Chi Minh City (the largest in Vietnam) is packed with museums, shops, bars and restaurants so there is plenty to do!


 Bustling Hanoi
5. Local People

Finally, the people of a country can really complete your experience and I’ve only heard great things about the people of Vietnam – that they love to smile and are friendly and genuinely interested in getting to know the travellers that visit their country.

Meet local people at Sapa

I hope to meet them as soon as I can so I’d better get saving!

ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA would like recommend Kayaking Halong Bay 3 days tour.

This tour offers you a great chance to discover Halong Bay, the wonderland of karst topography with 3,000 limestone and dolomite islets sprinkled over an area of 1,500 square km. The calm sea provides an ideal location for sea kayaking as we paddle through a maze of islets amid dramatic natural scenery. With our modern kayaking equipment, we are able to maximize on speed and maneuverability as we explore the open sea and the many hidden lagoons and stalagmite caves that are difficult to access by any other means. As with our other kayak tours, this tour offers flexibility in activity levels while still combining the best of sea kayaking. Designed with this in mind it is a good tour for both novice and experienced kayaker alike with a little more time to spare.

Highlights:
  • Amazing limestone formations
  • Inclusive junk for overnight
  • Beautiful and different kayaking route
  • Support boat all the time
  • All meals included

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Vietnam to honour Sapa's terraced fields

Authorities in Lao Cai Province’s Sapa tourist town will hold a ceremony to celebrate its 110th anniversary of tourism development in early November.
  
The event will take place on November 2 at the town’s central stadium. It will also be past time to announce the government’s decision to recognise the terraced fields there as a National Heritage.
Nguyen Van Thang, from the provincial Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, told DTiNews on August 14 that they would organise a series of activities from October 15 to November 3 to celebrate this occasion.

“Major activities will be organised for three days: November 1-3,” Thang noted.
Under the programme, an international seminar on preserving the cultures of ethnic groups in mountainous areas will be held in combination with sustainable tourism development.

Several other activities include: the Fansipan Mountain Discovering Programme and the Sapa street festival plus a programme on discovering the cultural heritages of ethnic minority groups in Sapa.

“Visitors will also have a chance to enjoy Hat giao duyen, traditional folk songs by Dao Do ethnic minority people and wedding rituals by Giay ethnic minority people,” he said.

The department will, in co-ordination with Sapa District People’s Committee, organise a photo exhibition to provide visitors with updated information about tourism in Sapa and its development plans.

According to the department, Lao Cai welcomed 640,290 tourists, including 278,700 international arrivals during the first half of this year. Its tourism revenues reached nearly VND1.3 trillion (USD61.35 million) during the period.

Some photos taken from Sapa terraced fields:







Source:dtinews.vn

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. ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA would like recommend Conquer Mount Fansipan - Heaven Gate Route - The shortest challenging route to the roof of Indochina.

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

Monday, August 19, 2013

7 best places to visit in Vietnam

With its wild jungles, fantastic street food and white sandy beaches, Vietnam deserves to be on every traveller's hitlist. From Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, there are a number of sights and sounds that draw the crowds.

But it's not just all about the star turns. In a country where exotic Asia fuses with Parisien chic, there are many surprising sights and fascinating places to explore. Our girl on the traveller's trail, Catherine McGloin, shares seven of her favourite places in Vietnam.

1. Huế
For culture vultures, there is no shortage of temples, tombs, pagodas and crumbling palaces to admire and explore. The UNESCO World Heritage site of Huế is home to the Citadel, once the emperor's private residence, and the Forbidden Purple City, where he housed his many mistresses. When your feet are weary, grab some bún bò buế  (beef noodle soup) and watch swan pedalos cruise the Perfume River as the sun sets.

 Huế, Vietnam
2. Hoi An
Foodies can feast on street food in Vietnam's culinary capital. If you fancy trying your hand at Vietnamese cuisine, many restaurants offer half-day cooking courses. Sounds too much like hard work? Hit An Bang Beach instead for a day lounging on the deserted sand, sipping on ice-cold cocktails at the bar.
More: Street food named desire - the greatest on-the-go grub: in pictures

Hoi An, Vietnam
3. Sapa
Go trekking in the hills of Sapa for amazing views across the jungle and mountain ranges of north-west Vietnam. Equipment is cheap and easy to come by so don't worry if you're not a natural mountain goat, you'll soon be up there, gazing at the views as the mist rolls in across the peaks.

Sapa, Vietnam
4. Halong Bay
Sail among the jagged rocks of over 2000 islands in the Gulf of Tonkin at Halong, which translates as 'where the dragon descends in to the sea'. If you want to get a closer view, hire kayaks and explore the caves or find your own deserted bay.

Halong Bay, Vietnam
5. Hanoi
The hustle and bustle of Vietnam's capital can at first seem intimidating, but don't let the weaving motorbikes and screaming street hawkers put you off. Behind the hustle and bustle you'll find tranquility in the Temple of Literature, peace at One Pillar Pagoda, and more charming French patisseries then you could wish for.

Hanoi, Vietnam
6. Ben Tre
A little off the beaten track, head to Ben Tre to experience life on the banks of the Mekong without the tourist crowds of spots like My Tho. Cruise along the river, stopping at a coconut candy factory to sample the sweet treat the area is famous for. For a touch of romance, set sail at dusk to catch fireflies and watch the sunset.

Mekong, Vietnam
7. Ho Chi Minh City
Former Saigon is now Vietnam's international business hub. Get your gladrags on and head up to one of the many skybars, found on the top floor of the city's sleek skyscrapers. Cocktail in hand, admire the best view of Ho Chi Minh City by night.
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Source: skyscanner.net

Recommend Vietnam tour by ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA:

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

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Trekking Sapa, Northern Vietnam

I was beaten, destroyed to the core and past the point of no return. I was exhausted, shattered, cracked, smashed, distort, deranged, confused, broken, in pain and ruined – and that’s just the travellers diarrhea! I haven’t even started to tell you about the way I felt after an obscenely long hike through Sapa’s remote wilderness. The day before, Nic and I had talked with the hostel manager and booked a day hike through remote villages and wilderness. Before his recommendation on which tour we should do, he simply asked “are you fit?” I strongly responded in my gladiator stance “I’m fit enough to carry a small ox”, he must of been in awe at my sheer adventure man attitude that he didn’t hear Niki say “no, not really, I just want a easy walk through some local villages and rice paddies”. 15kms into our intense 28km trek the next day, Niki flopped onto a rock, her eyes confirming that our marriage was being tested for the first time. I didn’t dare tell her that I just confirmed with our guide that with the exception of climbing Mt Fansipan, this is the hardest trek in the region. I was going to kill the hostel owner if I ever saw him again!

Trekking Sapa, Northern Vietnam
Trekking, we started the morning meeting our Hmong guide, a young lady by the name of Xo.  After the introductions our motorbikes arrived and we jumped on and started our day’s tour. We weaved high up into the mountains on this chilly wet morning, the wind in our hair, cascading waterfalls in the distance and a happy wife, I felt  raw adventure pumping through my veins. This was what I wanted, no mass tours or well trodden paths, a real off the beaten experience. After 20mins we arrived into the mighty Tram Ton Pass, also known as Heavens Gate. Unfortunately though, heaven had blanketed the whole area with fog to keep the secret from us. So after a disappointing start we headed back down the pass to the Silver Waterfalls. With recent rains the waterfalls were flowing at full strength whilst falling from an incredible height. Getting a few romantic photographs in our wet weather gear, Nic then wandered off to find a bathroom – she would come back a changed women, never able to bring the strength to talk about her experience with the toilet, she has since developed a nervous twitch in her left eye when approaching an Asian bathroom.

Sapa
After the Silver Waterfalls we headed to the starting point of our hike – the local rubbish tip! Arriving here I was a little shocked, this wasn’t exactly the perfect picturesque start I thought of, the second thought was we were about to be murdered and our dead bodies dumped here. We jumped off our bikes and watched our riders ride off in the distance. We then watched our guide simply walk to the edge of the ridge we were on and simply disappear down a  very steep track leading down a rivine – game on! The first part of our trek was 2 hours straight down the side of the ridge. The track was slippery, muddy, incredibly steep and full of leaches. Climbing through prickly plants, over logs and fending of giant lost in time mosquitoes. As we hiked Xo explained the various plant varieties and what the Hmong traditionally used them for; from medicinal reasons to cooking. It was an amazing ecotourism experience. When the first leach of the day took hold of Xo’s ankle she gave a mighty squeal, even the strongest people have their weakness. This wouldn’t be last of the little blood suckers. We passed slowly down the mountainside, passing buffalo, livestock and local village children playing or working. At one point we came across six kids just sitting on buffalo and herding cows. At which point I turned to Xo and asked one of the dumbest questions I have ever asked anyone in my life – “What’s the difference between a cow and a buffalo?”  She gave me a look of are you kidding me and Niki adding to it “Peter, are you serious? Can’t you tell?” Xo simply said whilst laughing, “Horns”. Hmmm that wasn’t the best impression I could give her of Australians.

H'mong Women and Sapa Buffalo 
We stopped at a small waterfall for lunch at the bottom of the mountain. Niki was showing tiredness from the hard walk, however was still full of optimism. After we finished, Xo pointed to a long winding road up the side of a tall mountain in the distance, this was where we were heading. Niki gulped and then made the most fatal mistake of any trekker, she asked how much longer? When Xo responded “about 4 hours, with 3 hours going continually up “, I saw her optimism fall, it wasn’t til about 3 minutes later when she realised that she couldn’t turn back that I saw the last bit of hope leave her body. She was in it for the long haul and there was no going back, no matter how hard she tried to escape from the inevidable climb ahead. I could see in her eyes, this wasn’t want she expected when she said “I want an easy walk”. I could see in eyes that she was going to find away to blame me for this.
Red Dzao- Sapa
The next three hours was a gruelling climb following ridge after ridge after ridge. We passed the most amazing views of wide deep valleys, with dotted corn crops and chiseled rice paddies. We hiked through small villages with basic infrastructure and charming people. It felt like spring, with baby pigs, puppies, calves and chickens everywhere. The piglets were easily our favourite. Half way through our trip we came across a stranded calf calling for its mother, however she was no where to be seen. It was saddening to know this calf would die if help didn’t arrive. About 10 minutes down the track we came across an incredible site, a child on a buffalo calling to the calf and getting a response. The small boy was communicating with his animals, it was a touching moment. After 2 hours and intense sun, Niki finally hit her wall. She sat down on her rock and rested. On the edge of her physical limits, it was all down to her will to go on. She had asked earlier on the day “who would help me if I hurt myself?” the response “no help, don’t hurt yourself”. My beloved wife knew she had to keep going, so after a random piece of cucumber for energy, she got back up and kept on trotting.

Sapa Terraced Field
Rule No. 5 of being married – Don’t take your wife on a 28km hike for your honeymoon, its not considered romantic.

We finally climbed down the final ridge into the village of Ta Phin. Not before passing through an area that Xo said “move quickly I smell snake”, there was no need to tell me twice. We arrived in this quaint village destroyed, sore and limping as if we had just done a 14 day trek. Ta Phin was stunning! We passed other tourist who had arrived by car into the village, they gave us one of two looks; the first one of ultimate awe that we had hiked this far or secondly, why would you do that you sadistic people? On arrival into a small Dzao home, a relaxing warm medicinal bath was waiting for us in barrels. The saviour for our aching muscles. After the cool down, we jumped back on our bikes and headed back to Sapa. Our hostel manager was eagerly waiting out front for our return, I was ready to explain to him the difference of an easy hike and a bloody hard hike, instead Nic and I both got off our bikes and told him that was one of the best hikes we had ever done. His response “That’s great, I can now sell it to other travellers. Your the first tourists to do that trek since it was reopened, it’s been closed for a long time due to dangerous political issues”. With that, we thanked Xo for her excellent guiding, shook our heads at our manager, then went and downed a large local beer.

Source: Travel Project

Recommend Trekking tour in Northern Vietnam by ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA:
Conquer Mount Fansipan - Heaven Gate Route

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

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Motorbike Northern Vietnam; Sapa, Vietnam

Written by AARON BEAUDOIN

Reaching northern Vietnam is great, but what about the journey you’ve taken to get there?

Bus?

Train?

How about riding a motorbike?

Your destination will be made all the more rewarding when you do it yourself.  Grab the handlebars and hit the highway.  Onward to Sapa!
Motorbike Northern Vietnam
Motorbike Northern Vietnam

When considering a tour around Vietnam, think motorbike.  Swerving routes and hilly terrain offer an exhilarating trip.  With a selection of destinations ranging in both distance and difficulty, you need only rent a bike and hit the road. 

Sapa
Hanoi to Sapa

One of the more challenging routes around northern Vietnam is also the area’s most popular.  From the capital city of Hanoi, take to the road and make your way directly to Sapa.

Getting from Hanoi to Sapa should take about 10 hours.  The deceptively long ride will include a series of small highways, winding roads, and sharp turns.

Though the route seems fairly direct, an unprepared rider may well get lost only a short distance into his/her journey.  Whether you need to print out instructions, bring along a map, or learn to read Vietnamese road signs, you should prep yourself before making the trip.

Ta Van Village 
The Northwestern Loop

The Northwest Loop can vary from one to three weeks depending on how much distance is covered each day.  Along the way, highlights will include the agricultural district of Mai Chau, the hot springs at Dien Bien Phu, and the rural region of Lai Chau.

The trip will reach its apex in Sapa where most riders may decide to spend a couple of days resting.  The way back will probably be more direct as it’s assumed that fatigue will be starting to set in.

Solo Riding

Once it’s been decided that you’ll be making the trip up towards Sapa, you need only decide whether to go at it unaided or with a preplanned itinerary.  As a solo biker you will have the advantage of making your own decisions.  You’ll be able to go at your own pace and you’ll be left to your own devices.  You’ll also be responsible for finding accommodation in small towns and villages.

For those who aren’t interested in riding with a group but would like some guidance along the way, there is the interesting option of a preplanned itinerary.  This plan involves arranged accommodations, occasional meals, and guided tours at notable sites along the way.  On a six-day excursion look to pay around $600 per person for this service.

"Four wheels move the body. Two wheels move the soul." - Unknown


When To Go

As you’ll be on a motorbike, it’s best to avoid any potential rains.  The wet season is at its worst in July and August.  If you aren’t comfortable riding in the cold, it’ll be best to avoid December through February.  Prime biking months run from September to November and March to May.


Climate

Weather during prime biking months will range anywhere from 59°F (15°C) to 77°F (25°C).  Keep in mind that the weather changes quickly in Vietnam’s northern region and though the day may start out warm, it can quickly get nasty.

Getting There & Around

To get to Hanoi, fly into the Noi Bai International Airport which services a number of international airlines.

Do’s

Bring along a GPS if you’re going at it alone.
Plan stops ahead of time.
Choose to bike in a season with a favorable climate.


Don’ts

Plan on spending over $60/day.
Rush yourself if you’re a novice rider.
Leave Hanoi without a tire-repair kit.

Fun Facts
Vietnam has a total of seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The nation has an impressive unemployment rate of under 5%.
The Vietnamese equivalent of ‘Thank You’ is ‘Cam On’, pronounced gum-un.

Recommend Motorcycling tour in Northern Vietnam by ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA:

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

Monday, August 5, 2013

Ha Long Bay ranks 6th among top 10 sailing cruises

Vietnam’s world heritage Ha Long Bay in the northern province of Quang Ninh has been ranked among the world’s top ten destinations for sailing cruises by the US’ National Geographic book Journeys of a Lifetime.

Cruise Halong Bay
The book writes, “Ha Long Bay, or the Bay of the Descending Dragon, in northeastern Vietnam, is scattered with some 3,000 precipitous, strangely sculpted limestone islands and outcrops, and dotted with small floating villages and deserted sandy beaches. 

“In spring and early summer the water is particularly calm and clear. This UNESCO World Heritage site is best explored by a cruise on a junk.” 

The other nine destinations are Nova Scotia and Labrador Tall Ships of Canada; San Juan Islands, Washington; Pirate Cruise, Grand Cayman Island of the UK; Star Clipper to French Polynesia of France; Junk Cruise, Andaman Sea of Thailand; Seychelles Islands of Seychelles; Dhow Cruise, Straits of Hormuz of Oman; Lamu Island of Kenya; and Evia Island Cruise of Greece. 

Earlier, Ha Long Bay was also listed among the world’s top ten best and romantic destinations for 2011 by the UK ’s Lonely Planet magazine.

Source: VNA

Recommend Kayaking tour in Halong Bay by ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA:


Highlights :
  • Amazing limestone formations
  • Inclusive junk for overnight
  • Beautiful and different kayaking route
  • Support boat all the time
  • All meals included

Friday, August 2, 2013

Vietnam - A Travel Destination Ideal for Photography

Vietnam

In terms of creating perceptions of countries, their cultures and people, photography has long been recognised as a powerful medium. Vietnam is a good example of this.
The photojournalistic legacy of the wars fought on Vietnamese territory in the latter half of the twentieth century continues to play a role in shaping many foreigners' perceptions of the country. 

2013-07-24-Vietnam_008.jpg

Yet the locations that once drew the likes of Nick Ut, Don McCullin, Robert Capa and Larry Burrows are now attracting travel photographers and tourists. Gradually, Vietnam is winning a reputation as a mainstream long-haul holiday destination.
Accommodation is plentiful in Vietnam and, in comparison to many other countries, room rates are relatively inexpensive. That's good news if you prefer to spend your money on experiences while underway and on travelling to photogenic locations.

2013-07-24-Vietnam_009.jpg

Of course, reserving accommodation in advance is ideal, but I was able to find rooms while underway and requesting an additional night rarely caused problems. If you enjoy photography, you might be glad of this flexibility, particularly when you find a location abundant with subject matter that you want to capture.
I found getting around relative straightforward. English is widely spoken in restaurants and hotels in the southern part of the country, and booking transport is less testing than in many other places.

2013-07-24-Vietnam_002.jpg

After arriving at Ho Chi Minh City's Tan Son Nhat International Airport I was surprised to find that most residents call the metropolis by its former name, Saigon.
I also learned that as long as you avoid photographing near military installations or airports you're unlikely to run into trouble because of your camera. In fact, you might be pleasantly surprised by the level of interest in photography in Vietnam.
Keep your eyes open for private photography galleries. Many exhibit prints of traditional Vietnamese subjects, including people in national and tribal costumes. Taking a look might give you fresh ideas on what to shoot. 

2013-07-24-Vietnam_007.jpg

Vietnam is a good destination if you enjoy people photography. Surprisingly few people had a problems being confronted with me, a camera-toting foreigner. Many, in fact, were quite willing to let me photograph them.
Of course, you should respect the wishes of people who make it clear they don't want to be photographed. In the few instances when refused, I found that a little polite cajoling quickly changed the situation.

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There's a surprising amount of ethnic diversity in the country. Around 12 per cent of the 87.75 million population are not ethically Vietnamese. These include the people of hill tribes, who wear distinctive, colourful costumes. However, reaching the highlands to photograph requires significant time and effort. If you can make it, Phan Van Thong, an award winning Vietnamese photographer, strongly recommends Ban Me Thuot as a top location for photography.

2013-07-24-Vietnam_005.jpg

It's far easier to visit the temple complexes built by the Cham people at My Son and Po Nagar, in Nha Trang. Several Cham people now reside in villages of houses built on stilts in the Mekong Delta, which you can visit on tours operating from Ho Chi Minh City.
If landscape photography is your passion, the waterways and lush countryside of the Mekong Delta tours will present you with plenty of options. The views can be stunning, particularly in the golden hours around sunrise and sunset. You can travel all the up to Cambodia.

2013-07-24-Vietnam_004.jpg

Chugging along the river means you'll have the chance to observe daily life in the Mekong Delta. You'll see locals being ferried in small wooden boats from one river bank to the other and children swimming to cool down. Regular stops allow you to go ashore and learn about local ways of life; ranging from how rice noodles are made to the functioning of fish farms. 

2013-07-24-Vietnam_006.jpg

Be aware, the distances involved mean that traveling within Vietnam can be time consuming. Read up ahead of your trip and decide which locations hold the greatest interest for you and your photography, so you can plan a framework for your trip. Domestic flights can be booked at short notice and are a good method of saving time.
When is the best time of year to visit Vietnam? The period from January to mid-April tends to be the driest part of the year. At other times showers are common, so it'll make sense to carry a light waterproof jacket and umbrella plus a protective cover for your camera bag.
I particularly enjoyed photographing people in rural areas. I found that women in their traditional long, flowing au dai clothing and conical straw hats made for great images. 

2013-07-24-Vietnam_001.jpg

Also, if you're interested in documentary photography, I'd recommend you take a trip to the War Remnants Museum (on Duong Vo Van Tan in Ho Chi Minh City's District 3) and view the powerful war images shown there. Spare a thought for the experiences of the photographers who covered the conflict, and those who lost their lives.
All told, Vietnam is a rewarding place to visit. The vibrant colours, smiling faces and streets bobbing with conical hat wearing women are just some of the highlights await camera carrying travellers.

More Info

Tourist information on Vietnam is available on the wwww.vietnamtourism.com
Read more of Stuart Forster's travel writing at www.go-eat-do.com.

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Follow Stuart Forster on Twitter: www.twitter.com/stuartforster 

From Huffingtonpost