Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Cycling Through the Hoi An Countryside to Tra Que Village

Written by Clare

Having recently returned from Southeast Asia on our 15 day Journey to Angkor Wat tour, Clare Bailey tells us about one of the highlights of her trip – cycling through the Vietnamese countryside to Tra Que village where she discovered age old farming practices and tried her hand at cooking tasty local cuisine. 

Cycling to Tra Que in Vietnam
They say you never forget how to ride a bike and that appears to be true. Considering I hadn’t got on a bike over 15 years and my last attempt was an unmitigated disaster I was actually very nervous about the idea of riding from Hoi An to Tra Que village but it turned out to be one of the highlights of my trip.

Cycling to Tra Que in Vietnam. After a slightly wobbly start, I was soon enjoying biking through the bustling streets of Hoi An in convoy with the group, dodging the odd moped or two. Getting out into the countryside, we caught a glimpse of rural life in Vietnam and it made a refreshing change to the hectic hustle and bustle of the Vietnam’s towns and cities. Biking at a leisurely pace through tiny villages and across lush green fields, we made several stops for photos en route, as we passed farmers drying rice on the side of the road and riding on bullocks through streams.

Tra Que watering crops
Tra Que is a quaint farming village on the outskirts of Hoi An. Here we donned conical hats and brown smocks and headed to the fields with the local farmer to learn about traditional methods of farming and have a go at hoeing and watering the fields ourselves. Don’t worry if you have an aversion to manual labour, you’ll get to pose for some wonderful photos in full Vietnamese farming gear and you’re not expected to actually do any work.

After tending the fields we sat down to soak our feet in buckets of warm scented water and there was the opportunity to enjoy a relaxing foot and shoulder massage. Just what all fake farmers need after an easy day’s work!

Cooking in Tra Que
 Replacing our conical hats with chef’s hats we topped off our village experience with a hands-on cooking demo. The highly amusing resident chef taught us how to make some really tasty Vietnamese omelettes and we then had the opportunity to cook up our own lunch, which involved much hilarity, flaming pans and tossing of omelettes with bean sprouts flying in all directions! Definitely a lot more fun than my usual mundane cooking at home.

ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA would like to recommend Family Adventures in Vietnam tour.With its stunning natural landscapes, millennia-old history, exciting cosmopolitan cities, friendly hamlets and mélange of cultural influences, Vietnam has it all. And there’s no better way to become acquainted with this vibrant country than by exploring it under your own locomotion and at your own pace. Walk past pagodas and temples in old Hanoi, kayak amid labyrinthine limestone outcrops in Halong Bay, bike past vibrant green rice paddies, investigate magnificent historic sites in Hue and stroll through the enchanting city of Hoi An, one of Vietnam’s architectural gems. Round out your days of discovery with meals of delicious local cuisine and stays at warm welcoming hotels.

Highlights: 
  • Kayaking in the amazing Halong Bay
  • Biking in the majestic former capital of Hue
  • Charming ancient town of Hoian
  • Floating market of Cai Rang


Friday, December 27, 2013

Da Lat really is the “City of Flowers”

Da Lat, in the province of Lam Dong, in the central highlands, has had unusually cold weather all year, but this is very favourable for the flowers.

When spring finally comes, Da Lat will be resplendent with colours of all types of flowers. Many flowers have already turned up along the streets and roadsides, welcoming Tet.
Some images of Da Lat:
Myrtle flowers herald Tet
Oxalis flowers
Early peach blossoms
Light becomes them
Wild flowers so colourful on mountain side
Mageurit daisy already in bloom near Bao Dai Palace 2
Beautiful flower in rare winter sunlight
Flame vine covers Bao Dai Palace 2
Source:dtinews 

ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA would like recommend Jungle Fever - Trekking Dalat tour. Trek the first day down from Dalat to Tuyen Lam Lake. The trail is moderate on the first day and goes over Pinhatt Mountain through pine forest and ends at a campsite on the shore of the lake. The second day puts you in the jungle for the whole day as you trek further south. This moderate trek involves about 4 to 5 hours of hiking each day.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Vietnam’s most thrilling mountain pass

Ca Pass is a high and winding mountain pass with dangerous roads in central Vietnam which offers a serene view of Vietnam’s landscapes.

A 10-km road running along the pass is located between Phu Yen and Khanh Hoa provinces. It is some 30km south of Tuy Hoa City in Phu Yen Province.

Travelling on the pass road, passengers can enjoy the beautiful spots of Vung Ro Bay. During war time, Vung Ro was a base to receive weapon transport ships from the north to support the southern battle. Vung Ro is also recognised as a national cultural and historical relic.

The road has bending and winding sections that are a challenge for the abilities of drivers. At this time of year, huge mountains are covered with mist and fog. From the road, visitors can enjoy countryside landscapes with paddy fields surrounded by mountains, creating a wonderful picture.

Deo Ca with bendy road sections
Large stones located near the road
Vung Ro Seaport during a misty morning
Stones rise up from the sea
Paddy fields surrounded by mountain ranges
A small island viewed from Ca Pass
Source:dtinews
ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA would like to recommend Motorbiking the Ho Chi Minh Trail - Complete Challenge tour.The legendary Ho Chi Minh Trail was the supply line used by North Vietnam to link North and South Vietnam during the American War. Soldiers, ammunition, weapons and supplies were carried by hand, bicycle and truck for hundreds of kilometers through the otherwise impenetrable jungle that covered Vietnam’s mountainous border with Laos. A testimony to the ingenuity, fortitude and commitment of the northern Vietnamese, the trail slipped from use at the end of the war and was taken back by the jungle. Recent road work that follow original sections of the trail have changed this. Besides incredible driving, deep in the Vietnamese countryside, this ride takes in the charming ancient trading town of Hoian, Khe Sanh battle site and DMZ. We also take time to stay overnight in a traditional Thai hill tribe and visit to some tribal villages on the way.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Travelling Northern Vietnam

Lao Cai province of northern Vietnam borders the Chinese border and is home to a number of different ethnic minorities that have lived in the area for centuries. I came to Vietnam with very few expectations as our time was relatively short and our tickets were bought over six months ago. The original purpose of this trip was a mini-vacation of sorts and out of necessity to leave the Philippines for my visa renewal. We flew into Hanoi and decide to head straight to Lao Cai Province after a couple of days in this fast pace city. Parts of Lao Cai are fairly popular tourist destinations because of the beautiful landscapes and colorful minorities that live there, especially the mountain city of SaPa. Because my initial inclination is always to go as far away from tourist hotspots as possible, we decided to first head to a town called Bac Ha. Bac Ha is well known for it’s large Sunday market, where locals and minorities come to sell their goods, but during the week the town is really low-key and a great place to start exploring the mountains of Lao Cai.

Sunset in the mountains of Lao Cai Province, Vietnam.
We ended up finding a really good local guide in Bac Ha who was willing to take us to some mountain communities via motorbike. Because of the language and cultural barrier having a guide who understood what we were looking for was key to getting a little more off the traditional path. We spent a week around the area of Bac Ha exploring the north and south and sleeping at homestays. The mountains in this region are grande and the landscape is covered with corn, tea, rice and other agricultural crops. My first impression of the area was that it looked centuries old. The fields looked like they had been tilled for many years and the homes made of wood and mud added to the uniqueness of the landscape.

Indeed, this area has had it place in history primarily as a historic trading post between the Chinese, Vietnamese and different ethnic minority groups. Today, a number of the 54 recognized ethnic minorities of Vietnam still live in Lao Cai province, including the H’mong, Tay and Dzao people.

H'mong women weeding their corn crops near the town of Bac Ha in northern Vietnam
Most of the agricultural crops in the area are grown on steep hills or the sides of mountains.H'mong girls in the mountains around Bac Ha. It seemed like almost all of the Hmong women we encountered had a basket on their backs for carrying goods. These girls told us they were out collecting food to feed their pigs.
A Tay women collecting tea leaves in a field near her home.
Like in most subsistence-based cultures a good portion of the day is spent tending to crops and preparing food. From our limited time in Lao Cai we got the impression that the women are the hardest workers and are often the ones doing these jobs. It was always the women we saw carrying the heavy loads and working in the fields. Although the men have their roles as well and often help in the fields, it’s the women we saw doing the bulk of the work. We were told that the men are fairly shy so it’s also the women who interact with tourists and sell their products in the market.

A H'mong women and her child heading to their field to work. It's the women that are often the ones who carry the heavy loads when transporting produce or other goods.
H'mong women taking a short break and a smile as they work in the field during the heat of the day.
A Flower Hmong women distilling corn wine. Corn and rice wine are very popular drinks with the minorities and very potent as well. From what we gathered they drink socially and it's hard to say no when they keep pressuring you to drink. I myself fell drunk on a few occasions.

One of the most striking features of the minorities in northern Vietnam is the colorful and elaborate dress the women wear. Each group has it’s own dress and the women told us it makes them feel beautiful. Some of the pieces are bought in the market, but the most intricate portions are all hand-made by the women. Our guide told us it can take her up to a year to make a new top because of all the elaborate embroidery that she has to do. The men tend to wear more western style clothes, however, they also have a unique dress they sometimes wear. I myself found the mens dress to be intriguing, particularly the old military style that many of them wear.

We ended up heading over to the more popular destination of Sapa, a mountain retreat town frequently visited by foreigners and local Vietnamese. The mountains around Sapa felt larger than those in Bac Ha and I can see why Sapa has become a popular destination. The city itself is lined with travel agencies, hotels and western style restaurants, but the scenery is beautiful. We ended up trekking into a local H’mong community about three hours outside of Sapa after meeting a local guide in town. Sapa had a much different feel than Bac Ha, likely because of tourism there. Upon arriving into Sapa we were constantly asked to buy stuff by the local minorities even when we got outside of the main town. I had some idea that this is how it might be and that’s why we waited to go there towards the end of our trip. On that note we had a great guide that brought us into her home to sleep and took very good care of us. However, once people from her community knew we were there they all tried to sell us stuff. Much different that in the rural communities around Bac Ha.

The scenery around Sapa is covered with rice terraces and huge mountains

ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA would like to recommend Motorcycling adventure in Northern Vietnam tour.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. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Photo Diary

Martin Ratcliffe shared his beautiful photos with us, and now we’re sharing them with you for your delectation and travel inspiration. My feet are getting itchy just looking at them…

I’m on a boat…
Tasty treats, bun cha
There's no shortage of stunning scenery
...and the local culture is friendly and welcoming
 Doing the weekly shop

Where's the seatbelt on this thing?
Take on the hectic streets
...but don't forget to relax and watch the world go by too
ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA would like to recommend Different Sapa - Different Trek tour.This trip gives you the best Sapa has to offer but not in the normal way. The traditional treks start in Sapa and finish back in Sapa. This special trek starts in Ben Den and finishes in Sapa. The trek is tougher but not less enjoyable since you trek through the hills and valleys of the Sapa region, discovering several different minorities along the way. You will experience overnight accommodation in the hospitable villages of Dzay, Tay and Dzao 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.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Dao ethnic girls charm in traditional costumes

Dao ethnic girls in the northern province of Lao Cai reveal their true beauty through their attractive traditional costumes.

Their costumes can be seen in five different colours but red is often the dominant hue.A complete costume includes blouse, scarf, shin-guards, headscarf and jewellery.Dao women use batik to print patterns on their clothes.

Dao ethnic girls in Lao Cai’s Bac Ha
Lovely hats of Dao women in Bat Xat
Dao girls in Bao Thang
Bridal costume
Charming smiles of Dao girls in Sapa
ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA would like to recommend Sapa Trekking & Homestay tour.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

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Breathtaking beauty of Northwestern mountainous villages

The Northwestern region of Vietnam boasts stunning natural scenery with its small villages scattered around the magnificent Hoang Lien Mountain range.

The villages, which may have existed for hundreds of years or just been built recently following the Government’s resettlement program, are becoming popular tourist sites in Vietnam.

Tu Le Village in Yen Bai Province
Can Cau Village in Si Ma Cai District, Lao Cai Province
Y Ty Village in Lao Cai Province
A Lu- Bat Xat Village in Lao Cai Province
Ho Village in Sapa District, Lao Cai Province
Tuan Giao Village in Dien Bien Province
A newly-built village to resettle residents in Quynh Nhai District
A newly-built village to resettle residents around Muong Lay Hydroelectric Power Plant
Pha Long Village in the borderland Muong Khuong Distric
ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA would like to recommend Motorcycling Northwestern Trails tour.Discover Vietnam’s rugged and scenic northwest and its people first hand. By taking to the roads and riding from the capital Hanoi to the remote area of the northwest we can see life as it truly is for the Vietnamese. 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, challenging roads, stunning scenery and many different colorful minority groups.

Highlights: 
  • Stunning scenery
  • Challenging roads
  • Stunning Pha Din Pass and Tram Ton Pass
  • Terraced valley of Sapa
  • Colorful ethnic minorities

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Vietnam: A taste of village life in the north

By Anna Murphy
Travel Northern Vietnam
It was 3.30am when the cockerel first crowed, an alarm all the more bone-jangling because it was right underneath the hut on stilts in which we were sleeping. Every 10 minutes or so that darn cockadoodle-do split the silence, until around the time when one actually might want to be woken up, at which point it went quiet.

Vietnamese village life is not without its challenges for the unsuspecting tourist. (Home-brewed rice wine the colour of pond water, anyone? More on that later.) But they are nothing alongside its many delights. We were in rural Ha Giang, a mountainous northern region of Vietnam, close to the border with China. Ha Giang is a six-hour drive from Hanoi, and a world away, a place where currently very few tourists visit.
Driving ever upwards into the mountains, we passed through a narrow gorge between two giant cliffs, the aptly named Heaven's Gate. Beyond was a landscape of toothsome crags and wild forest and jungle, offset with the gentle, shimmering emerald of paddy fields. The mountains of Vietnam's north, along with those of its interior, are where the majority of the country's 53 minority groups live (the 13.8 per cent of the population who are not ethnic Viet), many of them upholding a way of life that has remained largely unchanged for centuries.

Travel Northern Vietnam
Our first night in the region was spent at a pretty French-owned guesthouse in the village of Panhou, its rice paddy surrounds reinvented as an exotically planted water garden. No middle-of-the-night cockerel crows here; just some fairly low-key frogs. In the morning we went to the nearby market in the district of Thong Nguen, where we saw women from two different tribes meeting to shop and, more importantly, to gossip.
The Red Dao women wore a navy hemp outfit with a red trim. Their heads were haloed with a big coil of red trim, and on their chests was a large pewter necklace that looked more like the breastplate on a suit of armour. The Black Dao wore a black hemp outfit trimmed in white, and on their head was a black kerchief decorated with white cords.

Whichever their tribe, the men wore modern clothes. Our guide Quang told us that women, especially unmarried ones, had less sartorial freedom because their reputation as a "good girl" would be at risk if they chose to abandon the traditional dress. The youngest had abandoned one practice however – the chewing of betel leaves. The older women were all betel chewers, their blackened teeth considered by them and their peers to be beautiful.

Travel Northern Vietnam
Such is the comparative rarity of tourists in Ha Giang that we were as much an object of fascination to them as they were to us, a fact that lessened that uncomfortable feeling of voyeurism that you can sometimes suffer when you travel off the beaten track.

There was very little food to be bought – dried fish and pork was pretty much all that was left by the time we got there. Instead there were numerous stalls selling the yarns and the braiding that decorated the Dao costumes. When we walked out of the market up into the surrounding hillsides we quickly saw how self-sufficient the Dao were; why there was very little they needed to buy.

Every house was the Good Life personified: aside from the rice paddies themselves there were immaculate vegetable and herb gardens (the Vietnamese diet includes copious herbs and salad leaves at every meal, often added to a meat-based noodle broth called pho or bun). Most of the dwellings were traditional wooden affairs, the Red Dao houses built on the ground, the Black Dao houses on stilts. Outside several homes, a woman was winnowing rice using a large flat-bottomed basket, tossing the rice up high into the air to separate it from the dry husks.

Unfortunately, we had lunch at the home of someone who was going up in the world, which meant we ate our delicious picnic not in a picturesque traditional house but in a breeze-block carbuncle, breeze blocks being such a status symbol as to be like the Rolex watch of the Dao world.

Travel Northern Vietnam
We sat with the son of the family and a son-in-law, the former a city worker back to visit for the weekend, the latter still a country boy. They were both in their late twenties, yet the difference between the two was remarkable, the former confident and chatty, asking us lots of questions and telling us about himself with the help of Quang, and the latter not uttering a word, barely able to bring himself even to look at us. This was a typical distinction between city and country folk, Quang told us.

The next day we drove a couple of hours to the Phong Thien commune, home to the Black and White Tay and, as we were later to find out, that excruciating cockerel. The Tay villagers no longer wear their traditional costumes – they are nearer to the city, and its influences – yet it is still an ancient-seeming place. It was raining on our first morning and we saw one woman using a large leaf as an impromptu umbrella. In the paddy fields the women – and, yes, it is the women who work there – wore not only their traditional woven conical hats but a kind of backplate, also made of woven bamboo, to protect their body from the rain as they bent over.

Even aside from the rain, this was a watery place, with numerous little rills and jerry-built aqueducts made of rubber piping and bamboo, all designed to bring water down into the villages from many miles up in the mountains. We saw one local woman with the ubiquitous twin baskets, one on each end of a carrying pole, transporting her ducklings between home and paddy field, where she took them daily to gobble up insects and snails.

Our walk around the local villages was full of such unforgettable sights. Lunch was similarly memorable. Our hostess was a 75-year-old tribeswoman, little more than 5ft tall, a mother of 10 and a brewer of rice wine. Hers was a specially doctored variety of the local spirit, the noxious-looking bottle steeped with ginseng and assorted other anonymous roots and leaves, all of them believed by the tribespeople to give their elderly extra pep.

Well pep she certainly had, in abundance. We had to down a heady shot as a sign that we were grateful to enjoy her hospitality. As I reeled, my boyfriend jokingly held up five fingers, implying he was game to drink five measures. She quickly held up all 10 fingers. "Ten!" she exclaimed in the local dialect excitedly.
"Ten! Ten!" Quang told us that the old women can often drink their visitors under the table, hardened as they are by their traditional role as party starters at village gatherings. Several shots later, Quang had to lie down, and his excellent commentary went quiet for a while.

Back at the house that night we were given a local footbath, stewing our feet in a herbal brew that looked remarkably similar to what we had been drinking that lunchtime. Then there was a delicious supper of rice-paper spring rolls, sweet and sour pork, carp with tomato and garlic, deep-fried tofu and perfectly nutty white rice.

Lying down on our floor mattresses, in a corner cordoned off from the rest of the open-plan floor space by sheets hung on two lines, we were buzzing with delight at all that we had seen. Our stay in the mountains had been worth those 3.30am wake-up calls, we told each other. It was 10pm. Five and a half hours later… well, our thoughts were a little different. But as we drove back to Hanoi the next day, we knew we would never forget our Vietnamese mountain interlude.


ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA would like to recommend Motorcycling adventure in Northern Vietnam tour.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. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Travel Vietnam on Motorbike

A motorcycle tour (ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA)  is one of the best ways to see Vietnam and understand the local people. Many travelers talk of it as being the adventure of a lifetime and I agree… After all, I live the adventure.
Travel Vietnam on Motorbike
There are thousands of local and hundreds of offices offering similar motorcycle trips and services in Vietnam, Many of them very good. Most of them travel the same routes and visit the same places….. all worth seeing. Why travel with us? We will also take you to many of the same places, but you will find our services different than the rest.

I am a resident foreigner that understands what you want in an off the beaten track adventure. Some might argue that as a foreigner, I cannot offer a good tour…. They are mistaken. It is because I am a foreigner that understands the language, culture, and geography of Vietnam, or maybe more importantly, I understand what a foreigner wants that makes our tours exceptional. Perhaps that is why so many easy riders wish to join my team.  At the current time, I am still leading tours and training new team leaders.

Travel Vietnam on Motorbike
All of our team leaders have a better understanding of how a foreigner thinks in order to give them the best holiday possible. We do not just randomly assign easy riders to you. We will assess your group and destination and assign the riders whose personality and experience fits with where you want to go and how you like to spend your time. If not otherwise booked, I may be leading your group. Because of Laws and Liabilities in Vietnam, we do not travel with guests wishing to drive their own motorcycle. Each individual will have their personal guide and driver. I can understand the desire, but it is just not safe. You must also be aware that you will be driving illegally and be non insured. Besides, how can you enjoy the countryside when watching for pot holes and crazy drivers, not to mention livestock, stinging insects, and incredibly aggressive commercial vehicles? Leave that concern to us. So again….. Why travel with us? Following is what makes us unique

Travel Vietnam on Motorbike
Our tours are heavy into interaction with the locals and not just drive, stop, and take photo.All of our riders have larger, comfortable motorcycles and are able to handle large travel packs.We offer the security of you being able to research and trust the people you are booking with. All leaders are accountable, reliable and will give you a full day’s value. At the end of the day we will stay with you dining or socializing or offer you to join us for local evening entertainment with local friends until you are finished with us.

Unlike many who claim to go on untraveled roads…. We actually do and often you will be one of the very few who have been some locations.We only use good and clean accommodation. We do not use local places that are better financially for the riders than the customer. A good night’s sleep makes the next day so much better.

Tours are custom built for every group and we assign riders most knowledgeable for your destination. Whether is it photo shoots, research into ethnic minorities, war history, or the ecology.I personally follow up all tours to assure quality. Our exemplary reputation is very important to us and we wish to keep it that way.
Our package prices are very competitive and often work out less because what you see is what you get! There are no hidden expenses, no surprises and no schemes to get at your dollar. We provide everything. All you need pay for is daily dinner, and your drinks, (even that can be included if you wish) and have a worry and stress free holiday.

ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA would like recommend Motorcycling Northwestern Trails tour. Discover Vietnam’s rugged and scenic northwest and its people first hand. By taking to the roads and riding from the capital Hanoi to the remote area of the northwest we can see life as it truly is for the Vietnamese. 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, challenging roads, stunning scenery and many different colorful minority groups.