Thursday, September 18, 2014

Characteristics Of Floating Markets In Vietnam

By Kimina (Xuan Tran) - ActiveTravel Asia

Floating market is a original feature of deltas in Mainland Southeast Asia, where has thousands of various-sized  rivers and canals. In Vietnam, floating market is a specific cultural part of the Southwest area. If you tend to explore Mekong delta, you should not skip a cruise to floating markets

The market is held in rivers, among a vast waterway with hundreds of boats, junks and canoes of the residents.

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A floating market in Vietnam
The floating market is held up a whole day, but usually it is most bustling in the morning, when it is cool. The more it turns to noon, the hottest the weather is, the fewer customers are. So, it's better as visiting floating markets in early morning.

Boats are loaded fully of goods. Fruits are the most popular kind. The peculiar point of the boats is that on each one, there has several poles. The sellers dangle products which they sell on these poles. Therefore, customers just need to look at the poles, they will know what kinds of merchandise the boat's owner sells, and whether the boat has things they need or not. By this original marketing way, customers from a far distance can see clearly items.

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The residents hang products they sell on poles.
Here are general characteristics of Vietnam floating markets.

- Market is the place where the local inhabitants trade and exchange actually the indigenous produce, comprising agricultural products and foodstuff. 

- Boats, or truly "stores" normally don't have any signs. The Sellers hang products which they sell on poles or lay them at prows; sell oranges hang oranges, sell mangoes hang mangoes, sell coconuts hang coconuts, etc. People call these poles as “cay beo”, which are erected on prows or hang horizontally over boats. 

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"Cay beo" is erected on the prow.
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"Cay beo" is hang horizontally
- To know the area which a boat belongs to, just regard into a side of the boat, which is written a province code abbreviated by two first letters. For instance, “Tien Giang” province is written as “TG”.

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Vinh Long province was abbreviated as "VL" on this boat
However, there are still three special circumstances:

1. “Hang things which are not for sale.” They are just clothes. The residents of the floating markets commonly live on boats, so their clothes are also hang on boats to be dried in sun.

2. “Things are for sale but not hung.” The boats like this are food or beverage stalls. That goods cannot be hung.

3.  “Hang one thing but sell another thing.” If you see only a few pineapples hung on a boat, it means that the owner want to sell this boat. So, hang pineapples, but sell the boat.

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Hang pineapples, but sell boats
Some famous floating markets you can visit are Cai Be (Tien Giang province), Phung Hiep (Hau Giang province), Chau Doc (An Giang province), Can Tho and Phong Dien (Can Tho city).

Any Mekong delta tour also set an excursion to floating markets for you. You can choose biking around Mekong countryside to discover the cultue and life of South Vietnam.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Backpacking Vietnam - Sapa

By Canadian Veggie
Sapa is a popular tourist town in the northwest corner of Vietnam that serves as a gateway for visiting the ethnic hill tribes that live in the area. Around Sapa there are rolling hills covered in rice terraces and many small Hmong and Dzao villages, where people still follow their traditional ways of life (although western influence and tourist money is slowly changing that).

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Our guide, Mao, was excellent and we got a much more personal experience. After a quick bowl of pho in the market, we were off trekking Sapa. I thought it was going to be an easy trek when I saw Mao in big purple boots, but I was wrong – it wasn’t easy, it was just muddy. Mao took us off the main trail and along tiny trails used by the locals. Even though we had a guide, we also had two other women follow us, helping us whenever the trail became slippery or steep.

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I enjoyed the scenery along our Sapa trek, even though the hills were shrouded in fog. The highlight of our hike though was talking to Mao about her life and discussing the interesting cultural differences of life among the hill tribes. Most of the tribes in the area originally migrated from China hundreds of years ago. The women seem to be the bread winners and still dress in traditional clothing, while the men are a bunch of slackers. Mao told us the guys have trouble learning English, so all the guides are women. The women also do a lot of the daily work and cooking.

The most interesting thing we learned from Mao was about the marriage customs. According to her, she’s been ‘married’ to her husband for a year (she’s only 17) and they live together, but they haven’t had a wedding yet. She was hoping that during the new year celebrations, both of their families would give their blessing and then they could have a wedding.

Our night in Sapa was spent at an intimate homestay in a small village. There were 12 other people and enough bed’s to sleep 30, so it was more of a rural hostel. However, the other guests were friendly and it was good to get advice on places to go on the rest of our trip. We had an excellent, candle-lit (the power went out) dinner and afterwards our hosts brought out “happy water” – home-brewed rice wine. It was served from a water bottle, and even though it was remarkably strong, it was also very smooth.

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The next morning we got up early to come back to Sapa town and then a trip to Bac Ha, home to a popular Sunday market. The hill tribes (mostly Flower Hmong) converge on the city to swap fabrics, foods, and livestock. Unlike most of the other markets we visited in Vietnam, the Bac Ha market is largely geared at locals, with only a small section selling souvenirs. While we wandered around taking pictures, Mao went off shopping for dried beans and a purse.

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Thursday, September 4, 2014

A Beautiful Trekking Cat Ba National Park With Incredible Things

By Dbandhertravelbug
When our boat arrived at Cat Hai, Hai Phong City (a district that includes Cat Ba) our group (about 18 of us) was then transported by van to the Cat Ba National Park.

Once there we were given the option of going on a hike, renting a bike, or exploring a nearby cave. While it was an incredibly hot day already, given it was only mid morning, people really weren’t certain as to what to do. A flashback to the tour of the caves the day before made me immediately decide that I was going on the trekking Cat Ba national park, regardless of the heat and humidity. My newly minted friends, the Australian Triumvirate, weren’t up for the trek but I decided to go anyway. And it was a great decision.

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We trekked with a large group of people – not even sure how these many new faces joined in – and while it was a bit annoying in the beginning, as time went on, we seemed to spread out more and more. We were never introduced to any formal guides but one man was clearly just that. Perhaps he was leading a group of people that we ended up with – or not? – and it still remains a mystery. For the remainder of this post we will call him the monkey (you’ll see why in a minute).

Cat Ba National Park is apparently known for several dozens type of animals – wild boar, deer, langurs, hedgehogs, just to name a few – and many different species of birds. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any of these forms of wildlife except for the LARGEST spider I have ever seen in my entire life (see photo). After doing some research, it appears that when you book a trekking tour (and a much longer and arduous one) with the park rangers, you have a much better chance of seeing these animals as they know where to take you.

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While no wildlife was seen by me (or anyone else, I think), it was still a beautiful hike with many trees, hundreds of types of plants (and some with humongous leaves!) and many that are used for medicinal purposes. We weaved through canopies of trees, rocky paths, and up steep inclines, several times having to use ones hands to pull yourself up the rocks. How some people were only wearing flip flops I will never understand!

This was obviously a piece of cake for the monkey and to watch him scamper up the trails and dart around the many bikers was a sight to be seen. It was hot, really hot, and the monkey knew it. He would run back and forth from different groups of people and fan them with his traditional bamboo, handheld fan. While it doesn’t seem like this could truly make a difference, it did and was hysterical as well. He also took to hanging from the trees and often requested that we take photos of him. Clearly, a man, er monkey, who enjoyed what he did for a living.
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Once we reached the top of the mountain a couple of hours later, we faced a massive metal structure in front of us. We already had a magnificent 360 degree view of the mountains but climbing higher would obviously be even better. While some opted not to go further, I began the ascent on the metal stairs that wrapped around until you hit the tippy top. I still don’t know what this structure is or what if any significance it holds, but it’s a great viewing tower for those brave enough to go up. I must admit while the many stairs going up seemed sturdy enough, the platform and rails at the top were…let’s just say, rusting terribly and by no means up to any kind of code. But it did afford an incredible vista!
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I got to know a few people while on the hike and it turned out to be a really pleasant morning. When we all reconvened, I can’t say that I wasn’t a bit envious of the Australian Triumvirate. They had ended up going to one of the caves – the Hospital Cave – which was a secret, bomb-proof hospital during The Vietnam War. It was a perfect trip for them being nurses and seemed fascinating from how they described it. One traveler’s post that I just found online describes it as follows:

“My personal opinion is that the Hospital Cave in Cat Ba Island is one of the most fascinating sights (and lesser known) of the Vietnam war era– hospital was constructed initially by the Chinese. Access to the hospital is not through some road that ambulances or cars could use, but through a mountain donkey path surrounded by thick vegetation, which I would imagine would be quite a task for two soldiers carrying a stretcher to walk on. Injured North Vietnamese officers would be arriving by boat via Halong Bay and eventually carried in the “hospital”. The hospital “entrance,” barely visible even today, is less than 5 feet high (1.52m) and about 4 feet wide (1.21m). On the left, immediately after entering, was the x-ray department, to x-ray the incoming casualties. The operating theatres, recovery rooms, and other spaces were primitive by today’s standards, but the sheer size of the place–where and how it was actually constructed–is incredible and made the place secure and impenetrable by enemy fire.”

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Had I not been with a group, there’s no question that I would have visited it after hiking through the National Park. However, one more reason to return to travel Northern Vietnam!

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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A Funny Expedition To Hang En And The Largest Cave in the World - Son Doong

By Romping & Nguyening
Now on to what you’ve all been waiting for – THE LARGEST CAVE IN THE WORLD! I’m going to start with 2 things:
1. Hang is the Vietnamese word for cave.
2. Pictures never do justice.


Son Doong cave was discovered by Khanh Ho in 1991, but wasn’t thoroughly searched and surveyed until 2009 by the British Cave Research Association, led by Howard and Deb Limbert who are now in Phong Nha full time to help run the Son Doong tours. Its first year of tourism began in August 2013, with the limit of ~200 tourists per year.

Our tour consists of 2 scientists (including Deb Limbert herself), 2 National Park rangers, 1 Vietnamese English-speaking guide, Khanh Ho (the discoverer of the cave), and 24 porters (like sherpas) are all there to accompany the 8 tourists on the expedition. In sum, there are 30 others needed for the 8 tourists, for a total of almost 40 people! For these days, the 24 Phong Nha Vietnamese porters carry 35-40 kg sacks on their backs (filled with food to feed everyone, tents, sleeping bags, and our belongings), traverse the uneven path, climb and crawl over and under sharp rocks and steep hills, and have the campsites ready for us upon arrival. Despite their undaunting size, their strength was remarkable.


After we bid farewell to our last breath of air-conditioned air from the van, we trekked about 10 km through jungle and river valley to our first campsite, located in Hang En, aka Swallow Cave. By Swallow, I mean the bird (they’re actually Swifts, but the name stuck), and the reason why it is called Swallow Cave is because tens or hundreds of thousands of swifts fly in and around the cave (fun fact: they use echolocation — like bats — to fly in the dark cave). In order to get to Hang Son Doong, you actually have to go through a cave (Hang En) to get there! It’s basically a cave within a cave. 

The porters begin the journey first:

Son Doong tour 1

There is 1 village in Phong Nha National Park. It is an extremely poor village of 28 people, half whom are children. They build their own homes, raise their own livestock, and grow their own crops. Occasionally they can hitch a ride into the nearest town of Phong Nha, which is about an hour away. 

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These villagers were TINY! Look how giant I look next to this woman:

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Some nice rest stops:

trekking Swallow cave 1

trekking Swallow cave 2

And finally, our destination: Hang En! It is not the largest cave in the world, but its size is still magnificent. You can easily book a trekking Swallow cave tour if you are unable to do Son Doong. Check out Hang En below. 

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Chris brought a cord so he could turn it into a clothesline for our wet clothes. Yay!

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After breakfast, we trekked through and exited Hang En to make our trekking Son Doong!
Here are some photos exiting Hang En: 

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A short break after hiking uphill in the tiresome heat: 

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The entrance to Son Doong, the smallest cave entrance into the largest cave in the world! There was a lot of crawling, roping, and some real downward vertical caving involved. Fortunately the guides were there to help us descend into the dark cave. 

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We trekked through the dark for a while, slowly climbing over large and small boulders and crossing small rivers. Finally, we arrived at our second campsite of the trip, which was located near the first roof collapse of Son Doong. This is what the campsite looked like from a distance:

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We spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out and exploring the campsite, anxiously waiting for tomorrow’s famous views and photo opportunities.


The first and second days were “wet” days, meaning we crossed many streams and rivers so our shoes, socks, and feet were wet the whole day. The third day was a dry day – no rivers to cross! However, there were many sharp rocks and boulders we had to climb over and under, but we were rewarded with some of the most amazing landscapes imaginable.

Here we are exiting camp toward the first roof collapse. 

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Look at how sharp these rocks are. We had fun going under and over them! 

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Up and up we went! We were rewarded with lush greenery along beautiful “terraces” carved out by flooded rivers. During the rainy season, there are no tours in Son Doong because the flooded rivers practically fill up the cave, carving out wonderful but sharp rocks and boulders. The rivers later recede, and sunlight pours in from the collapsed ceiling to give life to the jungle within the cave.

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Son Doong expedition 2

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From the top of the hill, you could look down to the side where you last stood before the climb: 

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Or look up:

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Walk a bit further up past the trees, and there’s more playthings: 

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After hanging out on these mounds, we proceeded to finally go DOWN. Below the mounds were amazing formations carved from the flooded rivers:

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After we finished climbing up and over these formations, we turned around and were treated to the climax of the whole expedition, one of the most famous views of Sơn Đoòng. Those mounds that we just hung out on? Well, those mounds are the tops of the hills in the photos below. We enjoyed our lunch here.

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We spent quite some time here, admiring the scenery and taking more photos. Mist would quickly appear and dissipate, creating an eery atmosphere. We continued with the trek through the dark cave, and when we saw another sliver of light in the distance, we knew we were nearing the second roof collapse, the site of our final campsite. See the tents below?

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Going down is kind of scary, more so because of my fear of heights.

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Our third and final campsite! 

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The tents lit up at night:

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