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Lucky Adventure Travel Indochina – Summer Promotion 2013

ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA has launched “Great summer holiday with lucky travels” for summer promotion 2013 in Vietnam, Lao, Cambodia. The program applies for all customers request tour on website from 25 March to 30 September 2013.

Conquering Fansipan Vietnam to be the champion

Fansipan is the highest peak of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, so it is called the “Roof of Indochina” while the local people call it Huasipan, which means large tottering rock.

Motorbiking Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam - an unforgettable travel adventure

Riding a motorbike from the North to the South of Vietnam was an amazing experience. Now, while I didn’t ride the motorcycle on myself (Anthony did an amazing job!) it is still something that will remain with me for the rest of my life.

Discover Vietnam by cycling

People who had traveled to Vietnam agreed that it was an interesting experience in general, but the bicycle tours definitely brought more adventurous excitements.

A Look into Beautiful Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay has been declared a UNESCO World heritage site and it really deserves the designation. It is one of the most exciting unusual places I have been to in my life.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Lost Temples of Angkor

Ruins fascinate people. We fly halfway around the world to marvel at the achievements and mysteries of defunct civilizations, and shake our heads in disbelief that there were predecessors capable of producing structures that would present an insurmountable challenge to modern architects and engineers. We stand humbled.

Strange as it is that anyone would wish to spend a vacation steeped in a feeling of profound humility, the booming popularity of the ruins of Angkor in Cambodia are testament to that fact.

This mind-numbing collection of massive stone temples, built between the 9th and 13th centuries, was rediscovered by French explorers in the Cambodian jungle in the 1860s and enjoyed in popularity with scholars and adventurers early in the last century.

However, from the mid-seventies until just a couple of years ago, Cambodia’s political turmoil made it impossible to go there without risk of being killed or taken hostage by the Khmer Rouge. Fortunately, that tragic chapter in the country’s history has been brought to a close and the temples are now safe and accessible. Suddenly, the site has become the must-see of Southeast Asia.

But unlike a lot of stylish travel destinations, this one lives up to the hype.

Here is the fact about visiting the ruins: There are lots of them, covering an area of 400 square kilometers, though most visit only a handful of temples, which are thankfully very close to each other.

The three most magnificent (and popular) temples are the Angkor Wat, the Bayon and Ta Prohm.

Angkor Wat: An Exercise in Belief

Nothing can prepare you for the impact when you first clap eyes on Angkor Wat. It is a massive square structure covering 500 acres, and as you get closer, it only gets bigger.

The structure represents a Hindu conception of the universe, an earth-bound model of the cosmic world. The center symbolizes Mount Meru, the five surrounding towers form the mountain’s peaks, the main wall portrays the mountains at the edge of the world and the moat the infinite oceans beyond.

It is not just the sheer size that impresses though. The presentation sets your heart a-flutter with anticipation. The long walk up the causeway to the main entrance builds the excitement, and as you enter, you find you have only just passed an outer wall. Going further, distracted and awed by the bas reliefs on every surface, is the first of three concentric chambers with hallways 400 meters long, and covered with thousands of bas relief sculptures.

Venturing further inward and upward, the center section looms overhead leading to the inner sanctum, a central tower shaped like a giant lotus bud more than 200 meters tall.

It’s a cause for reflection. The execution of such a structure would certainly have eaten up much of the Empire’s resources. Indeed, some scholars believe that the building of Angkor eventually led to its downfall. Social necessities would have to be well sorted out before undertaking such a project.

Imagine the coordination of the massive workforce cutting huge blocks of stone from hillsides, dragging them into place, and then of course the logistics of assembling thousands of stone masons, persuading them to chip out identical carvings and then heaving them into place. What on earth were they thinking?

Angkor Thom: City of a Thousand Faces

Within walking distance of Angkor Wat is the former city of Angkor Thom, which rivaled Ancient Rome in size and population. This contains a few significant ruins, including the Terrace of the Leper King, is a huge stone platform probably used for public events, and the Terrace of the Elephants, which is also believed to have served as a stage for large public ceremonies. Both feature meticulously executed stone carvings of both human and mythical figures.

The most fascinating section though is The Bayon, a temple built in the 12th century. Where Angkor Wat knocks you off your feet with its sheer size, the Bayon is eerily different. Its many towers feature more than 200 huge faces of the God-King Jayavarman rendered as Boddhisatva – the Buddha -- staring down through lidded eyes brimming with beatific confidence. It’s difficult not to be intimidated.

The outer walls are covered in carvings depicting vivid scenes of everyday life in 12th century Cambodia – from harvesting to battle. The inner temple is a maze of dark corridors. The lights at the ends of the tunnels open onto elevated courtyards, where that omnipresent face gazes down with benevolent disapproval.

Ta Phrom: Mother Nature Always Wins

While Angkor Wat was preserved by the continuous inhabitation of monks using machetes to keep the jungle at bay, or other structures undergoing restoration, the 12th century temple of Ta Phrom is in the same state as when it was first discovered by the 19th century explorers.

The temple roof caved in hundreds of years back and tree roots have patiently burst through the moss-encrusted stonewalls. Visitors must clamber over fallen blocks the size of Volkswagens.

There’s a lesson in here, and this is why Ta Phrom has been left untouched. Even the most impressive achievements of humans are dwarfed by nature’s relentlessness. However much we may conquer and subdue the earth, it persists in conquering and subduing us back.

If global society were to crumble tomorrow, (and it just might), the historians of some future civilization would sift through the rubble of New York City, marveling at the skeletal ruins of the World Trade Center and the Empire State Building and easily deduce much about the civilization that built them. After all, they were intended to make a statement in the first place.

The leaders of that civilization may even charge admission to look at our ruins, using the money to erect ambitious tributes to whatever it is that summons their own sense of awe.

It goes to show you. Previous civilizations have built great structures and committed great follies – usually at the same time. Chances are that so are we, and the ruins of the Khmer Empire are a profound reminder of that fact – and perhaps one of the best reasons to go see them.

Here is your chance to experience Angkor Wat:

Adventure tours in Cambodia: Active Travel Cambodia

Active Travel Cambodia: Email: cambodiaadventureguide@gmail.com, http://www.activetravelcambodia.com

Monday, November 10, 2008

Ha Long_ a combination of people and sceneary!

We arrived at this UNESCO World Heritage site in northern Vietnam's Gulf of Tonkin, we badly needed a break from the mad motor-scooter traffic of the nation's second-largest city, the swarming pineapple vendors and the ceaseless capitalist hustle.

Three days of swimming, kayaking and just chilling on the deck of the Dragon's Pearl, with drink in hand, were the ideal respite and one of the high points of our two-week trip to Vietnam in October.

A fascinating drive

My husband, Dave, and I chose the cruise of Ha Long Bay because of its proximity to Hanoi and its World Heritage designation. Still, the 105-mile van trip takes almost half a day -- Vietnam's highway system is still a work in progress and buses and trucks share the road with darting motor scooters, bicycles and plodding water buffalo.

Ha Long City's harbor, a gateway shipping port supplying this fast-developing region, is on the dreary side. In fact, I was having second thoughts about this trip as we dragged our suitcases along a rutted path past rusting, crumbling buildings to the ship, a deluxe junk.

But once we were headed into the bay, the breeze and the view from the motorized Dragon Pearl's top deck, along with our "welcome" glasses of iced tea, lifted my spirits.

So did our cabin. Our room -- like the others on the junk -- was small but contained plenty of amenities, including a king-sized bed, a minute bathroom complete with terry bathrobes and rubber flip-flops, and air conditioning, necessary to cut through the withering heat and humidity.

The first afternoon, our ship and several others dropped anchor at a deserted beach on the tiny island of Soi Sim, where we swam and lounged away the rest of the day. The water was calm and warm, but apart from the setting, this was the least memorable outing of our cruise.

Escalating tourism in the region, perhaps because of its World Heritage designation, has generated litter and pollution. So, here, miles from anywhere, plastic drink bottles and candy wrappers floated in the water and washed up on the sand.

A couple of hours later, we were back on board. With a school of silvery jumping fish as our escort, our ship headed northeast toward the Hang Luon grotto, where the Dragon Pearl dropped anchor for the night in the company of several other junks.

Before dinner, we hung out on the chaise longues arrayed on the ship's deck, watching as the peaks surrounding us turned a dusky blue and lights on the neighboring junks twinkled on.

Have kayak, will paddle

We were lucky to have gotten tour guide with disarming charm and deep knowledge of the area's geology and culture, as our guide. He was never far away and always eager for the chance to improve his English.

We were also lucky in our fellow cruisers, an amiable bunch that included some friends. Our two evenings out on the top deck, trading stories and watching night fall, were among the few times I relished being outdoors in Vietnam's blistering heat.

But the highlight of the trip was a kayaking tour on the second day. I had been dubious about this -- I had never squeezed into a kayak before, and we were far out in the bay, close to the open waters of the gulf. I feared capsizing, not being able to keep up with the group and getting drenched if the threatening skies opened up.

It was nothing like that. Tour guide led the five kayaks in and around cliffs and through grottoes, pointing out birds, plants and the cliffs where monkeys nest The skies held, and when we beached the boats at noon on an uninhabited island, the sun came out in time for a swim.

In fact, all our meals were extraordinary. Lunch and dinner aboard the ship were multiple-course, white-tablecloth affairs that usually included soup, locally caught prawns and fish, chicken, stir-fried vegetables and terrific tofu dishes. Breakfast was a buffet of fresh fruit and baked goods served outdoors on the ship's middle deck.

That afternoon, we paddled some more, at one point passing a lone fisherman casting his net. His wooden rowboat rocked gently. A teapot perched on the stern. One large fish, Bien told us, would net him about $10, a good day's wages.

The next morning, our ship steamed to Sung Sot Cave, one of the area's largest and most impressive limestone caverns, spanning 12,000 square yards inside. The entrance required a short hike up several flights of stone steps to a spot high above the bay. Here, you can see water at work, dripping from the ceiling and pooling on the floor in ponds so still and mirror-like that it left me disoriented.

That afternoon, we headed to Ha Long Harbor for the return trip to Hanoi. Back in our hotel, as the horns of a thousand motor scooters honked outside our window, I realized the cruise had given me a different impression of Vietnam.

If Hanoi is like 4 million people on Red Bull, Ha Long Bay is where time stops, where the old ways of doing things endure and where it's quiet enough to breathe deeply and hear fish leap from the water.

Recommended vessels for Halong cruises
The Indochina Sails Email: info@indochinasails.com, http://www.indochinasails.com/
More cruises on Halong Bay - Active Travel Shop, #31, Alley 4, Dang Van Ngu street, Hanoi, Vietnam, (844) 3573 8569.
Adventure tours on Vietnam - Active Travel Vietnam

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