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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.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA launches New Year Promotion 2012

Human Christmas and New Year approaching, ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA (ATA) sends to all travelers of the faithful, heartfelt words to wish a peaceful Christmas and New Year exuberant grace of God. With the approaching of Christmas and New Year 2012, ATA is providing discount up to 7 % for all loyalty customers to buy ATA’s tours during the period from Feb, 1 2012 to Apr, 1 2012.

ATA runs the most adventure tours available in Indochina and Asia. ATA’s active trips are designed for all levels of outdoor enthusiasts, real people seeking real fun and adventure. Of course, a reasonable level of personal fitness, good health, and interest in outdoor activities is advisable, but the customers don't need to be a tri-athlete or be an expert in any of the activities you will undertake.
There are variety kinds of adventure tours ATA’s customers can choose from: motorbiking, trekking, hiking, biking, kayaking…


ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA is one of the Indochina's leading adventure travel companies. ATA offers a wide selection of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia adventure tours, including hiking and trekking, biking, motorcycling, overland touring and family travel packages. ATA’s packages and tailor-made private itineraries will take you through exotic destinations to really experience the culture, history and nature of Asia. Visit more, go to www.activetravel.asia.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Zooming Through Vietnam

The Vietnamese bus tout are convinced they’ll get business from us. “Bus to Sa Pa” they call as we tuck away our passports, re-attach helmets and roll bicycles down a short but sheer ramp from border control into Vietnam proper. “We go by bicycle,” we reply. They shake heads. “No…. you go bus.” I look the youngest and most hopeful tout in the eyes and assure him that we’re very strong. He shakes his head in response: “Sa Pa? You go by bus?”

Cat Cat village rice fields

We cross into the country with Mirko, an Italian cyclist who is also headed up to Vietnam’s premier hill top town. He (perhaps wisely) opts for the bus, leaving us to conquer the 28km climb alone. Pedalling away from the river, the border town of Lao Cai passes by in a blur of motorcycles and baguette stalls before the climbing really begins about 5km in. We’re soon in thick jungle interspersed with roadside shacks selling beer and food, following a road which heads relentlessly up. The heat is a new challenge and almost instantly the sweat factor is so high that the water is rolling off my cheeks. Three hours later, just as our legs are threatening to turn to jelly, we hit the outskirts of Sa Pa and our incredibly disproportionate reward of a five day break.

A tranquil hill-top village with stunning views of rice terraces and Vietnam’s highest peak, Fansipan, Sa Pa’s stretch of swank hotels and 5-star dining options is about as far from Vietnam-proper as Invercargill is from London. A mist hangs over the valley for much of the week, only occasionally clearing to reveal the rice terraces below. A constant throng of woman from local villages cluster together in small groups along the main street. In a swirl of brightly embroidered garments, they’re in town to sell local handicrafts, but we suspect the bigger business is taking visitors on tours to the villages. Hundreds of camera-toting tourists follow a parade of brightly clad villagers past our hotel pied-piper style every morning, leaving us envisaging their village destination as a vast factory of souvenir manufacturing.

We’re up early one morning to take advantage of an “all you can eat” breakfast buffet in town, and burn off the calories by hiking past Cat Cat village, which lies at the other end of Sa Pa. We’re quickly away from the well-maintained paths lined with souvenir stalls and find ourselves on a path which eventually leads to Fansipan peak. Taking a steep off-piste ‘short-cut’ back to the main path, I get a little too close to nature, resulting in three impressive leech bites, though we never saw the little blighters.

Unusual cloud halo

Arriving in Dien Bien Phu after a few days where our diet has been dominated by rice based products, we enjoy its slightly bigger town feel, staying for a couple of nights and stocking up on Vietnamese coffee.
Justin is cleaning bicycles in the courtyard when a couple of Austrian cycle tourists check in. Philipp and Valeska are also heading home after a long period away and we had a lot to talk about in our last evening in Vietnam. With a big climb ahead of us to the border it made sense to team up to cross into Laos.

Source: rolling-tales.com

Friday, December 9, 2011


Attractive eco-friendly valleys, terraced slope attributes as well as tribes nevertheless subsequent their own historic customs — encouraged in order to Sapa.

Situated 350kms north-west associated with Hanoi, simply timid from Chinese language the edge may be the Lao Cai Land exactly where you’ll discover Sapa. It’s environment as well as amazing scenery tend to be about the reduce inclines from the Hoang Lien Boy hill variety, that additionally features Vietnam’s greatest hill Fansipan, having a elevation associated with 3142 metre distances.

Sapa is actually filled with a varied number of cultural minorities like the Hmong, Yao, Tay as well as Giay organizations. Considered to possess lived on the region because the 1800′s, these types of Sapa slope tribes continue to be close to these days ongoing their own life-style as well as customs because they did for hundreds of years.

The elements is extremely periodic, throughout the summer time it is very reasonable as well as wet. Throughout the winter season it may be chilly, misty as well as obtain the unusual compacted snow.
Suggested occasions to visit tend to be 03 via Might as well as middle Sept in order to earlier Dec to obtain a hotter as well as better encounter.

Arranging your own go Sapa ahead of time via a journey professional is actually recommended. The easiest method to reach Sapa is actually through immediately teach, exactly where vacationers may rest the actual trip aside. Through Hanoi the actual trip requires around 10 several hours and also the locomotives go away every day. You will find 14 locomotives that offer the actual come back trip in between Hanoi as well as Lao Cai, just about all supplying air-conditioning as well as comfy cabins along with several berth choices. You will awaken rejuvenated as well as prepared for the Sapa experience to start whenever you appear in to Lao Cai earlier the following early morning.

Place your own strolling footwear upon as well as discover the actual valleys providing breathless surroundings top you to definitely nearby towns. The actual closest town associated with Kitty Kitty is just 3kms through Sapa, an additional choice is actually Ta Phin town house in order to Red-colored Dzao around 10kms aside. The majority of vacationers looks for helpful information as well as has a Xe Om (motorcycle) to some starting place 8kms through Sapa, after that journey the 14km cycle round the region going to towns on the way.

Conquer Fansipan, Vietnam
There is lots of walking as well as hiking choices in the region for those health and fitness amounts, going to slope group towns as well as waterfalls. For that severe mountaineer why don’t you undertake the actual 19km trip towards the peak associated with Fansipan, Vietnam’s greatest maximum?

An additional appeal associated with any kind of Sapa journey may be the marketplaces. You will find several marketplaces kept round the region usually about the weekend break upon whether Sunday or even Weekend. The well-known marketplace may be the Back ‘Weekend marketplace, the industry buying and selling center as well as conference location with regard to family and friends.

You will discover the neighborhood minorities putting on their own conventional clothes, the actual Hmong tend to be recognized through their own indigo stitched garb and also the Red-colored Dao through their own red-colored headdresses along with hanging cash as well as waistcoats which are intricately stitched as well as put on through the ladies. The actual Adore Marketplace is actually an additional famous marketplace — typically it had been a location in which the youths from the nearby slope tribes might arrive to locate a partner.

If you have fulfilled the actual local people, trekked the actual valleys as well as marvelled the actual sights associated with significantly terraced grain areas, shopped in the marketplaces and also have your own cherished times taken, you’ll return in order to Lao Cai train station for the immediately teach to Hanoi. The Sapa journey experience is really a particular emphasize associated with any kind of day at Vietnam.

Source: wannawatch.info

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Active Travel Asia Explores Pu Hu Nature Reserve In Vietnam

ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA and GIZ (Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit in Vietnam) working together in a survey of responsible tourism project in Pu Hu Nature Reserve, Thanh hoa province, Vietnam. 

The survey trip will be held in middle of December, 2011 by ATA team with support of GIZ Vietnam. ATA inspection team will spend about 3 days to scan this area, evaluating the suitable activities for a tourist site. This activity is a part of project “Protection of the forest and wildlife” implemented by GIZ Vietnam, under the management of Forest Protection Department of Thanh Hoa Province.

Pu Hu Nature Reserve is situated in the North-West of Thanh Hoa Province. It has a big diversity of plants and animals with 508 plant species and 266 animals species. It also has a role in protecting the catchment of the Ma river. The inhabitants of the nature reserve and buffer zone belong to the Thai, Hmong, Dao and Kinh ethnic groups.

The tourist will discover illegal cutting of trees, hunting and other illegal activities in the forest. Their movement in the forest will help to keep these illegal activities under control and is therefore very important!

As Mr. Georg Kloeble, Senior Advisor Natural Recource Management of GIZ said “Pu Hu is very rugged and mountainous and might be demanding on the fitness of the participants! Rainforest, it might be misty and wet. I myself was only one time in there, hiking for one day! It was fantastic!”

After the trip, ATA inspection team is going to propose interesting activities, suitable routes which would make Pu Hu nature reserve to be a tourist site. ATA also works with GIZ Vietnam to run and manage the potential trip tours here to complete one of the most important parts of project.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Active Travel Asia announced the prizes for the contest “Indochina in Your Eyes”!

First word Active Travel Asia sent to you to joint our competition “Indochina in yours eyes” most sincere thanks!

“Indochina in yours eyes” contest lasted over 2 months (1st Sep 2011 to 20th Nov 2011) and ends on 20 Nov 2011. Organizing Committee has received many entries with unique ideas, deeply felt and very sincere, especially from customers love traveling and traveled to Indochina in a lifetime.

Now is the time to honor the winner. The winner is the person who has the amount of LIKE ranked highest on our facebook page plus 2 travel news sites. It meant that many people had read and liked your story.

The highest prize of the contest “Indochina in your eyes” is Yasmine Khater with entry "South to North Vietnam : An Unforgettable Experience".

The prize is a 3 day 2 night tour costing from 700$ - 1000$ for 2 persons. The winner can choose one of out door activities including Trekking, Cycling, Motorcycling, and Kayaking in wide areas of Indochina plus interesting gifts. 

• Kayaking Halong Bay
• Trekking Sapa and homestay
• Mai Chau Trekking
• Motorcycling the Ho Chi Minh Trail
• Biking Angkor Wat

Besides the highest prize, to encourage the writers ATA awards 3 incentive prizes for the entry which had the amount of “Like” followed by the highest:

Andrew Faulks with entry “Pol Pot’s Clipper”
Raelene Kwong with entry “An expedition to Vietnam’s Son Doong Cave – what could go wrong?”
Manasi Subramaniam with entry “How Saigon Feels”

The incentive prize is a full day city tour for 2 persons. Besides, you will get some extra values as below:

• a couple of sleeping bags by fabric filter.
• a couple of T-shirts with ATA logo.
• 2 water puppet tickets
• lunch included
• 1 hour Cyclo (Xich Lo) around old quarter.

All the prizes will be available in 2 years from the day of award announcement (Nov 30th, 2011.)

Active Travel Asia thank all of your contest whether your felt and shared were not high rank but your sharing for ATA is the most precious. All good thoughts of you for Indochina and ATA will be the core values which always lead to ATA.

Please thank most respectfully to you, wish you good luck and congratulations again!

Please refer any questions about the award to us at: event@activetravel.asia.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Vietnam - A cultural feast

I envisioned hiking to remote villages to find mountain hill tribes; people living in indigenous villages, untouched by outside influences.

Instead, as we pulled into Sapa, in the northern part of Vietnam, a group of Black Hmong women gathered on the side of the road as our shuttle pulled into the center of town. A welcoming committee, perhaps?

As the van came to a stop, my jaw dropped as the entire group charged at our vehicle screaming “You buy from me!”

This was not the authentic Vietnamese experience I had in mind.

Returning to Southeast Asia was a dream of mine since my last trip to Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia eight years ago. So when the time finally came for my boyfriend and I to head out for a three-week romp around Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia this past September, I went with a backpack full of expectations, hoping to get off the beaten path and discover the “authentic” cultures of Southeast Asia.

Traffic flows near Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Expectations and reality are hardly ever one in the same, as I was soon reminded. As a tourist, I had as much to do with the cultural changes taking place in the places I visited as the people who live there. The fact is that with tourism spreading rapidly throughout Third World countries, “off the beaten path” is now the most-sought after destination.

East meets West

We began our trip with two days in Hanoi, a city well known for its organized chaos. Hanoi is a perfect blend of Eastern mystery and Western old world charm dating back to the early French colonialists.

The narrow streets were choked with a million scooters driving alongside street-hawkers selling their wares. All the while, the constant smell of delicious Vietnamese food wafted out from the thousands of restaurants and sidewalk food stands. Vietnamese women wearing traditional woven cone hats sold everything from T-shirts and balloons to exotic fruits and chickens (both living and dead) from their yoke-slung baskets. Spend a morning sipping Vietnamese coffee and eating tiramisu at a cafe on the banks of Hoan Kiem Lake and watch the world go by and you could be in an Asian-style Paris.

To dive into Hanoi’s culture headfirst is to master the art of crossing the road and bartering. It’s also a commitment to eating anything and everything cooked on the street, in spite of any Western health warnings. So this is what we did.

In a city where traffic lights mean nothing and the only road rule seems to be to keep moving, we began our road-crossing lesson by subtly tagging along with locals as they crossed. The key is to cross slowly and steadily and trust that the one million scooters, cyclists, cars and other pedestrians that share the road will flow around you — a belief that contradicts all western road-crossing training.

The art of bartering was our next cultural lesson and my boyfriend approached it with game and gusto while I, recognizing his strength and my relative weakness, timidly left all negotiations to him. He proved his mastery after intense, extensive negotiations for a .25 cent Zippo lighter. Eventually, the sales person shoved the lighter in his hands, refused his money and said “go away.”

While haggling was his fortay, eating was my greatest strength. I attacked the street cuisine, inhaling delicious pho noodle soups, rich French pastries and baguettes, and any street-side delicacy set in front of me. I was never disappointed. Hanoi proved to be a foodies paradise, not just for the amazing flavors, but for the whole experience. Eating on the street is a must as, for one, it is usually the cheapest option and two, it will give you the most authentic Vietnamese food experience. Our last day in Hanoi, we were enticed away from shopping to a street cafe where we were the only non-Asian diners. We sat on plastic child-sized chairs and watched as eight small dishes of food, some recognizable, most not, were immediately placed in front of us in dim sum style. Delicious! Next to us a family of servers/cooks rushed around, dishing up trays of food for our fellow enthusiastic diners as they loudly slurped and chatted.

Ha Long BaySapa – Hanoi

From Hanoi we headed east for a two night stay on a traditional junk boat in Ha Long Bay. This UNESCO World Heritage site on the Northeastern coast covers an area of 1,553 km (965 miles) and is made up of almost 2,000 stunning, mainly limestone islets rising from the Tonkin Gulf. Scattered throughout the islets are small floating fishing villages whose inhabitants farm oysters, mussels and fish for food and trade. It is possible at times to be distracted from the allure of the area by the amount and effects of tourism there. The 450 boats anchored in the crowded bay host thousands of tourists a day. The amount of trash floating in the otherwise emerald waters is a sad reminder of how the desire for tourist dollars can become more important than protecting tourist destinations. However as the sun sets on the limestone karst and the last of the water traders ply their goods to colorful tourist filled junk boats, of which you are a part of, it is impossible not to appreciate the obvious beauty and cultural significance of Ha Long Bay.

Next stop, Sapa, a small French colonial town in the misty northern mountains of the Lao Cai provence. Located near the Chinese boarder, it is home to several different ethnic minority groups whose villages are scattered among the rice terrace-covered mountains and valleys. We took a night train to get from Hanoi to Sapa, sleeping in quaint bunk beds that conjured up historic images of an Orient Express experience, to Lao Cai and from there, took a shuttle to Sapa.

Our initial surprise and fear of the welcoming committee was replaced with curiosity on our hikes to nearby Black Hmong villages with our guide, Quong. Traditionally dressed Black Hmong ladies casually followed along, asking a series of basic questions over and over again: “What’s your name?” “Where you from?” “How many children you have?” and inevitably “You my friend?… You buy from me?” as they dug into their woven baskets for both handmade, and Chinese-made goods. The question of why we were hiking to meet the Black H’mong when they had already made the hike to meet us was ever present. Ever the entertainer and salesman himself, my boyfriend asked them to buy his handmade fly fishing flies and individual pieces of chewing gum. He did eventually manage a trade, a piece of gum for a hand-made bracelet, much to the frustration of the Hmong lady who soon realized she didn’t like the taste of the gum.

Despite the never-ending sales pitch, it was impossible to ignore the magnificent scenery surrounding us: waterfalls, rivers and terraced rice paddies in mist-covered mountains.

Our home-stay was a fun-filled night of amazing food and home-brewed “happy water,” which broke down all cultural and social walls and had us convinced we were fluent in local dialects. Our morning headaches reminded us otherwise. Waking before the rest of our group, my boyfriend and I spent the morning with our host, who spoke no English, and her outgoing five-year-old grandson. We got a glimpse into their everyday life, as our host’s son and daughter-in-law puttered around doing morning chores.

We returned to Hanoi from Sapa the same way we arrived, by sleeper train, and spent one more night in the energetic city, surprised to see capitalism thriving so well in this still communist country. The next morning we headed off to our next stop, a whirlwind two days in Bangkok.
Source: darianculbert

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Vietnam: gems of the north

Vietnam is increasingly becoming a popular destination for travellers each year. Its large chaotic cities are popular stop-offs for young travellers, and a great place to spend a few days. However, it can be nice to get away from the hustle and bustle, and northern Vietnam boasts fantastic scenery for those able to pull themselves away from the captivating capital of Hanoi.

Northern Vietnam boasts fantastic scenery

Hanoi is a bustling city, riddled with motorcycles, bright lights, and street vendors; it can be hard to keep up with. There is much to see in and around the city and plenty of culture to absorb in the ancient architecture which is dotted throughout the vibrant city.
Although everyone advises you to try the street food, be careful what you order as Vietnam is notorious for its taste for dog, and locals prefer boiled eggs with developing chicks in to dunking eggs with toast soldiers...

Amid the shops selling richly-coloured, handmade clothing and ornaments you may also find propaganda art shops selling reprints of posters from various areas of Vietnam culture and the Vietnam War.
If you have a few days to spare however, it’s worth going a bit further afield, as northern Vietnam has some fantastic varied landscapes; the two most popular being the protruding rock formations of Halong Bay, and the terraced farms of Sapa.

Halong Bay is a UNESCO world heritage site and consists of over 3,000 islands scattered across the sea. You can choose to stay a number of nights on a trip to the bay, but two days one night is plenty of time. Make sure to visit the famous cave; with three increasingly large chambers to walk through, it is quite a sight to behold. There is also an opportunity to go kayaking which I would recommend.

If offered the choice of staying on land or boat, I would advise you stay onboard as the sea is calm and it’s quite an experience waking up and walking out of your cabin to such a spectacular view. Unfortunately, the ever-increasing number of tourists means the ocean is usually scattered with other boats making it a slightly less unique experience but it is worth a trip none-the-less.

From Halong Bay, you will need to detour back through Hanoi in order to get a night train to Sapa (pictured below). These trains are very different to the sleeper trains of Thailand, in which you are bundled into bunk beds lining either side of the carriage, as most trains running this journey have four-bed carriages which seem quite luxurious in comparison. You may either book a tour or decide to freestyle on arrival (which will often get you a cheaper trekking trip), however due to lack of time on my trip, I decided to book a tour.

From the train station in Sapa it is a dodgy drive up through misty mountains; the morning I arrived you could barely see the white markings in the road six feet ahead of the minibus! The somewhat frightening experience seems even more surreal when you glance out the window to see the lush green hills and terraced farms that almost give the impression of an optical illusion.

On my trip I was unfortunately greeted by torrential downpour, and with only my canvas plimsolls I resorted to plastic bagging my shoes, so be warned - the weather is unpredictable, particularly in rainy season (May to September).

A trek is a great way to take in the scenery and if booking a tour beforehand, most travel agents will offer the opportunity of a homestay, which if you are willing to rough it, I would highly recommend. The place I stayed was very basic, a cement building with curtains separating the beds from the main living area, and an upper terrace with mattresses and mosquito nets for the guests.

The family spoke very little English, but our guide stayed over and was happy to translate. The food was delicious traditional Vietnamese cuisine, and despite the basic facilities of the homestay, the location was fantastic in the dip of a valley by a river in which you could view local children fishing, and at walking distance from local villages.

The local saleswomen are persistent, and be warned that they will walk alongside you for the duration of the trek until you buy something from them unless you make clear at the start that you are not going to make a purchase. Back in the town at Sapa, there is also a large market selling many different things, but always be prepared to barter as they will normally ask for almost twice above the selling price.

Embrace the overland travel, that’s when you’re likely to see the most unspoilt landscapes and the towns that are really representative of the country’s economy and lifestyle. Vietnam is a country with varied landscapes, and although the big cities are great to spend some time in, it’s well worth a trip to some of the farther stretches of land to get an understanding of just how diverse the country is.

By Alice Woodward

Monday, October 24, 2011

The first expedition to Son Doong Cave with ATA – Unrevealed stories!

On 28th Sep, 2011, carrying the eager to explore the grandeur of nature, the first travelers together with ATA’s product manager – Mr. Tony Tran had launched the discovery to Son Doong Cave, the biggest cave in the world.

Accompany with the group is Mr. Ho Khanh who found the Son Doong Cave as a tour guide. The first meet with Mr. Ho Khanh really impressed everyone. Just a warm smile, a strong handshake from him is enough to make everyone feel warm at heart. At Ho Khanh ‘s house, the group had the moments of relax with green tea, a simple lunch with steamed rice cake and salted peanut and an open conversation. All of that was promising for a memorable journey.

Mr. Ho Khanh in old costume of troop

The first obstacle for the group is leaches. They are everywhere and all in hungry for blood. It was really a nightmare at first but as time passes, the scare was fade when everyone got used to them and they weren’t the obstacle anymore. In the deep jungle under shade, the expedition team followed jungle trails that on limestone Mountains to the Swallow Cave.

As planned, the expedition team would camp at the Swallow Cave. But “Man proposes, God disposes”, everything weren’t going as planned, it was dark so quickly so the expedition had to camp at a clear ground that is 30 minutes walking to the Swallow Cave. The tents were pitched up, dinner was also cooked and everyone had a good time to eat dinner together. Camping in the deep jungle, it was indeed an interesting experience!

Everything was not easier on the next morning. Although the sky seemed so bright, no rain and the ground was dry, the obstacles was still waiting for them. This time was the torrential river bank. If the expedition team couldn’t cross the torrent, that meant they wouldn’t be able to get to Son Doong Cave. This case forced everyone had to discuss and find the way to cross the torrent and after that decided if they could go any further or not.

In the torrential river bank....

Ho Khanh proved himself as a local guide with many years of experiences. At the hard times, his skill is very essential. He swam to the other side with a rope, he tied it to a tree then he led them crossing the river one by one. After much effort, finally, the group crossed the river safety. With the hope “After a storm comes a calm”, everything would be smooth but the obstacle has passed, another comes. A lake blocks the way to Son Doong Cave. To cross the lake at that time was impossible and instead of risking themselves, it was better to take the photos of Swallow Cave then head back to the other side of the cave using rope to cross the river again.

The trek back is so nice with not climbing and great view. Crossing over shallow stream, walking through banana forest and spending sometime for hot green tea in Doong Village. All of that little things made a memorable tour.

Due to bad weather, the expedition might not succeed as planned but everyone was all happy with what they experienced. Son Doong - We will come back soon.

Clip about the first expedition to Son Doong Cave

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Mai Chau Homestay Trek Was So Much Better Than I Ever Imagined

"A buddy and I did 10 days in Northern Vietnam and wanted to get a few days of hiking in. We opted for ATA's 4-day Mai Chau Homestay. Mr. Hai picked us up at our backpacker's hostel with a private car and driver. Mr. Hai was very knowledgeable, had a great sense of humor, and spoke great English. The drive was quiet and comfortable, though uneventful as it was raining. 

When we reached Mai Chau, we stopped at the Homestay HQ where we were treated to a good 4-5 course meal and waited for our local guide, Thanh. Thanh did not speak a word of English, but was friendly and pleasant from the start. She would prove to be absolutely wonderful once the trip started. From Mai Chau, we took a short car ride to the beginning of the hike. 

We departed our transport and hiked to a Hmong village high in the mountains. Though it was still raining and chilly, the Hmong house was warm and comfortable. Right when we arrived, Thanh headed to the kitchen and began working over a wood fire. We quickly learned that this would be the norm, regardless of how long the hike was prior. The Hmong family pressed on with their day-to-day activities. At dinner time, Thanh delivered the first of several unbelievable meals. The typical dinner meal was about 7 courses with the freshest ingredients I've ever tasted. I can't begin to express how good the food was throughout the trip. The Hmong husband and wife joined us during the dinner and shared their company as well as their homemade corn wine with us.

The next morning, we were welcomed with a delicious breakfast. I can't recall what we ate on any particular day, but it ranged from noodle and vegetable dishes to omelets to banana pancakes. Fresh fruit was always served. The second day we hiked down the mountain to a black Thai village. The terrain was extremely slippery. With hindsight, I would probably have been much better off with a lightweight hiking shoe rather than a heavier boot. 

We broke for a quick lunch midway through the hike...tuna sandwiches and fresh fruit. Arriving at the black Thai house, we were drenched and the lady of the house helped us figure out how to wash some clothes and helped us hang them to dry. We were offered beer or other softdrinks for about $1 each. Again, we were treated to a wonderful meal, great company, and homemade rice wine. After dinner, we grabbed some more beers and walked down to a rice patty wall where we sat, talked, and enjoyed the night scenery. I felt completely safe in the sleepy village (as well as everywhere else I visited in Vietnam).

After a delicious breakfast, we began our third day of hiking. We hiked through some amazing scenery...limestone cliffs towering hundreds of feet above plush, green rice fields. There was no shortage of activity to witness, from girls working the fields or busy embroidering to men leading their water buffalo to graze. We even got to take about an hour break to watch a local soccer match, complete with water buffalo running through the middle of the field. Another quick lunch included sandwiches and custard apple fruit. The only way I can explain what a custard apple is that it is somewhat of a pineapple-like fruit, but with pudding inside. It was amazing!

We spent our last night at a black Thai house where we were again treated with Thanh's wonderful cooking, pleasant company from our hosts, and homemade rice wine.

The next day, we started off with a good breakfast again and had a 3-4 hour hike back to the Homestay HQ. There, we had a refreshing shower followed by a good meal. This village has plenty of shopping available, so definitely save your shopping for the last day.

Bottom line...

Mr. Hai was wonderful. We is an entertaining, knowledgeable guide. We were constantly engaged in entertaining dialogue, exploring everything from local customs to Vietnam history and politics. I can't imagine a better English-speaking guide in Vietnam.

Thanh was unbelievable. She led us down slippery trails and through river crossings wearing only her flipflops. Each day, following the day's hike, she would cook the most amazing meals over a wood fire. She was the first one awake, greeting us each day with a delicious breakfast.

Mai Chau is unspoiled. Not once was I approached to provide change or to buy something. The people all seemed pleasantly indifferent to us. Smiles and greetings were exchanged, but I never felt any pressure common in similar tourist situations. The people of Mai Chau seemed to be proud, friendly, and respectful.

Planning the trip was easily done via email. Ms Sunny helped me up until she took leave to deliver a baby. After that, Ms Candy ensured we were taken care of.

I don't know what else I can add. It was simply wonderful!

Visited September 2011”

By  Eric Dean McCammond
Source: tripadvisor

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Kayak Tourism in Vietnam

According to the Central Intelligence Agency's 2011 World Fact Book, Vietnam ranks seventh in the world in terms of navigable rivers, canals and inland bodies of water. When you compare the size of most of the countries above it on the list, which includes the United States, Russia and China, you realize how much water Vietnam has per square mile. All this water means plenty of kayaking opportunities, but there are just a handful of established kayak tourism points in Vietnam.

Just over 100 miles east of Hanoi in northern Vietnam, Halong Bay is famous for its dramatic
rock formations. With thousands of limestone karst rock islets soaring from its waters along with caves, mangrove forests and sandy beaches, the bay offers spectacular kayaking opportunities. 

Caves give way to hidden lagoons, channels are bordered by tall cliffs covered in lush, green vegetation and locals sell crafts and snacks on small boats around the bay. Many people choose to stay on a traditional junk boat in Halong Bay and take day trips by kayak to secluded lagoons, caves and floating markets. The best time to visit is October to June, but kayaking is available year round. Halong Bay is connected to Hanoi by bus and taxi.

Ba Be Lake

Located in the Can Province northwest of Hanoi, Ba Be Lake is the centerpiece of Ba Be National Park. Surrounded by tall limestone cliffs, the shores of the 4-mile-long lake host traditional villages inhabited by ethnic minorities making their living farming and fishing. The tropical forest in the surrounding park is home to 300 wildlife species, including one of the world's rarest primates, the snub-nosed monkey, and more than 400 plant species. 

Kayaking is usually offered as part of a tour of the national park, which also includes biking and visiting traditional villages. Kayak tours include paddling on the Nang River followed by an entry onto the lake through a striking 100-foot-high, 1,000-foot-long cave. The bus ride from Hanoi to Ba Be Lake takes six to eight hours.

Probably the best known waterway in Vietnam, the Mekong Delta is actually fairly new in the kayak tourism industry. The locals have been paddling these rivers and canals for centuries using their famous stand-up paddle method, but most tourists view the region from larger boats. 

Located to the south of Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, the Mekong Delta has a flatter terrain than the destinations to the north. The river is lined with farms and towns and river traffic is high in some areas. A network of tiny canals cuts through the water plants on the banks, leading to small villages and floating markets. You can kayak along the Mekong, staying the night in small guesthouses along the way. If you join a kayak tour, you will be able to visit local farms, gardens and homes. Many tours also use a larger boat with sleeping cabins as a base.

Perfume River

Located about 600 miles south of Hanoi, the Perfume River winds its way through verdant tropical forests dotted with ancient pagodas and the tombs of several Nguyen emperors, including Gia Long and Minh Mang, to Hue on Vietnam's eastern coast. In addition to the tombs and pagodas, kayakers can visit a traditional bronze casting village and Sinh village with its rustic paintings. Bicycle trips just off the river visit sites such as the Royal Tiger Arena, an historic animal fighting place, and Emperor Tu Duc's tomb.

References: Kayak Halong Bay

Source: usatoday

Vietnam: ethnic tourism among the valleys with no name

A typhoon had blown in during the day. White rain clouds lay like a boiling sea in the valleys, creating the illusion that the twisting mountain pass was an ocean road. As our vehicle turned a blind corner we came across a gaggle of motorcyclists, caped against the rain and gawping over the edge.

A Red Dao mother and child

A lorry had gone over while overtaking another lorry, trusting to a hard shoulder that had gone soft in the rain. Through the clouds we saw that the plummeting vehicle had ploughed a vertical groove of red earth in the sheer mountainside. Its roof was visible, a couple of hundred feet below.

Incredibly, the driver had just been hauled up alive and whisked off to hospital. As the men continued to stare, a woman in a beautiful and strange costume strode away from the scene as if in disgust. She was the reason we had come to this remote, mountainous region in the north of Vietnam, just 50 miles from the Chinese border.

Her distinctive look – black tunic and trousers embroidered with red-and-white patterned panels, red scarf and headdress – marked her out as a member of the Dao ethnic minority, one of 54 ethnic groups in Vietnam. The Viets are the biggest group, accounting for 86 per cent of the population and dominating mainstream culture. To varying extents, the remaining minorities lead marginalized lives, both culturally and geographically.

Most live in rural areas, growing rice, practicing slash-and-burn farming, keeping animals, making handicrafts, worshipping their ancestors and believing in spirits. Many still wear their distinctive, traditional dress – or at least the women do; men tend to go for the easy option and wear Western clothes these days – and this is part of what makes them especially intriguing and attractive to foreigners. Market days, when different groups come together in a throng of color and noise, are thrilling spectacles.

In recent years, tourism has cottoned on to this, and some minority communities have benefited by offering homestays and selling their beautiful textiles. This "ethnic tourism" is at its busiest in the old French hill station of Sapa, 150 miles north-west of Hanoi, where each year hundreds of thousands of trekkers and photographers pitch up via train and bus from the capital.
Hearing stories of commercialization and exploitation in Sapa, my partner and I had decided to hire a car, driver and guide and head instead to less-visited minority areas, culminating in the province of Ha Giang to the north-east of Sapa. Abutting the border with China, this province was the scene of heavy fighting with the Chinese in the Eighties; though it is now completely safe, tourism there remains undeveloped.

Hmong women in Sapa

Our goal, a cluster of ridges and valleys said to harbor the largest diversity of ethnic populations in Vietnam, is so little known by the outside world that it doesn't yet have a name. If I were a marketing person, charged with putting it on the map, I would name it after the high pass that is the main route into it.

The pass is called Cong Troi, which means Heaven's Gate. We crossed it shortly after passing the scene of the lorry accident. The landscape around us, glimpsed through the clouds, was indeed celestial – rice paddies cut into the hillsides that looked like the steps of Aztec temples, valleys plunging to hazy nothingness and waterfalls in noisy spate. Here, where many had seen white faces only on television, we were often as much objects of curiosity to the minority peoples as they were to us.

From Cong Troi we twisted down through clouds to the valley bottom and the village of Thong Nguyen, which serves a local population of about 5,000 living in the surrounding hills. Tourism has already arrived in a small way here – there's a French-owned lodge on the outskirts – and the village authorities are evidently fearful of what it may yet bring.

Using Pan Hou Lodge as a base, we spent the next two days trekking up into those shimmering green hills to visit remote communities perched on the lips of steepling rice paddies. In a Dao village we drank green tea beneath an old picture of Ho Chi Minh and then, inevitably, the woman who made it, with a baby in a sling on her back, submitted to photographs.

And that, of course, is the subtext of ethnic tourism. You come to gawp and click, to capture those eye-catching costumes and quaint customs in pixels. One woman I tried to photograph, with a mouth blackened by betel nut, covered her face, saying, "I am not beautiful any more. I look like a goat!"

I knew what she said because our guide translated. Having him around enabled us to enrich encounters that were inherently voyeuristic. And his life story, which he related in a series of chats over the week, provided great insight into the minority way of life.

On our visits to minority houses he would explain layouts and functions. The houses tend to be built on stilts, with motorbikes and chickens kept on the open ground floor and cooking and sleeping taking place on the enclosed first floor.

The Dao, of which there are several subgroups such as Red Dao and Long Dress Dao, live pretty hard and basic lives up in these mountains. One woman laughed at the idea of having a day off. "If we rest, nothing to eat," Son translated. Other communities are visibly more prosperous.

We had started our tour in the village of Mai Chau, a three-hour drive south-west of Hanoi, where the Mai Chau Lodge was the base for walks out to White Thai villages. Here, among gardens of jackfruit and banana, and fighting cocks in wicker cages, they sell textiles and offer homestays with Western lavatories and hot showers.

As thunder drummed on the surrounding hills, women toiled in the paddy fields, their conical hats periodically bobbing up to the surface of the rice (quick, photo!). Daily life here is still back-breaking, but not as tough as it once was, judging by the cars parked next to some of the stilt houses.

Between Mai Chau and Ha Giang Province we broke our journey at Thac Ba Lake, where La Vie Vu Linh Eco-Lodge is part of a long-term project aimed at rejuvenating the local minority culture. The lodge – jointly owned by a French-Vietnamese called Frédéric Tiberghien and a Dao family from the adjacent village – runs a school teaching cultural history, languages and hotel management to 15 or so children.

Vietnam's ethnic minorities had a particularly hard time of it following reunification, but projects like this give hope that their distinct ways of life can flourish. Tourism is certainly a vital part of the process. And it's not, of course, a one-way street. As Tiberghien said to me, "Next time you come to Vietnam, stay longer with the ethnic people. After two weeks, you will be amazed how similar you are."

Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Four seasons in Sapa, Vietnam

The four seasons are distinctly felt in Sa Pa, Vietnam when nature changes her costume.

The four seasons are distinctly felt in Sa Pa when Nature changes her costume. Spring in the season of pear, peach and plum flowers. Summer comes blooming with Gladioli, Pancies, Dahlias, Sun-flowers and numerous temperate fruits. Autumn is the time for perfume mushrooms, woodears and plenty of specious medicinal plants such as Black Ginseng, Amomum,Cinnamon, Anise etc.

The sky is the vividly brightened with golden sun-rays and playful white clouds which seem to land on the ground, over the heads of people or on tops of trees. In Winter, the forest is almost whitened with snow, making the landscapes look more attractive.

But Summer is said to be the most charming season in the year. It is extremely interesting to experience all the four seasons within a summer day time: spring in the morning, summer at noon, autumn in the afternoon and winter in the evening and at night.

Sa Pa, with its surprisingly wonderful and orginal nature, the sky, the air, the clouds, the flowers and fruits there is openly inviting…

Source: Sapabeauty

Recommended Tour By Active Travel Asia: Sapa Trekking & Homestay

Night 1: Night train to Lao Cai

Transfer from your hotel to Hanoi Railway Station for the night train to Lao Cai. Overnight in AC soft sleeper cabin.
Transfer hotel – railway station: AC vehicle
Accommodation: Soft sleeper in AC cabin

Day 1: Transfer to Sapa – Trek to Giang Ta Chai Village

Arrive in Lao Cai around 5.30 am. We will take 1hr bus ride uphill to the beautiful town of Sapa. The ride give you a glimpse of the stunning vistas and impressive rice terraces. Upon arrival in Sapa Town we have breakfast in local restaurant and prepare for a great trek down to the picturesque valley of Muong Hoa.
You will commence your journey from Sapa by car to Lao Chai village, a Black Hmong ethnic minority village. You will then be able to walk from Lao Chai to Tavan village where the Giay ethnic minority hill tribe lives. After lunch the walk continues through a bamboo forest to Giang Ta Chai, a Red Dao ethnic minority village where we will have unique homestay experience among hill tribe people. Pinic lunch on the way. Dinner and overnight in the local house.

Transfer Lao Cai – Sapa: 45 mins
Trekking: 5-hr trek/dirt paths/downhill
Accommodation: Homestay
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 2: Trek Giang Ta Chai – Su Pan – Thanh Kim - Thanh Phu Village

After breakfast, we start the trek through the rice terraces to the village of Su Pan then continue to Thanh Kim for lunch. After lunch time, we will trek along a narrow valley downhill for 2 hour to the Ngoi Bo River, then uphill for 1 hour to Muong Bo Village at the center of Thanh Phu Commune - a village of Tay minority. We will have dinner and stay overnight in a wooden Tay stilt house.

Trekking: 7-hr trek/dirt paths/downhill
Accommodation: Homestay
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 3: Thanh Phu Village - Sapa

After breakfast, we walk down hill to Thanh phu bridge to take a beautiful drive back to Sapa. Upon arrive in Sapa we take shower and spend the rest of the day exploring Sapa town. 5.30 pm we will be transferred to Lao Cai for the night train back to Hanoi.

Trekking: 3 km - Introductory grade ( 1 hours trekking)
Transfer Sapa - railway station: 1-hr
Meals: Breakfast
Accommodation: Soft sleeper in AC cabin

Day 4: Back to Hanoi

Arrive in Hanoi around 5 am. Tour ends at Hanoi Railway Station.

For more information and booking this tour, please access ATA's website or contact us through ATA's email: info@activetravel.asia

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Bike Tour of Vietnam

On the first day of our bike tour of Vietnam, we took them for a spin to brave the chaotic traffic of Hanoi.  It was pretty intense riding alongside dozens of motor bikes and cars and other bicycles. Plus the inhaling of constant exhaust fumes kinda makes you feel like you’ve smoked a pack of cigarettes by the end.  We were ready to get out into the countryside and explore.

A crowded street in Hanoi’s Old Quarter (Photo by Lisa Lubin)

Our first day of real cycling we cycled 37 km to Cuc Phuong, Vietnam’s first National Park.  Inside the park we visited the Endangered Primate Rescue Center. The center, run by German biologists and local Vietnamese, rescues and cares for primates that are often hunted and traded for eventual medicinal ingredients.  There are several different species cared for here including the long-armed Gibbon, the long-tailed Langur monkey, and Lorises—smaller nocturnal primates.

Monkey at the Primate Rescue Center in Vietnam (photo by Lisa Lubin)

After a tiring first day of riding, we then did a ‘mini-trek’—up about one thousand steps in the forest…quite possibly harder than the cycling trip we had just done. 

Our third day was a rain and mudfest into the town called Hoa Lu and possibly my favorite ride of the trip. It drizzled all day and the roads were dirty so when you are going fast through puddles there was no helping the Jackson Pollock effect of mud splatter all over your body.

Muddy legs after a day of riding (Photo by Lisa Lubin)

Despite the free mud wraps (you’d pay about $100 for a spa treatment like that in Chicago), we rode about 70K through some of the most charming and tiny, stone-walled villages and mysterious misty mountain towns  For lunch some of us tried a ‘hot pot’ goat soup for lunch…somewhat tasty, but a little gamey for me.  After replenishing our energy we rode further into the city of Ninh Binh where good tour planning allowed us to check in to day rooms at a local hotel to shower and relax with a beer in the rooftop bar before hopping on the overnight train to the town of Hue.

Goat Stew for lunch (Photo by Lisa Lubin)

Hue was a charming cultural town of pagodas, temples, and a citadel. We did an easier cycle tour around the city checking out the sights. The following day we tackled our first major hills. The first one was a four-km, uphill mountain climb. It was super hot and humid out and the salty sweat was dripping into my eyes as I huffed up the mountain pass. I stopped mid-way for a breather and some water. I was happy and proud to reach the top as this was probably the biggest hill I’d ever climbed. Not only was my rear sore, but my thumb was a bit chaffed from the constant downshifting of my 24-speed bike.  But it was only the beginning. 

After a fun beach lunch and refreshing dip in the ocean we were faced with the infamous Hai Van Pass, an 11 km, 10 percent grade uphill climb of curvy road and switchbacks. I use the term ‘we’ loosely, since myself and two other gals skipped the bike ride up and caught a ride with Loi on the bus.  It just didn’t look fun to me and a bit too intense for my leg muscles.

Making up the Hai Van Pass (Photo by Lisa Lubin)

The other tough mountain bike-trained girls peddled up the winding mountain pass road. It took them about an hour to an hour and a half. For many it wasn’t the climb, but more the heat that made if difficult.   When I did my hill that took about 20 minutes for me and I felt proud of myself and called it a day. Coming from the Chicago ‘flatlands’ I have no training with hills and pretty much despise them. But I will say that after five days of riding all day, I was certainly getting better. Back at home I’ve done long rides (about 70K or 40 miles), but never intensely or as consecutively as this.

It was fun stopping along the side of the road to take photographs and cheer on the others as they climbed the mountain pass. It was like we were part of a triathlon or something.
The wonderful pay off of the pass was heading down the 11 km on the other side. We hit speeds of close to 30 mph, which is pretty fast on a bike and cruised down the mountain with a wonderful cooling breeze in our faces. This time I was one of the first to the bottom….love the speed.

Now, on our way to Hoi An, we cruised past the infamous China Beach where U.S. soldiers went for a little ‘R & R’ during the Vietnam War (or American War as they call it here—makes sense, I guess).
Charming pagoda of Hue (Photo by Lisa Lubin)

Inevitably I always ended in the back of the herd, many times because I would stop and take photos while many of the girls raced on by, but mostly because I just wasn’t as fast as them. Many of these girls were on a mission to be number one. Whereas I was on a mission to just get good exercise and see the country from this unique perspective.

Another thing that inevitably slowed me down were these amazingly adorable kids that we would pass on the way. As we cruised by, eager kids greeted us with excited ‘hellos’ every few yards the entire way. I’ve never seen such innocent smiles as the kids would run out of their homes and drop anything and everything just to be able see us and to shout their one English word, “hello.”  I’ve never heard so many “hellos” shouted at me in my entire life. Plus from all the cyclists that go this route over the years they have learned to do hand slaps.  I would slow down and give them a “high five” as I whizzed by. And then I would hear their chuckles as I continued down the road to the next group of excited kids.

Vietnamese boys in the countryside on the way to Hoi An (Photo by Lisa Lubin)

These are incredibly poor kids, that couldn’t look happier.  It always made me smile to see them, even if bugs were getting in my teeth. And I did my best to wave and say hello to each one …

Source: http://www.britannica.com

Friday, September 9, 2011

A sweet little mystery in the highlands

If you set off from Hanoi in the early morning, you can be in another world by the afternoon – Dong Van town sits over 1,000 metres above sea level in a green valley surrounded by rocky mountain ranges in the awe-inspiring province of Ha Giang, one of the most spectacular rural destinations in all of Southeast Asia – truly, a far cry from the bewildering heat and hectic streets of Hanoi at the height of summer.

The town is the capital of Dong Van district, one of four districts surrounding the Dong Van Geopark, a karst plateau featuring large tracts of limestone with many fossils of creatures that walked the earth 400 to 600 million years ago.

The plateau’s average elevation is 1,400-1,600m above sea level. The route up the mountains to the town is precipitous and slow-going, but the views of the imposing rocky mountain ranges make the trip a constant pleasure.

Near Dong Van town we came across a group of H’Mong people preparing for a local music contest that was to be held in the morning. Some of them were playing a khen (pan-pipe) and a ken la (leaf-horn) while others were harmonizing their sweet voices.

The town’s old quarter was lit up with red lanterns hanging from the window ledges of houses along every street and all around the market. As night fell, the town took on a wonderfully fanciful light in the midst of the mysterious rocky highland.

The locals always celebrate the full moon nights on the 14th, 15th and 16th of the lunar calendar to preserve and promote the town’s cultural heritage and customs. During these festivals, cultural and artistic activities take place in the old market. Visitors can taste the local cuisine, watch musical performances, or check out some of the traditional handicrafts, and much more.
Dong Van Market
In the evening, an ebullient crowd of H’Mong begins to gather. Soon there are more than 300 artisans and artists from all corners of Ha Giang province ready to perform. A small stage has been set up for the occasion and there is music and dancing; everyone is happy to be part of the show. We listen to the melodies as well as the sounds of the valleys, forests and mountains, and everyone smiles.

There are 40 houses in the centre of Dong Van’s old quarter, which are most beautiful at sunrise or sunset when the dark grey houses are suddenly brightened by golden sunlight.

The town was built in the early 20th century and, in the beginning, mainly Tay and Hoa people lived here. During the 1940s and 1950s, the Kinh, Dzao and Nung tribes also settled in the area. The two-storey houses are a combination of architectural styles and there is influence from the Zhongnan region of China. The houses are built with tick earthen walls, dark brown wooden frames and stairs and dark grey Chinese yin and yang tile roofs. Each house has a yard and three-step staircase made from bluish limestone pillars. The houses are designed according to the principles of feng shui, balancing the natural and structural energy that courses through the environment.

By nine in the evening, the old quarter is empty and quiet. The ceremony is over; the winners have been awarded their prizes and almost everyone has wandered off home. I stroll over to the old market which was built in 1920 as a central trading place for local tribes to exchange clothes and tools. At night, the market is closed for business, but open for romance. Some of the young women are beautifully dressed and the young men do their best to woo the ladies by playing their khen or ken la.

Leaving the young ones, I step into Pho Co Café, which is located in one of the oldest houses in town; the owners claim it was built in 1890. By a flickering oil lamp I sit sipping my hot tea and gazing out at the street through the faded wooden window bars. I can hear the sound of a khen and a ken la playing in response.

 Pho Co Cafe
The café stays open till midnight and I am perfectly consent to sit there, soaking up the sense of mystery exuded by Dong Van town. As I walk home through the shadows in the still night, I am already looking forward to the first rays of golden sunlight that will herald the dawning of the day.

Source: Dtinews

A very good trip with Active Travel Asia

Our first trip with Active travel was the Sapa valley trek homestay with ecolodge option. Everything was handled very professionally for this by Active Travel Asia.

We were picked up by an agent at our hotel exactly on time and they actually escorted us right onto our train for our night trip to Lao Cai. The train station at Hanoi can be somewhat intimidating and getting tickets can be frustrating so this was really appreciated.

Sapa, Vietnam
Our guide and driver were waiting for us when we arrived in Lao Cai. They drove us to Sapa where we had breakfast and then our guide, Duc, took us on a walking tour around Sapa. Duc spoke very good English and he was very informative and receptive to all of our questions and needs. We then did a short drive to a trailhead and our trek began . If you want to get away from the tourist horde then you really need to go with a guide and be prepared do some walking. The tourists really thinned out after a couple of hours. Our first night of homestay was excellent, great food, nice sleeping quarters and even a hot shower! Duc prepared all of our meals for us and was an excellent cook!

Our next day was 7 hours of walking. I would not recommend this trip to people unaccustomed to long walks in hilly and sometimes unstable terrain. We hike in the mountains at home a lot so it was no big deal. Very beautiful views. We had lunch in a local village house, and then pushed on to our next homestay. Again, decent enough sleeping quarters and a delicious meal prepared by Duc.

Our last day was a stay at the Tapas ecolodge and was this ever worth the money! Beautiful accommodations, great food, and 5 star views.

We were picked up the next morning and returned o sapa by van. Duc met us there and we did a trip to cat cat village and saw H’mong dancing. Duc arranged some cheap scooter rides for us back to Sapa as he could tell that we were pretty worn out. (Thank you Duc!)

The ethnic Mong girl
Duc and driver then escorted us back to Lao Cai and we had extra time so they drove us to see the Chinese border! Cool! Duc then took us to the train station, waited with us, and personally escorted us to our compartment for the night trip back to Hanoi.

As I stated in other reviews, we usually shy away from guided trips as we don't like being part of the herd, but seriously this trip was the opposite of that. We left the tourists behind in the sapa valley and I really don't see how you could do this without having a guide.

Other big thanks to our guide Duc who made the whole experience very memorable. I would very much recommend Duc and Active travel.

Supported by: ActiveTravel Asia

Recommended tour:

Monday, August 29, 2011

ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA announced to launch travel writing contest 2011 for travelers from across the world

The participants will have a chance to win special out-door trips by sharing their best holiday experiences in Indochina (Vietnam, Laos & Cambodia).
ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA, a leading adventure tour operator in Indochina, has launched a travel writing contest 2011 for travelers from across the world.
The participants will have a chance to win special out-door trips by sharing their best holiday experiences in Indochina (Vietnam, Laos & Cambodia)
The participants are encouraged to write about their interesting stories, nice memories or any impressive experiences that made the holidays to be the time of their lives.
The winner will receive a trip for 2 persons costing from $700-->$1000 depend on their selections of out door activities including Trekking, Cycling, Motorcycling, Kayaking in wide areas of Indochina.
The entries can be made by email to event@activetravel.asia in 350 - 1000 words and must be original works of the participants along with the entrant’s name, e-mail and telephone number by 20th October 2011.
All eligible entries will be posted on ATA’s facebook page and 2 travel news sites Activetravel Magazines & Vietnam Adventure News. The winner is the entry that has the amount of LIKE ranked highest on facebook page plus on 2 travel news sites.
The winner will receive the prize based on their selection of out door activities such as: Kayaking Halong Bay, Motorcycling Ho Chi Minh Trail, Trekking Luang Prabang, Cycling Angkor Wat…
These tours are designed especially for 2 persons, costing from $700 - $1000. This must be a memorizable exploration & real experience of lifetime
3 incentive prizes are also available for 3 entries ranked following the winner. The prize is a city tour with the private tour guide for 2 people plus some valuable extra.
For full details of information, please visit: The ATA Travel WritingCompetition 2011

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Vietnam Cat Tien National Park Recognized Global Biosphere Reserve

On 30 June 2011, the United Nations added 18 new sites to its global list of biosphere reserves, bringing the total to 581 in 114 different countries, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) reported.

Cat Tien is the new name of the former Dong Nai Biosphere Reserve in Viet Nam, which was designated in 2001. Two new core zones have been added to the site, bringing its total area to 966,563 hectares. Cat Tien National Park covers the area of Dong Nai, Lam Dong and Binh Phuoc Provinces in southern Vietnam. Cat Tien National Park is 15km north of Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon).

Biosphere reserves are places recognized by MAB (The International Coordinating Council of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme ) where local communities are actively involved in governance and management, research, education, training and monitoring at the service of both socio-economic development and biodiversity conservation. They are thus sites for experimenting with and learning about sustainable development.

Soure: travelnewsnow 

Tour Trekking Nam Cat Tien National Park with ActiveTravel Asia

Monday, August 8, 2011

Riding Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh trail

The mountain paths of the legendary Ho Chi Minh Trail offer visitors to Vietnam an adventurous alternative to the well-worn coastal route - especially if you travel on the back of a motorbike

It was more like a hamlet than a village. A simple collection of stilted wooden houses perched on the side of a mountain overlooking seemingly-endless rows of rice terraces, but even after a long and tiring day on the back of a motorbike passing through startling terrain it was hard not to be caught breathless by its isolation and beauty in the twilight.
Rows of rice terraces are a continual feature on any ride through northern Vietnam.

The primitive village of Ban Hieu is inaccessible except by motorbike or on foot – it's up a long, steep and winding two-metre-wide dirt path flanked on one side by a sheer drop into the paddy fields far below. It was precisely the reason I had set off the previous day along paths once used by the Vietcong to deliver weapons and supplies to the armies fighting in the south during the Vietnam war.

The Ho Chi Minh Trail has always been the stuff of legends, a seemingly endless number of backwater paths and trails that started near Hanoi and ran almost 1,000 miles down the length of the country, crossing into Laos at several points, and ending near Saigon (today's Ho Chi Minh City) where it deposited weapons into the hands of the communist guerrillas fighting against US and Southern Vietnamese forces.

While most visitors to Vietnam travel the well-worn coastal road, I had set out the day before from Hanoi, along with a friend and our mechanic/guide, on the back of three sturdy Russian Minsks, heading south on what would be a three-day bike trip following less well-developed and at times almost non-existent roads. (This would allow me to do part of the northern section, though not enough time to complete the whole route, which takes upwards of 14 days.)

A local rides through paddy fields in Hoa Binh province, northern Vietnam.

With little chance to dwell on the fall and already far from civilization, I had simply but shakily climbed back on the bike and, following Dang Van Diep, our smiling, non-English-speaking mechanic, soldiered on.

An hour later the fall was already far from my mind as I emerged for the first time from a patch of mountain fog to look down upon the vast, green landscape of rural Vietnam stretching out before me.

The view would repeat itself regularly over the next few days (and would never cease to thrill) as our small convoy climbed and descended thin mountain paths, crossed through knee-deep rivers, and rode through dozens of isolated villages of smiling and waving children. All the while we were flanked by miles upon miles of muddy rice paddies filled with young and old women cultivating the land by hand as they and their ancestors have done for centuries.

I soon found a simple but beautiful monotony in riding through these lush green areas, with long hours between stops passing in a meditative blink of the eye. Yet by the end of each day, as the strain of holding firm to the throttle as the bikes bounced over rock and skidded through mud, thoughts of that night's accommodation slowly crept into our minds.

The Russian-made motorbikes outside the homestay in the village of Ban Hieu.

We spent the first night in Mai Chau, a scenic village without roads 135km from Hanoi that is quickly being discovered by tourists looking for somewhere off the beaten path.. That night, after 10 hours on the bikes, we arrived at the truly isolated Ban Hieu.

A village of a few dozen families, an hour by motorbike from the nearest community with a shop, and inaccessible by car, it felt like a forgotten land. The manmade rice terraces – irrigated by intricate bamboo piping snaking down the hillside – and other human intrusions all felt in harmony with nature, and in the miles upon miles of land spread out before us, no city, town, or even single human dwelling was in sight.

Our smiling hosts were already pouring hot water for us and preparing food and beds for the night as I returned.

The following day at dawn we started our journey back north, reaching the noisy and crowded streets of Hanoi by nightfall. Despite one bad fall, aching limbs and over 300-plus miles of dirt trails on the back of a relic of the Soviet Union, it was hard not to turn the bike around and head back out to continue down the trail southwards.

• Hire motorbikes and all-inclusive organized tours can be arranged through tour companies such as Ride Ho Chi Minh Trail (www.ridehochiminhtrail.com).

Recommended tours:

Taste of Ho Chi Minh Trail
Motorcycling the Ho Chi Minh Trail - Half Challenge

Source: guardian.co.uk

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