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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.

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

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