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Mar 31 2011

Older citizens with time to spare discover joys of travel

older citizens with time to spare discover joys of travel

Older citizens with time to spare discover joys of travel

  Broadening the mind: An elderly couple visit an orchid garden in Da Lat. Elders are finding that travelling helps broaden their outlook and invigorate their health.  VNS Photo Truong Vi

Broadening the mind: An elderly couple visit an orchid garden in Da Lat. Elders are finding that travelling helps broaden their outlook and invigorate their health. — VNS Photo Truong Vi

 North of the border: An elderly man takes a photo of a couple on a tour to China.  VNS Photo Doan Tung

North of the border: An elderly man takes a photo of a couple on a tour to China. — VNS Photo Doan Tung

Viet Nam is undergoing a revolution of a different kind – more and more elderly people with time on their hands are discovering, perhaps for the first time, the joys of travel.

On a recent bus trip from HCM City to Nha Trang I was flabbergasted to see that the coach was half full not of teenage Western backpackers, but elderly Vietnamese, many of whom were over 60 I later discovered.

Many of the greying holiday makers were accompanied by their grandchildren, some were travelling with their life-long partners, but more than a few of these adventure-seekers were on their own – perhaps for the first time in their life.

Nguyen Van Quy and his wife, who reside in District 3, HCM City, have been planning their trip to the beach for months.

“Both of us used to be teachers. We earned a meagre salary,” Quy said. “When we retired, my children were just getting married. Then we had to help with looking after their children. We had no time for ourselves. We are now both 63. For the first time we are able to travel on our own, on a trip paid for by our children.”

And they are not alone. According to travel agencies throughout the country, over the last two years more and more elderly people are finding the time to go on holiday and see the country of their birthplace. Some are even venturing overseas.

Ha Van Minh, 68, and his wife, Le Thi Bich Lieu, from Bien Hoa City, booked a tour to visit the revered Ganges and many temples in India.

“We both joined a yoga club near my house,” Lieu said. “After a long time, we decided that it would be nice to see the rest of the world.”

Their dreams did not come cheap. They or their children had to pay about VND50 million (US$2,500). But they say the experience was worth it.

“We feel happier and stronger, 10 years younger,” they say excitedly.

Lieu can barely contain her excitement when reliving her time in India. She said she rode an elephant for the first time. The Madurai Temple was enchanting, and bathing in the Ganges “magical”.

Meanwhile, Tran Van Hien and Thai Thi My from the southern province of Long An, left their farm in the hands of their son while they went travelling.

They spent two weeks in Cambodia. Bitten by the travel bug, they are now planning a trip to Melbourne.

“I am told that the scenery there in summer is wonderful,” Hien said, beaming. “I have to take my wife there before we die.”

However, sometimes the children are not too keen on their parents straying too far.

Hien said her daughter was opposed to her travel plans. “Look at the people around us. They are all saving money to buy land. No one sells land to travel.”

But when they returned, Hien said her daughter was delighted to see how well she looked.

“This time, ahead of our trip to Melbourne, they were very supportive. They even insisted we have a health check first,” Hien said.

Health consultant Hoang Duong, from the Hoang Nhan Psychology Consulting Centre, said it was quite normal to see more and more elderly people travel as they become more prosperous.

“I think this is an encouraging trend,” he said. “Travelling helps to broaden the mind. It’s healthy and invigorating.”

Lua Viet and Saigontourist were among the first travel agencies to respond to this growing trend.

Nguyen Chung Thuy, from the Lua Viet travel agency, told Viet Nam News that her firm first started offering tours to the elderly in 1999 – mainly as a perk to the company’s staff on its anniversary.

She said her firm now offers tailor-made tours for the elderly. “For such a tour, our company chooses specially selected guides. Doctors also accompanythe holiday-makers,” she said. “Normally, the tour group consists of no more than 25 travellers. That means the schedule is not too busy. We have to pay attention to the small details. Car trips, for example, should not be longer than three hours. Also too much walking should not be involved. We are also careful with the food. Meals should be soft and easily digestible. Hotels should also have lifts.”

Tran Thi Nhan and her friend, Nguyen Thi Thuc, who are nearing 90, have been going on annual holidays for the last 10 years.

“I have travelled throughout the south with Lua Viet,” said Nhan. “Their tours are well-organised. A doctor travels with us. The guides are also very knowledgeable and enthusiastic.”

Nhan said the director of Lua Viet even sometimes gives piggyback rides to holidaymakers when they are tired.

Nguyen Thanh Tra, who works for Saigontourist, said her firm had also seen growing numbers of elderly holidaymakers booking tours in the last few years.

She said about 10,000 elderly travellers used her firm last year – a 20 per cent increase on the previous year.

She also said the company had begun to offer tours to more distant locations for the more adventurous tourist, such as holidays to Beijing, Seoul and Europe – particularly in autumn. Domestically, she said old favourites such as Nha Trang, Da Nang, Quy Nhon, Phan Thiet and tours to Con Dao, Hue and Lam Dong were as popular as ever.

But she said no matter how exotic the destination, travellers always enjoyed coming home. “I guess, home is where the heart is, she said. — VNS

http://vietnamnews.vnanet.vn//Travel/209915/Older-citizens-with-time-to-spare-discover-joys-of-travel.html

Mar 28 2011

Basking in the unspoilt wild of tranquil Quan Son Lake

basking in the unspoilt wild of tranquil quan son lake

Basking in the unspoilt wild of tranquil Quan Son Lake

by Minh Thu

 

Still waters: Travelling by boat is the best way to tour the islands and passages in the lake.  VNS Photos Minh Thu

Still waters: Travelling by boat is the best way to tour the islands and passages in the lake. — VNS Photos Minh Thu

Blooming: Lotus on Quan Son Lake, which is also home to many different types of bird species.

Blooming: Lotus on Quan Son Lake, which is also home to many different types of bird species.

Quan Son Lake, with its many small islands surrounded by forests and hundreds of limestone peaks, retains its wild and tranquil beauty as an idyllic out-of-the-way picnic spot in My Duc District, 50km from central Ha Noi.

The lake is considered a small Ha Long Bay on land.

Passing the East Bridge, visitors reach a wharf where, for only VND60,000 (US$3), they can be taken around the 850ha lake area by an enthusiastic boatwomen.

The interesting tour gives tourists a chance to behold the captivating scenery and enjoy the fresh air. The site is also the home of many varieties of birds, including the white egret.

During the trip, tourists will also see unique white flowers floating on the surface of the lake. It’s a strange plant native to the lake, with leaves as round as the moon and blossoms shaped like starfish.

Our boatwoman, Ngo Thi Huyen, told us a story about this flower. It was once called hoa tien si (scholar’s flower) because, in the old days, poor students in the region couldn’t afford to buy paper to study. They often sat at the lakeside, wrote on the plant’s leaves, and studied under the moonlight in the hope of passing examinations. When they were successful and became scholars, the plant was renamed in tribute.

In Quan Son, there are many wonderful destinations, including Trau Trang (White Buffalo) Mountain, Su Tu (Lion) Island, Doc Lap Island, Voi Phuc (Kneeling Elephant) Hill and Hoa Qua Son (Flowers and Fruits Hill), each with its own natural attractions.

The area is also famous for Linh Son and Ngoc Long caves, which are not large but are dramatic, with stalactites and stalagmites in various shapes of eagles, dragons, phoenix, unicorns and tortoises. Tourists who arrive in the rainy season in June and July may not have a chance to visit the caves, because the water level rises.

But in this season, waterfalls run down into the lake from the high mountains, creating white spumes that add to the splendid scenery.

After the boat tour, a rest on the islands is suggested, where stilt-houses serve as places to stop for a picnic. Visitors can bring meals from home or ask the ferrywomen to buy food for a delectable midday feast. Local specialities include chicken and goat raised on the island, as well as fish, crab and snails from the lake.

Standing on the shore of Quan Son Lake, visitors marvel at the magnificent and peaceful environment, with imposing cliffs overlooking the green water and flocks of white egrets leisurely stretching their wings.

From October to March, Voi (Elephant) Valley – the bird watching point in Quan Son – is especially appealing, with a great number of species flocking to build nests and shelters.

Next to the valley, Huyen, our boatwoman, led us to an area filled with lotus. She said that we are so lucky to visit this place while the lotus were in bloom. The boat runs slowly through the kingdom of lotus, hindered by roots and sprigs of flowers and leaves. We were charmed by the perfume of the blossoms. Huyen suggested that we pick a leaf and use it as an umbrella to shade us from the sun. Because there were plenty of flowers, we were allowed to pluck a small bunch to bring home.

There are also some pagodas in Quan Son, such as Cao and Ham Yen. However, Linh Son Pagoda, built during the Mac dynasty in the 16th century, is located at the foot of the mountain near Linh Son Cave and reflects on the surface of the lake.

About 20 rowboats and several motor boats are available at the lake to serve tourists, Huyen said. — VNS

http://vietnamnews.vnanet.vn//Travel/203984/Basking-in-the-unspoilt-wild-of-tranquil-Quan-Son-Lake.html

Mar 27 2011

Ha Noi comes alive in autumn

ha noi comes alive in autumn

Ha Noi comes alive in autumn

by Cong Thanh

 

Peaceful: Hoan Kiem (Returned Sword) Lake is the most visited destination in Ha Noi.  VNA/VNS Photo Trong Dat

Peaceful: Hoan Kiem (Returned Sword) Lake is the most visited destination in Ha Noi. — VNA/VNS Photo Trong Dat

Ha Noi will celebrate its 1,000th anniversary and 56th Liberation Day on October 10, making it an ideal time for tourists to explore the city.

Sai Gon Tourist Company is offering typical tours to favourite destinations in the north including the Ha Noi-Autumn season, Ancient citadels of Viet Nam, Sa Pa and Ha Long in Autumn.

Annually, the HCM City-based travel agency organises seasonal tours – Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter – to tourism sites throughout the northern provinces.

But this year, the Ha Noi-Autumn season is seen as the most attractive programme as it coincides with the city’s millennium celebrations.

“We hope tourists will have more chances to witness numerous cultural festivities in Ha Noi during autumn. It’s a special time,” said a marketing staff of the company, Hoang Thuy Linh.

“The Ha Noi-Autumn programme has hosted around 12,000 tourists since early this year and hundreds of foreigners have flocked to the city this season,” Linh added.

She also said the capital had lured tourists with the season of fruits, com (young sticky rice) flake and cool weather.

Autumn tour

Old style: Touring Ha Noi's Old Quarter by xich lo (a peddle-powered vehicle) is a relaxing way to spend the day during the autumn, a time that many Hanoians say is the most beautiful season of the year.  VNA/VNS Photo Anh Tuan

Old style: Touring Ha Noi’s Old Quarter by xich lo (a peddle-powered vehicle) is a relaxing way to spend the day during the autumn, a time that many Hanoians say is the most beautiful season of the year. — VNA/VNS Photo Anh Tuan

The travel agency began preparing the tour last year to meet the increasing demand to visit Ha Noi.

The four days and three nights tour will depart from HCM City and wind through the Trang An tourism site in Ninh Binh Province, Ha Noi and Ha Long Bay.

It costs VND4.2 million (US$215) per person.

After arriving in the capital, tourists will visit the four historic temples of Bach Ma (White Horse); Linh Lang, or Voi Phuc (Crouching Elephant); Tran Vu and Kim Lien – the homes of the four gods of the former royal capital – before touring part of the Royal Thang Long Citadel and the Temple of Literature.

A pedestrian route from the Quan Chuong Gate and exploring the city’s Old Quarter will close the first tour day.

“Tourists will go shopping at the biggest whole sale market of Dong Xuan in the middle of the Old Quarter, which is a symbol of the ancient capital,” said head of the agency’s Ha Noi office Nguyet Nga.

The centre of Ha Noi will be the main visit for the tour second day with a visit to sites around Hoan Kiem (Returned Sword) Lake such as Ngoc Son Temple and turtle tower.

“The lake is also the heart of Ha Noi and visitors can experience a quiet moment as they walk around the lake and see the trees in the autumn.

The most visited places during the day are buildings dating back to the French colonial times including 1902-built Long Bien Bridge; the Opera House built in 1911 and 1931-constructed Museum of Vietnamese history.

The existence of buildings provides real samples of the capital’s varied history.

Travellers can ask tour guides to take them to the night market, which opens at 7pm and closes at midnight in Hang Ngang and Hang Dao streets, which were the former silk trading centre of ancient town.

The third day will start with a two-hour visit to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and One Pillar Pagoda before going to Ha Long Bay – the World Natural Heritage Site.

Ancient capitals

The seasonal programme also includes the vestiges of ancient imperial cities in a trip to the ancient capitals.

According Sai Gon Tourist’s marketing section, Doan Thi Thanh Tra, the tour offers visits to the former capitals of Hue, Hoa Lu in Ninh Binh, Co Loa and the UNESCO recognised Thang Long Royal citadel in Ha Noi.

“We have intentionally arranged destinations in a combined tour, to help tourists gain a deeper understanding of Vietnamese history,” Tra explained.

“The destinations are quite well-known to Vietnamese people, but we link a string of citadels that were built from the country’s foundation to the current capital.”

Arriving in Ha Noi on the morning flight, tourists will take a visit to Co Loa spiral Citadel, which was built in the third century BC.

From Thang Long Royal Citadel in Ha Noi, visitors will return to country’s former capital of Hoa Lu in Ninh Binh Province – 100km south of Ha Noi – in 968-1010.

“Hoa Lu was a capital nearly half century before it was moved to Ha Noi by King Ly Thai To. The route will provide a real historical story of the former capital at Hoa Lu and Ha Noi today,” Tra explained.

The former imperial capital of Hue will be the last place visited on the fourth day.

A night cruise on the Huong River with folk music will help people relax prior to their departure for peaceful mind for HCM City.

Visit www.saigontourist.net for more information. — VNS

http://vietnamnews.vnanet.vn//Travel/204461/Ha-Noi-comes-alive-in-autumn-.html

Mar 27 2011

Electric cars ferry tourists around city’s Old Quarter

electric cars ferry tourists around citys old quarter

Electric cars ferry tourists around city’s Old Quarter

by Nguyen Le Hung

 

 

Eastern promise: The O Quan Chuong (Quan Chuong Gate) has long been an inspiration for artists and is one of the stops along the electric car tour.  VNA/VNS Photo Phuong Hoa

Eastern promise: The O Quan Chuong (Quan Chuong Gate) has long been an inspiration for artists and is one of the stops along the electric car tour. — VNA/VNS Photo Phuong Hoa

Environmentally friendly battery-powered cars have begun offering tourists a new way to take in the sights in Ha Noi’s Old Quarter.

Each car carries seven passengers, and the 30-minute tours begin every fifteen minutes between 7am to 9.30pm daily. Passengers can board at two terminals: across the street from the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre on Dinh Tien Hoang Street and in front of Dong Xuan Market. Tickets cost VND15,000 (US$0.75).

The cars are operated by Dong Xuan Joint Stock Co, which began offering two tours in July. But, after two months, the cars now follow only one route, making brief stops at 13 iconic cultural and historical spots in the Old Quarter.

“It’s fun, it’s cheap and it is a very quick way to browse through all of the many streets of the Old Quarter,” said Mark Geller, an Australian tourist.

You are here: Bach Ma Temple on Hang Buom Street is another stop on the tour. The temple's festival takes place in the second lunar month.  VNA/VNS Photo Anh Tuan

You are here: Bach Ma Temple on Hang Buom Street is another stop on the tour. The temple’s festival takes place in the second lunar month. — VNA/VNS Photo Anh Tuan

E-ticket: Tourists enjoy Ha Noi via battery-operated cars.  VNS Photo Le Hung

E-ticket: Tourists enjoy Ha Noi via battery-operated cars. — VNS Photo Le Hung

“Foreign travellers, who were the target customers for the tours, have only accounted for 20 per cent of ticket sales,” said Pham Tuan Long, an official of the Old Quarter management department.

“This tour not only gives us a quick view of all the major streets and cultural spots in the Old Quarter but also an experience with greener technology,” said Pham Thanh Thuy, 27, a tourist from HCM City. “I really like this car – it runs very quietly. It’s the perfect way to travel around the Old Quarter.”

“I very much adore this,” says Tran Van Hung, 67, a Hang Buom Street resident. “I get on these cars three or four times a week. I love to take my grandchildren with me.”

Among the stops on the tour on the house in which President Ho Chi Minh wrote the nation’s Declaration of Independence, now a museum in which visitors can learn about the history of Viet Nam; Cau Dong Pagoda, which was originally built during the Ly dynasty beside a stone bridge that spanned To Lich River; and Hang Luoc Street, which follows what used to be the banks of the river. Early in the 19th century, the river was filled in to broaden the street. Hang Luoc Street is also the location of the annual Tet flower market, an annual tradition that has been going on for centuries. Each year, the best blossoms from all over the country are gathered here for the nation’s biggest holiday.

The tour also visits O Quan Chuong (Quan Chuong Gate), which has long been an inspiration for artists, representing the spirit of Ha Noi’s historic architecture. The gate was first built out of clay in 1749 but was rebuilt in brick in 1881. The gate used to lie near the Red River, but the city gradually encroached on the river as it expanded.

The tour moves on to Dong Xuan Market, the mother of all Ha Noi markets. It has absolutely everything you might need, from jewelry, clothing and footwear, to household appliances and dried and fresh food. Surrounding the market are many restaurants, which have been famous for their delicious treats for years. Many of these eateries have received rave reviews from gastronomic writers such as Nguyen Tuan or Vu Bang.

Nguyen Thu Huong, deputy head of business planning for the Dong Xuan Joint Stock Co, says the company has been very pleased with the success of the battery car services.

“It’s been so successful that we are thinking of expanding the tours to other tourist spots in Ha Noi, such as West Lake,” Huong said. — VNS

http://vietnamnews.vnanet.vn//Travel/204693/Electric-cars-ferry-tourists-around-citys-Old-Quarter.html

Mar 27 2011

Hill station blend of old, new

hill station blend of old new

Hill station blend of old, new

by Le Huong

 

A hill station for all seasons: An aerial view of Tam Dao District. Visitors can experience spring, summer, autumn and winter every day in the popular former French hill station.  VNS File Photos

A hill station for all seasons: An aerial view of Tam Dao District. Visitors can experience spring, summer, autumn and winter every day in the popular former French hill station. — VNS File Photos

Nestled high up in north-ern province of the Vinh Phuc, Tam Dao is perhaps the perfect respite from the heat and humidity of Ha Noi.

Tam Dao is just 86km northeast of the capital. The town, occupying 253ha, is 900m above sea level in the heart of Tam Dao National Park – the largest in the north.

The 80km mountain range has three prominent peaks, which is why it is named Tam Dao. The middle peak is called Ban Thach (Stone Table) and stands a proud 1,388m. The left peak is named Thien Nhi (Sky Market) and is 1,375m tall, while that on the right, named Phu Nghia, is 1,400m above sea level.

The French hill station is famed for the wraith-like mist that shrouds the town most mornings. By midday the fog lifts to reveal a mind-boggling panorama of hills and forests. The afternoons are typically cooler, while at night a chilly wind makes heavy clothing a must. In fact, each day in Tam Dao is like the four seasons of the year – summer, autumn, spring and winter.

Leading up to the town is a thin ribbon of road 20km long rising from the plain, while a silvery stream circles the town like a silk scarf around the slender neck of an enchantress.

The town is an ideal hideout for authors, which is why an annual writing competition is held in Tam Dao.

Rustic ruins: A vestige of French architecture still remains in Tam Dao.

Rustic ruins: A vestige of French architecture still remains in Tam Dao.

Adding to the splendour of Tam Dao are the vestiges of old French colonial houses dating from the early 20th century harking back to the days of European rule. In all, there are about 200 colonial buildings still standing, but few can remember the days of the French. Local culture official Do Dinh Chuc introduced me to Nguyen Huu Duyen and Luu Ngai. Duyen, now in his seventies, who is a descendent of one of the first families to settle in Tam Dao, some 104 years ago. Ngai used to work as a maid in one of the French’s villas.

That said, both remember only too vividly 1946 when locals applied the scorched-earth policy and destroyed the last vestiges of colonial rule during the Vietnamese war of resistance against the French.

Further information can be gleaned from the sixth volume of Indochina magazine published in June 1914. The magazine reads: “In 1904, a delegation sent by the Office of the General Governor of French Indochina sought a suitable place in the Tam Dao mountain range to build a summer resort.

“The delegation reported that they had found a suitable locality at a height of 930m. After two years of careful examination, the office began work in 1906 on the hill station.”

The French occupied the town for the next three decades before it was totally destroyed in the war of resistance. In its heyday, the town had 143 stone-built villas, some owned by wealthy Vietnamese such as Ho Dac Diem, Hong Khe and Phu My.

The architecture in Tam Dao is reminiscent of Sa Pa, Da Lat and Ha Noi, a blend of the old and the new, and gave the nostalgic colonialists a taste of home.

The stone walls were typically 60-120cm thick. The slate for the roofs was imported from Toulouse and Marseille.

Little now remains.

Duyen and Ngai said life for them and the other 6,000 Vietnamese in the region was hard. Most served the wishes of their colonial masters. They were not allowed to settle in the town. Instead they were forced to live 2km away.

Today Tam Dao has 60 hotels and guest houses that are owned by 17 families. The district received about 1 million tourists in the first six months of this year, which is a 50 per cent increase against the same period last year.

The remaining 200 inhabitants earn a living from farming and growing su su (the local name for chayote).

“Chayote here are more delicious than those in other places such as Sa Pa,” said Do Quoc Hai, a tourist from Ha Noi, while eating a bowl of chayote that had been stir-fried in oil and garlic.

Green chayote trellises laden with fruit can be seen everywhere. About five tonnes are picked each day. In fact, the unique taste of the fruit has become synonymous with Tam Dao. And when visitors reluctantly have to return to the noise and pollution of the city, a basket of the fruit is a happy reminder of the halycon days in the hills. — VNS

http://vietnamnews.vnanet.vn//Travel/204928/Hill-station-blend-of-old-new.html

Mar 27 2011

Yang Bay attracts tourists in search of natural paradise

yang bay attracts tourists in search of natural paradise

Yang Bay attracts tourists in search of natural paradise

by Ha Nguyen

 

Tranquil: Local and foreign travellers enjoy the cool waters at the Yang Khang Waterfall.  VNS File Photos

Tranquil: Local and foreign travellers enjoy the cool waters at the Yang Khang Waterfall. — VNS File Photos

Yang Bay in the central province of Khanh Hoa is famed for its pristine beauty, expansive forests, and glassy waterfalls – in fact the superlatives go on and on.

Duong Le Na, an overseas Vietnamese from the US and her friends recently decided to travel to the site. When they arrived at Yang Bay she was beside herself with joy.

“On the stone steps of the gentle slope we started our journey to Yang Bay waterfall. The fresh air the cool water, I’m in ecstasy,” she wrote in an e-mail to a friend.

“The quite beatitude is broken by the roaring of the waterfall. The waterfall feeds into several small lakes below, of which the deepest is 16m. My friends and I immediately drived into the water to enjoy the coolness. We are all in agreement that this is the most beautiful place on earth,” Na wrote.

Yang Bay means “heaven’s waterfall” in the language of the Gia Rai people, one of the 53 ethnic groups in Viet Nam.

Panoramic: A view of Yang Bay.

Panoramic: A view of Yang Bay.

The river begins at a spring some 2km higher up in the mountains. It plunges down several waterfalls into a one-metre deep crystal clear pool.

The two other major waterfalls in the area are Yang Khang and Hocho. After a refreshing dip, visitors can relax in a natural hot spring.

Yang Bay waterfall is also famed for the “lithophone” that has been erected – iron wires fastened to the cliff that play as the water passes over it.

Gia Rai residents are proud of their musical ability and are only too happy to entertain visitors. They play traditional instruments such as the chapi, t’rung, tacung flute, taleploi clarinet and the dan da (stone instrument).

Situated in Khanh Vinh District’s Khanh Phu Commune, Yang Bay waterfall forms part of the 57ha Yang Bay Tourism Park.

Locals put on a variety of activities to entertain tourists, such as pig racing and crossbow shooting. There is also a 4,500sq. m bear farm. Visitors can also feed crocodiles.

Na’s friend Ken Jones was particularly taken by the crocodile farm. “Feeding the crocodiles was fun but terrifying,” he said.

Na meanwhile fell in love with the orchid gardens.

“I have lived far from my homeland for more than 30 years. I can’t believe how beautiful and pristine this place is,” she said.

After the orchid gardens Na and her friends listened to locals playing the dan da and t’rung, which consists of five to seven pieces of bamboo of varying length that are tied together with two parallel cords. It can be rolled up. When played it is hung from a metal frame. The musician strikes the bamboo with two to four rods. The sound of the t’rung is reminiscent of running water.

“At the end of the evening, we relaxed by a campfire and sampled local culinary delicacies such as grilled crocodile and steamed bamboo filled with minced pork. Ostrich is another popular local dish,” said Na.

To get to Yang Bay from Nha Trang City you must pass through Dien Khanh town and several villages.

Yang Bay reserve occupies 570ha and is famed for its virgin forest. It is known as Gia Rai in the local language.

Entrance tickets cost VND30,000 for adults and VND15,000 for children. English speaking tour guides cost VND100,000 per hour, while Vietnamese language guided cost VND50,000 per hour, said tourism official Hoang Van Khanh, who works for Khotoco Co.

The 800m tree-lined path to the centre is a festooned with flowers and creepers. The foot weary can catch an electric bus for VND10,000.

For those wanting to take a dip in Yang Khang Waterfall, swimming costumes can be hired for VND60,000 to 70,000. Floats cost VND5,000.

Just under a kilometre away is the Hocho Waterfall.

Yang Bay welcomes thousands of visitors each year.

“We plan to invest billions of dong in Yang Bay. We want to build a mud bath and a high-end resort,” Khanh said with a smile surveying the beautiful countryside. “Then more people will be able to enjoy the nature and the loveliness of the reserve. — VNS

http://vietnamnews.vnanet.vn//Travel/205153/Yang-Bay-attracts-tourists-in-search-of-natural-paradise-.html

Mar 27 2011

Picturesque lake attracts day trippers from Ha Noi

picturesque lake attracts day trippers from ha noi

Picturesque lake attracts day trippers from Ha Noi

by Minh Thu

 

Relaxing: An young woman enjoys the poetic landscape at Tien Sa Lake.

Relaxing: An young woman enjoys the poetic landscape at Tien Sa Lake.

Monkey time: A monkey sits on a tree near Tien Sa Lake. The area has diverse flora and fauna.

Monkey time: A monkey sits on a tree near Tien Sa Lake. The area has diverse flora and fauna.

The romantic name attracts a lot of visitors to Tien Sa (The Fairy Descends) Lake, located about 60km from Ha Noi at the base of Tan Vien Mountain in Ba Vi District. It’s an ideal destination for a relaxing day or weekend in the fresh air in a quiet atmosphere that’s hard to find in the city.

There is much to see around this lake where, according to local legend, fairies once descended to earth to bathe. When they returned to heaven, one hurriedly followed them, leaving her scarf blowing in the wind. The scarf then turned into a white cloud above Tan Vien.

Due to the topographical and geologic conditions, the lake is clear all year round. The surrounding mountains and forests, along with the floating houses on the lake, create a dreamlike and idyllic landscape.

The green forests covering part of the mountain and surrounding the lake have created a cool, pleasant and romantic atmosphere, said Banh Thanh Ban, head of the area’s management board.

“Many young couples visit on the weekends where they relax and enjoy the quiet atmosphere together,” Ban said.

The couples can explore the lake by boat, enjoy a leisurely walk around the hills or sit in the shade of a tree to read a book, he said.

In the summer, tourists enjoy bathing at Nhi Long Waterfall nearby or at the water park, which has three pools and nine water slides, as well as recreating facilities for tennis, football, volleyball and badminton. An amusement area includes electric cars and rides, and a resident troupe of monkeys.

Pham Hung Anh and his friends have come to the site many times to enjoy it at different seasons of the year.

“I prefer visiting the lake in summer,” Anh said. “I can swim at the waterfall, which is dry in the winter. I can also check out the lake by boat and enjoy the cool air. After driving in the dust and heat, reaching the lake is a wonderful feeling.”

In winter, the weather is fairly cold, but tourists from Ha Noi still choose Tien Sa Lake for weekend getaways because they love the cosy atmosphere. Sauna and massage services are available featuring herbal remedies of Dao ethnic people, which help relax and refresh the muscles after a long day of climbing and trekking.

Folk dances

Cool water: In summer, Nhi Long Waterfall creates a natural swimming pool.  File Photo

Cool water: In summer, Nhi Long Waterfall creates a natural swimming pool. — File Photo

At night, visitors can enjoy folk dances and songs by the Muong ethnic people, or join in a bonfire and try such local specialities as baked maize and sweet potatoes.

In addition to the natural beauty, the tourism site features architecture built in a traditional style with rich detail and harmonised colours. A hotel with a red roof sits among green leaves beneath the blue sky, and the surrounding structures are given romantic names like Ngu Phuc (Five Good Fortunes) Gate, Thuan Thien (Following God’s Order) Bridge, Lien Hoa (Lotus) House, Uyen Uong (Inseparable Couple) Pavilion, and Vien Son (Mountain’s Garden)

“We intend to invest more and increase services to lure more tourists to stay longer,” Ban said. “This is a wonderful place to rest. Tourists can live in harmony with nature and enjoy our entertainment services away from work and ordinary worries.”

At 400m above sea level, the Tien Sa Lake tourism area has a total area of 150ha, including 120ha of forest and 20ha of water. The tourism site was developed in 2003 by the Cuong Thinh Company with a total investment of VND60 billion (US$3 million) over ten years.

Last year, the site attracted more than 90,000 visitors, according to the director’s statistics. — VNS

http://vietnamnews.vnanet.vn//Travel/205386/Picturesque-lake-attracts-day-trippers-from-Ha-Noi-.html

Mar 27 2011

Quang Tri offers sombre past

quang tri offers sombre past

Quang Tri offers sombre past

by Thanh Ha

 

Still standing: Old Quang Tri Citadel receives thousands of visitors every year as one of the fiercest battlefields in Viet Nam during the American war.

Still standing: Old Quang Tri Citadel receives thousands of visitors every year as one of the fiercest battlefields in Viet Nam during the American war.

Duck and cover: Foreign tourists explore part of the Vinh Moc Tunnel system where the local residents lived and supported soldiers on the southern front.  VNS Photos Truong Vi

Duck and cover: Foreign tourists explore part of the Vinh Moc Tunnel system where the local residents lived and supported soldiers on the southern front. — VNS Photos Truong Vi

If you asked me where you should visit to understand more about Viet Nam, my answer would be Quang Tri Province.

With its battlefields, monuments and museums, it is one place I will never be able to forget.

Vinh Linh District’s Hien Luong Bridge linking North and South Viet Nam is situated on the 17th parallel and was the temporary military border after the Geneva Peace Agreement on Indochina in 1954, following the French defeat in Dien Bien Phu battle.

The wooden footway supported by huge iron girders was built in 1928 for pedestrians. Improvements were added in 1931 and again in 1943 by the French to allow vehicles to cross the Ben Hai River. Seven years later, they further upgraded the bridge to serve their military purposes but it was badly damaged two years later during the war.

In later conflicts, it was bombed on numerous occasions, but it was rebuilt and restored, and stands as monument to the bloody struggles it witnessed.

The 178m long bridge that can be seen now is made from reinforced concrete with seven spans and steel girders.

Nguyen Van Tuy, an 80-year-old from Bac Ninh Province, asked his children to take him to Quang Tri to see with his own eyes the sites that have become well known across the world and to visit his younger brother who died there in 1972 and is now buried in the National Truong Son Martyrs’ Cemetery.

“I am here today, maybe my last journey, to view the victorious history of our people. The Hien Luong Bridge and its surroundings have become holy to us. It now stands for our thirst for peace and the reunification of Viet Nam,” Tuy said.

After the national victory in 1975, the military border was eliminated. In 1996, the Ministry of Transport decided to build a new bridge which is located just a few metres away from the old one to the west.

The old bridge that carried thousands of Vietnamese soldiers across to the South has become recognised as a national symbol and now attracts thousands of visitors per year.

From Hien Luong Bridge, you can take a 20km drive to the Old Citadel in Quang Tri Town.

The second must-see venue in the province was used as a military fort under the Nguyen dynasty. During the French and American occupation, it was used as a prison to hold Vietnamese patriots.

The citadel was built in 1802 in Trieu Phong District then moved to today’s location seven years later.

The first citadel was made of soil and rebuilt using bricks with towers at each corner that were used as sentry boxes.

With a perimeter of 2,080m, walls of 4m high, and a deep moat surrounding the complex, the citadel was an ideal base for the army.

During its 146 years (1809-1945) under feudalism, the citadel was the centre of politics, economics and military operations for the province and a tactical stronghold for Hue to the north.

The town was liberated on May 1, 1972 but the Sai Gon and American troops were hell-bent on recapturing the citadel, and it suffered the devastating effects of the ensuing battle.

During the 81-day siege, they dropped all kinds of ordnance including high explosive, napalm, 7-tonne and cluster bombs onto the town, concentrated on the citadel.

In total, an estimated 328,000 tonnes of explosives were dropped on the area, the equivalent of seven Hiroshima atomic bombs. During that time, the Vietnamese soldiers had to endure more than 100 bombs and 200 shells per day.

Today, there is almost nothing left of the old citadel.

The gate has been restored at the historic site and there is a small museum where visitors can learn more about those horrific days through objects and pictures that are on display. There is also a memorial temple dedicated to the heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice for national reunification.

In the future, restoration work will be carried out to comprehensively restore the citadel and return it to its former importance and stature.

Further north from Dong Ha, the provincial capital of Quang Tri, it takes just 20 minutes by car to the Vinh Moc Tunnels.

The tunnels were part of Vinh Linh District’s system of underground villages during the war.

To minimise casualties, people from the district were forced to live underground to avoid the bombing.

They dug trenches so they could travel in relative safety and tunnelled even further underground to develop living spaces.

There are 114 tunnels with a total length of 40km and more than 2,000km of trenches and ditches in the district. Vinh Moc is the most famous because of its position and function during that time.

The tunnels used to be thousands of metres long but now only 1,700m remain. This underground network has 13 exits, seven opening to the sea and six to the hills while it is divided into three layers, the deepest of which is 23m deep.

They are connectedly by a 768m main axis that is 1.6 to 1.8m high and 1.2 to 1.5m wide, along both sides of which are housing chambers where families ate, slept and co-existed.

There is also a large underground meeting hall with a seating capacity of 50 to 80 people, which was used for meetings, movies, artistic performances, surgery and even a maternity ward, where 17 babies were delivered.

“It is an incredible feat of labour. I find it hard to squeeze through these tunnels. I really admire the people who not only lived but also fought in such uncomfortable conditions for years,” said Tuy’s son Nguyen Tien Hoan.

“It’s hard to believe that 17 babies were born here, a symbol of the immortality of the people of this land,” said Hoan who emerged from the tunnels after spending just a few minutes underground.

The National Truong Son Martyrs’ Cemetery was the last venue that Tuy and his family visited to view his brother’s grave.

The cemetery is located on the top of a hill surrounded by eight smaller hills, like an eight-petal flower, in Vinh Truong Commune, 25km northwest of Dong Ha.

The 106ha cemetery is home to more than 10,200 fallen soldiers and is divided into five sections according to where each soldier was from, with a memorial monument situated at the top.

The Memorial of the Nation to Soldiers’ Sacrifices has three sides representing the three Indochinese countries, leaning on each for support during their fight against their common enemy. Between sections four and five is a group of monuments dedicated to the heroism of Battalion 559 and the Viet Nam-Laos solidarity. The cemetery is the resting-place of many soldiers who fell on the Ho Chi Minh Trail and on battlefields across the central part of the country.

It is the largest memorial site in the country, reflecting the people’s deep sorrow, gratitude and respect for those who sacrificed their lives for the liberation of the nation.

Every year, it welcomes more than 20,000 visitors from around the country. — VNS

http://vietnamnews.vnanet.vn//Travel/205618/Quang-Tri-offers-sombre-past.html

Mar 26 2011

Visitors to former prison camp bask in Con Dao’s rare beauty

visitors to former prison camp bask in con daos rare beauty

Visitors to former prison camp bask in Con Dao’s rare beauty

by Thuy Hang

 

Golden getaway: A newly built coast road on Con Dao. Despite the island's ugly history, Con Dao now welcomes a growing number of tourists who are drawn by the island's pristine beauty.

Golden getaway: A newly built coast road on Con Dao. Despite the island’s ugly history, Con Dao now welcomes a growing number of tourists who are drawn by the island’s pristine beauty.

Hell on earth: Tourists to Con Dao visit the ruins of a notorious former French prison on the island.  VNA/VNS Photos Kim Phuong

Hell on earth: Tourists to Con Dao visit the ruins of a notorious former French prison on the island. — VNA/VNS Photos Kim Phuong

Lauded by The New York Times as “one of Southeast Asia’s most untouched and breathtaking getaways”, Viet Nam’s Con Dao archipelago has begun to welcome a growing number of tourists who wish to experience its pristine natural landscape.

The New York Times recently featured a photo essay of the archipelago in its Travel section which followed a previously published online article about the 16 islands on its website in May.

We took a 45-minute flight to travel the 230km distance from HCM City to Con Dao Airport, located on the archipelago’s largest island Con Son, which is commonly called Con Dao Island in the southern province of Ba Ria- Vung Tau.

One of the guy’s in our group, who has a fear of flying, quickly recovered after stepping off a Fokker aircraft and taking a deep breath of fresh, ocean air.

Far away from noise, pollution and crowds of the city, the islands offer an escape into the great outdoors – a world of deserted beaches and peaceful seaside towns.

On the way from the airport to our hotel, which offers seaside wooden bungalows, the kind driver told us about some of the must-see spots on the island.

Although many say the best times to travel to Con Dao are February, June and October, we had perfect weather during our five-day vacation in August except for a bit of rain on our second day. However, the shower brought a beautiful surprise along with it: a big bright rainbow. I never knew that a rainbow could bring such joy! We jumped and yelled like children in happiness.

I still remember how relaxed I felt when I sat in a beach chair on my bungalow’s balcony, listening to the sound of the waves crash onto the shore and watching black squirrels swing on tree branches overhead.

Don’t expect to find a taxi on the island. The only way to get around is to rent a motorbike, which will give you access to every single corner of this little bit of paradise.

We started our journey of discovery on motorbikes hired from the hotel.

Life's a beach: Local children play in the surf. The island of Con Dao is famed for its imaculate white sand beaches.  VNS Photo Hoai Nam

Life’s a beach: Local children play in the surf. The island of Con Dao is famed for its imaculate white sand beaches. — VNS Photo Hoai Nam

Bai Nhat Beach, a white sand stretch surrounded by a shark-shaped mountain range, was our first stop. Except for another group of young people who were preparing seafood BBQ the rocks, we had the beach to ourselves. We made friends quickly and were invited to join their feast. All of the seafood was fresh, purchased at the island’s only market.

Our seafood extravaganza didn’t stop there! We had dinner at a nearby seafood restaurant, which was highly recommended by our taxi driver. We were not disappointed, as it offers an abundant menu featuring local seafood specialities at very reasonable prices. Connoisseurs can have a look at the tanks filled with different kinds of live seafood, some of which I’ve never seen in my life, to decide what looks good for dinner.

The next day, we visited Dam Trau, another pristine beach, which we were able to access after following a 2km slushy and bumpy path. We were the only human presence in that dramatic landscape, where blue sky and water meet in harmony.

“Maybe the feeling of being in paradise is the exact same feeling we have when lying here on the smooth sand beach,” said my friend, Duy Tung.

Our driver also recommended we visit Ong Dung Beach. To get to the beach, you have to drive up a mountain, then leave your motorbike and follow a trail through the jungle. You will be impressed when you see the ocean so close to the jungle. However in my opinion, Ong Dung is not an ideal place for swimming because there are many rough rocks under the water.

If you want to learn more about the wildlife, you can book a “Turtle Tour” at the national park office. You will have to travel to another island for the tour, and you may even get to see a turtle laying eggs. Any trip to Con Dao Island should include a visit to its historical sites. It is infamous for a cruel prison network, which was first run by French colonists. Due to its remoteness, the French used the main island to jail anti-colonial protesters. During the American War, the US-backed Sai Gon regime continued the tradition, sending revolutionaries and activists to the more than 10 prisons on the island.

Nowadays, a visit to any of the prisons, including the oldest Phu Hai Prison, which was built in 1862, most people have a visceral response and actually feel the cruelty of “Hell on Earth”. Examples of “tiger cages” and “cow cages”, the infamous cells and punishment areas used to incarcerate several leading Vietnamese revolutionaries, are on display.

About 200,000 prisoners were incarcerated in the prisons and 20,000 died in atrocious conditions. The Hang Duong Cemetery holds the remains of the many prisoners who perished here, including heroine Vo Thi Sau. A revolutionary activist, Sau was caught by the French and imprisoned in Con Dao Prison before being sentenced to death in 1952 at the age of 19.

For many years, the only way to get to the island was either by boat from the coastal city of Vung Tau or a flight from HCM City. The first-ever direct flight from Ha Noi to Con Dao recently launched by the new airline Mekong Air, which is expected to contribute significantly to the island’s development.

As tourism on the island has yet to fully develop, you can count on your fingers the number of accommodation options for tourists. The opening of the eco-luxury Six Senses resort from the Bangkok-based company next month suggests that Con Dao might soon become part of the international travel scene.

Every year, between 30,000 and 50,000 tourists visit Con Dao Island. — VNS

http://vietnamnews.vnanet.vn//Travel/205856/Visitors-to-former-prison-camp-bask-in-Con-Daos-rare-beauty.html

Mar 26 2011

Local tour guides provide an insight into the real Sa Pa

local tour guides provide an insight into the real sa pa

Local tour guides provide an insight into the real Sa Pa

 Steps to heaven: The familiar terraced fields in Sa Pa attract many domestic and foreign visitors.  VNS Photos Truong Vi

Steps to heaven: The familiar terraced fields in Sa Pa attract many domestic and foreign visitors. — VNS Photos Truong Vi

 Gracious guides: Many local women work as souvenir sellers and tour guides to lead tourists to discover their hometown's lifestyle and hidden charm.

Gracious guides: Many local women work as souvenir sellers and tour guides to lead tourists to discover their hometown’s lifestyle and hidden charm.

Bridging the divide: A foreign tourist tries to cross the May (Rattan or Cloud) Bridge in Sa Pa, a destination for adventurous tourists.

Bridging the divide: A foreign tourist tries to cross the May (Rattan or Cloud) Bridge in Sa Pa, a destination for adventurous tourists.

 It’s a strange land that leaves me with different feelings whenever I come to rediscover it.

Sa Pa is an incredibly picturesque town in the Hoang Lien Son Mountain Range near the Chinese border in northwestern Viet Nam, 350km from Ha Noi.

It can be explored almost year-round from March to early December. Vietnamese most like to visit during June and July to escape the summer heat in other parts of the country. Sa Pa is 1,500m above sea level so the weather is quite mild, and cold at night.

The best time to go to Sa Pa is on a weekday, as weekenders tend to flock here. However, the famed “love market” only takes place on Saturday nights, so visitors often extend their tour to Saturday to experience it.

Tourists can see many hill tribe people, their villages and rice terraces. The ethnic minority groups generally retain their lifestyles and traditional costumes.

The area’s high mountains, deep ravines and lush vegetation rise to the peak of Mt Fansipan – the highest point in Indochina. The combination of fresh mountain air, relaxed ambience, sweeping panoramas and fascinating hill tribes make Sa Pa a must-see destination.

A trek took us deep into a hill tribe region where tourists are still something of a novelty. Staying in village homes allowed us to experience firsthand a lifestyle that has been little touched by the modern world and a curiosity from our hosts just as great as our own. The trekking is fairly strenuous at times but the spectacular scenery and sense of adventure make it worth the effort.

I can’t explain why all of the local tour guides are women. All are under 30 and haven’t yet married. Thao Thi Ru, a Dao ethnic woman, has guided tourists since she was 12, after starting her career as a souvenir vendor. Sometimes, to get tourists buy her hand-made souvenirs, she has offered herself as a guide for free. Gradually, she has learned English from them, learned to cook dishes to their tastes, and acquired the experience to become a professional tour guide.

“Being local, we have an advantage over tour companies,” Ru said. “Foreign tourists prefer us to guide them because we know the ways and easily lead them to villages and local houses. They love to understand the local customs as told by locals like us.”

Under Ru’s direction, we visit Ta Van, Ta Phin and Ban Ho communes and get a greater understanding of the Mong and Dao people’s stone-carving, weaving, jewelry-making, metalwork and embroidery crafts.

Ta Phin Cave, at the far end of Ta Phin village, is an attractive destination which tourists often bypass without a local guide’s suggestion.

The cave requires a guide with a flashlight, and the guide will shine the torch on a variety of stalactites.

Some of the locals invite visitors to go to their homes to show how they live and what they have, and tell them about their families. On following them to their houses, tourists find out how simply they live. The tour guides suggest you to buy the merchandise you like from them as repayment for what they have shown for you.

Local tour guides also lead the trips to the forests and mountains because they know thoroughly the terrain.

Before starting a tour, the guides remind tourists to bring food, shoes, sleeping bags and other necessities, said Giang Thi Co, a Mong woman.

“I have learned from the elders folk medicines to treat stomach aches, muscle pains and snake bite,” Co said. “Once, a Western woman couldn’t walk anymore because her legs were sore, so I picked some leaves to apply to her swollen calves. She felt better and said ‘good, good!’ to me.”

City lovers may find Sa Pa is not the place for them as its rich ethnic lifestyle is far removed from modern life. If you expect to go shopping in malls, Sa Pa has nothing to offer. The only way to go shopping is to go to the local market where you can find unique handicrafts, jewelry and fabrics with colourful embroidery. While tourists don’t know how to bargain or choose the best items, the local guides are ready to help.

Sa Pa is famous for its “love market” where local young people go to show off and find partners. It is held every Saturday night and provides a unique and unforgettable experience.

The love market is a tradition in the culture of the Mong, Tay and Dao. All the people around Sa Pa live in isolated villages and can only get together once a week during the Sunday morning market. The night before, young men and women from all around come to the love market to meet and express their emotions through playing the khen (pan pipe) and singing according to traditional customs of their people.

The experience of Sa Pa trip is not something that everyone can buy, but adventurous people and those who seek to know the hidden charm of Vietnamese hill tribes living in their old traditional mountain villages cannot miss this place. — VNS

http://vietnamnews.vnanet.vn//Travel/207013/Local-tour-guides-provide-an-insight-into-the-real-Sa-Pa.html

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