Family trip in Vietnam - Episode 2: Cai Rang Water Opera

By: City Pass Guide

Kathleen Brown, her husband John and their two adopted children, Peter Quang and Claire Xuan, are touring around Vietnam during their Christmas holiday. Kathleen is a long-time television producer and /media consultant for humanitarian agencies and her husband, John, a professional photographer. Every couple of days, they will post a story along with photos on their travels and adventures.

We encounter the dragons, yet again for an early morning visit to the floating market of Cai Rang in Can Tho.

Water becomes market square, boats transform into shops, stores and trading posts where buyers and sellers enact parts in a production of immense drama.

It’s water opera in technicolor, 3D and surround sound.  And we have front row tickets for a very special performance.

Pineapples, turnips, melons, durian, coconuts and every kind of vegetable grown in the Delta are sold from boat to boat. Many boats feature a bow painted with dragon eyes of red, black and white; many bows are gaily decorated with flower bunches to show respect to Neptune, the God- King of the sea says our guide. 

She tells us that many people on the water are superstitious and only have dogs, sparrows or small songbirds on board their craft. Cats, in particular, are not welcome as they may bring bad luck or peril along the journey.

The choreography of the water opera is a sight to behold as tourist boats slip in and around the merchant boats while fruits and vegetables are passed, bagged, loaded and unloaded, bought and sold. Smaller craft weave about the market selling refreshments – durian, bananas and sliced pineapple pops as well as cokes and coconuts.

Some intrepid tourists even board the market boats which are rafted up together, some four across, and these visitors almost appear to take walk-on parts in the show. 

From a short distance away as I see it the tourists appear as if they’re marauding pirates boarding ships laden with treasures of the delta bounty.

Ahn, our guide, reports that each boat is allowed by local authority to stay for several days or just until most of its hold sells - then they depart making room for other craft, other market boats and other actors in this remarkable water opera.

This Cai Rang water opera is a show whose run never ends and reviews are a smash hit with even the toughest critics – namely, my children. Claire calls it, “way cool” and Peter gives it a “thumbs up”! 

That’s high praise from two Vietnamese-American kids and it doesn’t get much better than that – unless, of course, there’s an electronic game called Water Opera Ninjas.  Hey, now there’s an idea...

Writer: Kathleen Brown

Other articles written by Kathleen:

Family trip in Vietnam - 1st episode: Enter the Dragon

Family trip in Vietnam - Episode 2: Cai Rang Water Opera

Family trip in Vietnam - episode 3: Hoi An ancient town

Family trip in Vietnam - episode 4: Hoi An Countryside

Family trip in Vietnam - episode 5: the LifeStart Foundation

Family trip in Vietnam - episode 6: Hoi An Cooking Class

Family trip in Vietnam - episode 7: Project Runway in Hoi An

Family trip in Vietnam - Episode 8: Water Puppets - Vietnam's Original Muppets

Family trip in Vietnam - Episode 9: Time to Cha Cha with the Chả Cá

Family trip in Vietnam - Episode 10: A Visit to the Hung Kings Citadel and Au Co Ancestral Site

Family trip in Vietnam - Episode 11: Our Visit to the Perfume Pagoda

Family trip in Vietnam - Episode 13: Saigon Street Eats

Family trip in Vietnam - Final Episode: An Afternoon in Cholon

Tribute Episode to our Guide Stars


Should Vietnam Rethink Tourism? Interview with Patrick Gaveau

By: Keely Burkey

The typical travel route for tourism in Vietnam is from the north to the south, and sometimes the other way around. How is this style of tourism killing Vietnam’s potential as a tourist destination?

I wouldn’t say it’s killing it, but certainly it’s restricting the potential for growth. For many travellers, in particular from Australia and other English-speaking markets, Vietnam is still very much seen as a “bucket list” destination, a once-in-a-lifetime trip not to be repeated. For some it is their first trip to Southeast Asia, though more often than not they’ve already travelled multiple times to what we call “fly and flop” beach destinations like Thailand and Bali.

travel in vietnamImage source: baohaiquan.vn

Though Vietnam has some very attractive beaches, it is seen more as a cultural travel experience and it struggles to compete with its more established, experienced neighbours. When the potential of new sites or areas is recognised, these are too often monopolised and destroyed by local interests.

What does the current tourist industry look like in Vietnam?

If you look at these source markets, you will see they are filled with competing general sales agents all offering what on the surface seem to be similar types of travel itineraries, and they are all fighting for a piece of the same pie. There are plenty of unique and specialist offerings out there, but these are primarily suited to niche interests and usually don’t receive the same sort of marketing attention. There are real costs associated with all forms of distribution, so products need to pay their way, so to speak, in terms of return on investment.

So, you think it’s primarily a marketing issue?

The issue around effectively marketing and promoting non-generic itineraries is there, but it’s further challenged by the limited knowledge of traditional travel agents. Many of them haven’t travelled to this part of the world, so they stick with what they know and trust, through a tried and tested product.

travel in vietnamImage source: baomoi.com

Familiarisation or educational trips invariably focus on the main highlights of the country through a north to south trip (or vice versa), so they just don’t have the confidence or knowledge to go beyond this.

Few tourists return to Vietnam for a second trip. Why do you think this is?

There are a host of reasons: the lack of an effective national tourism body to market the destination; the relatively high cost of travel; the cumbersome and expensive visa process; the over-development and pollution of natural attractions; the constant tourist rip-offs; substandard services and a flawed hotel rating system.

What other travel patterns or tours should be created to change this and to encourage more return trips to Vietnam, as it is in Thailand, for example?

There are probably only two main reason travellers would return: to visit an area not previously seen, or for a traditional beach-style long stay. Of the latter, we are seeing the emergence of Danang/Hoi An as a destination for repeat travellers (more so than Phu Quoc, though this is also increasing), though the percentages are still relatively small. This should continue to grow as infrastructure slowly improves.

travel in vietnamImage source: baotuyenquang.com.vn

As the number of hotels and resorts increases, so will the competitiveness of rates, along with an increase in international carriers adding direct routes to Vietnam.

How can travel agents help tourism in Vietnam grow sustainably?

They can market and develop a range of innovative packages specifically aimed at these returning travellers. These could include (but aren’t limited to): special city stays with unique inclusions, like going to the less-visited central highlands region. This could be easily combined with a Danang or Hoi An beach stay or a stay in the country’s far northwest, like Sapa, Mai Chau which are both easily accessible from Hanoi. Or you could have Mekong Delta overnight cruises as opposed to the commoditised day tours. This could also include the longer Mekong cruises, which have become so popular in recent years. All of this can be combined with the proper promotion of Vietnam’s best beach locations and advice on the best time to visit the various regions. These more often should be included in planned familiarisation or educational trips, ensuring that travel agents broaden their knowledge for use in the sales process.

travel in vietnamImage source: zone8.vn

Banner image source: dulich.dantri.com.vn

 


Ghenh Da Dia Phu Yen (The Sea Cliff of Stone Plates)

By: City Pass Guide

Video source: Du Lịch Quy Nhơn Bình Định

Banner Image source: ibb.co


Up with Hot-Air-Balloon in Phan Thiet

By: Quang Mai

Unless you have a great plan for this weekend, City Pass advices you to enjoy the first Vietnam International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta (VIHABF) 2012 in Phan Thiet City from August 29 to September 3.

Around 50 international balloonists from the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, U.K., U.S., China, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and of course Vietnam will take part in the festival, performing in hot-air balloons in varied shapes and sizes. Many site-activities such as trade and tourism fair, musical show, performances of kite flying and parachutes, art shows and glowing night show will thrill you and your family and friends during weekend. At night, you will enjoy watching the splendid balloons decorated with lanterns as well as nice musical background.

According to Binh Thuan Department of Culture, Sport and Tourism, there will be nearly 300 accommodations establishments with more than 10,000 rooms and homestay supply available during the fiesta.

Local Insight: On September 1 evening, the city will host a street festival as well as a fireworks display on Vietnam National Day

 


Adding A Stroke of Art To City Pass Guide

By: City Pass Guide

Vietnam in new style of capture

Richie Fawcett

British sketch artist Richie Fawcett has been living and working in Vietnam for almost three years, but it’s only in this past year that he, and everyone around him, has begun taking his inherent drawing skills seriously. Richie initially ventured to Vietnam to open a variety of bars and restaurants – something he’s spent a fantastic 15 years doing around the world.

Richie soon realised, however, how lucky he was to be in a country where he was surrounded by a visual feast, a photographer’s dream.

As a professional photographer in London in the late 90s Richie had been searching for an alternative way to capture the essence of the street scenes that had always intrigued him. Using a camera seemed far too easy - there was no reason for him to stay in the same spot and analyse a scene for hours on end.

At that point, Richie drudged up his long lost, and virtually unknown, talent and begun sketching his favourite street scenes and cityscapes.

Richie’s time in Vietnam, especially living in central Saigon, is what reignited his interest in sketching. Being able to capture the vibrancy of the people and culture gave him renewed energy to physically realise the way in which people live and work in the rapidly changing urban landscape of Saigon. 

Another aspect that has motivated him to start sketching again, is his appreciation for history and the fact at Saigon, especially, is developing so quickly; many of the old historic buildings of central Saigon have been torn down to make way for new developments.

Although the sites of these developments are often left untouched for years, it’s prompted him to capture the life of the city’s old streets before they’re lost forever. A specific instance of this can be seen in Richie’s four original drawings of Ben Thanh Market  - North, South, East and West.

These were drawn because there is a building development opposite that will one day obstruct the view of the Museum of Fine Arts  – a favourite and, thus, a place in which he has spent countless hours exploring. In fact, he’s spent so much time in and around this building that the staff know him commonly as Waisee . There’s always an exchange of smiles, “Xin chao,” and, “Have a look at what I’m drawing today.

Richie Fawcett

Richie often gets the same reactions when people catch him drawing a scene: they’re either really excited, “Dep dep dep!” or they im/mediately stop talking, have a seat and stare for ages. It’s a brilliant, and yet disarming, way in which he connects with the community. His connection goes as far as the street sellers who actually stop hassling him after seeing him frequent the same spot hour after hour – they’ve even been known to stop working and sit next to him while he draws.

Richie’s sketches now take an average of 4 - 5 continuous hours. This may seem like a long time, but in the beginning they would take weeks, even months, of dedicated time going back and forth to the same spot each day. The result of this work is a collection of panoramic cityscapes in pencil, pen, ink and Chinese ink wash. 

His style of work begins with a skyline, and ends with the characterisation of the people in the landscape. He has a second small pocket sketchbook crammed full of countless individual characters going about their daily tasks.

Since beginning his sketching, Richie has already held a successful solo exhibition at Au Parc titled, ‘Carte Postale de Saigon’ . He has been interviewed for Tuoi Tre TV and has been on the national news, celebrated as a foreigner who appreciates and expresses Vietnamese culture in his own artistic manner. As a result of this exposure, he now has a following of private collectors.

It was on the night of his very first exhibition that he bumped into Patrick Gaveau of City Pass Guide, who happened to be getting a takeaway, but took away an instant interest in Richie’s artwork instead. They im/mediately set a date to meet. The rest, as they say, is history.

Richie went on his first trip to Hanoi during Tet where he managed to produce over 15 panoramic cityscapes in six days. Hanoi has left a fantastic impression on him, and he’ll soon be back to capture the plethora of scenes still available.

Richie Fawcett

He’s currently planning a travelling exhibition, ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, exclusively featuring his signature panoramic cityscapes from both Saigon and Hanoi. It will feature both old and new meter-long sketches demonstrating the contrast between two astounding cities in an amazing country.

The exhibition will be shown in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, with dates to be confirmed; watch this space for updates.

In addition to numerous individual commissions from businesses and residencies, Richie is currently working on sketching the vibrancy of Vietnamese life for the 11th edition of the City Pass Guide and for their upcoming website and mobile applications.


He looks forward to continued collaborations with City Pass Guide, where he is able to showcase his work while providing invaluable pieces for the premium travel guide company. And to think, it’s all thanks to a takeaway and a chance meeting.

Authors & Editors: Richie Fawcett & Kendra Bernard

Richie Fawcett


Michelle Phan discovering her Vietnamese roots

By: City Pass Guide

Video source: Michelle Phan

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