Vietnam an Aerial Concert

By: City Pass Guide

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

By: City Pass Guide

Family trip in Vietnam

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.

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

Shimmering, glowing, lush and mystical – dragons await us. To be transported by the water of the mighty Mekong is a journey down a rich, swift and congested highway in one of the most fertile, abundant and beautifully kinetic places in the world. Water becomes marketplace, superhighway and irrigation pipeline all in one.

Family trip in Vietnam

We’ve left behind the crazed, crowded shopping malls in the US just a week before Christmas, happy to avoid the rush only to run smack into liquid commerce riding the dragon.

Who knew?  Welcome back to Vietnam, my children, it’s going to be an amazing, exhilarating and remarkable ride.

In “international adoption parlance” our family is making a heritage tour or homeland visit. We return with our children, Claire who is 12 and Peter, 7, both born in Phu Tho province, northwest of Hanoi. They came home to the United States as infants shortly after being adopted by my husband John and me and now we visit Vietnam to reconnect them with the land of their birth. It is a path with heart.

Family trip in Vietnam

The Mekong is our first stop in this homeland journey. We take an overnight cruise on an ancient Vietnamese rice boat, which happens to be a gentle way to glide into a 12 hour time change-- not having planned --our more than 24 hours of air travel with delays, missed connections, lost luggage and only 4 hours of rest to recharge us.

The (Bassac II) cruise is our tonic – a sweet, neat and easy climb onto the back of these many dragons.

The Mekong Delta’s nine tributaries are referred to by the Vietnamese as the “nine dragons.”  Four of these tributaries empty into the sea, five more meander around the delta and find their way there eventually.

Family trip in Vietnam

At various points on the River, the tributaries can run along narrow cement canals or just as quickly open up to wide gaping exposures hosting barges moving masses of its silt-y bed to shorelines.

“Tuck-tuck”ing boats loaded with fruits, logs, gravel and other goods ply the entire region and its banks  which are punctuated with houses, docks, businesses, boat launches and the large loading docks of rice processing factories.

Rooster crows, karaoke calls and roiling outboard engines are the sound scape of the Delta.  It’s a wonder to behold and a sight to see – unlike any other river in the world. All of ones senses are engaged and enlivened on this river journey.

Family trip in Vietnam

We begin our journey in Cai Be and the kids enjoy seeing rice popped and coconut candies cooked and especially delight when they are invited to taste along the way. The next stop on our boat ride is a visit to a small village on the Mang Thit River.

There we walk along paths where pineapples, mangos and other fruits, herbs and flowers are grown. We visit a rice paddy to learn how the fields are prepared for planting and end the land portion of the tour with a visit to a family home to drink tea and taste local fruits. 

At day’s end we anchor at Tra On, a quiet spot on the river just downstream from Can Tho and the Cai Rang floating market which is tomorrow’s adventure.

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

Top things to do in Quy Nhon

By: Fabrice Turri

Relatively unknown and free of mass tourism, the coastal city of Quy Nhon (the capital of Binh Dinh province in central Vietnam) will seduce those who love to travel off the beaten tracks.

Called ‘Pulo Cambi’ by Portuguese Jesuits who settled there in the 1620s, its origins date back to 11th century Champa culture.

Quy Nhon is also known as the birthplace of the eighteenth Vietnamese Emperor, Nguyen Hue. The city experienced a major U.S. military presence and its hinterland was the scene of heavy fighting during the Vietnam War. However, only a half-buried U.S. tank (on the beach, south of the Lan Anh Hotel) reflects this dark parenthesis of history.

Quy Nhon made up the main port for all military forces in Vietnam’s Central Highlands region. Almost all the supplies for the area were unloaded from ships moored in the port before being transported by aircraft.

A large number of U.S. Army support units were also based in the city and its suburbs, including a field hospital and a large supply center.

Quy Nhon In 1975 the South Vietnam Navy evacuated its soldiers and some civilians before abandoning the strategic city of Nha Trang in May 1975, leaving North Vietnamese tanks and infantry to occupy nearly half of the territory of the Republic of South Vietnam.

Today, things have changed.

Quy Nhon has just begun to capitalize on its huge potential for tourism. At 42 km long, the coast is indeed ​​remarkable with its white sand beaches. Abundant seafood is served in local restaurants at a price that defies competition.

And if historical remnants aren’t Quy Nhon’s greatest strength, we must admit the city and its outskirts still contain some interesting sites worth visiting.

Quy NhonThe picturesque Queen’s Beach, in particular, deserves a visit.

Named in memory of last Vietnamese Emperor Bao Dai’s wife, Queen’s Beach is accessible via An Duong Vuong Street, with your back to the peninsula.

On the way, a paved road leads to a ledge where you can see the tomb of famous Vietnamese writer Han Mac Tu, one of the great figures of Vietnamese literature. Further on, you’ll come to the famous beach where you can stop for refreshments.

Although not a good place for swimming, Queen’s Beach is interesting because of its many blue, egg-shaped, smooth stones superimposed on the small beach pummeled by waves. That is why Queen’s Beach is also called ‘Egg Stone Beach’.

Continuing on the road along the headland, you arrive at Qui Hoa Beach, very quiet and ideal for swimming. A hospital Leproserythat specialises in treating leprosy has been built nearby. In its charming garden, you can admire statues of famous French and Vietnamese doctors. Visitors are welcome.

Arguably the best spot for swimming is probably Bai Dai Beach, a beautiful stretch of white, fine sand.

Located on 13.5 hectares, Bai Dai Beach is frequented by few tourists. With a beautiful view of Cu Lao Xanh Island, Bai Dai remains quite wild. Activities available from the beach include kayak trips to neighboring islands.

The Cham towers of Banh It (20 km north of Quy Nhon, at the top of a hill that boasts panoramic views of the countryside) and those nearest to Thap Doi are remarkable for their sculptures. Despite their years, both sites are in good condition and worth visiting.

If you have time, you can also have a look at Long Khanh Pagoda, Quy Nhon’s main pagoda, built in the 18th century and famous for its 17-meter-high Buddha.

Practical Information:

- Binh Dinh Province is 1065 km from Hanoi and 680 km from Ho Chi Minh City. You can get to Binh Dinh by car, train or plane. Note that the train stops at Dieu Tri Train Station, about 10 km west of Quy Nhon.

- There is a VND 5000 admission fee to Queen Beach (plus an extra 2000 if you’re riding a motorcycle).

- You can go to the hospital that treats leprosy by turning left at the end of An Duong Vuong Street. The hospital entrance is well marked, a few hundred meters further down the road.

Other articles:

Top 5 things to do in Saigon

Top 5 things to do in Danang

Top 5 souvenirs to buy in Vietnam

Top 5 dishes to try in Nha Trang

Top 5 things to do in Nha Trang

Top 5 dishes to eat in Hanoi

Top 5 places to go shopping in Ho Chi Minh City

Top 5 Che-sweet soups must try in Saigon

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Hidden Havens: Vietnam’s Up and Coming Destinations

By: Mark Gwyther

Trying to get away from the crowds? Try these alternatives. Hurry. They won’t stay secret for long.

Vinh Long Province instead of Can Tho

Can Tho is the fifth largest city in Vietnam. Although it is not a major tourism hub, you may want to find a place nearby that’s quieter and easier to manage. Vinh Long Province is on the Mekong River and has a floating market and many pagodas just like its busier neighbour.

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Phu Quy Island, Binh Thuan instead of Mui Ne

Have you been in Mui Ne and wished you were Leonardo DiCaprio in The Beach? Then do not go to Phu Quy Island. If you want an adventure away from the crowds, hop on the boat.

Phu Quy is a four-hour to several-day boat ride from Phan Thiet. By several days I mean if you are on the island and a storm comes, get comfortable. The island houses a fishing village of 25,000 people and there are places to stay and eat. It has a beach.

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Phan Rang, Ninh Thuan Province instead of Nha Trang

Almost all of Vietnam is spectacularly crazy, but Phan Rang is kind of normal. Phan Rang is the geographical centre of the province and the societal centre of Vietnam. It’s not a modern-day city, nor is it undeveloped. It’s not busy, but not quiet either. It’s not touristy, but still easily accessible to tourists.

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Ninh Thuan Province developed infrastructure for tourism before the tourists. The coastal road is 116 km that begins in CaNa and ends near Cam Ranh. On that drive you pass deserts, seaside cliffs, undeveloped beaches, a mid-tier city, salt farms, fishing villages, vineyards, spectacular bays and jungles meeting the sea.

Buon Ma Thuot, Dak Lak Province instead of Dalat

Same cool weather and waterfalls, but with 44 different ethnic groups in the area. Vietnam’s coffee capital is a perfect base for exploring the Central Highlands.

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Tuy Hoa, Phu Yen Province instead of Danang

The capital and base for exploring Phu Yen’s beautiful beaches and bays. No internationally managed five-star resorts along the beach: you have the beaches to yourself. Resorts are creeping north from Nha Trang so now is the time to go.

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Phong Nha Caves, Quang Binh Province, no other place like it on Earth

An absolutely amazing recent discovery, the Phong Nha caves bring Vietnam to a crossroads.

The government can choose to develop it in a sustainable and environmentally sound manner with low impact to the surrounding area and limit access to those who are willing to pay a high price, or develop it for mass tourism by adding a cable car, mega hotels, and the transportation infrastructure to bring in thousands of tourists per day in order to bring in as much money as fast as they can. This is a litmus test.

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You better book your tickets soon, and if you can’t afford it, wait and pounce when you can.

Ninh Binh Province instead of Halong Bay

Nicknamed “Halong Bay on land”, it should be changed to “Halong Bay on land and without tens of thousands of other people”. This is where the movie Kong: Skull Island was mostly filmed.

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Ha Giang Province instead of SaPa

All the ethnic minorities, dramatic landscapes and mountains as around SaPa, but without all the construction, garbage and masses. Ha Giang is the province closest to the Chinese border.

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Traditions of Vietnamese New Year (Tet Nguyen Dan)

By: Fabrice Turri

Tết Nguyên Đán, or simply Tết, is the most celebrated and important holiday in Vietnam.

Tết rites begin with Ong Tao, one of a group of omniscient kitchen gods named Táo Quân, hand-delivering a report to the Jade Emperor in Heaven about affairs in the family home.

It is widely believed that this report affects family destiny or extends or shortens life spans according to actions over the course of the previous year. Ông Táo’s report keeps him in Heaven for six days until he returns home in the night between the old and the new year. Most merchants close during Tết celebrations, so people try to stock up on supplies, food, clothing and home decorations. The streets and markets are crowded with people in the days before Tết and then deserted during the festivities.

Tết takes place on the first day of the first lunar month (late January/early February), a special day when the souls of ancestors return to earth. 2016 is the year of the monkey. The lunar calendar years are named after animals: rat, ox, tiger, cat, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig.

The first day of Tết is reserved to the core of the family. Children receive a red envelope called lì xì (or 'lucky money') containing money from their elders. To bring good luck, cash bills must be new and free from bends or rips. As for adults, it is customary to offer various gifts of wine, biscuits, sweets or jam.

Vietnamese families usually have a family altar to honour their ancestors. Upon this they will place a tray of five different fruits called mâm ngũ quả. During Tết, the altar is cleaned and new offerings are placed. As Tết is the time to welcome family ancestors, one’s house must be thoroughly cleaned to make it as welcoming as possible.

When welcoming visitors on Tết, vigilance is essential. It is believed that the first person to visit one’s home on Tết will bring either good or bad luck to a family for the following year. Thus, a rich and respected visitor would bring happiness and good fortune while the converse is also true.

Home decoration is an important part of Tết festivities. The house is believed to be protected against evil spirits by a kumquat tree, which symbolises fertility. In the north part of the country a branch of pink peach flowers called hoa đào is displayed. In central and southern regions branches of golden apricot blossoms (hoa mai) are used. Bright colours are worn to attract good luck in the coming year.

During Tết special food is served, each with its own characteristics such as luck, prosperity, health or longevity. (Incidentally, before the advent of electric rice cookers, it was considered a bad omen for the coming year if rice was burned at the bottom of the pan.)

Bánh chưng is a square, steamed cake, an indispensable dish of Tết. It was invented during the Hùng King Dynasty and is rectangular to symbolize the Earth. This cake is made ​​from glutinous rice, mung beans and pork, and wrapped in banana leaves. All families place bánh chưng on their ancestral altar as an offering.

Bánh dầy, with its circular base of glutinous rice, symbolises Heaven. With these two cakes, bánh chưng and bánh dầy, Vietnamese pay homage to ancestors and Heaven and Earth.

Boiled or steamed chicken plays an important role during Tet meals. Indeed, all meals that pay tribute to ancestors must indeed contain a boiled chicken. The chicken is served with sticky rice and bánh chưng.

Xôi is glutinous rice of several types. Xôi gấc is one such type that is preferred by many Vietnamese for its red colour – red symbolises luck. This sticky rice is usually served with cooked chicken.

Mứt is candied fruit and Mứt Tết is a Vietnamese jam served with tea. This jam, in its dry form, is always kept in beautiful boxes and placed on the table when serving tea.

Finally, during Tết, Vietnamese stay polite and smiling, under the watchful eyes of three statues (Phúc, Lộc and Thọ) representing happiness, prosperity and longevity.

The main greeting at Tet is, ‘Chúc mừng năm mới’, which translates to ‘Happy New Year’.