From Vietnam to The Philippines: A Travel Guide

By: City Pass Guide

The Palawan islands of the Philippines is one of the last frontiers of unexplored territory. A host to nearly 1,780 of the most remote beaches in the country, Palawan was internationally voted as one of the world’s top beach destinations in 2013 and 2015.

The Captivating Palawan Islands

Famous for its massive caves, crystal clear waters, offshore islands, gorgeous sunsets, stunning viewpoints and wide range of animal wildlife, it is no surprise that the Palawan Islands are becoming one of the most sought after tourist stops in the world. Here on the islands, which are about 760km from Manila, the Puerto Princesa Underground River and El Nido Bay are two of the most popular spots in the province, and for many good reasons. They are accessible by airplane, and many airlines have daily flights to the Puerto Princesa Airport.

The Underground River

On December 4, 1999 the Puerto Princesa Underground River, officially known as the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Then, shortly after in 2011, it was also recognised as one of the Top 7 New Natural Wonders of the World. Puerto Princesa, a town nicknamed “The City in a Forest”, was named as the Philippines’ cleanest and greenest city and has also been internationally recognised for its environmental excellence. Be sure to plan in advance because in order to keep the pristine nature intact, the government has put strict limitations on the number of visitors allowed here each year.

“In 2011, the Underground River was recognised as one of the Top 7 New Natural Wonders of the World.”

It is from the city that you reach the Underground River, the longest navigable river of its kind, stretching 8.2km through the St. Paul Caves and exits into the East Sea. It is roughly 80km from the city centre and one can reach the caves with a tour company or by private boat.

The St. Paul Caves

The cave system itself, eloquently weaved throughout a stunning Limestone Karst mountain range, is roughly 24km long and contains many unique chambers one can visit. While navigating the Underground River, there is much more to see than just the ancient stalagmites delicately hanging above. The Subterranean River National Park is a true model of biodiversity which displays over 800 plant, 300 tree, 195 bird, 30 mammal, 19 reptile and 8 bat species. This means you are very likely to see some form of wildlife tranquilly interacting in its natural habitat. The blue-naped parrot, white breasted sea eagle, macaque primate, bearcat, monitor lizard, python, sea cow and over five kinds of sea turtles dominate the area and can frequently be spotted by enthusiastic travellers.

“The Subterranean River National Park displays over 800 plant, 300 tree, 195 bird, 30 mammal, 19 reptile and 8 bat species.”

The National Park covers about 222km of land and consists of a complete mountain-to-sea ecosystem made up of 8/13 forest types found in tropical Asia. The wide range of plant, animal and marine life is one of a kind. Considering the interest in maintaining the natural beauty of the region, it is no surprise that there are always new discoveries being made as researchers further explore the caves. Just a few years ago in 2010, scientists discovered an entire second level to the renowned caves. This level includes a complex waterfall system and a striking new dome. Other areas of the caves are so deep, they are inaccessible due to a dangerous lack of oxygen.

Whether you are navigating the river or caves, there is no doubt you will be in awe as you trek through this aqua and limestone wonderland. With the serene translucent waters and countless kinds of colourful marine life swimming below, there is always something to catch your eye. Here, you are surrounded by panoramic beauty that puts your mind and body at ease.

El Nido: The Gateway to Islands

El Nido is a province of the Palawan Islands about 238km northeast of Puerto Princesa’s capital. It is a fully managed resource protected municipality and this is the first of its kind in the Philippines.

El Nido Bay has been nicknamed “The Gateway to the Bacuit Archipelago”, which consists of over 45 islands offering a mesmerising view at every turn. You can choose to stay in El Nido City where one can find cheap accommodation, or travel to a smaller, private island resort if you prefer a more posh setting. From the city centre’s pier, you can take a day trip to one of many islands of your choice (from about VND600,000 per day), where you will experience gorgeous scenery filled with jungle-canopied islands and water with unmatched visibility.

“El Nido Bay consists of over 45 islands offering a mesmerising view at every turn.”

El Nido is a scuba diving and snorkeling heaven for beginners and professionals alike, offering over 50 untouched, white sand beaches for your swimming pleasure. Bacuit Bay offers over 30 famous dive sites where one can swim with wildlife such as sea turtles, mantas, and whale sharks.El Nido Bay also contains over 3 different marine habitats, 100 species of coral, 813 species of fish, mesmerising marble cliffs, mangrove forests, prehistoric caves, and lush jungle waterfalls. The bay is jam packed with alluring islands and there are plenty of destinations to visit as you carefully decide which islands will be best suited for your personal preference.

Miniloc Island

This the most popular spot in El Nido Bay, and it’s known for its two elegant lagoons - named Big and Small Lagoon. This has become an exclusive area due to the glistening blue waters beneath the breathtaking limestone caps towering above. You can swim or take a kayak from one lagoon to the next by peacefully going through a small passageway upon entering the sublime pool of the lagoon.

The Twin Beaches

Calitang and Nacpan Beach comprise what are referred to as the Twin Beaches. This section of El Nido Bay is accessible by tricycle, bike or taxi and takes about 45 minutes on an unpaved dirt road.

Once you arrive at the twin beaches you can choose to relax, sip some cheap beer or, if you’re the more adventurous type, hike up to the lookout point for a dazzling view of the scenery below.

Vigan Island (Snake Island)

Named for its snake-like shape, Vigan Island is another highly frequented island by many tourists. It is known for its huge S-shaped sandbar which allows you to swim on both sides of the shore. However, be careful, as you can only visit this island during low tide as it will disappear under the mysterious blanket of the high tide.

Cadlao Island

This is the closest island to the centre of the city and also contains the highest peak at about 640m above sea level. It is loaded with hidden lagoons (again, only accessible by swimming or kayaking), nature trails, and plenty of white sand beaches to pass the time. Sabong Beach is the most notable on this island and also serves as a major departure port for island hopping tours.

Ille Cave

This cave has received its notoriety because of the many significant archaeological discoveries made here. Since 1998 there have been more than 20,000 artifacts discovered, and scientists have proven that this cavern was inhabited by humans more than 12,000 years ago. Researchers have also found animal and human bones, ancient pottery and primitive tools on site. In addition, there is an 8,000-year-old crematorium inside this prehistoric wonder that visitors can see on their trek through. Whether you plan on visiting for diving, relaxing on the beach, cave and jungle trekking, kayaking, or anything else, the Palawan Islands have made a distinguished mark for themselves amongst all the top beach destinations the world.

For more information please contact PDOT-Vietnam at +848 3 551 2202 or itsmorefuninthephilippines.vn. Like them on Facebook: Philippine Tourism – Vietnam.


Golf in Vietnam

By: Simon Stanley


Golf in Vietnam. Great Experience

 


Although Vietnam has only 30 golf courses in operation, they are all very high quality and some outstanding designs by the top golf architects in the world. If you get the opportunity to play, you will not be disappointed and you will be made so very welcome wherever you go. As yet, there are no public golf courses in the country and golf is seen as a sport for the elite. Many of the top-position politicians and businessmen play golf as they see it as a good way to discuss business together.

 


Golf here is not as expensive as you would think. During the week, special offers mean you can play golf for around $60. This will include the green fee and caddie. Please note that caddies are mandatory and more about them later. Although many golf courses are ok for walking, due to the heat and the time taken to play 18 holes, it is wise to take a buggy. Prices vary from course to course, but a shared buggy charge will be around $15 per person.

 


golf in vietnam

 


Photo courtesy of Sea Links Golf Resort

 


When you arrive at the golf club, you will be welcomed by the Valet, who will direct you to Reception where you will book in. If you need rental clubs and shoes, the Receptionist will get them for you. Most golf clubs will offer acceptable rental clubs for about $25 for 18 holes or higher quality sets, such as Titleist or Taylor Made for $40. The price for shoes is usually $15. The Golf Shop will stock tees, gloves and golf balls and some clubs offer used golf balls for sale. They will also have a selection of shirts and caps for you to buy as souvenirs. You must be aware of the dress code. Each club will expect you to wear a proper golf shirt, golf shorts, not swimming trunks or very short shorts, golf shoes and each golfer must have their own set of golf clubs, Sharing is not allowed. All golf clubs have locker rooms and you will be given your own locker and key. Do not lose the key, otherwise they will charge you for a replacement.

golf in vietnam


Photo courtesy of Do Son Seaside Golf Resort


The caddie will help you on the golf course. When you book a tee time, insist on a caddie who can speak English. You will be spending 4 or 5 hours with them, so you do want to find out more about their life and you will find they are so interested in you. They will do everything for you except hit a golf ball. They will take care of your clubs, clean your golf balls, fill in divots, rake bunkers and repair pitch marks. They will describe each hole for you, tell you where the hazards are and even give you the line of the putt. As their salary is small, then you should give them a tip at the end of the round. The amount of tip is up to you, but the usual tip is 250,000 to 400,000 Vietnam dong per caddie ($13 to $20).



Make sure you are properly prepared for your round of golf. Drink plenty of water before you play and during the round. All golf courses have rest houses on the golf course and many return to the club house after 9 holes. Bringing your own drinks and food is a no no and should not be done.



After your round of golf, make sure you give yourself time to relax at the clubhouse with a welcoming and refreshing cold drink. Golf clubs are excellent places to eat, very reasonable in price and will offer both local and international menus.



Most of all enjoy yourself and take in the beauty of where you are. You are in a very special place with some friendly, smiling people who want to do their best for you and hope you will come back and see them again.


golf in vietnam



Other Golf articles by Simon Tinkler:
Golf in the North of Vietnam
Golf in Nha Trang
Golf in Da Nang
Golf in Phan Thiet and Mui Ne
Sea Links Golf Course - Heaven or Hell
Holes-in-One for BRG Group


Escape Hunt and Ubiquest in HCMC

By: Aleksandr Smechov

City Pass tries out two of Saigon’s most popular live detective games, Escape Hunt and Ubiquest, playing the role of a hard-nosed detective investigating a murder mystery.

Outside of theatre and video games, you don’t see much role play or interactive activities in Ho Chi Minh City. Luckily, we uncovered two detective games that drop you in the middle of a murder mystery, letting you live out those Sherlock Holmes fantasies (minus tobacco pipe and risk of death). Escape Hunt and Ubiquest are difficult (to an extent), immersive and rewarding – read on to find out exactly why they are some of the most fun you will have in Saigon.

Escape Hunt

Located somewhat furtively above The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf is the quietly decorated lobby area of Ho Chi Minh City’s Escape Hunt office. Four rooms sit at various angles, blocked off by tall curtains. These are the escape rooms, and you will know nothing about them until you walk in, have the door shut and locked on you, and be given one hour to solve the mystery and find the key to unlock the door.

Escape Hunt HCMC

Escape Hunt is the brainchild of an English Psychologist who, after experiencing health issues and moving to Thailand, developed the idea of a detective game that has 2-5 players pitted against an intricate mystery.

Escape Hunt now has 25 locations, with a slew of others set to open in North America. The Ho Chi Minh City Escape Hunt branch was opened in September and has been popular with teens, universities, companies, tourists and expats.

Escape Hunt Saigon

Three of our staff stopped in for a 60-minute sleuth session. We were ushered into a low-lit room, explained the rules and left to solve the mystery and find the key to the door within an hour timeframe.

We heard the door sadistically lock and some moody music creep up. The game master was available for hints, but each time we asked for help from her we got minutes shaved from our remaining time.

Escape Hunt in Ho Chi Minh City

The puzzles are tricky, teamwork-oriented, and require some outside-the-box approaches. Few if any have solved the mystery and escaped the room without at least a few hints from the game master. Finding the next clue or coming upon an item you were searching for feels highly rewarding, and you get sucked into the role quickly. Time flies as you use a whiteboard to jot down notes and figures, collect pieces of evidence and nervously glance at the large LED clock ticking away.

It’s thrilling, addictive and relies on individual strengths working in unison rather than outsmarting the other person. As a team-building exercise or a rainy-day diversion, Escape Hunt is ace.

To check out available mysteries and booking options, check out the Escape Hunt booking page.

Ubiquest

Ubiquest Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City’s second live detective game takes players outside the claustrophobic confines of a room and throws them in the streets of Saigon.

This doubles as a self-directed walking tour, but you may want to do the tour part after the live game – you’ll be too busy role playing a hard-nosed detective, questioning actors in various roles, finding mafia-tied ancient artifacts or any of the other challenges Ubiquest presents.

For our experience, we chose the Urban Tales game, a murder mystery set in Cho Lon, Ho Chi Minh City’s China town. We were picked up by a cute yellow 1967 Citroen 2CV, a happy-go-lucky young driver creaking away at the ancient dashboard. We arrived at a dilapidated living space, escorted up to the top floor and into one of the rooms, a few curious residents peeking at us through open doorways.

We were briefed, told to search the evidence room and given our gear (map, notebook, water, etc.), including cell phones for further instructions from the head detective.

Urban Tales takes three to four hours to complete. Be sure to go when the wind blows and the sun’s behind the clouds – you can easily get exhausted walking around in the unbearable heat on a cloudless day. Sun block and a decently wide hat are all but mandatory. You’ll be provided water but it’s a good idea to bring a bottle of your own too.

Ubiquest detective game

For entirety of the game, we set out into the streets of Cho Lon with our map and collection of evidence, going from actor to actor, uncovering details of the murder. The characters drop you clues and hints when you press them for information, sometimes refusing you if you don’t put enough pressure or reasoning into your argument. The acting is hilariously campy, and the game would benefit from some natural English speakers with an acting background, but the campiness is tolerable in the grand scheme, and allows you to play out your own amateur detective fantasies without judgment.

Ubiquest Cho Lon

We were pitted against two other teams, and although we were the first to find out the murderer, another team found the sacred artifact before us. Afterwards we all took cyclos to a Chinese restaurant for free lunch.

Urban Tales is an eclectic way to discover Cho Lon – or any other part of Saigon – just be sure to go when the sun isn’t blazing.

For more games, check out the official Ubiquest page.


Best Things to Do with Kids in Saigon

By: Barbara

Many of Ho Chi Minh City's things to do are suitable for families with kids of all ages. If you are living in Vietnam as an expat or just visiting, we list the 10 best things to do with your children in Saigon.

Don’t forget to comment below to let us know what are your recommendations!

City Parks and their Playgrounds

The city's parks are places where childish exuberance, which can be hard to contain in a hotel room, can be unleashed. Van Thanh Park in Binh Thanh District has paths and a field for little people who just need to run, as well as a small playground and a swimming pool. While the kids are busy being energetic, adults can relax in a bamboo hut over a small pond or work up a sweat on the tennis courts.

Saigon Parks

Listening to Songbirds

Tao Dan Park in downtown District 1 also has room to move, making it a popular spot for city dwellers to take their morning and evening exercise. And it's not just people who visit the park. Songbirds are taken to the park's little cafe (fronting Cach Mang Thang Tam Street) every morning, their cages hung from purpose-built frames to encourage them to sing. It's a fascinating experience to visit the bird cafe, especially watching the bird owners take their beloved pets home by motorbike.

Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre

The park, which has large playground and an indoor play centre, is a short walk from the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre. The 55-minute water puppet shows, all in Vietnamese, need to be booked a few days ahead.

You could continue the bird theme with a visit to Pet Me Coffee in Phu Nhuan District. This small drinks-only cafe has a resident mini-owl and several parakeets, which can be petted, as well as some larger more exotic birds who hang out at the front of the coffee shop.

Photo Source: Golden Dragon Theatre

Family-Fun in Suoi Tien Amusement Park

One of the city's wackiest attractions in town is the Buddhist-themed Suoi Tien Amusement Park. Allocate a full day here, especially if you plan to visit the vast water park section. The amusement park can be quite baffling if you're not well versed in Buddhist stories because there is limited signage in English. Still, a stroll through the strange displays, which include a wish tree and The Royal Herbal Wine Palace, can be very entertaining. There is also an aquarium, 4D cinema, a dolphin show and the Snow Castle, the perfect place to escape Ho Chi Minh City's heat ... by plunging into a sub-zero world of ice and snow.

Photo Source: Suoi Tien - Andrea Hale

Pretending to Be Adults in Kizciti

Younger kids will enjoy learning about the world of work at Kizciti in District 4. The staff here usually has enough English to explain how each activity centre works. Each child receives a small amount of kizo, the Kizciti currency, on entry and they must decide how to manage it. Some activities cost kizo, and some earn it. A small open-air cafe serves basic food and coffee to sustain the "kiz" and their parents through a long day of "work", which can entail learning to be a pilot, a paediatrician, a delivery person or a firefighter.

Photo Source: Kizciti

Indoor Kid’s Play Centres and Playgrounds

Ho Chi Minh City has several indoor play centres and amusement arcades. In the city centre, Vincom Center has a play area and a game zone in its basement. In District 2, there's a play area in the garden of Snap Cafe and in District 7 there's an air-conditioned indoor playground inside Bee Bee Premium Kid's Cafe (4th floor, 96-98 Cao Trieu Phat, Phu My Hung).

Older kids can while away a few hours at Paintball Saigon, X-Rock Climbing, in the pool at Lan An Sports Club or at the bowling alley on the fourth floor of Diamond Plaza.

Photo Source: Snap Café

Visit a Witch-Themed Café

Younger kids can be entertained for hours at the witch-themed Ba Cay Choi (Three Broomstick) cafe on the third floor of The Vista Walk in District 2. Activities at the cafe, which can be entered via the stairs or a giant slide, include candle-making, baking, hat-making and painting. Make sure you order something with a suitably disgusting name from the food and drink menu, such as bug mud or ghost pumpkin spaghetti.

There are more cool cafés for you to bring your children to: A long rainy Saigon afternoon can be spent playing board games and snacking on poutine at Monopolatte Au Play Cafe, while a long scary evening can be spent eating ribs. (There's a pool in the outdoor section).

Photo Source: Witch Coffee

Playing Detective in Escape Hunt

Escape Hunt is a game played indoors with a group of two to eight people. You are locked inside a room with a mystery murder to solve. It is one of the best thing to do in Saigon for families with teenagers. You must work together to find clues that will help you find out who is the killer and how to escape.

Learning Arts in Vinspace

In the expat area of District 2, there is a range of activities for older kids. Some of the more interesting include taking a workshop or joining a summer camp at Vinspace art studio.

Photo Source: Vinspace

Saigon Reunification Palace

The Reunification Palace is a prime example of a must-visit family-friendly attraction that has a special appeal for kids. The roomy but slightly run-down public areas could be the backdrop for a princess fantasy, while the basement war rooms will appeal to hero-types. Making the palace even more appealing is its location, a short walk from the Haagen-Dazs ice cream cafe.

Families traveling to Vietnam with kids should not worry about things to do in Saigon. We only listed our top 10 attractions but there are many more great ideas that will make your stay memorable. You may also want to read our article What to Do in 24-hour in Saigon.


Arabian Night in HCMC

By: Quang Mai

Funds raised from the event will be donated to Nguyen Dinh Chieu School for the Blind in District 10 to renovate and buy equipment for a Multi-Sensory Room that supports 305 students here to develope their academic learning. Multi-Sensory Learning happens when more than one sense is used to acquire and retain information – so applicable for children with multi-disabilities.

Date:

Saturday, 15th September 2012

Time:

From 7pm till late

Venue:

InterContinental Asiana Saigon
Corner of Hai Ba Trung & Le Duan St., Dist. 1, HCMC

Ticket cost:

VND3,165,000 per ticket
VND31,650,000 per table of 10

Bookings:

events@auschamvn.org
Tel: (84-8) 3832 9912

Please click here to visit Arabian Night micro website

XO Tours: Much imitated but never replicated!

By: Barbara Dorothy Clarke

We all know that it is near on impossible to copyright an idea and protect intellectual property in Vietnam.

But what does that mean for your day to day business when you have an original idea and an excellent product?

Luckily although people can steal your ideas – in minute detail – and almost totally replicate your offering - it’s the little things that make a brand – and ensure that brand still stands head high above any pale imitations.

Spend 5 minutes with Tung who is the founder of XO Tours and his passion and enthusiasm for what he does is palpable. It is a simple idea – tourists want to see the real Saigon but not on the back of a grubby motorbike and behind an even grubbier driver. Step up XO Tours with female drivers with class, style and excellent English who are also able to provide a female perspective on life in Vietnam.

XO Tours was the first company in Vietnam to offer affordable motorbike tours with attractive female tour guides dressed in traditional Vietnamese Ao Dai. All the XO guides are handpicked and fluent in English but it is Tung’s focus on service that really sets XO Tours apart.

Tung invests heavily in every detail of his brand and his employees imbue the same high brand values. All his employees are trained to the highest standards – whether it is presentation, language skills, driving skills or personability . All employees are full time and their bikes are upgraded at Tung’s expense to ensure maximum comfort and safety for clients.

This is a business where the customer experience is king – people are buying memories and that is what he aims to deliver. Staff retention is key and bonuses and profit sharing make for motivated and loyal employees who are focused on growing the company by providing the best experience they can.

Customers come from all over the world and a high percentage of business comes from word of mouth – simply the best publicity you can get – being number 1 on Trip Advisor for 2 years can’t be bad either.

Bristling with new ideas, Tung started with basic tours – he was the first to do night tours – then first to do foodie tours. Now others are jumping on the bandwagon - some good -some not so good….

In spite of this, XO Tours is expanding and bookings are full – anything between 18-24 guests go out on any one night.

So competitors can steal his ideas, follow the same routes , and visit the same areas, cosy up to the same suppliers…..

Imitate they may – replicate never!

Do you know of any businesses with similar experiences?

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