Trekking: A Dangerous, Critical Feature of VN Tourism

By: City Pass Guide

Before Trang Ho set out for her trekking expedition to Phan Dung, inland between Phan Thiet and Cam Ranh, in April, the tour operator Nobitrip offered some guidance.

The tour operator issued an extensive set of instructions including what kind of shoes Ho should wear during the trekking expedition and how she should cut her toenails before the expedition (down to the quick). Aside from wrapping all of her personal items in waterproof bags, Ho said that the tour operator explained that the trekking expedition would stop for heavy rains and the trip would traverse the area’s many streams.

A week of exercise was recommended. Nobitrip said that it would not be responsible for any health problems that arose during the trip, Ho said in written response to interview questions.

Proceeding with Caution

Nobitrip’s precautions only seem overprotective until you consider the fact that deaths while trekking, while not common, are nonetheless not a negligible risk in this type of travel. Ho said she weighed the risks, “but they did not affect my decision”.

“I just want to experience it, to see if it is really as beautiful as the articles say.

trekking in vietnamImage source: vnmotorbiketours.com

Why do I want to go this way? I do not know how to say it. It's just youth that makes you desire to explore, wanting to venture into the experience and conquer it. This way is very normal for me”, Ho wrote.

Ho added that her risk-friendly lifestyle also played heavily in to her decision to pursue the trekking trip knowing the risks. She is a self-described road warrior who’s logged untold kilometres going from Saigon to Mui Ne and all points in between.

“So to me it’s just another experience,” she wrote.

Attraction, Though Fatal

Ho’s enthusiasm belies the very real dangers she overcame as a traveller in the area. During her journey she crossed a stream where a previous traveller had died.

Perhaps it’s the Phan Dung area’s stunning beauty that explains its lasting appeal to tourists despite the hazards. Nobitrip is one of a wealth of tour agencies that specialise in shepherding tourists through this area.

Video source: Hoa N Don

The most popular route is a 55-km-long path that stretches across three provinces northeast of Ho Chi Minh City: Lam Dong, Ninh Thuan and Binh Thuan. At its highest, it’s 1,100 metres above sea level and 500 metres at its lowest. The road features a seemingly endless expanse of rolling terrain with pristine streams and scenic mountains.

The beauty is a mismatch with the terrain’s extreme difficulty. A group documenting their trip for a trekking blog on “Inspitrip” reported that each of their three groups got lost on the first day. Throughout their trip, the group encountered difficulty finding water and following the trail as well as problems with cell service (Viettel is best, they later learned).

The month after Ho’s journey in April, Thi An Kien, a 24-year-old hiker, would die after getting lost during a hike in the area. Some combitionation of the same problems plagued Thi up to the fatal end of his trekking voyage.

At noon on May 12, the group travelling with Thi became aware that he had been separated from the group, according to reporting by Dantri news. At 9 p.m. that night, the group had activated local authorities and forest rangers to help search for their missing friend, a rescue effort that grew to 100 people by the next morning.

It would be nearly a week before Thi’s remains were located near the Phan Dung commune. He is the second person to die on this trail in as many years.

Always Almost There

Writing about the journey, Ho didn’t linger on the dangers. For her, the biggest feature of the trip was the beauty of the landscape.

trekking in vietnamImage source: media.we25.vn

Nevertheless, the tour operator said the hikers were welcome to turn back at any point within the first 8 km in the 55-km path. Ho travelled with a 10-kg load on her back and four litres of water. As the group walked, Ho said the tour leader kept encouraging the group, cheerleading them and reminding them that the downhill portion is “almost coming”.

The last kilometre to her campsite on the first night featured an almost vertical climb, she said. This one stretch took almost two hours and included plenty of opportunities to slip and fall to a possible injury.

Ho said the first night she fell into the best sleep she’s ever had.

A Necessary Part of the Tourism Strategy

The traveller deaths, the unforgiving territory—these are obstacles Vietnam’s tourism authorities will need to confront as it seeks to grow its tourism sector and earn the 20 million foreign visitors expected by 2020. The country’s natural treasures and the hiking tours that have drawn travellers like Ho will be a big part of that strategy.

The country received just under 13 million international arrivals in 2017, according to the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism.

Speaking about the objectives, Vietstar Airlines Deputy General Director Luong Hoai Nam said that Vietnam’s tourism was “good at some things but bad at many things” in remarks reported by online publication “Inquirer”.

Mr Luong said the country’s visas policy and technology friendliness could be updated. He said that airport infrastructure would need to be refreshed to make the tourism increase viable.

trekking in vietnamImage source: thienviettourist.com

He also suggested tourism companies look to the nation’s previously untapped historical assets in building new resources to support this goal. He speculated that the country might serve new visitors by offering “war tourism”, a journey through Vietnam’s countryside to visit important sites in the American War. Willing travellers might be able to hike through this kind of tour, Luong said.

But Nobitrip shows it’s possible to accommodate these types of tours in a safe, responsible manner.

Ho visited the site knowing it had claimed lives previously. Nevertheless, she said she’s planning a similar journey in another part of Vietnam in the near future.

Banner Image source: bhutan-motorbike-tours.com


Ox-racing festival in An Giang

By: Quang Mai

Annual festival for all ages

The 21th Bay Nui ox-racing festival was held at the Khmer pagoda of Ta Miet, in the southern province of An Giang, on October 14, with 64 pairs of cows from southern provinces of Vietnam and Cambodia.

In order to promote the solidarity of 54 ethnic minority groups, the festival is organized annually. This is a joyful activities in An Giang that visitors from all ages are fond of. During four-day event, visitors also have chance to enjoy the cultural identities in Vietnam.

A muddy 120-meter-long racing path is the central point of the whole event where people gathered to witness the strongest and the fasted pairs to win the race. Before the cow racing festival, farmers had chosen the best pairs of cows for racing. The cowboy held the stick with sharp point when the race starts, he hitted the cows to make them run as fast as they can. The challenge is how to keep the pair run at the same speed and stay focused, otherwise he can probably fall down onto the race and get severe injury.

Photo by: Huỳnh Bá Long

 


Things to do in Ninh Thuan Province - Phan Rang City

By: Mark Gwyther

Things to do in Ninh Thuan - Activities

The beach is the main attraction, and choosing the right place to stay is very important if your goal is to have quality beach time. The resorts have private beach rights allowing them to keep non-guests away from guests. It also motivates the resorts to keep their beach clean. However, only Bau Truc and Saigon Tourist-Ninh Chu do it consistently. Beaches in front of the other resorts can accumulate garbage from the locals who come to the bay in the morning and evenings.

Waking up for sunrise is highly recommended and may be a highlight of your trip to Vietnam. Get to the beach before 5:30 AM with a towel to sit and watch what seems like the entire city of Phan Rang doing their daily exercising/socializing in front of a beautiful sunrise. You will also see many of the traditional round boats out in the bay as the fisherman collect their daily catch.

Sunrise at Ninh Chu BayThe hundreds of locals mysteriously disappear around 8:00 AM and the beach is all yours until the evening. If you have traveled to other popular beach locations in Vietnam, you will notice im/mediately that nobody will come and try to sell you trinkets in Ninh Chu Bay. In fact, during the daytime you may not see anyone on the beach.

If you love to wind surf or kite surf, then Ninh Chu Bay is a paradise. A consistent, strong wind begins blowing before noon and lasts until the evening. Jet skis and motorboats are still unknown, leaving just a few fishing boats as the competition. As of now, none of the resorts rent equipment, however. If you feel like exploring, behind the Saigon Tourist Hotel and within walking distance from the center of the bay, is a hill with several temples and pagodas. Pathways make it easy for visitors to walk up to the statues among the hills and look out over the area. It is a very peaceful place.

Thap Cham in Ninh ThuanThap Cham is the location of two of the most famous Cham temples. The most popular is Po Klong Garai, which was built in the 13th century and is still an active site for Cham celebrations. Unlike many old ruins, the government has recently renovated the attraction and it is kept in good shape.

If you want to take a day trip, the most popular attraction for the Vietnamese tourists is near-by Vinh Hy Bay. Vinh Hy is a small fishing village about 30 kilometers north of Ninh Chu Bay. Your resort can arrange for you to catch a bus. Once in Vinh Hy, you can take a boat tour to some of the nearby islands and the deserted beaches of the Ninh Thuan coast. Before the new coastal highway was built, these beaches were only accessible by boat.

Things to do in Ninh Thuan - Eating

Your dining options are fairly limited, but they are also pretty good. Of course Vietnamese style seafood is the main attraction. The Sakaya Restaurant at the Bau Truc Resort is highly recommended. The restaurant is open air and located on the beach, unlike many of the other resort dining options. The food is relatively inexpensive with most dishes being around $4 and a beer costing $1. Stick with the Vietnamese dishes and stay away from their attempts at western food.

If your resort has a large group of loud Vietnamese tourists, then another excellent option is the beach bar at the Saigon Tourist-Ninh Chu Hotel. It is usually very quiet and you can order any of the dishes from the main restaurant.

Phan Rang is also famous for its chicken and rice. The dish is fairly simple, just boiled chicken, rice, and a spicy fish sauce. You can find this dish in many of the local restaurants around Phan Rang.

Things to do in Ninh Thuan - Entertainment

16 April ParkPhan Rang does not have any nightlife fitting for foreign tourists, yet. If bars and discos are your thing, then Nha Trang or Mui Ne are more appropriate locations. That doesn’t mean there is nothing to do at night, though. Check out 16 April Park to experience a side of Vietnam that not everybody sees. Hundreds of locals gather around the park to eat street food, drink beer, and chat. It is safe and you will be left alone to enjoy the cool evenings. The park is located between the beach and Phan Rang city.

Things to do in Ninh Thuan - Getting Around

 In general, it is not safe for foreigners to rent motorbikes in Vietnam. Phan Rang might be the exception, as the roads near the beach are wide and empty. Most resorts can rent one to you for about $7/day. We still recommend a taxi or bus if you plan on visiting the Cham Temples or Vinh Hy Bay. If you stay at a resort in the center of the bay, you can walk along the beach or the road lining the beach for some light exploring. Taxis are easy to find and Mai Linh Taxi and Phan Rang Taxi have meters.

Issues and Concerns

The biggest factor that can negatively affect your vacation to Ninh Thuan is if a large group of Vietnamese stay in your resort. Ask the receptionist when you check in if they expect a large group and ask for a room that is away from them. These company or school trips are usually accompanied by an tour guide/MC with a microphone and large speakers. A banquet with entertainment and karaoke can make dining at the restaurant impossible. If this happens, try going to the beach bar at the Saigon Tourist-Ninh Chu Hotel. Have some beer, good seafood, and relax while listening to the waves. Another option is to go to your restaurant, order, and have them deliver dinner to your balcony. The groups typically go to Vinh Hy Bay for most the day or they move on to another destination. Daytimes at the resorts are almost always quiet and peaceful.

Phan Rang RoadPhan Rang is not Ho Chi Minh City or even Nha Trang when it comes to service. Many of the staff speak English, but you are far more likely to have to point to the menu (written in English), and ask the receptionist to tell your taxi driver where you are going than in the more popular tourist destinations. You should keep your expectations low for any spa treatments from the local resorts.

The beaches are separated from town, so there are not a lot of convenience stores around, yet. It is possible to find some convenience store items nearby, but if your plan is to stock up on groceries, you may want to take a taxi to the Co-op Mart near Phan Rang.

Conclusion

Ninh Thuan Province is very much like the eye of a storm. To the south are the bars and crowds of Mui Ne and Phan Thiet. To the west is the increasingly popular mountain city of Dalat. To the north is the beach city of Nha Trang. If you are looking to step out of the storm that is Vietnam tourism and see what Vietnam is like when foreign tourists are not present, then maybe you should try Ninh Thuan Province. You might want to hurry, though, as this hidden gem is becoming discovered.


Other articles:

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Top 5 souvenirs to buy in Vietnam

Top 5 things to do in Quy Nhon

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



5 tips of preparation for better score at golf

By: Simon Stanley

I have worked at four golf clubs in Vietnam and I have to say I find it quite astonishing at the different ways in which golfers approach the driving range. Warming up properly before golf is, in my opinion, the difference between good and bad play.

Many people I see bash the life out of a driver for twenty minutes and wonder at the end of the round why their score is so high. You only hit a driver fourteen times during the round, the wedges and putter tow or three times more than that. Before booked tee times, then there is time for even the simplest of warm ups.

We always want to play our best, especially when we are on a beautiful new (to you) golf course and just hitting a few golf balls can make a big difference. It will also give your caddie an opportunity to evaluate your game and see whether you slice or hook and they will know where to look for the errant shots!

One great thing about golf courses in Vietnam is that all of them have driving ranges, so there is no excuse. Sorry, but that is a fact.

  1. Warm up. Before you even swing a club, do a few warm up exercises to loosen and warm up those muscles that may not have been used for some time. The motion of hitting a golf ball is so different from any other sport and the back, leg and arm muscles need special attention. A few squats and stretching are so important, but do not overdo it. You do not want to have an injury before you reach the golf course.
  1. The next step is to take a eight or nine iron, put our feet together and have a half swing at the golf ball. Take care, because on most driving ranges, you will be hitting off mats and they are very unforgiving. If you are playing off grass, then give yourself a good lie every time. This will help to increase your confidence. Hit about 10 balls this way. This will help your hand co-ordination and your balance.
  1. Start with the pitching wedge and hit five full shots, then carry on down the club range and finish with the driver. Always take time between each shot. Stand away as you would on the golf course, pick a target, take a practice swing and then line up and hit. Do not hit too many balls – you do not want to wear yourself out, especially in the heat of Vietnam.
  1. Head for the chipping and putting green. More than 50% of your shots will be chipping pitching and putting. You can reduce your score by five or ten shots by good chipping and putting.
  1. Drink plenty of waterduring your practice time. The temperature is very dehydrating and you need to take care. Put on plenty of sun block or sun cream and always wear a cap or hat. If you have some practice balls left, then try and improve our weakest shot but not too much effort!

All the above points apply if you have time. If you only have a few minutes, then the most important thing is to warm up before you tee off. So just hit a few chips, some putts and if time allows, a few drives. That should be sufficient for this very simple warm up procedure. We all want you to enjoy your golf on the wonderful golf courses of Vietnam and come back and see us again.
Good golfing.


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Traditions of Vietnamese Lunar 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’.
Sources: platvietnam.com, www.baroude.com

Photo by: flickr


Golf in Dalat

By: Simon Stanley

"City of Eternal Spring", Why not?

Golf Clubs

Dalat is the stepping stone to the Central Highlands of Vietnam.  It stands at 1475 metres and this French influenced city is a breath of fresh air after the mayhem and humidity of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh. Dalat has been known for decades as the "City of Eternal Spring". This is due to its year round cool crisp mountain climate.  Dalat is the centre for vegetables and flowers, which grow in abundance in the rich, dark colored soil.

Dalat palace golfGolfwise, it is well serviced by three golf courses, although two are only nine holes, with both scheduled for completion of 18 holes this year.  In 1994 Dalat Palace Golf Club emerged again as the ideal golf retreat in Southeast Asia. The 18- hole golf course is crafted into the area’s rolling hills, surrounded by stately pine trees and seated above the majestic lake Xuan Huong.. The course weaves its way through stately pine trees to oversized and delicately manicured bent grass greens.  For many years it has been rated as the best golf course in Vietnam and many would tell you that it still is.

The course makes full use of its mountainous setting and cooler climate with breathtaking views of famous Xuan Huong Lake nestled amongst French inspired architecture.  It really is a delight to play and tee times are easy to get during the week.  Weekends tend to be busy due to the influx of native golfers from Saigon and Hanoi. The clubhouse sets the scene for the entire course, built in 1956 and restored to its former beauty. It houses a fully equipped pro-shop, locker rooms and international standard restaurant.  Stya and play packages are available from the golf course owned Hotel du Parc and the upmarket Dalat Palace Hotel.  Check the website for promotion packages, such as twilight golf.  www.vietnamgolfresorts.com

Located about 15 minutes drive from the airport, Royale City Golf Club, whilst only 9 holes is an absolute gem of a golf course.  Some of the views will take your breath away and the par three third hole, with its 80 metre drop from tee to green is just stunning. Designed by Peter Rousseau, his concept is to keep the site as natural as possible, preservingRoyale city golf the beautiful trees, some of the paddy fields and other water features. At the same time, enhance it with more exotic flora and fauna and to utilize the many natural springs, waterfalls and smaller lakes.

With four sets of tees, then it is recommended to play nine holes off one set and another nine of another tee box.  We can guarantee you will never get bored with this course!  Because of the many changes is elevation and the distances between holes, a buggy is mandatory. The current price is only $3 per hole, including green fee, caddie fee and a buggy.  This is great value for money.  www.royalecity.vn

Tuyen Lam golfThe latest addition to Dalat is  Tuyen Lam Golf Club and Resort, situated halfway up the mountain heading into Dalat City. The resort is located by the beautiful Tuyen Lam Lake, right outside of Dalat town. The valley topography is surrounded by sloping hills and primeval pine forests. 18 holes are planned to be completed by April 2104 and nine holes have been opened since February 2013.

The heart of the valley is a natural high mound which is a highlight for the formation of a four-star hotel, a golf clubhouse and next to it is the driving range. Halfway is a winding path following the slope of the hill. You can feel a combination of high-level works among the pure natural hills by standing anywhere.   http://www.sacomresort.com.vn/.

Dalat is highly recommended not only for the magnificent golf courses, but also a wonderful and relaxing place to visit.

Climate

Dalat from high upWith its mountain setting, the temperate weather is usually warm to hot during the day and cool during the evenings.  There is no need for air conditioning. The rainy season lasts from May to October, and the dry season is from November to April.  The wet season does not prevent golf, as the rain is not continuous and many days are dry.  One word of warning!  Due to the high altitude, the sun’s rays are much stronger; therefore use plenty of sun lotion to avoid getting sunburn.

Staying in Dalat

There are many hotels and resorts in Dalat, from five star to one star and therefore accommodation is plentiful and built in a French style.  There are many restaurants and cafes offering interesting local and international cusine.

Getting there

There is an international airport, with regular daily flights from Ho Chi Minh, Danang and Hanoi.  For visitors on a budget, sleeper buses from companies such as Sinh Café.  Be warned that is it about 7 hours from Ho Chi Minh to Dalat.  BEWARE.  The usual charge for the 35 kilometer journey from the airport to Dalat centre is around 300.000 Vietnam dong.  Do not use the meter if you are using a taxi.  You can buy a ticket from the taxi booth inside the terminal.

Booking golf

Golf Asian – www.golfasian,com  - and Golf Dalat – www.golfdalat.com – specialize in booking golf trips to Dalat.  They can book not only tee times but also accomodation and make all travel arrangements as well.

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