Phong Nha - World's Largest Caves

By: Peter

Phong Nha Caves are the largest in the world and one of the best things to do in Vietnam.

Once considered miles off the beaten track, the Phong Nha Caves in the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park are unlikely to remain little-known for long. The recent discovery of the world’s largest cave and improved access and accommodations will make sure of that.

Son Doong Cave Entrance

Take the time to discover these incredible geological wonders. Splash out be amongst the first to take a week long trek into Son Doong (Mountain River) Cave – officially the world’s largest – with Oxalis, the only company currently licensed to operate tours in the cave. Only 220 permits to enter the cave have been granted for 2014, so you can guarantee no madding crowds!

Son Dong Cave Pearl

If you are not one of the lucky few to secure a permit, fear not! The Phong Nha cave system comprises over 300 caves and grottos, including the spectacular Thien Duong or Paradise Cave. Voted by National Geographic as the world’s most beautiful cave, Paradise Cave holds some of the most extraordinary geological formations you are ever likely to lay eyes upon under this earth. Well worth the 600m climb and the subsequent 500 steps down into the deep!

Son Doong Cave

Son Doong Cave

After your hectic day of caving and exploring the natural beauty of the national park, relax at Phong Nha Farmstay with its lively yet soothing atmosphere, great restaurant, bar and swimming pool, or enjoy the quiet respite of Pepperhouse Homestay with its traditional houses nestled amongst the family’s pepper plantation.

Unfortunately, the limited number of 2014 permits for Son Doong Cave are already fully booked. However, there is an alternative option: the Tu Lan Cave System, which is also breathtaking and huge. Tu Lan, about 70km northeast of Phong Nha, was discovered in 2009 and consists of eight caves. For more information, visit the Tu Lan Cave System Tour run by Oxalis.

Photo Credit to Ryan Deboodt

For more great Vietnam travel ideas, check our article: 10 Local Things to Do in Vietnam an Top 30 Vietnam Experiences.


Top things to do in Hoi An, Vietnam

By: Vinh Dao

This picturesque town is a wonder and a beautiful example of a Southeast Asian trading port straight out of the fifteenth century. Hoi An has something for every kind of traveller: UNESCO World Heritage Sites, custom tailoring, unspoilt beaches, gourmet restaurants, traditional crafts and much more.

So far the authorities have avoided the temptation to allow modern development to intrude on Hoi An as the city’s attraction comes from the combination of its French colonial architecture and old world charm.

Once the commercial capital of the Cham Empire, Hoi An is now the garment centre of Vietnam. Whether you’re looking for a reproduction of your favourite ensemble, an outfit clipped from a fashion magazine or simply a tailored suit, Hoi An is the place to shop.

It’s easy to arrive in Hoi An and be overtaken by your quest for a new wardrobe as your sightseeing agenda falls by the wayside, but don’t miss out on some of the ancient treasures tucked away. In addition to the countless old houses featuring well maintained traditional architecture, there is a wealth of colourful markets, grand halls, natural formations, stunning pagodas and fishing villages just a motorbike ride away.

This may be a traditional city better known for its shopping and historic architecture, but that does not preclude the presence of quality restaurants, innovative cuisine and informative cooking classes. The food scene is alive and thriving, a magnet for gourmets and amateur eaters alike. While in town, make sure to try the town’s specialty, Cao Lau Hoi An, made from.Top off your touring with a trip to the coast and a dip in the ocean at the nearby Cua Dai beach, or a visit to Thanh Ha village – 3 km to the west of Hoi An – where friendly villagers are more than willing to teach you traditional pottery.

Hoi An is most picturesque during Tet Nguyen Tieu, which usually falls around 15 January. This marks a hugely important festival in Hoi An, and residents always put enormous effort into making it the most colourful, meaningful, and cultural festival in Vietnam. It is the time when good food, traditional music and performance art is on every corner, and hundreds of lanterns hang on almost every street. If that’s not impressive enough for you, then stroll to the river, where thousands of lanterns float toward the ocean. Get yourself a lantern, make a wish, and drop it into the drink. Who knows, maybe your wish will come true!


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 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



UPDATE: Tourists “do” have to pay a fee to enter Hoi An’s old own, most of the time…

By: City Pass Guide


Tourists “do” have to pay a fee to enter Hoi An’s old own, most of the time…




As news of the $6 fee to enter Hoi An’s ancient town mushroomed throughout the various forms of /media in mid-April 2014, and the general feeling of disgruntlement swelled among tourists and residents alike, the government temporarily suspended implementation of the new fee policy, and held a few emergency meetings to discuss what to do.

 


The outcome? Various members of the Hoi An Peoples’ Committee said they probably didn’t handle the implementation of the entry fee very well, but that the fee will remain, for the following reasons and with the following adjustments and ‘flexibilities’:

 


 

 


-The entry fee remains because the local government has invested a great deal in building cultural spaces to serve tourists, and revenue is needed to recoup some of that investment and allow for those spaces to be maintained.

 


 

 


Hoi An Ancient Bridge


 


-They won't be so draconian in enforcing fee payment at the border gates – upon entry to the old town, foreign visitors will be invited to purchase tickets. If they say they were unaware of this, they will be invited to visit the town without having to purchase a ticket.

 

 


-Vietnamese tourists who visit the old town as individuals or families can enter for free.

 

 


-Sometime in the future, tourists who stay in Hoi An for several days will be given a card, with their photo portraits. They have to buy only one ticket to get in and out of the town during their entire stay here.

 

 


-Travel/tour agents will be expected to promote the message and rationale behind the fee. The town government will fine any travel firms that collect entrance fees from tourists but do not supply these tourists with official tickets.

 

 


-As always, the streets are totally open between 11:00am and 3:30pm. No border guards, no fee. The same phenomenon occurs in the early morning before 08:30am, and late at night after 9:30pm.

 


 

 


Hoi An Tourists


 

In conclusion, sadly, ladies and gentlemen, the amended policy outlined above spells the end of that fleeting-yet-magnificent game of Avoid the Attendant… Our only consolation is that for seven daylight hours (in summertime) you can enter the old town for free, not to mention most of the night for those nocturnals lurking amongst us.

 
By Peter Mahomet


Hoi An, Vietnam, The most BEAUTIFUL City in the world

By: City Pass Guide

Video source: TK tv


Family trip in Vietnam - episode 4: Hoi An Countryside

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.

Family trip in Vietnam - episode 4: Hoi An Countryside, Life in the Slow Lane

To get a true sense of how people live in the countryside of Vietnam, all you have to do is take a bicycle tour of the Kam Kim Commune and Kim Bong Village, just across the waters from bustling Hoian.

We challenged the chaos of traffic on the the busy Hoian streets, dodging motorcyclists and bicyclists whizzing by, to make our way to a ferry that would transport us to the island.

It was a crowded ride, sitting elbow to elbow  with local residents who were going or coming from work.

One woman took an interest in our children, and by the end of the short ride she had translated our life story for all the commuters.

Can Gio Reserve

Reaching our destination, we peddled down country roads, intersecting rice fields and croplands, encountering water buffalo and peddling through villages and past holy pagodas.

We were invited to visit the home of a basket boat maker -85 years old, and still working to support his family.

Generations look after each other in this country -- grandparents and parents living with children, and caring for each other.

Can Gio Reserve

Photo by Ken Marshall

With the help of one assistant, it would take 20 days to weave a circular boat, which would be sold for approximately $200.  

We then continued on to the carpentry village, to see first hand the  skilled craftsmen carving statues of Budda, furniture with mother-of-pearl inlay, and other trinkets to be sold at the market.

Can Gio Reserve

We visited a family whose business was to weave reed mats that would be stretched across bed frames to bring rest to this weary, hard-working community.  We saw the fermentation of rice wine to quench the thirst of the neighbors.

And finally, we peddled to a boat yard, where three large wooden fishing boats were under construction to be sold to the local fishermen.  This stop provided Peter the chance to save a piece of charcoal from the fires, which he would later use as a piece of coal to place under his sister's pillow on Christmas Eve!

Can Gio Reserve

This is an industrious country of hard-working people, who let nothing go to waste - and who revel in family and caring for each other. As our guide explained, the people in this village are poorer than poor, but it was clear that they had riches beyond measure in their  family life and caring for each other.

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


Stay in a Stunning Ethnic Village

By: Peter


Stay in a Stunning Ethnic Village, with a Heavy Touch of the Luxurious…




 
By Peter Mahomet

 

Nestled in ethnic Co Tu territory, in the mountains between Da Nang and Laos, is the picturesque village of Bho Hoong. Roughly 65km from Da Nang, to get there you follow an incredibly scenic (for both natural and cultural sights) country road that winds its way through steep mountains, lush forests and swidden lands. From some viewpoints, you can see all the way down through the valley to Marble Mountain and the azure ocean in the distance.


Bho Hoong village, situated on the banks of the Kon river and flanked by impressive mountain peaks, is home to a small group of people of the Co Tu ethnicity. The Co Tu are thought to have come from southern China a few thousand years ago, and migrated down into Vietnam, Laos and eventually into Malaysia before returning to central Vietnam. Their rich tradition of steep, thatch-roofed houses and wood carving reveals their relationship to some Malay cultures – for a highland people, caricatures of sea life such as turtles and sea serpents are surprisingly common.



Thatch-roofed houses and wood carving reveals their relationship to some Malay cultures


 

Well regarded in the past as fierce warriors – the Co Tu only stopped headhunting 50 years ago – they have largely been left alone by the Vietnamese Kinh majority. Like many of Vietnam’s remote ethnic groups, the economic success enjoyed by coastal and riverine areas of the country has not really made it to their alpine home yet. Theirs is a simple agrarian existence, occasionally supplemented by government pensions for their efforts as tenacious fighters during the American war.


Thatch-roofed houses and wood carving reveals their relationship to some Malay cultures


 


Active Adventures


The government has attempted to improve a few Co Tu communities, including Bho Hoong village, but with mixed success. And this is where Active Adventures Vietnam comes in. About seven years ago, the government decided to turn Bho Hoong into a tourist “homestay” with a view to increasing the villagers’ incomes. A number of traditional-style longhouses and a communal house were built as accommodation for visitors. Unfortunately the project was not well thought through, and the whole ‘new’ village sat dormant and unloved for a few years.


Bho Hoong people in their festival


 

Pham Vu Dung, Mark Wyndham and Vu The Vinh from Active Adventures Vietnam negotiated with the local government to let them renovate and reignite the homestay venture – and it worked. As you cross the suspension bridge that spans the rolling Kon river, you are met by a beautifully bucolic scene: a cluster of traditional wooden houses on stilts, with their steep thatched roofs, dotted around the edge of a village common, the whole area lorded over by the majestic communal house. It is difficult to describe the splendor of this communal house, with its massive central wooden column thrusting towards the firmaments, covered with intricate yet subtle carvings and tribal paintings.

 


Individual Luxury


What makes this small ethnic village different from the rest is that the traditional houses have been individually styled, each one taking the name of a different animal sacred to the Co Tu people. In addition, all the bungalows have their own private balcony overlooking the peaceful river – the perfect place to rest, read, contemplate and forget all your troubles.


Bho Hoong people in their festival


 

Modern conveniences such as marble en-suite bathrooms and comfortable mattresses with high quality linen have been added to ensure a luxurious stay. Twin and triple rooms are available for friends and small families, and a nice hot cup of locally grown tea awaits you when you arrive.


Bho Hoong people in their festival


 

The great thing about this whole venture is that everyone wins: tourists get a glimpse into a wonderful bygone world that most people will never see; local villagers benefit from increased employment and ownership; the environment and culture are protected through increased awareness and education; and Active Adventures Vietnam gains another successful tourism partnership in the region.

 
For more information about this amazing village, visit the Bho Hoong project website: www.bhohoongbungalows.com

 

 

 

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