Discovering Hai Tac Island

With a ticket priced at just VND40,000, we came on board the Minh Nga Boat at Ha Tien Wharf in early afternoon to go to Doc Islet.

Once on board, we could see thebeautiful Ha Tien City with To Chau Mountain, Phao Dai Mountain, Binh San Hill, Den Mount and Nai Cape appearing like a magnificent great wall of nature.

Tourists play on a beach on Hai Tac Island

Doc Islet is located in Tien Hai island commune in Ha Tien Town, Kien Giang Province. Combining with neighboring islands, Hon Doc has formed into Hai Tac Archipelago, which is also called Hai Tac Island, with an area of 1,100 hectares of land, including 16 islands off Ha Tien Town covering 11 nautical miles.

Kids stand next to a rock stele confi rming the sovereignty of Vietnam
on the island 
– Photos: Dan Hoang Tham

The sunset almost came over the island and dived through the water. The wharf at that time was very busy with many fishing boats coming back from their offshore catches, offering fresh seafood for locals and tourists such as fish, squid, crabs or shrimp. Tourists can buy fresh seafood there and then and ask locals to prepare for them.

After enjoying seafood barbecue on the beach, we had a pleasant night listening tothe whispers of the waves.

The next day, we were welcomed by golden beams flashing through coconut leaves to ensure we rose early. We could not miss a chance to indulge in the cool and crystal water, so we spent the whole morning swimming and relaxing on the smooth sand under the shade of coconut lines and strolling around admiring wild flowers. We also found many giant old trees scattered around the beach.

Provide by Vietnam travel guide


Sapa- a great place for trekking tours

Sapa is situated in the country’s northwest at an altitude of 1,600 meters. In the early 20th century the French took advantage of Sapa’s cool climate, developing it into a summer retreat from the heat and humidity of Hanoi.

Today, Sapa town still retains its European feel, largely due to the French architecture and gardens and today is a popular destination due to its beautiful scenery and colorful ethnic people. Sapa town is reached via a winding 40km road from the town of Lao Cai.

The drive provides a taste of what is to come as the road winds its way up through lush rice-terraced valleys and breath-taking scenery passing several different minority villages along the way. The valleys surrounding Sapa are home to several of Vietnam’s 54 ethnic minority groups, each with their own distinctive dress, customs and dialects.

These tribes can all be seen at the weekend market in Sapa town to trade with one another. Sapa has also become a destination for travelers seeking adventure for Vietnam travel. It is a staging point for trekking in the nearby valleys and for climbing Mount Fansipan, Vietnam’s highest peak as well as motorcycle rides in to the wild hill country. Extended treks to visit villages of minority tribes are also available.

Places of interest

Mount Fansipan

Indochina’s highest peak, Mount Fansipan is only 9km from Sapa town and climbing to its summit is one of Asia’s most challenging adventures. The trek takes visitors through tiny remote villages and areas of rainforest.

Hilltribe Villages (Ta Phin, Ta Van, Lao Chai, Cat Cat)

Shorter treks are also very rewarding, and within just a few hours walkers can be in villages that have seen few foreigners. The hill-tribe peoples in this area of Vietnam wear colorful traditional dress as a matter of daily routine and all follow their traditional agricultural way of life which has remained unchanged for centuries.

The various ethnic peoples are relatively easy to identify due to their attire. For example the H’mong wears dark clothing, usually blue or black. The dye is fashioned from the indigo or hemp plant that is native to the area. H’mong women wear long aprons with embroidered waistcoats and have their hair rolled up into a turban-like hat, whilst the men wear a black skullcap, long waistcoat and loose trousers.

Another equally distinctive minority are the Dao (pronounced Zao). Dao women are particularly striking as they shave their hair and eyebrows and wear a large red turban often covered with old coins or jewelry.

Provide by Vietnam travel guide

Vietnam’s best-kept secret

Roughly 30km from Phan Rang City in the southern province of Binh Thuan, Binh Tien beach is a hidden gem for tourists who want to discover new experiences and rejuvenate.

Binh Tien beach is a hidden gem for tourists who want to escape the madness of the city.

After you pass over a high slope onto a white sand road, Binh Tien appears in the distance as if a gift from nature.

“Because the road to Binh Tien is only suited for narrow cars, the place is yet to be exploited for tourism. Not many people know this beautiful and primitive landscape,” said backpacker Tran Ngoc Diep.

Coming to Binh Tien, you park your vehicle and choose a small cafe under the line of coconut-palms to enjoy the view. Then you can bathe in clear blue water or sunbathe on the soft white sand.

The seaside resort spreads for about 4km and you can swim up to 200m from the seashore.

Binh Tien lures many tourists on weekends, particularly during the summer and on public holidays. Visitors arrive with canvas and a variety of supplies to help enjoy the romantic atmosphere of dawn on the beach.

At 4am, the sky turns pink and dawn begins one hour later. After several minutes, rays of sunlight begin to appear.

“I come to Binh Tien not only for swimming but also enjoying the sunrise on the sea. It gives me a wonderful power,” said Nguyen Van Thuan.

The morning sunlight reflects off the delicate dew of the sea to give a silk fibre effect, while a light pink spreads over the sea and sand.

“Binh Tien’s dawn is beautiful and very romantic,” Thuan added.

The beach houses many rocks of unique shapes

If tourists reach the mountain peak when the sun rises out of the sea, they will be amazed and fascinated by the charming scenery.

“The sea water is very clean and clear with white sand spreading out. Many mountains hide the beach so it is rather quiet. It is suitable for children, old people and young people who wants to go camping overnight,” Diep said.

You can also follow coastal trails through the forest to find primitive beaches if you have more time. There you can see a collection of natural artwork on the cliff face, featuring striking images carved by nature’s hand over thousands of years.

The final stop is a small stream from the Nui Chua forest which trickles gently towards the sea. When you soak in the clear water and familiarise yourself with a small flock of fish, your worries seem to dissolve into the sea.

If you are tired and hungry after a journey to the sea, Binh Tien will offer you thatched huts where you can enjoy such seafood favourites as cuttlefish, crabs and snails while taking in the fresh sea air.

“The seafood here is tasty and cheap,” Diep said.

Near Binh Tien beach, there is a small fishing village located under the shade of rows of coconut trees, while the fishermen here are very friendly and hospitable.

You can follow in the fishermen’s footsteps by floating on the sea in the early morning, contemplating the dawn and pulling up a good haul of fish.

At present, Binh Tien has very limited tourism services so you should bring necessary supplies in advance or hire them from the fishermen.

There’s something about Binh Tien that tells me my first visit will not be my last.

How to get there:

Setting off from Phan Rang City, you continue travelling along Highway 1A in the direction of Nha Trang to the area which borders Khanh Hoa Province’s Cam Ranh City.

You turn right onto a newly built road which surrounded by mountains for about 2km and then you pass over a spring named Suoi Nuoc Ngot connecting the two sea straits in Cam Lap Commune inKhanh Hoa Province and Cong Hai Commune in Ninh Thuan Province.

Provide by Travel to Vietnam

Quan Lan Island’s primitive beauty

Quan Lan Island located in Quang Ninh Province ’s Van Don Island District is endowed with many favourable conditions, such as forests, sea, historical architectural works, cultural characteristics, etc. The island still retains its primitive beauty that attracts both domestic and foreign tourists who like discovering the deserted areas.

Imprints of a trade port in the past
After three hours cruising on the Bai Tu Long Bay from Van Don Port, we saw Quan Lan Island with its white sand banks appearing on the sea in the curtain of mist. When the ship landed, we were very excited and eager for the island adventure and we were guided by enthusiastic locals on the island.

Quan Lan was the first trading port of Vietnam built by the Ly Dynasty (11th century). Many vestiges of the ancient port together with relics of foundations of ancient architectures, such as water wells and a layer of broken ceramic and porcelain pieces, some metres thick, found at Cai Nang Wharf  confirm  the fact that the port was once very animated and prosperous.

It is the place where the locals annually hold the offerings ceremony to King Ly Anh Tong (1138-1175) and the boat-rowing festival in May and June according to the lunar calendar.

We visited Quan Lan Communal House to see with our eyes the delicate art of carving with various designs. The images of dragons are carved lively with different shapes, such as the dragon flanking a moon, a dragon keeping the “Tho” (longevity) script in its mouth, a dragon rolling water, a daisy turning into dragon, etc. Also, images of silk moths and shrimp in the dynasties of Ly, Tran, Le and Nguyen are also skilfully depicted because the trade of growing mulberry and raising silkworm and seafood catching once strongly developed in the area for Vietnam tourism.

Another special feature of the communal house is that it was built with Man lai wood. The plant only grows on rocky Ba Mun Island near the Cai Lang trading port. Over the past hundreds of years, the communal house’s pillars remain intact and free of worm and termite infestation.

Primitive beauty of beaches
Once visiting Quan Lan Island , tourists can not help participating in sea tours and sporting activities on the sea and discovering the traditional cultural features of the locals. To get there, tourists will pass over endless white sand beaches in Van Hai area that have been famous since the 1950s and now are the material source for the national glass and crystal industry.

It is not wrong when many people said that Quan Lan is like a princess who is waiting for a kiss from a prince to wake up. The area boasts two beautiful natural beaches, including 3km-long Son Hao and 2km-long Van Hai, which are most attractive to tourists. The beaches here slope gently to the sea with soft white sand and vast poplar forests.
At sunset, Quan Lan became deserted and there were only some tourists on three-wheel taxis returning to their hotels on the only small road on the island and a few motorbikes passing by.  When night falls, the scene is very romantic with the whistles of the poplar forests, calls of seabirds, soft and low whisperings of waves flapping on the seashore. From a far, the light from ships on the sea to catch cuttlefish reflects on the sea, creating a dreamlike landscape.

Provide by Vietnam travel guide

The fab crab

Bánh Canh Ghẹ Cầu Bông has nothing special in terms of decoration.

A bowl of bánh canh ghẹ along with quảy and muối tiêu chanh, a salt and
pepper lime dipping sauce

Located along the Nhieu Loc-Thi Nghe Canal, the eatery gets its name from the soup it sells – bánh canh ghẹ (crab and tapioca noodle soup) – and it’s proximity to Bong Bridge (Cầu Bông).

The only reason I even noticed the place is because I drive by it every evening and two things stick out: one, a glass shelf filled with delicious-looking boiled crabs in orange jars stands out in front of the place, and two, the place is always packed with a line out the door.

I decided to visit without so much as an acquaintance’s recommendation.

My first impression once inside was that the place is even noisy and more crowded than it looks.

Our party of four had to wait a long time for a seat.

Inside the place, there is nothing special about the decoration or architecture to notice. Different-colored small plastic tables and chairs are set into three rows with barely enough space in between them for eaters and servers to walk through.

Those who prefer a cozy, tidy and well-adorned places may find this place unattractive at  first glance.

“But all those things don’t matter at all. The food is all that matters,” said the person sitting next to me when I asked them what they liked about that place.

It did not take too long for four bowls of bánh canh ghẹ to arrive. Each steaming pile of broth and noodles looked and smelled delicious.

Unlike the tapioca noodles and crab served at other eateries where the crab meat has already been removed from the shell, the best part of Bánh Canh Ghẹ Cầu Bông was that each bowl came with one and a half full crabs without the meat removed.

Only the carapace had been removed and the bright orange crabs were as tasty as they were appetizing.

One light-orange piece of chả cua (steamed chopped crab meat) is put in each bowl among the white tapioca noodles. Sprinkled on the surface were green onion and black pepper.

A mixture of salt, black pepper and lime juice (muối tiêu chanh) is used as a condiment to dip the crab meat in.

The other side is a dish of quảy (youtiao), or giò cháo quảy as it is called in the southern region. Quảy is a popular food in Asian countries. It is a fried bread stick made from wheat flour. The food tastes lightly salted and can easily be torn lengthwise in two separated sticks or into small pieces and put into the bowl to soak up broth.

A little lemon juice and fish sauce can be added to a bowl of bánh canh ghẹ for extra gusto.

Because it was cooked with crab, the broth at bánh canh ghẹ had a natural sweet taste. The tapioca noodle was not too soft but a bit tough and the chả cua was quite fragrant and fatty.

And the crab, which must be eaten all by hand, was super fresh.

After the eye-catching orange shell was removed, the white crab meat inside tasted quite sweet, and became much greater when dipped in the salt-pepper-lime concoction.

The shell of the crab should be removed very carefully to make sure that we get out the inside meat without eating any small chips of shell.

The floor at Bánh Canh Ghẹ Cầu Bông is littered with crab shells.

Diners here can either sit inside or outside near the canal.

Price for a bowl of bánh canh ghẹ is a bit expensive for street food, but still reasonable at VND50,000. Some guests I talked to even said it is quite cheap for such delicious food.

Trekking up to Phu Song Sung

The tortuous road suddenly becomes very slippery as if it is polished by oil, with frozen trees and a strong-blowing wind for company.

However, to experience adventure and challenge ourselves, we decided to go for it.

We reached Xa Ho Commune, Tram Tau District in Yen Bai Province after nearly a day’s ride from Hanoi with the sunset coming down the mountainous area. We stayed overnight at the house of Thao A Mang, our local ethnic guide for the next day.

Tourists warm on fire and have food on the halfway to Phu Song Sung

We could not sleep as the cold and wind took its toll and by the next morning we departed feeling groggy and tired.

Mist still covered the village and was mixed with drizzling drops and a north-easterly wind. Two Mong ethnic people guided and carried foods for us. We just brought simple things such as a sleeping bag, water and foods.

A wooden tent for tourists to stay overnight in Phu Song Sung

We started to see the mountain imposingly erect as if we just could trek forever with no turning back. The mountain is about 2,955 meters above sea level, so it is a bit lower than Fanxipan but it is surely tougher to be conquered as it is has no stops like Fanxipan.

It was misty so we could not see anything, except our feet groping up on the tiny trail. Sometimes we fell down and had to use sticks to pull ourselves up. We didn’t take a long rest as moving on kept us warm.

Sometimes the wind blew the mist and clouds away and we were really amazed at the splendid sceneries. Reaching through the dense forest, the higher mountain walls were lined by endless valleys. Sometimes the strong wind forced us to sit down in groves to prevent us from falling down the valleys. At that time we really knew what the expression being scared to death really meant.

Trees were frozen and leaves became grey/white. However, it rewarded us with beautiful wild flowers. At the height of 2,400 meters and amidst the magnificent and immense space, we found we were really small and in the strangely quite space, we just heard the birds’ twitters and our steeping and breathing sounds.

We decided to call a halt to our dreams of hitting the peak to stay at a cottage of Giang A Sinh, head of the commune. A miracle occurred when the sun beams suddenly gleamed on the mountain’s peak, amidst the valleys and the white sea of clouds. The beamslooked like fireworks and it just occurred to us that we missed the chance to capture this on camera.

As night came, we just could hear the whispers of wind through the wooden walls. However, stayed together we felt warmer to sleep well on that night. The next morning, we were greeted with golden sunlight, making us feel we were bobbing in the clouds. We went home with a great experience and memories in our hearts.

Provide by Vietnam travel guide

Honoring Hung King’s worship rituals

This year’s Hung Kings’ Temple Festival in Phu Tho Province will be a special event as it will honor and receive world intangible cultural heritage certification.

The event, due to be held from April 13-19, 2013 by the Phu Tho Province People’s Committee, will attract the participation of nine provinces (Lang Son, Ha Nam, Thanh Hoa, Ha Tinh, Dak Lak, Binh Dinh, Dong Nai, Ba Ria-Vung Tau, and Tien Giang). The festival will host a program to honor and receive world intangible cultural heritage certification for Hung Kings’ worship rituals in Phu Tho Province, the worshiping rites of the Hung Kings and Mother Au Co and a Hung Kings’ commemoration.

The festival will also host a variety of cultural and sport activities that are to take place at the city of Viet Tri to the festival’s center in Hung Kings’ Temple and its environs. There will be processions from the temple’s environs, cultural camps, art performances, exhibitions of provincial specialties, folk performances, the third festival of Phu Tho Province’s Xoan singing and folk songs, a banh chung (square glutinous rice cake filled with green bean paste and fat pork) and banh day (a kind of rice cake) making contest, a Hung Kings’ worship ritual photo exhibition, an orchid exhibition, and sport activities and games like volleyball, chess, wrestling and crossbow shooting.

The Phu Tho Province People’s Committee has instructed relevant local authorities to prepare Hung Vuong Square for the festival and assure security before, during and after the festival takes place. The Hung Kings’ Temple precinct and Lac Long Quan Temple and other festival infrastructure are fully prepared for the event.

A traditional wrestling championship at the Hung Kings’ Temple Festival

The province also told relevant authorities to finalize plans for assuring security, arranging stalls and service points, posting prices of goods and services, and arranging people to assist visitors in implementing Hung Kings’ worship rituals.

Provide by Vietnam travel guide