Doi Pagoda – One of the best tourist attractions in Soc Trang

Visiting Doi Pagoda, tourists in Vietnam travel can be attracted not only to its beautiful architecture but also to thousands of bats swinging in immeasurably-high branches, as if performing in a circus.

Doi Pagoda – One of the best tourist attractions in Soc Trang

Located on Le Hong Phong St., 2km from Soc Trang downtown, Doi (Bat) pagoda is the most famous pagoda in Soc Trang province. It was built in the 16th century and is one of the oldest pagodas in the province.  The pagoda is famous for its beautiful architecture, especially its very large roof that houses tens of thousands of bats. It presents an opportunity to contemplate Khmer arts, with skilful, symbolic decorations on its pillars and roof and splendid relieves and statues.

Doi Pagoda – One of the best tourist attractions in Soc Trang

Apart from its beautiful architecture, the pagoda is also remarkable for the large number of bats roosting in the trees behind the pagoda. Watching the bats take to the skies, it will occur to you that the pagoda is a unique natural reserve. Visitors in Vietnam travel can see thousands of bats swinging in immeasurably-high branches, as if performing in a circus.

Now, Doi Pagoda is preserving a stone Buddha statue which is 1.5m high, as well as many bibles written on sugar palm leaves, known as “leaf-books”.

With a large space for trees, Doi Pagoda is a tranquil place to sit and becomes one of the best tourist attractions in Soc Trang province.

Phu Quoc: Vietnam’s attempt to become king of Asia’s beaches

Though lacking Thailand’s abundance of “Coffee-Mate” white sand, Phu Quoc’s golden beaches are deep, soft, and attracting more travelers.

If you ever wondered what Thailand was like in the late 1980s, check out Phu Quoc Island off the southwest coast of Vietnam, the new hop on the Gulf of Siam’s circuit that embraces Koh Samui, Koh Chang and Koh Kong.

Phu Quoc is fast becoming Vietnam’s hottest new island destination. But it also maintains — at least for now — a character unlike anything in Thailand.

Market traders in conical hats hawk baguettes, ducks, flying lizards and other items rarely seen on the Thai side of the Gulf, while motorcycles ply red dirt roads to pearl farms and old-style fishing ports.

Villagers, who water the roads and erect thatch fences to protect their homes from dust, gather up seaweed and haul in squid nets by pedaling homemade winches.

Protected forest reserves on Phu Quoc are splashed with waterfalls where brave Vietnamese youths enjoy cooling off alongside foreign travelers.

The industriousness of the islanders has boosted the local economy — and prices — by around 10 percent per year.Phu Quoc

Protected forest reserves on Phu Quoc teem with waterfalls where brave Vietnamese youths enjoy cooling off alongside foreign travelers.

Two million tourists by 2020

Amid government plans to expand Duong Dong airport to handle international flights, Phu Quoc — the largest of Vietnam’s islands at 574 square kilometers — is taking off fast.

The government plans to boost annual tourist arrivals from 77,000 in 2010 to 2 million by 2020, and many investors from Europe, Thailand, Malaysia and mainland Vietnam are buying up land and opening restaurants and dive shops.

Many veterans of Thailand are already comparing it to Koh Samui in the 1980s, or Koh Chang in the 1990s.

“The island has a very nice preserved forest and the size is also nice,” says Jean-Marie Helleputte, a judge from Belgium who bought land a few years ago near Phu Quoc’s Long Beach with his wife Thanh, a Vietnamese exile who has returned to her native country.

“You have a great variety of plants and trees and the beaches are very nice. The colors of nature here are splendid, all different greens because it rains a lot.”

He says new roads are making travel easier, especially in the muddy rainy season, and new taxi companies, whose drivers wear shirts and ties, are driving down transport costs to more reasonable levels.

But like others on the island, Mr Helleputte worries that a growing influx of tourists and construction will disturb the island’s tranquility. “The Vietnamese government will make this a little Singapore,” he says. “The inhabitants of Phu Quoc are making a lot of money by selling their land to foreigners for construction of hotels.”

Sanne Rasmussen, an instructor with Rainbow Divers, which has been operating dive trips off Phu Quoc for 10 years, says increasing numbers of tourists, big hotels and asphalt roads will take away “the charm of unspoilt Vietnam” and turn the island into “any other city around the world.”

Phu Quoc

Using local coconut wood and thatch, construction workers and their families are working fast to help Vietnam’s tourism industry catch up with Thailand.

Dive spots and delicacies

“My point of view is that the island is not ready at all for this — there are still power cuts every second day in high season and some places don’t have hot water.”

The water in the ocean, at least, is always a nice temperature for diving and snorkeling.

Rasmussen says that shallow waters around smaller islands are great for entry-level divers, and expert divers also can look for nudibranchs, cowrie shells, bamboo sharks and turtles.

She says that Rainbow Divers have just recently discovered a sea grass site with sea dragons and spotted dugongs, some of the rarest creatures in southeast Asia.

While the colorful fish resemble their neighbors in the Gulf of Siam, Phu Quoc’s cuisine is more influenced by French touches, and the island also produces delicious pepper and nuoc mam fish sauce.

Among the myriad stalls of the bustling night market, Rasmussen says her favorites include breakfast or tapas at Mondo, owned by a Swedish couple; German food at German B; Peppers Pizza; a restaurant in front of the Viet Thanh hotel; and coffee at the wonderfully-named Mister Dung.

For upmarket resorts, she recommends Eden, Mango Bay and especially Chen La for honeymooners, while many divers stay at the Viet Thanh hotel.

Half-way down the long beach from Duong Dong town, the family-run Thai Tan Tien resort offers spacious new bungalows for US$20 per night in a quiet abode with a boardwalk leading over a marsh to a seaside restaurant where enterprising local ladies give traditional massages on the beach.

For now, Phu Quoc is fun in a raw form, still dominated by local families who rent motorcycles for US$5 a day and bungalows for US$20 per night.

Though lacking Thailand’s abundance of “Coffee-Mate” white sand, Phu Quoc’s golden beaches are deep, soft, and attracting more and more travelers.
Phu QuocThe simple life of Thai islands in the 1980s is kept intact on the island of Phu Quoc.

Getting there

Travelers from Saigon used to swear by the cheap flights (around US$50-100) on Vietnam Airlines, Mekong Air or others to avoid long, tiring bus journeys through the Mekong delta’s matrix of swamps.

But new bridges and smoother roads mean quicker, cheaper bus trips — mine took 5 hours — to Rach Gia port, and then the fast hydrofoils, about two hours, to Phu Quoc.

Ha Tien, only one hour ferry from Phu Quoc, is a jumping off point for Cambodia.

Vietnam’s most challenging foods

There is a local Vietnamese saying that when a man encounters a new animal, his first question is: “Is it dangerous?” and the second question is “ Is it editable?”

The Vietnamese are adventurous eaters, and they’re not afraid to eat the whole animal, blood, guts and all. Here are six Vietnamese dishes to chew over.

Bugs

Fried crickets, raised on farms, are light and crispy like popcorn.

Vietnam’s ethnic Khmer in the Mekong Delta are among the country’s most adventurous eaters of insects and arachnids, though some hill tribers lso enjoy snacking on giant water bugs, tarantulas and scorpions. The mst commonly eaten include crickets, bee larvae and silk worms. Most bugs are fried and take on the flavor of their seasonings. They have very little flavor of their own. 

Frogs

The tastiest frogs are grilled with lemon grass and chili.

Vietnamese don’t just eat frog’s legs. After gutting and skinning these tubby, cartoonish bullfrogs, they then try, steam or grill the whole animal. One exception: on the evening of the first heavy rain, villagers gather a particular species of smooth-skinned toad, which is boiled whole, the stomach muscle removed, and then the entire animal eaten-skin, guts and all, with some lemon, salt and pepper. 

Pha Lau

Pha Lau is popularly added to noodle soups and hot pot. Of all the unusual foods listed here, it is the most common one for tourists to encounter at mealtime.

 Vietnamese don’t waste any part of the animal. Pha lau stands display piles of beef and pork intestines, lungs, kidney, heart and stomach. The tasty innards are chopped up and loaded into baguette sandwiches or sold by the plate to company rounds of beer or rice wine.

Squid teeth

Squid teeth are popular in coastal towns — always served in the vicinity of a fisherman’s wharf or fresh seafood market.

Squid teeth (rang muc) are another example of Vietnamese resourcefulness. The mouth parts of squid form a white, marble-sized ball with a tiny black beak protruding at the end. Steamed with ginger, grilled on a kebab or friend in batter, they are a popular after-school snack or market food for moms on-the-go.

Fetal duck eggs

In Vietnam, both fertilized duck eggs (known as trung vit lon) and tiny fertilized quail eggs are a popular snack.

Fertilized duck eggs are a very popular snack, appetizer or beer food. The contents are much harder than a conventional boiled egg, with a partially formed duck fetus inside. There may be visible signs of feathers but they dissolve in the mouth. The top is cracked, juices slurped, and then the contents are eaten with a spoon. Popular condiments include lemon and black pepper, fresh herbs, pickled veggies, raw garlic and green chili.

A note on eating wildlife

Unfortunately some restaurants in Vietnam serve wild game — some of it threatened or endangered, and much of it illegal. Guidebooks and television programs sometimes recommend these venues, ignorant of the issues involved. The Travel Channel recently faced this issue when the Wildlife Conservation Society successfully persuaded them to re-edit episodes of “No Reservations” and “Bizarre Foods” that contained questionable wildlife consumption in Vietnam and Cambodia respectively.

Vietnam’s allows wildlife ‘farms’ to operate if they buy a permit. But many of these farms still tend to source their stock from poachers, often involving tiger parts, bear bile and Rhino horns smuggled from Africa.

As such, all restaurants serving exotic animals here should be strictly avoided, and should not be considered bizarre, but illegal.

Explore the Thai white shampoo custom

Every year in the 30th’s afternoon of the Tet traditional holiday, the Thai white people who live on the moutain stream of Quynh Nhai, Phu Yen, Ngoc Chien ( Son La), Muong Lay (Dien Bien), Phong Tho, Muong Mo, Muong Te (Lai Chau), Nghia Lo (Yen Bai) organize the shampoo festival.

The Thai people live in many locations in Vietnam territory but most-densely inhabit in the West North provinces; about more than 1 million people live in Son La and Lai Chau with groups of the Thai black ( Tay Dam), the Thai white ( Tay Don or Tay Khao) and the Thai red

For Thai women, besides “tang cau” – (high chignon on the top head), their arts of shampoo and care for hair are also considered as a new art with many special features. The Thai white in Quynh Nhai, Son La also has a festival of shampoo in the 30th‘s afternoon of Tet holiday. All village patriarchs, leaders in villages, young and elderly people shout for river terminals to hold the shampoo festival

Drum urges people to come to the river terminals to take a shampoo

The mixture for the shampoo is the “bo ket” mixed with the hog-wash, forest flowers to nourish the glossy hair

According to Thai people ‘concepts,  the shampoo festival is an important festival to begin festivals in a year. In a new-year period, everyone in the villages must have a shampoo to washout difficulties, illness, and unfortunate things of the old year, see great disasters and tiredness off along the water currents (in lakes, in springs) forever as well as praise people a year of health, great and advantageous occasions and prosperous merchant.

“Mua xoe” dance in the shampoo festival of the Thai white people

After taking a shampoo, all people take part in activities like: “ném còn”, “tó má lẹ”, “múa xòe” as well as other traditional games. Every people come home from river terminals to worship ancestors. The men who is the core in a new family will be let to come to ancestors ‘altars called “nả hón” to clean, change incense burners, arrange everything on the incense burners and worship ancestor as well as welcome the new year at their families

Night safari in Cat Tien

Cat Tien National Park, Vietnam’s UNESCO-recognized World Biosphere Reserve, offers night safari trips for tourists willing to brave the jungle in the dark of night.


Birds and animals alike are spotted on the night safari in Cat Tien National Park.

The deal is your safari starts at 8 p.m. after you have hired a jeep to explore the forest together with a local tour guide. From the park’s office, the car speeds through the bamboo forests and grasslands and appearing in front of you is a domain where animals often go seeking food.

The driver stops and turns off the lights. The tour guide on the hood switches on the flashlight, creating streaks of light a hundred meters long and scanning before discovering some carefree deer grazing.

Detecting the light, they lift their head and see tourists via their red and wild eyes in the dark. The truck penetrates deep through the forest and passengers may see a black wild boar, muntjac, porcupine or pangolin searching for food.


Tourists jump on a specialized truck to head into the jungle at night.

They quickly hide in the deep forest if they encounter humans, though, so be still and quiet if possible. On the road to the jungle, you have to be careful with unexpected long branches of trees which can hit your face.

So many varieties of birds rest on the branches of trees along the two sides of the road. Even when the light shines on them they stand quietly, and it’s an ideal spot for photographers to take some snapshots. When the flashlights and the flashes from cameras turn on, thousands of termite species try to attack the tourists.

Cat Tien National Park is a natural reserve stretching over five districts of Tan Phu and Vinh Cuu (Dong Nai Province), Cat Tien and Bao Loc (Lam Dong Province), and Bu Dang (Binh Phuoc Province).

Escape the hustle of Hanoi at scenic Ba Vi National Park

As a nature lover, I take a trip to Ba Vi National Park almost once every two months. I am lured not only by the convenient road leading to the nearest “green world” to the capital, but also the pleasant feelings that overwhelm me when my lungs fill with fresh air and my eyes feast on the trees and lakes there.

The park also attracts me as it changes through the seasons. In spring, the forest is highlighted with striking colours of wild peach blossoms and apricot flowers, while in summer the dense forest is dryer and brighter with light sunshine beaming down through thick layers of leaves. Autumn covers most of the trees with yellow coats and winter seems to bring a fresh cool air to the space.

Located in the middle of the northern plain, Ba Vi (Three Peaks) is mentioned in the ancient legend of the Mountain God Tan Vien, and is said to be his final resting place.

The highest peak, known as King Peak, is 1,296m, followed by Tan Vien Peak (Mountain God) at 1,227m and Ngoc Hoa Peak at 1,131m. There is a temple dedicated to President Ho Chi Minh on King Peak and another to worship the Mountain God on Tan Vien Peak.

At the entrance to the park is Tien Sa Tourism Site, where a 20ha lake is surrounded by a 120ha forest.

“Its clear crystal waters make it an ideal destination for fishing lovers like me,” said retiree Tran Huu Canh, who drives here almost every weekend from Ha Noi to relax.

The site is divided into several themed zones to suit various ages, including a water park of 3,000sq.m with three swimming pools and nine slides and a games area of 2,500sq.m.

Young people can enjoy boating or play tennis, football, volleyball and badminton.

“Dancing and singing by the bonfire while tasting local delicacies like baked corn, sweet potatoes and grilled meat in the middle of the immense forest is inspiring,” said director of the site Banh Anh Tuan.

Following the sloping zigzagging 12km road from the park gate gives visitors a chance to see the rich local flora and fauna. The park is home to more than 1,200 kinds of plants, 21 of which are mentioned in Viet Nam’s Red Book. There are also 63 species of animals.

According to Nguyen Xuan Tan, a guide from the park, some old vestiges of the French occupation have recently been opened to the public at 1,000m above sea level thanks to the upgraded road leading to the ruins.

“There are not many documents on the French ruins available,” Tan told Viet Nam News. “The management board is trying to gather first-hand accounts from people who were alive at the time to provide tourists with a clearer picture.”

A French document dating back to the 1930s mentions the French planned to build three resorts at heights of 400, 600 and 1,000m above sea level, and were particularly keen on developing the highest one. Between 1932 and 1944, they built various facilities like a hostel, playground, church, orphanage and military basement that we can still see today.

A jail was also built in the 1930s capable of holding up to 200 prisoners, and some of the implements used to torture the prisoners are on display.

An unforgettable trek

Tan said that a new trekking route had been opened leading up to some of the parks oldest trees, mostly Bach Xanh (calocedrus macrolepis). Hundreds of them flourish at an altitude of 1,000m, and the tree offers fine wood with a gentle fragrance which is easily processed into furniture and houses.

For me, waiting for the scarce rays of light to leak through the dense layers of leaves to capture the perfect photo of the old forest is a unique moment.

At the end of the road, climbing over 1,000 steps leading to the temples on King Peak or Tan Vien Peak is another unforgettable experience.

I could not find the proper words to describe my feelings as I stood in the clouds at the top of King Peak watching the scenic landscape below after the tough trek.

From King Peak, the scenery looks like a huge painting with giant “strokes” of green grass fields, yellow rice crops and the Da River zigzagging through the undulating hills.

Admiring the live “painting” and taking a deep breath of misty air, I felt like a minute part of the immense wonder of nature.

Phong Nha Grotto– The first section of the Ho Chi Minh Historical Trail

Not only is Phong Nha Grotto the World’s Natural Heritage Site or Vietnam Wonder, but also a relic system of the Ho Chi Minh historical trail which collaborates with Xuan Son Ferry in order to create a route supporting for the battleground of the South Vietnam during the war against the American Empire. Today, this place has become the first section of the Ho Chi Minh historical trail. Therefore, coming to Phong Nha Grotto, tourists in Vietnam travel visit this legendary street.

Phong Nha Grotto– The first section of the Ho Chi Minh Historical Trail

From Bo Trach Town of Quang Binh Province, following the Street 15 to the west about 50 kilometres, you will reach Xuan Son Ferry on Son River. This is considered as the starting point of the system of Ho Chi Minh Trail. Phong Nha Grotto stays 4 kilometres far from the ferry. Previously, all people and goods shelter in this cave to avoid bombs and bullets. Today, the Tourism Centre Phong Nha is located at 1 kilometre far from Xuan Son Ferry (where now a modern bridge has been built). Visiting this grotto, sitting on the boat drifting along Son River, watching the green, pure river water and the imposing mountain chain Bao Dai Son surrounding, tourists feel like their souls are open with the nature.

At the first sight, the grotto does not have any special features of a wonder if we just take a look from outside. But when passing the grotto gate, you can a very high arch with many various shapes and fanciful colours. The river seems black and unusually quiet. This is the underground river with the length of 13,969 metres. Following this way, you will enter the wet cave. If you want to go to the dry cave, at the grotto gate, you need to turn right to reach Tien Son Grotto which is located at the height of 20 metres around; this is the place called “the mansion of stalactites”.  Phong Nha Grotto– The first section of the Ho Chi Minh Historical Trail

In the system of Phong Nha Grotto, the most famous is Bi Ky Grotto. Here you can find a plenty of sparkling stalactities, especially on the cliff inside the cave, people have discovered 97 words of the ethnic group Cham. Until now, more than 300 caves have been found here. Among those, Phong Nha and Tien Son are the most beautiful grottos of the world.

The world’s natural legacy Phong Nha – Ke Bang together with Ho Chi Minh trail has become an interesting destination in Quang Binh Province in particular and in Vietnam in general.