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Discover Halong Bay - World Heritage of Vietnam

If Hanoi is the grand old dame of Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh City is the brash young floozy, then Halong Bay, Hue and Hoi An are the alluring mistresses you encounter along the way.

How to find safe travel in Halong Bay

Having read the news about tourist boat sunk in Halong Bay, Vietnam some days ago, ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA would like to give out some advices about how to travel safely and enjoyably in Halong Bay.

Cruising Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Ha Long Bay looked picturesque and was sunny and warm. Indochina sails, Ha Long bay , Vietnam We got up early today as we need to catch the bus for our trip to Ha Long Bay, about 3 hours west of Hanoi.

Kayaking and Cycling in a World Heritage Bay

Halong Bay is one of the most spectacular, and therefore heavily 'touristed' attractions in Vietnam. Kayak on Ha Long bay, Vietnam .

A Look into Beautiful Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay has been declared a UNESCO World heritage site and it really deserves the designation. It is one of the most exciting unusual places I have been to in my life.

3/28/2013

Beyond expectation service

We booked a Halong Bay 2 day/1 night on Indochina Sails and it was the highlight of our trip in Vietnam. Everything was smooth from the beginning to the end. 

Halong Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay are so wonderful in its nature. The boat was spacious and nicely decorated. Our cabin has a very big window with a view of the water and the islands so we could lie in bed enjoying the bay view outside.

The staff couldn’t be faulted in any way; they were very helpful and professional. The food was plenty and really, really excellent (the buffet dinner with a lot of seafood – yummy!). We had the best meals there during our trip in Vietnam. Our two boys looked bigger than they used to be after coming back from Halong Bay – they couldn’t stop eating!!! Can’t say enough how good the food was.

We did love to do kayaking which allowed us to go to quiet areas in the bay. After kayaking, we lay ourselves on the sundeck to admire the beauty of Halong Bay. Luckily, it was sunny the entire time we were in Halong Bay so we took a lot of beautiful pictures. The Amazing Cave is a nice place to visit but only if there had been fewer people. I didn’t try the Tai Chi exercise in the early morning and really regret for missing it (we slept so well on our comfortable bed that we slept through it).

It’s a long way from Halong Bay back to Hanoi, however, our driver did a good job so we were comfortable and we could sleep as well.

As it is our family trip with our two boys, the most important thing for us is making sure we are taken good care of in Vietnam by a company with a high reputation. We would pay more to have an enjoyable trip. Surprisingly, we had a very good price quote.

Excellent cruise made it an excellent trip. We highly recommend to use Indochina Sail and we are sure that you’ll get more than what you expected.

Source: Tripadvisor
Supported by Indochina Sails - The most luxury and safest cruises in Halong Bay
Hanoi Office
Add: 27 – A6 – Dam Trau Quarter – Hai Ba Trung District – Hanoi – Vietnam
Tel: +84 – 4- 39842362
Fax: +84 – 4 – 39844150

3/26/2013

Bai Tu Long National Park: A national treasure

The Bai Tu Long National Park Located in the northern province of Quang Ninh, Bai Tu Long comprises 40 islands, either earth or limestone, scattering across three communes, Ha Long, Van Yen and Minh Chau of Van Dong district.
The bay covers a total area of 15,783 hectares, including 6,125 hectares of land, and is home to 1,090 species of fauna and flora. The park is considered a priceless national treasure.

According to Associate Professor Dr. Bui Tat Thang from the Strategic Development Institute of the Ministry of Planning and Investment, Bai Tu Long includes all three fundamental ecosystems: forest, wetlands and sea – a diverse area for different species to live and develop.


In the park, 102 rare and precious species, including 72 species of fauna and 30 varieties of flora listed in Vietnam ’s red book of endangered species can be found.

The park also has 1,000 hectares of wetlands, which includes mangrove forest, sandy and rocky tidal banks and seaweed that provide food and shelter for animals.

The wetlands ecosystem, with its impressive scenery and biodiversity, has attracted many eco-tourism, environmental education and research activities.

The area of coral accounts for only a minor section of the park, but has an important role to play as an aquatic resource. It has high biological productivity and is a gene bank for many types of sea species.

Besides the extremely diverse biological environment, the park also has archeological value, with evidence of ancient Viet people residing here 14,000 years ago.

Operational since April, 2002, Bai Tu Long National Park is a stunning tourism spot with a rich ecosystem, therefore it should receive sustainable protection, conservation and development.

3/15/2013

Sailing Halong Bay


In my hometown of Vancouver, we take topography for granted; we’re spoiled by scenery. Moving to Bangkok, your perspective changes; scenery morphs into concrete. Traveling out of Bangkok reminds you how much you miss a “nice view”. Traveling to Ha Long Bay reminds you that you have no idea what a “nice view” really is.

Vietnam is blessed with scenery that is staggering. Yes, Hanoi is tangled with traffic, incessant honking, sealed beneath a constant haze and a muggy sweat. But that disappears as you travel north across the Red River towards Ha Long. Hills begin to roll; jungles engulf you until the reveal of limestone karsts in Vietnam’s most prized UNESCO heritage site.

Ha Long translates roughly to “descending dragon”. Locals used the term to describe what they thought they saw floating off shore, out in the bay. There, hundreds of towering islands rise from the South China Sea. Partially hidden in the mist they resemble the humps of a sea monster floating in the bay.

We booked our trip through Indochina Sails, opting for the deluxe cabin. I was skeptical, keeping hopes low to combat disappointment that was sure to follow taking a cruise. I have to admit we would have never considered ourselves “cruise people”.

Before moving to Southeast Asia I assumed “Chinese Junk” was just the leftover containers from last night’s Kung Pao, not the beautiful wooden boats restored to navigate through emerald green waters of Ha Long Bay. Gorgeous, rich, dark teak with gold accents surrounded us as we walked into our deluxe room. Small? Not at all. Our room was large with a plush comfortable queen bed (unusual for Southeast Asia) and included a stunning marble en-suite. Our bags were waiting for us on our bed, which we promptly ignored and climbed up on the top deck as we cruised into the midst towards the mouth of the dragon.

Sails down, the ship chugged silently through the haze towards limestone dragon tails. There were 14 other cabins on our boat and 25 fellow travelers – the perfect amount to feel alone and part of a group at all times. The Vietnamese staff were friendly and hardworking aboard a Chinese made ship piloted by a captain from, of course, New York. He left his job in the city to travel through Southeast Asia, landing in Vietnam, never leaving. Floating in the bay, we understood why.

Lunch was served shortly after departing. A mix of American and Vietnamese to choose from, served a la carte. A glass of wine with good food, was a perfect way to cruise towards our first stop; Luon Cave (aka the bat cave). The ship dropped anchor as we dropped into kayaks and paddled towards the cave.

Gliding silently in individual kayaks through the cave without being accosted by any bats, we could hear them up in the dark. Through the cave we continued following our guide next to the jungle walls. He brought us to another cave and warned those who didn’t do well with tight spaces (aka me) should consider waiting.

I looked to my wife for a way out, of which she gave none and we continued into the darkness. At one point in the cave, I had to lean as far back in the kayak as I could to navigate the dark. I fought the urge to panic as I my nose scraped the dark rock above me and continued towards the light.

We emerged from the cave into a lagoon of glowing green water surrounded by walls of silent verdant jungle, save for the occasional monkey or bird call. We sat there and took it in for as long as we could. The guide noted the tide was rising and that tight cave we just came through was getting tighter. You didn’t have to tell me twice.

Back on the ship we sailed to our next stop; Titop Island. The island is a favorite amongst Chinese and Vietnamese tourists. Its small sand beach was packed with families splashing in the water. We passed on the beach and climbed the stairs to the top of the island to get a clear view of where exactly we were and received new appreciation for just how beautiful the area was. Hundreds of limestone atolls standing in stoic silence as those beautiful wooden boats drifted in and out of view.

We re-boarded and sailed towards our anchoring spot for the night. There was wine tasting and barbecue on the top deck for those that wanted and a huge buffet in the galley for those who didn’t. We sat on the deck sipping wine and taking in all of the scenery before we headed to our cabin. Eventually we fell asleep looking out the window at the water that glowed a neon green beneath our boat, lit by the floodlights of our ship.

If you don’t know, coffee in Vietnam is ridiculous (a remnant of its Colonial French history). But coffee on the deck of a gorgeous boat floating in Ha Long Bay first thing in the morning is existential. We could’ve done Tai Chi, we could’ve hiked to a nearby cave, we could’ve bartered with locals of the nearby floating village, in the end we chose to sit and sip coffee, relax and read a book in the morning steam of the bay.

All too soon, we were making the 2-hour cruise back to port while we ate breakfast. We wished we had done the 2-night cruise instead of the one, we wish we could say the kayaking was the best part, we wish we could remember the names of everyone we met, but our minds are lost in that morning sipping coffee surrounded by dragon tails without a care in the world, amongst some of the most amazing topography on earth.

By Scott Holmes
Source: From the Deck Chair
Supported by Indochina Sails - The most luxury and safest cruises in Halong Bay
INDOCHINA SAILS
Hanoi Office
Add: 27 – A6 – Dam Trau Quarter – Hai Ba Trung District – Hanoi – Vietnam
Tel: +84 – 4- 39842362
Fax: +84 – 4 – 39844150

3/06/2013

Indochina Sails Recommends Tips for Female Travellers When Stay in Vietnam


The International Women's Day is coming soon. On this occasion, Indochina Sails - the most luxury cruise & safest in Halong Bay sending to all women over the world love and wishes your day is as unique and special as you are! 

Vietnam is a peaceful country and female travelers certainly do not face any particular safety issues. Yet, it should be noted that women in other countries, especially in the West, enjoy so many freedoms, some are just in dreams of Vietnamese girls. Indochina Sails would like to suggest some simple tips to women travelers should  follow to ensure their safe and fantastic trips in Vietnam. 


# 1

When it comes to clothing, it is advisable to follow the local way of dressing. Vietnamese people do not dress traditionally or religiously in their daily life, so you do not have to worry about putting on something exotic or awkward. However, Vietnamese women, especially those in the countryside, dress quite conservatively and modestly and tourists should try to do the same. Accordingly, leaving your showy stuffs home would certainly help you to integrate more easily into the community. Besides, when visiting holy places and national monuments, you should avoid wearing shorts and tatty beer T-shirts, even in hot days.

# 2

Female solo travelers are likely to become prey for pick pockets, bag snatchers and frauds. Petty crime is becoming less common in Vietnam, mainly taking place in crowded areas such as markets, bus stops, rails station and no-go areas although most vacation spots in Vietnam are considered as safe places for traveler. Yet, basic precaution should be undertaken. It is necessary to pay attention to your luggage and other bags at all times. One of the best ways to work the issue out could be considering staying at higher end hotels and always leaving your valuables and your essential things such as your passports, your visa and your credit cards in the hotels and avoid bringing too much money with you when going out. 


# 3

If travelling alone, you are likely to be bombarded with questions about your marital status, your home, your family or in brief, your personal life. Expect curious look if you are over thirty and still single or you have been married for 3 years without a kid. It could be a bit annoying to you after a while, but take it easy as it is just part of Eastern culture. Otherwise, in order to end those conversations before they go too far, you could wear a wedding band or tell a lie about a made-up husband, if you want to avoid flirts - which are rather uncommon in Vietnam.

# 4

Friends in Vietnam do not hug or kiss each other as greetings. Therefore, to not create any misunderstanding for your local male friends, it is wise to not show any kind of close manners like that. As a solo traveler, surely you should leave a copy of your itinerary with a trusted friend or relative and keep in touch with them at regular intervals.
Be alert and aware and sensitive of your surroundings, surely you will enjoy your vacation in Vietnam.

Supported by Indochina Sails - The most luxury and safest cruises in Halong Bay
INDOCHINA SAILS
Hanoi Office
Add: 27 – A6 – Dam Trau Quarter – Hai Ba Trung District – Hanoi – Vietnam
Tel: +84 – 4- 39842362
Fax: +84 – 4 – 39844150

2/19/2013

Halong Bay – How to Choose your Junk

Halong Bay, Vietnam is AMAZING and completely worth the time and effort to plan. Before going, do put some time and effort into choosing what tour you do, as this will make a big difference to whether you come back raving about your trip or warning others not to make the mistakes you did.

Know what you want
There are literally hundreds of boats floating around Halong Bay every single day, catering to all interests and budgets. But to find the one that caters to you, you need to know what it is you are looking for.

1. How much do you want to spend? 
Everyone's budget is different. Remember you are going to be stuck with it/on it, spending a little bit extra for a bit of comfort, good food, is probably worth it.
A tip: If you like a bit of luxury, consider upgrading.

2. How long do you want to go? 
There are basically two options here: 2 days/1 night or 3 days/2 nights. If you do go for 2D/1N, be aware that you will spend less than 24 hours actually on Halong Bay. The first day you will make the four hour trip from Hanoi and arrive at the boat after 12 noon, after spending overnight on board, you will then disembark at around 11 am before making the four hour trip back to Hanoi while asking yourself why you didn't go ahead and do the 3 day tour. Mostly, the 3 day tour does the same itinerary as the 2 day tour, with an extra full day added in the middle where you will get the whole day exploring some of the further out areas, away from the tourist hordes.

3. How many people on the boat?
In general, up to 30 people is good

4. What do you want to eat? 
It may sound silly, but you are going to be stuck eating what they give you for two or three days. The quality of the food will largely be determined by your budget; however there is quite a range of options depending on the boat. Some are predominantly buffets, however there are others that serve you individual courses, or even ones where you can choose your main course from a menu. This is especially important if you have special dietary requirements.

5. Where do you want to go? 
In broad terms there are two basic options: Halong Bay (to the west) and Bai Tu Long Bay (to the east). Both are spectacularly beautiful, however, Ha Long Bay has more boats giving you more options, whereas Bai Tu Long Bay has less boats making it less busy and less crowded. If you go to Bai Tu Long Bay, you will miss out on seeing some of the more famous caves but you might get to visit some more untouched caves. Most boats provide a description of where they go on their website so check it out.

A third option is a tour that spends one night on Cat Ba Island. These tours are generally less expensive than the other options, however, be careful to check out not just the boat but also the accommodation offered on Cat Ba to make sure it fits your requirements.

6. What's included? 
Do you want to go Kayaking? If so, many boats charge extra. Does the price include transport from Hanoi and pick up from your hotel? Also, depending on the boat there may be extra activities offered on board such as cooking demonstrations or squid fishing. It's worth finding out exactly what's offered and what extra charges there will be.

Do your research
Most boats have a website so check it out. Also, look for reviews from others about the boat you are looking for. For some reasons, a lot of people seem to post reviews for the wrong boats, so read carefully. Also beware of suspiciously well or suspiciously bad reviews, fake reviews are not unheard of.

A travel agent can be very helpful. Make sure you tell them what's important to you and then ask for recommendations. If you've found some boats yourself, contact them to find out if there's anything you should know. In particular, agents will know the age of most of the boats and the size of the cabins. They can also get extra information from the boat for you if needed.

Last, but not least, after doing your research, whatever you decide and whatever happens, enjoy the experience. No matter which boat you choose you will be in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Booking
Booking early. Of course there are some good deals offered to last minute customers, but booking early will give you a better chance of getting the boat you want. The popular boats do sell out.

Make any special food requests. (Keep in mind that most boats offer a predominantly seafood menu so if you don't like fish and seafood speak up now.) Also be clear about what you can eat (e.g., no seafood but fish is fine, or no seafood and fish but meat is fine). Ask for a quiet cabin, that is one that is away from the generator and restaurant.

If you are thinking of what to do on your next holiday to Vietnam? Try Halong Bay cruising with Indochina Sails, one of the boats which is at the luxury end of the market. For more detail, please refer to http://www.indochinasails.com/

1/31/2013

TET - the biggest festival in Vietnam

TET, Vietnamese New Year, occurs somewhere in the last ten days of January or the first twenty days of February, nearly halfway between winter solstice and spring equinox. This year (2013), Vietnam celebrates Tet on Feb 10th as the first day of the Lunar New Year. Although the Lunar New Year is observed throughout East Asia, each country celebrates Vietnamese New Year in its own way in conformity with its own national psyche and cultural conditions. 

For the Vietnamese people, Vietnamese New Year is like a combination of Western Saint Sylvester, New Year's Day, Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving. It is the festival of Purity and Renewal.

Vietnamese New Year Customs
1. Clean and decorate the home
Homes are often cleaned and decorated before New Year's Eve. Children are in charge of sweeping and scrubbing the floor. The kitchen needs to be cleaned before the 23rd night of the last month. Usually, the head of the household cleans the dust and ashes (from incense) from the ancestral altars. It is a common belief that cleaning the house will get rid of the bad fortunes associated with the old year. Some people would paint their house and decorate with festive items.

2. Literally means "getting new clothes"
This is often the most exciting part of the Vietnamese New Year among children. Parents usually purchase new clothes and shoes for their children a month prior to the New Year. However, children cannot wear their new clothes until the first day of the New Year and onward. The best outfit is always worn on the first day of the year.

3. Farewell ceremony for the Kitchen Gods (Ong Tao)

Seven days (the 23rd night of the last lunar month) prior to Tet, each Vietnamese family offers a farewell ceremony for Ong Tao to go up to Heaven Palace. His task is to make an annual report to the Jade Emperor of the family's affairs throughout the year. 

4. New Year's Eve
However, in a literal translation, it means "Passage from the Old to the New Year". It is a common belief among Vietnamese people that there are 12 Sacred Animals from the Zodiac taking turn monitoring and controlling the affairs of the earth. Thus, Giao Thua (New Year's Eve) is the moment of seeing the old chief (Water Buffalo for 2009) end his ruling term and pass his power to the new chief (Tiger for 2010). Giao Thua is also the time for Ong Tao (Kitchen God) to return to earth after making the report to the Jade Emperor. Every single family should offer an open-air ceremony to welcome him back to their kitchen. 

5. The aura of the earth
Giao Thua is the most sacred time of the year. Therefore, the first house-guest to offer the first greeting is very important. If that particular guest has a good aura (well respected, well educated, successful, famous, etc.), then the family believes that they will receive luck and good fortune throughout the year. The belief of "Xong Dat" still remains nowadays, especially among families with businesses. 

6. Apricot flowers and peach flowers
Flower buds and blossoms are the symbols for new beginning. These two distinctive flowers are widely sold and purchased during Tet. Hoa Mai are the yellow apricot flowers often seen in Southern Vietnam. Hoa Mai are more adaptable to the hot weather of southern regions, thus, it is known as the primary flower in every home. Hoa Dao are the warm pink of the peach blossoms that match well with the dry, cold weather from the North. Tet is not Tet if there is no sight of Hoa Mai (south) or Hoa Dao (north) in every home.

Peach flowers
7. Giving away red envelopes (filled with lucky money) 
This is a cultural practice that has been maintained for generations. The red envelopes symbolize luck and wealth. It is very common to see older people giving away sealed red envelopes to younger people. Reciprocally, the older ones would return good advice and words of wisdom, encouraging the younger ones to keep up with the schoolwork, live harmoniously with others, and obey their parents. 

8. Making offers for the ancestors
This ceremony is held on the first day of the New Year before noontime. The head of the household should perform the proper ritual (offering food, wine, cakes, fruits, and burn incense) to invite the souls of the ancestors to join the celebration with the family. This is the time families honor the souls of their ancestors and present the welfare of the family.

Vietnamese New Year Foods

One of the most traditional special foods for New Year (Tet) of Vietnamese is Banh Chung or sticky rice cake. Banh Chung is made of sticky rice, pork meat and green bean, every ingredient is wrapper inside a special leaf which calls Dong. Making the Banh Chung requires care and precision in every step. The rice and green bean has to be soaked in water for a day to make it stickier. The pork meat is usually soaked with pepper for several hours. Squaring off and tying the cakes with bamboo strings require skillful hands to make it a perfect square.

Banh Chung is a must among other foods to be placed on the ancestors’ altars during Tet holiday. In the old time, one or two days before Tet, every family prepares and cooks the Banh Chung around the warm fire. It is also the time for parents to tell their children folklore stories. 

The importance of Banh Chung has already gone into poetry:
‘Rich meats, Salty onions, red couplets
NĂȘu tree, firecracker, green banh chung’.

1/23/2013

The Fishermen of Halong Bay, Vietnam


“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” – Jawaharial Nehru

Mesmerizing panoramas of limestone karsts often covered with lush green vegetation. Adding to this backdrop was the ever present fishermen who live on these waters. We were never completely alone.

The put-put of their engines was the first indicator.

A single boat with Quonset hut and colorful flags passed by our junk oblivious to us watching.

Oftentimes boats were rafted together. This was home for them and a way of life dating back generations.

We notice a lone man in his boat tied to this grey ragged landscape collecting crustaceans. It is food for the table and to sell.

A cultural and colorful highlight was visiting a floating village tucked along the jagged edge of karsts in a somewhat protected area from the winds. Consisting of 120 people, mostly families with children, they have been there since 1994 and encouraged by the government to fish these waters. They do so with nets as well as fish-farms. There are three other such floating villages scattered throughout Halong Bay and some quite large. Collectively, these fishermen supply seafood to all of Vietnam, particularly Hanoi. In addition, they are developing markets for farm-raised sea grasses, sea weed, and shrimp.

Houses were painted in cheerful colors and each appeared to have a resident watch dog. Roosters crowed.

Generators provide electricity for the floating village and fresh water is brought in from the mainland and stored in tanks.

We were taken to the community building to meet the village elder, his family and to have tea. The structure also serves as a school while efforts are being made to replace the one that was destroyed in a typhoon. The government provides a teacher, but he or she needs to be married, which reflects the cultural morays. Older children who wish to further their education often live on the mainland with a relative.

Managing tourism is of importance. This village has a partnership with several junk touring companies. Only the smaller vessels can approach this particular floating village, which was a cultural bonus for us. Instead of selling us trinkets or local crafts, we were taken on small boat excursions. There were four couples in our group and each couple was assigned to a row boat made from a woven reed basket.

Our rower was a girl named Win who was shy and had such a lovely smile. By tipping these rowers we are told this is a “workable” situation for tourists and the village. I had to agree. These women worked hard at what they were doing. An extra cultural treat for Ron and I was Duc, our guide, joined our little boat as well as the village chief’s son and niece. It was fun listening to the children chatter away and Duc translate.

Laughing at each other in our conical hats was a reminder that we were acting the tourist part. There was one particular area that Duc wanted us to see, but the lead rower could not get her boat through because of the current.

We weren't disappointed. The beauty around us was worth this experience of being rowed in a basket.

Once back on the junk, the long term sustainability of these floating villages was discussed. There is a balance between the fishermen, tourism, and the fragile eco-system which can change because of industrial run off, storms affecting fishing and increasing pollution. Halong Bay is a beautiful natural wonder. Protection of these waters while preserving a cultural way of life is an ongoing challenge.

Source: onthegowithlynne
For more information about Halong Bay cruise, please refer: http://www.indochinasails.com/

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