Posts Tagged ‘Saigon’

Vietnam – courtesy of Lonely Planet

Monday, July 21st, 2014

Lonely Planet Guide to Vietnam – A Mecca for foodies and a paradise for beach bums, Vietnam is also loaded with cultural interest.

The Hue Citadel and its royal buildings in Central Vietnam

The Hue Citadel and its royal buildings in Central Vietnam

Sensory Overload

Unforgettable experiences are everywhere in Vietnam.

There’s the sublime: gazing over a surreal seascape of limestone islands from the deck of a Chinese junk in Halong Bay.

The ridiculous: taking 10 minutes just to cross the street through a tsunami of motorbikes in Hanoi.

The inspirational: exploring the world’s most spectacular cave systems in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park.

The comical: watching a moped loaded with oinking pigs weave a wobbly route along a country lane.

And the contemplative: witnessing a solitary grave in a cemetery of tens of thousands of war victims.

A Culinary Superpower

The Thais may grumble but in South-East Asia nothing really comes close: Vietnamese food is that good. Incredibly subtle in its flavours and outstanding in its diversity, Vietnamese cooking is a fascinating draw for travellers – the dozens of cooking schools in Hoi An are testament to this. Geography plays a crucial role, with Chinese flavours influencing the soups of northern Vietnam, spices sparking up southern cuisine and myriad herbs and complex techniques typifying the central region, rightly renowned as Vietnam’s epicurean epicentre.

Thrills & Chills

If you’ve got the bills, Vietnam’s got the thrills and chills. Some activities require physical effort, like motorbiking up the jaw-dropping Hai Van Pass in central Vietnam. Others require even more sweat: kitesurfing the tropical waters off Mui Ne or hiking the evergreen hills around Bac Ha or Sapa.

And after the adrenalin rush, relax and indulge in Vietnam’s outstanding spas – from marble temples of treatments, to simple family-run massage salons with backpacker-friendly rates.

Meet the Locals

The Vietnamese are energetic, direct, sharp in commerce and resilient by nature. The locals love a laugh and you’ll have plenty of opportunities to socialise with them and hear their tales.

Generally, the rule is the more uncomfortable the (always tiny) seats in the bar or cafe, the more fun you’ll have.

Poor in parts but never squalid, Vietnam is developing at an astonishing pace and inevitably there are some issues to consider (including a few minor scams).

However, on the whole this is an extremely safe (apart from the traffic!) and wonderfully rewarding country to explore.

Vietnam Top Five

1. Hoi An

Vietnam’s most cosmopolitan and civilised town, this beautiful, ancient port is bursting with gourmet Vietnamese restaurants, hip bars and cafes, quirky boutiques and expert tailors. Immerse yourself in history in the warren-like lanes of the Old Town, shop till you drop, tour the temples and pagodas, and dine like an emperor on a peasant’s budget (and even learn how to cook like the locals). Then hit glorious An Bang Beach, wander along the riverside and bike the back roads. Yes, Hoi An has it all.

2. Food

Perhaps Asia’s greatest culinary secret, Vietnamese food is on the radar but hardly a global phenomenon. Essentially it’s all about the freshness of the ingredients – chefs shop twice daily to source just-picked herbs from the market. The result? Incomparable texture and flavour combinations. For the Vietnamese, a meal should balance sour and sweet, crunchy and silky, fried and steamed, soup and salad. Wherever you are, you’ll find exquisite local specialities – the “white rose” of Hoi An, the canh chua of the Mekong Delta or the good ol’ pho of the north.

3. Mui Ne

Perhaps the adrenalin epicentre of Vietnam, the relaxed, prosperous beach resort of Mui Ne is a kitesurfing capital with world-class wind and conditions, and excellent schools for professional training. For those who prefer dry land, sandboarding and golf are popular alternatives. The resort itself has more than 20km of palm-fringed beachfront that stretches invitingly along the shores of the South China Sea. From guesthouses to boutique resorts, designer bars to fine-value spas, Mui Ne has a broad appeal.

4. Sapa and the Tonkinese Alps

Dubbed the Tonkinese Alps by the French, the spectacular Hoang Lien Mountains soar skywards along the rugged edges of northwest Vietnam towards the Chinese border. Shape-shifting clouds and mist ebb and flow in the mountainous area around Sapa, parting to reveal a glimpse of Fansipan, Vietnam’s highest peak. From the sinuous and spidery ridges, rice terraces cascade down into river valleys, home for several centuries to ethnic minority villages of H’mong, Red Dzao and Giay peoples.

5. Hue

The nation’s capital for 150 years in the 19th and early 20th centuries, Hue is perhaps the easiest Vietnamese city to love. Its situation on the banks of the Perfume River is sublime, its complex cuisine is justifiably famous and its streets are relatively traffic free. And that’s without the majesty of the Hue Citadel, with its royal residences and elegant temples, formidable walled defences and gateways. On the city’s fringes are some of Vietnam’s most impressive pagodas and royal tombs, many in wonderful natural settings.

What’s New

> Zone 9, Hanoi

Filling a former pharmaceutical factory with bars, galleries and art spaces, Hanoi’s Zone 9 precinct is the city’s hippest and most vibrant new destination.

> Hill Station Signature Restaurant

In chic surroundings in Sapa, learn how to cook H’mong cuisine at the Hill Station Signature Restaurant. Wash it all down with a tasting set of delicious ruou (traditional rice wine).

> Cat Ba Island Hotels

New hotels are opening up on private islands in the Cat Ba area, including Cat Ong Beach Cottages, which has its own private beach and bungalows.

Getting There

Vietnam Airlines, the state-owned carrier, flies to 28 international destinations, including Australia.

Top Tips

Prepare yourself for the crazy driving: traffic can come at you every which way, and in the cities swarms of motorbikes reach biblical proportions.

Try to keep calm and consider arranging a massage after a long journey. Be aware that Vietnam has more than its fair share of scams; most concern overcharging.

Though very rare, there are some more serious dangers (like unexploded ordnance) to also be aware of. Relevant warnings are given in destinations throughout this guide.

In towns like Hue and Sapa, and beaches popular with tourists, expect plenty of hustle from street vendors, cyclo drivers and the like.

Off the beaten track there’s little or no hassle.

This is an edited extract from Lonely Planet Vietnam (12th Edition) by Iain Stewart and Hanuman’s own Nick Ray amongst others.. © Lonely Planet 2014. Published this month.

Uncovering the Mekong Delta

Monday, October 28th, 2013

Keeping on the cycling theme, the backroads of the Mekong Delta in Vietnam are an engaging attraction for cyclists with its lovely landscapes and welcoming people. Why not try our nine-day cycling adventure through this beautiful part of the country.

The backroads of the Mekong Delta in Vietnam

The backroads of the Mekong Delta in Vietnam

Vietnam is emerging as a popular destination for cycling holidays. Unless you are in training for the King of the Mountains jersey, you might be put off by the formidable mountains of the north, but down in the Mekong Delta the country is pancake flat and criss-crossed by pretty country roads. We leave the city by minibus to avoid the chaotic traffic and cycle from Mytho to the backwaters of Ben Tre. From Ben Tre, we cycle through pretty countryside to the ethnic Khmer area of Tra Vinh where we can see some striking Cambodian pagodas. Using local ferries and small roads, we continue to Soc Trang before heading to the heartland of the Mekong Delta in Cantho. We have a slow day to relax, but visit the floating markets in the morning for some superb photo opportunities. We travel to Rach Gia to board a hydrofoil for the lovely island of Phu Quoc. We bike around the island, passing through areas of national park, but leave the penultimate day free to relax on the beaches.

Contact our Sales Team at Hanuman for more information or visit our website at http://www.hanuman.travel/Tours/Vietnam/Cycling_Southern_Vietnam.html.

A beach all to yourself

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

If you are looking for a beach holiday with a difference, then  look no further than southern Vietnam with our 8-day Remote Beaches journey.

Unspoilt beaches in Vietnam

Unspoilt beaches in Vietnam

Vietnam is fast emerging as one of Southeast Asia’s new beach destinations. Some beaches are already quite heavily developed, but this itinerary ventures off the trail to connect you with some more remote beach destinations. The journey begins in Saigon where we visit the War Remnants Museum and the haunting Requiem exhibition of war photography. Later we venture further afield to see the Cao Dai Temple at Tay Ninh, a unique religion that blends the world’s spiritual beliefs together. We also venture underground to explore the Cu Chi Tunnels. We fly to the remote Con Dao Islands. Once used as a political prison by the French authorities, they are emerging as Vietnam’s best kept secret. Try pristine snorkelling or just relax on the beach. We then continue south to Phu Quoc, destined to become the Phuket of Vietnam one day soon. Relax on the beaches or explore the nearby An Thoi Islands or inland forests. This is a beach holiday with a difference.

Contact our Sales Team at Hanuman for information or visit our website at http://www.hanuman.travel/Tours/Vietnam/Remote_Beaches_Vietnam.html for additional details.

Boutique with a difference

Monday, July 29th, 2013

Three boutique hotels with a difference.

The Guardian newspaper recently highlighted a series of hotels in Asia, Australia and New Zealand that offered budget deals with style and a touch of the unusual. The three that caught our eye were in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Here’s what they had to say:

Maison Polanka, Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photograph: John W McDermott

Maison Polanka, Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photograph: John W McDermott

Maison Polanka, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Tucked behind Wat Polanka, near Siem Reap’s leafy riverbank, peaceful Maison Polanka boasts a palm-lined swimming pool, sprawling gardens, and personal service more befitting a luxury hotel. Spread across two traditional Khmer wooden houses, six light-filled rooms are decorated with retro-Cambodian furniture, locally-made crafts, and art and antiques the French-Cambodian owner has collected on her travels.
maisonpolanka.com. Orange room from £98, other rooms £113-£200.

The Sanctuary, Luang Prabang, Laos

A brief amble from the Mekong river in laid-back Luang Prabang, this 30-room boutique hotel is set around a palm-lined pond in colonial-inspired buildings with red roof tiles, wide verandas and wooden shutters, in keeping with the Unesco world heritage-listed town’s architecture. Only the Bauhaus-style handmade furniture gives things away. An on-site spa offers 40-minute Laotian massages for £6.
sanctuaryluangprabang.com. Doubles from £45.

The Alcove Library Hotel, Saigon, Vietnam

In a residential neighbourhood, 10 minute’s drive from downtown Saigon, this elegant hotel with its French-style facade and Parisian-like courtyard garden, offers respite from the chaotic centre. Once inside, you’ll find prettily-tiled floors, comfy padded armchairs, black and white prints, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves crammed with reading material, and more books in the 38 classical rooms. Surprisingly, the rooftop restaurant-bar serves American, rather than French, food.
alcovehotel.com.vn. Doubles from £58.

On board the Mekong

Friday, March 29th, 2013

Two new cruise boats will be plying the Mekong River in Vietnam and Cambodia later this year and next.

Life along the Mekong River

Life along the Mekong River

Mekong Secret Cruises will begin operating their new Vietnam and Cambodia cruises from 29 September this year. Along the famed Mekong River, from the delta to the Tonle Sap Lake, their Le Tamarin cruise boat will operate three programs, an 8-day Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) to Phnom Penh or Siem Reap depending on the season, a 4-day Phnom to Siem Reap and an 8-day Phnom Penh to Siem Reap via Kratie. On the lower deck of Le Tamarin are eight fully equipped cabins and on the upper deck are another six with an air conditioned dining room and lounge bar. It’s full board accommodation on this brand new boat, which is family-friendly.

Launching next year in 2014, the M/V Aqua Mekong will be a custom-built, architecturally-designed luxury cruise-ship including a spa, screening room, outdoor pool and 20 guest suites with floor to ceiling windows offering river views of Vietnam and Cambodia along the Mekong River. Their itineraries will include 3, 4 and 7 day options traveling upriver between Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) in Vietnam stopping in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap in Cambodia (with downriver itineraries traveling the reverse route).

Tour of the Week: Tickle Your Tastebuds

Thursday, March 14th, 2013

Our Tour of the Week provides an opportunity to tickle your tastebuds with our Culinary Vietnam special.

Culinary Tour of Vietnam

Culinary Tour of Vietnam

This week-long trip is designed to stimulate the senses by introducing visitors to the delicate aromas and spices that make Vietnamese food such a delectable experience. Starting in Hanoi, we bring visitors face to face with the sights, sounds and smells of the Old Quarter. Our first epicurean encounter is at Highway 4 Restaurant, famed for its blend of modern Vietnamese and traditional hilltribe cuisine. We learn some signature recipes before continuing our journey to Halong Bay, a stunning world heritage site where nature has run amok. After enjoying a night on a traditional junk, we travel south to Hoi An, a timeless trading port on the Thu Bon River. We visit a local market to shop for produce before travelling downriver to the Red Bridge Cooking School. Set amid ricefields on the banks of the river, it is an inspiring location to learn the art of the Vietnamese table. We leave some free time to soak up the charms of Hoi An or explore nearby Marble Mountains or the Cham Museum in Danang.

For more details on our 7 day/6 night Culinary Vietnam itinerary, visit the Hanuman website at: http://www.hanuman.travel/Tours/Vietnam/Culinary_Vietnam.html.

An Epic Mekong Journey

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

Hanuman Tour of the Week – our 22-day Mekong Journey through Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Mekong Journey with Hanuman

Mekong Journey with Hanuman

Go with the flow on this epic journey, exploring the roads (and rivers) less travelled in an older, more authentic Asia. Leave behind the Golden Triangle and travel down the Mekong River to Pak Beng with the Luang Say Cruise. Continue to Luang Prabang, the spiritual heart of Laos, with abundant temples. Fly south to Pakse, gateway to Champasak province and island life on the Mekong. Cross the border into Cambodia and continue to Kratie, a base to view the extremely rare freshwater dolphins. Cambodia’s capital beckons, Phnom Penh. Experience devotion to the gods at the National Museum or witness the destruction of the Khmer Rouge at Tuol Sleng Prison. Make a side-trip to the incredible temples of Angkor before continuing to Chau Doc by speedboat. Pass through the heart of the delta region, stopping off to visit the floating markets of Cantho. Winding up in Saigon, learn more about the war at the Remnants Museum or by digging up the past at the Cu Chi Tunnels.

Find out more @ http://www.hanuman.travel/Tours/Indochina/Mekong_Journey.html or contact the Hanuman sales team for detailed information and a quotation.

KOTO Comes Good

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012
KOTO in Hanoi

KOTO in Hanoi

KOTO is making a real difference to lives in Hanoi and Saigon.

KOTO is an extraordinarily successful not-for-profit project that provides career training and guidance to disadvantaged kids in Hanoi and now Saigon. Its flagship stunning four-storey modernist cafe-bar-restaurant overlooking the Temple of Literature is in Hanoi, where the interior design has been taken very seriously, from the stylish seating to the fresh flowers by the till. Daily specials are chalked up on a blackboard and the short menu has everything from excellent Vietnamese food to yummy pita wraps and beer-battered fish n chips. KOTO (meaning for Know One, Teach One) offers a vocational training program that is changing the lives of many street children, providing them with skills, dignity and pride. Every six months they recruit 25 to 30 trainees in a 2-year programme. Founded by one of our old friends, former tour leader Jimmy Pham, KOTO played host to then President Bill Clinton on his visit to Vietnam. KOTO chefs pass on the secrets of Vietnamese cuisine with daily cooking classes if you want to become an expert yourself. In Hanoi, they open for breakfast and lunch seven days a week and for dinner every night except Mondays. In their Saigon restaurant, they open for lunch daily and for evening dinner from Wednesday through to Saturday. And earlier this year, a new venture, Pots ‘n Pans’ with a focus on innovative Vietnamese cuisine opened in Hanoi, offering lunch and dinner seven days a week. Take our recommendation and pay them a visit.

Water Spectacular

Monday, September 10th, 2012
Vietnam's Water Puppets

Vietnam’s Water Puppets

Hanoi’s Water Puppets are Vietnam’s Punch & Judy.

Northern Vietnam is the birthplace of water puppetry (roi nuoc) and is at least 1,000 years old. Hanoi is the best place to catch a water puppet show, with the Municipal Water Puppet Theatre at the center of the action with six daily performances, though it’s wise to book well ahead. Contemporary performances use a square tank of waist-deep water for their stage; the water is murky to conceal the mechanisms that operate the puppets. The wooden puppets, up to 50cm long and weighing as much as 15kg, are decorated with glossy paint. Each lasts only about three to four months if used continually, so puppet production provides several villages outside Hanoi with a full-time livelihood. Eleven puppeteers, each trained for a minimum of three years, are involved in the performance. They stand in the water behind a bamboo screen and unfortunately suffer from a host of water-borne diseases, an occupational hazard. Some puppets are attached to a long pole, while others are on a floating base, with rudders to help guide them. The skills required to operate the puppets were always kept secret and passed only from father to son, never to daughters who might marry and take the secrets with them.

Accompanying the action in the water is the music provided by a band. It includes wooden flutes, gongs, drums, bamboo xylophones and the stringed zither. The performances consist of a number of vignettes depicting pastoral scenes and legends, like the battle of the fisherman with his prey, or fire-breathing dragons. These performances are a lot of fun, the puppets are amusing and graceful and the water setting allows the puppets to appear and disappear as if by magic. Spectators sitting in the front-row seats can expect a bit of a splash. You have been warned. If you are not heading to Hanoi, then there are a couple of locations in Ho Chi Minh City that cater for the one of the “must-see” tourist experiences.

Tour of the Week – Remote Beaches of Vietnam

Thursday, July 26th, 2012
Remote beaches in Vietnam

Remote beaches in Vietnam

A beach holiday with a difference in Vietnam.

Vietnam is fast emerging as one of Southeast Asia’s new beach destinations. Some beaches are already quite heavily developed, but our 8 day/7 night itinerary ventures off the usual trail to connect you with some more remote beach destinations. The journey begins in Saigon where we visit the War Remnants Museum and the haunting Requiem exhibition of war photography. Later we venture further afield to see the Cao Dai Temple at Tay Ninh, a unique religion that blends the world’s spiritual beliefs together. We also venture underground to explore the Cu Chi Tunnels. We then fly to the remote Con Dao Islands. Once used as a political prison by the French authorities, they are emerging as Vietnam’s best kept secret. Try pristine snorkelling or just relax on the beach. Our tip for a luxurious stay is at Six Senses Con Dao with their stunning seafront villas each with its own pool. We then continue south to Phu Quoc, destined to become the Phuket of Vietnam one day soon. Relax on the beaches or explore the nearby An Thoi Islands or inland forests. Our Phu Quoc accommodation tip, the stylish colonial resort of La Veranda. This is a beach holiday with a difference.

More at http://www.hanuman.travel/Tours/Vietnam/Remote_Beaches_Vietnam.html.