Thursday, March 6, 2014

Beyond Sapa: 5 Alternatives to consider for your next trip

 Sapa, the wonderful combination of harmonious weather, pristine nature and uniquely ethnic minority groups culture; is definitely one of the most well-known tourist attractions in northern Vietnam. However, that is also the reason why this small town is always packed with tourists both local and foreign all year round. If you are looking for a change, something off the beaten track, in northern Vietnam, there are still many others for consideration for the same time and budget spent.

Tam Dao Hill Station - cool climate and tranquil trekking trails

Only 80km away from Hanoi, Tam Dao Hill Station is a rather popular escape from the heat of the Red River Delta area. Hanoians come to Tam Dao every weekend and holiday, especially in summer when the temperature in the plain may be as high as 40oC. Thanks to the elevation of more than 1200m, the climate in Tam Dao is purely cool with average temperature of 18oC in summer and 10oC in winter, which could be ideal for tourists who are not familiar with the tropical heat and want to find a place as cool as Sapa.

Once the vacation resort of the French, Tam Dao comprised of numerous grand colonial villas. However, most of them are destroyed during the war time in the 1950s and what one can see today is a newly constructed mountain town that serves tourists' holiday. There are now a wide range of hostels, hotels and resorts; and plentiful local specialties for visitors to try out.

In addition to the cool climate, this region provides full opportunity for physical activities such as mountain sight-seeing, serious trekking and even bird-watching that Sapa has to compare. Nature lovers who are fascinated about Sapa’s wild surrounding can also visit Tam Dao National Park with eight kinds of forest types distributed in different topographic and climatic areas, more than 2000 plants and 904 species.

Mai Chau - inhale the ethnic culture

It will be a 135km trip from Hanoi, or 60km trip from Hoa Binh City to reach Mai Chau, the green valley. If you love to discover more about the daily life of ethnic minority groups, especially Thai people, Mai Chau is surely a great choice. Stilt houses with exclusive Thai architecture line up on both sides of the road in the valley. Tourists can visit those houses or even try cooking and making clothes in Thai style. Homestay programs are available, and everybody will have great time watching traditional dancing and music instrument performances, while enjoying local specialties such as rice cooked in bamboo tubes and grilled meat on skewers.

There is a local market every Sunday with the participation of people from different minorities living in the surrounding areas. This is a good chance for tourists to feel the mixed culture, as in Hoa Binh Province, there are about six different minorities with distinctive languages, traditions and festivals.

From Mai Chau, one can also join one of the trekking tours to remote villages. Although Mai Chau's weather is not as cool as in Sapa, it has otherwise many things else to offer: the landscape, the people, the food, and the air. Currently, there are some agencies providing tours of Hanoi- Mai Chau-Sapa, in which tourists will travel to Hoa Binh and stay at Mai Chau, then passing Son La province and Dien Bien Phu Loop before reaching Sapa.

Lai Chau - panoramic landscape and untouched local culture

Located in the northwest region, Lai Chau is 450km northwestern from Hanoi. To reach this province, you can choose Highway 12 (from Dien Bien Phu Loop) or Road 4D (from Sapa, catching local bus which is available daily in Sapa terminal). Lai Chau has several highland villages such as Sin Ho, Ta Phin, Dao San, most of which are at the altitude of more than 1500m. The high altitude makes the weather here much like Sapa, cool and foggy with the average temperature of nearly 20oC and two seasons: dry and rainy. The completely pure air is something that Sapa rea;;y has to envy.

Besides the high mountain ranges surrounding the province, Lai Chau is well-known for narrow valleys, waterfalls, and the three large rivers: Da, Nam Na, and Nam Mu; which create the stunningly picturesque sceneries. Visiting Lai Chau, tourists can not only go mountain trekking but also sail along Da River, discover primitive caves or bathe in natural hot springs.

Especially, Lai Chau is home to nearly 20 ethnic minority groups, including H’Mong, Thai, Dao, Ha Nhi, Mang and La Hu. Tourists will have an opportunity to witness the special multi-cultural society through the original local market taken place every Thursday and Sunday morning or minorities’ authentic festival such as Thai’s “Hoa Ban Festival” in the second lunar month or H’Mong’s “Gau Tao Festival” in spring.

There are buses to Sapa departing from Lai Chau terminal every hour, starting from 5 in the morning. It will be a 2-3 hour trip for the route of 175km.

Phia Den-Phia Oac - wild nature

Visiting Phia Den-Phia Oac (or Phia Dac), tourists will be amazed at the gorgeously wild panorama of mighty mountain ranges, rivers, caves and huge areas of original forests. Belong to Nguyen Binh- a remote district of Cao Bang Province, 240km far from Hanoi, Phia Den-Phia Vac is a potential ecotourism spot in Vietnam’s northwest region.

The 1500m average elevation with the highest peak up to 1931m makes Phia Den- Phia Vac covered in mist all the time, which is similar to Sapa’s climate. In the past, the area shared the same historic background with Sapa, as it was controlled by the French colonialists for exploiting aromatic wood and other precious minerals. Consequently, there are several French villas and military posts like Tai Soong, Tatsloom still remained here. For culture discovering purpose, tourists can meet a lot of Dao minority people living scattered throughout the area.

Cao Bang is 272km north of Hanoi following National Highway No.3. There are direct buses departing from Cao Bang terminal to Lao Cai terminal and vice versa, so reaching Sapa from here is pretty convenient.

Lying quietly between two mountain sides in Yen Bai Province, Mu Cang Chai, one of Vietnam’s poorest regions, possesses many terraced fields which have been regarded as a national level heritage and Asia’s most beautiful ones. If you have ever fallen in love with the terraced fields in Sapa, Mu Cang Chai will definitely take your breath away. The little town is 300km far from Hanoi, and can be reached only from Yen Bai City or Lao Cai via rough roads with continuous slopes and passes. Remote as it is, Mu Cang Chai can still reserve the wildly primitive beauty. Everything, both nature and human, is pure and untouched, and perfect for both trekking and sightseeing.

About the cultural discovery aspect, 90% of residents here are Hmong people, and Thai people cover only 8%. While Thai people build houses and live in lower area, Hmong people populate and cultivate on high hills. They are the creator of breathtaking view of terraced fields sloped gently along the mountainsides. Mu Cang Chai gives us a chance to live slowly, to embrace the peacefully natural beauty and be moved by the honest and innocent local ethnic people. Mu Cang Chai is only 170km far from Sapa, however, you are advised reach Mu Cang Chai by renting a car with local driver. Another option is to get back from Mu Cang Chai to Tu Le or Than Tuyen to take local bus to Sapa in the direction of Lao Cai.

Five most popular trends of Hanoi cafés

 Mentioning Hanoi, people may immediately think of a cultural space with various etiquettes and customs from the old time. Although tea is a big thing, coffee and the way people enjoy it are also among the most recognizable characteristics of this ancient capital city. Beginning a day with a cup of hot coffee is an indispensible hobby of many working Hanoians, though each one has his or her own way in his or her own favourite place. And unlike major capital cities elsewhere in the world, coffee in Hanoi is hardly found in chain with standard menu, but very versatile and unique. Coffee houses spread anywhere from sidewalk to office building, from being colorful to attract teenagers to offering more human-animal interaction in the busy Hanoi.

Sidewalk cafés

Appearing in Hanoi since the first years of 19s, during colonial time, street café is undoubtedly the most popular choice of Hanoians to enjoy a cup of coffee. Here, there is no light, no candle, no flower nor beautiful bartenders; people can only see simple installation with little chairs and even no tables, a lot of noise and even dust.

However, drinking coffee on pavements has gone to the heart of coffee holics in this city, where people can watch the busy life of Hanoi and express any feeling or laugh out loud carefree of interruption, since everyone coming to such coffee shop with the same purpose. Frequent customers of street cafe is also the most diverse, with both office staffs, students and sometimes housewives.

Ones may doubt about the quality of coffee on pavement shop but don’t worry because these shops have appeared long enough to prove their stable position. From subjective view of a coffee holic, I can say confidently that street coffee is the cheapest but the best quality of this drink in Hanoi. Most famous street café shops are Giang on 39 Nguyen Huu Huan, café Nguyen Du, Tonkin, café Dao Duy Tu or café Thai Phien.

Office Cafés

This category is named “Office Café” because besides coming to drink coffee, customers of these shops seeking for a professional decorated ambiance; beautiful view; excellent service to work, read newspaper or books; discuss serious or business matters; or simply to have quiet moments for a cup of coffee fleeing from the hustle and bustle of social life.

Most of the upmarket coffee shops in Hanoi follow this style, usually on top or inside a high-star hotel with stunning overview from the above of Hanoi of lying silently inside the lush green of a garden giving relaxing glimpse to its customers.

In addition, for such high quality coffee shops, there are live music performances daily or weekly is another plus point for ones’ consideration.

Teenagers’ Cafés
 
This type of coffee shop has been expanded dramatically in recent year which is especially invented for teenagers and the youth. Coffee is no doubt the main course of these shops but their menu usually composed of vitamins, yogurt, cocktails and fast-foods. The interior of teen café is well decorated by wall painting with animated themes creating a hilarious but cozy ambiance for teenagers to either gossiping or studying effectively. To comment, this coffee style is more entertaining than enjoying coffee.

Themed cafés

Pursuing market demands and standing out from the others, coffee shops in Hanoi are now designed in specific themes. Those themes are very diverse which may vary from an address for people with the same interest like pets’ coffee for animal lovers or antique coffee for ones who are interested in collecting antiques.

To select out the most unique theme cafés shop in Hanoi, Bird Cafés on Nguyen Du Street is no where can be found in the world. Here, thousands of rare species of birds creating melodious orchestras are displayed in front of the very eyes of customers. Besides sipping a cup of coffee to power up oneself, contemplate beautiful birds and listen to their songs is another way to dismiss stresses.

Another very special coffee shop in Hanoi is Art Coffee on 76 Quan Thanh Street, whose theme is antiques. The shop seems to be a small stadium preserving antiques of all regions in Vietnam of different dates. Art coffee is really a meeting-place of all archaeology lovers in not only Vietnam but also foreigners with the same interest.

5 strange exotic hotpots of Hanoi

 The biting cold of Hanoi winter makes for a great chance to gather up around a steaming hotpot - a favorite of locals in the winter time. The most common types of hotpot involve beef and chicken, but following are some of the more exotic types that offer a different taste of Hanoi.

1. Pigeon hotpot on Hoe Nhai street

A rather unforeseen consequence of having too good of a dining menu at the local pub!

Nam Duong Tuu Quan is better known for its pigeon hotpot than for its selection of home-made liquors. As one may soon notice, a good number of patrons at 21 Hoe Nhai are female, which is very untypical for local pubs that are often crowded with overzealous male bingers. They do come for the birds!

The standing-out feature of pigeon hotpot is its broth of very liquid porridge, which has been long boiled with some birds earlier. Most other hotpots don’t use porridge, and that only makes for two birds with one stone. The hot steamy rice soup that has extracted that sweet essence of marrow, together with the white tender meat, blended in all the sense-awakening glory of various types of herb, vegetable and mushroom, make one wanting to swim in all that goodness, if it is not for the boiling bubbles that poke fun of the noses that can’t hold out far enough. Or at least wanting to gulp them all down!

Either way, it will probably be an experience one never forgets.

Four diners can chip in for an estimated total of 350,000vnd for one pot. We doubt you are going to eat so little though!

2. Snail hotpot on Truong Chinh street

These are hard to come by in Hanoi, and when it does, the original is still the one that rules. The street stall in little Khuong Thuong alley, off Truong Chinh avenue, has been serving the exotic pot for over 40 years. That is the time when bombs still fly over both men and snails!

Besides the intriguingly hot and sour broth, snail hotpot also features some very interesting ingredients. There are snails (!!!), dumpling, wonton and roll, all made from the crawling creature. The hotpot also sees to the attendance of locally typical fried tofu, unripe banana and pork belly slices. They combine to make for an unmistakable dish of beautiful aroma and craving taste that is nowhere else to be found.

A pot will likely set the four of you back some 300,000vnd. It is definitely not cheap though, considering the thing is more or less a peasant’s food.

3. Mudskipper hotpot in Van Cao street

The fish and indeed the hotpot are rather common in the south, but it has only recently made way into the northern dining table. Mudskipper hotpot has a stable devoted fan base, but it is rare to come by in Hanoi, and thus fairly strange to some. One of the few restaurants that carry such is Mrs. Sau’s Hotpot, at 65 Van Cao. Come no further for an authentic taste, because even the name screams a southern accent!

The distinguished feature of mudskipper hotpot is the presence of the exclusive river leaves (Aganonerion polymorphum - editor), which add a lightly bitter yet strangely aromatic taste. Its broth is a mouth-watering sweet and sour mix. The mudskippers themselves are small but have soft texture and very tender meat. The fish often soak up with broth nicely, which makes for a compelling crave. The must-have vegetables that come with this hotpot is water hyssop and sliced banana flower. Water spinach has also proven to be a nice addition.

For VND 350,000 a steaming pot, this is fairly pricey, especially when the fact that it barely serves 2 persons each comes into account. But as one comes to think about it, as all the ingredients are shipped all the way from the southern land, it is a reasonable charge.

4. Chicken-in-vinegar hotpot on Tran Nhan Tong street

Itself being a typical sidewalk street shop with the so very typical menu of mostly chicken-deprived dishes, however the 52 Tran Nhan Tong restaurant brings about nice touches of uniqueness with really different takes on the classics. An example of which will be the chicken-in-vinegar hotpot.

The specialty at 52 Tran Nhan Tong is the hill chicken – free hill-roaming birds that develop tender, thick and juicy meat, with a full-textured skin that makes for a delicate taste never to be found in rubbery-skinned farmed birds. Many diners also complement the great broth. The owner proudly boasts of his recipe: “Other than the normal ingredients that come with every hotpot’s broth, we also add a special type of home-made rice liquor that is brewed exclusively for the purpose”. The myth stands uncontested, but 52 does indeed produce some extraordinary out the average ordinary chicken hotpot.

A pot for 5 to 6 persons should run for about 350,000vnd. The proud owner is a nice person to talk to, and the service is reasonably quick.

5. Frog hotpot on Truc Bach street

The small road that veers out of the famous Thanh Nien, runs the shore of Truc Bach lake, in which it takes its namesake from, is widely known for its now all too famous specialty. There are numerous vendors around selling frog hotpot, but Ngân Béo at 43 Truc Bach (Fat Mama Ngan – so named after the owner. Now take that!) is perhaps the most famous and also voted the best.

Frog hotpot is rather on the spicy side. It is much more labor-intensive to make, as the animal has to be carefully butchered and only a few of the cuts qualify for the honor of the boiling pot. The meat is deeply marinated and, as typical with other frog dishes, later half cooked with bamboo sprouts. Diners will dip the ingredients in the pot. A fine frog hotpot has a rich, deep and spicy flavor. The aroma is nose bleeding and the meat can hardly ever overcook. It serves with water spinach and sliced bamboo sprouts. The frog hotpot is one of the hottest most sought after in the winter days for many Hanoians.

A typical pot for two will run around 350,000, which is relatively high compared to other types. But its strong flavor, exotic ingredients and fine taste will leave diners soon longing to come back.

Caution: frogs are known to host a number of parasites that can severely affect human health. Make sure that you cook the meat throughout before eating. Also, customer service at Fat Mama receives some very unfavorable rating. The neighbors, even though rated a bit below Fatty when it comes to taste, invest more in customer satisfaction.

Happy feasting!

The Must See Highlights of Hoi An

 Vietnam, a diverse tropical environment in the Indochinese peninsula, is blessed with awe inspiring landscapes, intriguing culture and ancient history. Hugely popular with travellers, the country offers a warm welcome into the local life and natural beauty of South East Asia, coupled with an exciting insight into famous legends. Amidst dominating mountains and dense forest lies the exciting coastal village of Hoi An. Once a major trading port for international goods, the World Heritage Site, known to the locals as ‘the peaceful meeting place’, is a goldmine for curious visitors, eager to discover its undisturbed history, magnificent culture and grand temples.

Tasty tradition

A trip to this historical village would be wasted without sampling the flavoursome Vietnamese delicacies. Cao Lau, a Hoi An favourite, is an authentic pork noodle dish with a difference, full of the cultured tastes of its trading port past. While the water is drawn only from the local Ba Le well, the dish features thick noodles akin to Japanese udon, with the won-ton crackers and pork being a clear Chinese touch. Sample this dish, along with tasty street food at Morning Glory, a beautiful restaurant housed in an old colonial building in the centre of the district. Why not learn to cook your favourite meal at the restaurant’s cooking school?
Further must-try delicacies include White Rose (steamed shrimp dumpling-like tasters) and Fried Won Tons topped with local meat, all available in a plethora of friendly restaurants both on and off shore.

Festival spirit

To experience the true culture and heritage of Vietnamese life, you must attend one of Hoi An’s famous Full Moon Festivals. Throughout the year, on every 14th day of the lunar month, Hoi An Old Town transforms into a colourful lantern filled wonderland, free from the daily noise of traffic. Instead, swarms of locals and visitors flock to the area, serving as a centre stage to relive the golden age of prosperity and to honour and respect their ancestors. The Old Town becomes a hive of activity as echoes of traditional song and dance fill the busy streets, while monk-led candle lit ceremonies light up ancient temples. The next Full Moon Festival will take place this year on June 22, 2013. You may also enjoy Vu Lan Day, or ‘All Souls Day’ in July, associated with the annual wandering of ancestors’ souls and surrounded by great legend.

Market madness

For a shopping trip to remember, explore the hustle and bustle of Hoi An’s busy trade at the Central Market, located on the banks of the Thu Bon River. Browse through a colourful collection of local handicraft and souvenirs, choose your favourite silk and have clothing handmade by Hoi An’s famous tailors, all under one roof. While enjoying the market scene, it’s hard to ignore the beautiful aromas filtering in from the food hall. A vast selection of family recipe meals, exotic fresh fruit and local spices are on display by friendly sellers, eager to give you an authentic taste of south east Asia.

Tour the temples

Famed for its ancient history and religious landmarks, Hoi An will not disappoint the temple loving traveller. About two kilometres outside the centre lies the oldest Buddhist temple in Hoi An, Chuc Thanh Pagoda. Founded in 1454 by Minh Hai, a Chinese monk, the ancient pagoda displays a combination of Chinese and Vietnamese inspired architecture with a collection of religious artefacts thought to be over 200 years old. To explore a slice of Hoi An’s history, visit Quan Cong temple, a series of houses entwined by elaborate, detailed statues and traditional artwork, dedicated to the respected Chinese General. As you enter the royal red-gold entrance, prepare to be dazzled by a plethora of precious items and ancient memorabilia, depicting the General as a worshipped symbol of loyalty, sincerity, integrity and justice.

With a wealth of diverse attractions to please even the most seasoned traveller, Hoi An’s thriving coastal settlement is the perfect holiday destination to return to again and again.
 

The Five Best Cruise Trips of Halong Bay

 Even when you have not yet visited Halong Bay, you can easily realize how many cruises there are on the Bay. The fifty some posted elsewhere online does not speak it all: there are as many as four hundred vessels running daily. It cannot be denied that the best way to visit the myriad of islets and grottos is by a cruise, but choosing one can be a daunting tasks: so many prices, so many pictures and so many itineraries. We are suggesting below some of the best options for a Halong Bay Cruise:

BEST LUXURY CRUISE: PARADISE CRUISE

If you are looking for an ultimate luxurious cruise around Halong Bay, Paradise Cruise (including Paradise Luxury, Paradise Peak and Paradise Privilege) is top of chart in every aspect. At first glance, the cruise is not only aesthetically appealing but it also has amazing amenities fitted for royalties. The cabins are spacious and spotlessly clean. It is well worth the money to upgrade to a cabin with a lovely private balcony so you can chill and enjoy the view. The staffs are attentive and welcoming. Besides the superb fresh seafood platters on board, there are unlimited Vietnamese dishes and a cooking demonstration for you to try.

The unique 3 sails cruise and the excellent service set Paradise Luxury Cruise one class above many other operating cruises in the bay. By spending $200/pax for a 2 day-1night, you will definitely be satisfied with your stay on board while visiting the magnificent Halong Bay.

BEST DAY CRUISE: EMERAUDE DAY CRUISE

Emeraude day cruise Emeraude Cruise has a rather different take on the appearance as it models the French paddle steamer, probably reflecting the origin of the French owner. This different interpretation from Chinese junk of other boats makes cruising around Halong Bay a wholly unique experience, especially when you only spend 1 day on board. With the short visiting time, the cruise will take you to the finest and widest grotto: Surprise Grotto. The hanging stalactites form various bizarre but also intriguing shapes. After that, Hang Trong cave is next in the destination list where you can go kayaking or take a refreshing swim.

Considering the long drive to and from the pier, a one day trip at Halong Bay is probably less satisfying comparing with longer package. This may make you feel like being rushed to destinations all the time. However, the great service and amenities by Emeraude cruise will compensate to it.

BEST VALUE CRUISE: GLORY CRUISE

There is probably no other cruise that can match up with Glory Cruise at the price that it is offering its service. At approximately $110 (or even lower during promotion period), the cruise takes you to fishing village where you can see no busy traffic or high rise building. Instead, the fishermen amaze you with their traditional cultures and daily activities, carrying out mostly on herds of boats and rafts. You can choose to take part in the on board cooking class or discovering Bat Cave by kayaking. The night can be spent relaxing at the bar or squid fishing on the deck. There is also a visit to Sung Sot cave on the cruise itinerary.

While bringing you to popular Halong Bay destinations on a budget, the cruise food can get repetitive and the range of extra services is limited. However, this cruise is perfect for those who want to experience the wonder of Halong Bay without the additional cost of unnecessary frills.

BEST ITINERARY: DRAGON PEARL JUNK (by Indochina Junk)

Halong Bay is congested with many kinds of cruises that sometimes your precious time is wasted waiting for your cruise turn to visit a site. That kind of poor planning is not the case at Dragon Pearl Junk. It has the best program that plans to a tee to make sure you can visit many attractions but also have plenty of time to just chill at the bay. The boat anchors in a secluded area that you can freely gaze at the sky line without being blocked by other junks. You can also enjoy a relaxing swim at an exclusive beach and a fabulous dinner in a cave.

The staffs are courteous when helping the tourists. All meals are served with excellent standard; even those prepared on short notice for special dieters. Drinks are appropriately priced.

BEST NON-WOODEN CRUISE: AU CO CRUISE

Although most of the junks and cruises are made from wood (or most of their body are from wood) there are some larger vessel made of steel like a cruise one normally see. The advantage of these cruises are that they are larger with more facilities, bigger cabins and provides more stability while sailing.

Au Co is one of its kind as the cruise runs exclusive 3 day 2 night program: it takes you to all 3 bays in 1 itinerary: Halong bay, Bai Tu Long bay and Lan Ha bay. Besides that, you will get a chance to visit Cat Ba Island where you relax on the beach. There are many exciting activities await you when you choose to cruise with Au Co.

Kayaking, biking, swimming and cave exploring will keep you busy all 3 days. Being one of the biggest cruises in the bay, Au Co is well equipped with a full range of amenities. There is also a Spa and Jacuzzi area for therapeutic massages or unwind time after a long day of excursion. The hefty price tag $540/pax may be a splurge but it is worth it to see many unusual locations in just one trip.

Best Time to Travel

It can be said that anytime in a year is a good time to visit Ho Chi Minh City. Once called The Pearl of the Orient, Ho Chi Minh City is famous for its pleasant climate and rarely suffer from natural disasters like the Central or Northern Vietnam (see the weather comparison chart).

Best time to visit: The dry season

With a tropical climate of 2 distinctive seasons: dry and wet, it's suggested that you should pay a visit to Ho Chi Minh City during the dry season, starting from December and lasting until April. This period of the year is known to be the hottest, with average temperature of 28 °C (82 °F). The peak is 39 °C (102 °F) around noon time in late April, while the lowest may fall below 16 °C (61 °F) in the early mornings of late December. Humidity is moderate in December and begins to decrease from January to April. Hence, if travelling during this period, foreign travellers can escape from the normal sticky weather of Saigon.

In term of activity, this is surely an attractive occasion as tourists can celebrate Christmas and New Year explosively with local people here (see How Vietnamese celebrate Christmas). From Christmas until New Year, streets and hotels in city center are filled with colorful decorations, people hanging out and grand sales happening at all kinds of shops (including those in upper ranges). During Lunar New Year (around late-January and mid-February), many stores will be closed and air tickets will be fully booked just before it, so plan your trip accordingly. Otherwise it is a great opportunity to see how Vietnamese enjoy their own “Tet” Festival.

The rest of the year

Although dry season tends to be the popular choice, rainy season still has its advantages, considering that this city is endowed with a rare nice climate. It often has short day time rains that clear as quickly as they come, and give space for even more sun.

In this monsoon season, from May to November, it is quite humid and rainy. There're several major national holidays during this time such as Vietnam Reunification Day on April 30th, May Day on May 1st, Vietnam National Day on September 2nd which will see an exodus of people coming in and out of these cities. Transportation and restaurant service on these days may be a little scantier for visitors, especially in nearby retreating places like Nha Trang, Mui Ne and Dalat.

In brief, if you want comfortable climate - visit Vietnam between December and April. If you are a budget travellers or professional sales hunters, May - September is the best choice.

Ho Chi Minh City seasons

Ho Chi Minh City has two distinctive seasons, which is rainy and dry.

Rainy season

The rainy season, also known as the monsoon season, with an average rainfall of about 1800mm annually (about 150 rainy days per year), usually starts in May and ends in late November. During this period, although it will rain heavily almost every afternoon, the rain is short and clear quickly. Sometimes, you can experience sunshine and rain at the same time while the sky is still blue. Remember to bring the raincoat, in case your health is not very familiar with tropical downpour. Especially, in October, there will be extreme tide which may cause severe flood, so be well-prepared with wellington boots and water-proof backpack.

Dry season

Dry season in Saigon lasts from December to April, is hotter than rainy season (with the temperature around 33 °C) and nearly has no rain. Although travelling in this period is more convenient, travellers need to be careful with heatstroke by avoiding going out at noon.

That leaves the best time to travel to Ho Chi Minh City from December to April, as it is the low domestic season and it does not rain often. The temperate is quite pleasant during this period as well, ranging from 22 to 32 Celcius degree. If you plan to come during this time, be prepared to join Tet festival (Vietnamese Lunar New Year), usually in late January or early February.

War Remnants Museum

 Location and History
The War Remnants Museum is located at 28 Vo Van Tan St, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City. Operated by the government, the museum was opened in September 1975 as "The House for Displaying War Crimes of American Imperialism and the Puppet Government”, focusing on exhibits relating to the American phase of the Vietnam War. Since then, it has undergone many changes and renovations due to the process of normalization of relation between Vietnam and the United States, such as the change to its current name in 1993.

A lesson of war


Vietnamese Wars possibly the only thing in mind of foreigners before coming to this nation. Though the country has changed itself and the prejudice has somehow been replaced by a new modern developing image, it’s crucial for tourists to look at the war from a different perspective. And this famous museum is where they can transform an ordinary visit to an intellectual yet remarkable trip.

Nowadays, the museum functions as a place to display devastation of the war between 2 countries from 1961 to 1975. It comprises several buildings storing military equipment, as well as disturbing photographs about the traumatizing consequences of Agent Orange, napalm and phosphorus bombs. There are also pictures about atrocities such as My Lai massacre, a guillotine used by Southern Government of Vietnam. In addition, last but not least three jars of deformed human features indicating haunting effects of the war on the next generations. A number of unexploded ordnances are stored in the corner of the yard, seemingly with their charges removed. Not only does the museum illustrate a phase of painful history, but it also tells unknown stories about war to people, especially to Westerners. Many preceding travelers have failed to hold their tears in front of the pictures here.

How to get there

The museum lies in the corner between Vo Van Tan St. and Le Quy Don St.

Suggested means of transportation are taxi or motorbike. Bus-goers can take Bus No. 28 at Ben Thanh Bus Station, also (read more about Ho Chi Minh City bus). The museum opens daily from 8.00AM to 11.45 AM and 1.30PM to 4.45PM and entrance fee: 10,000VND

If you are interested in the history of the  Vietnam War, do not ever forget to pay a visit to this museum. Many preceding travelers have failed to hold their tears in front of the pictures from the past. Feel it yourself.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Australian Short Travel Visa Basic Requirements

To be eligible for a tourist visa, the applicant must have a genuine intention to visit Australia as a tourist, for recreation or to visit family and friends.

Applicants are required to satisfy health and character requirements and may be required to demonstrate that they have sufficient funds to support their travels in Australia.

Applicants who apply for a tourist visa whilst outside of Australia must be outside of Australia at the time of grant. Similarly, applicants who are in Australia (applying for a visa extension) must be inside Australia at the time of grant.