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Archive for November, 2015

Some of my foreign friends asked me questions about which animal sign my age brings and its meaning. Therefore, this post collected from various sources will provide you with some general information about this cultural matter. In fact, human characteristics are determined by different factors, and aninal signs are one of them in our culture. Vietnam Cultural Highlights 14D-13N

In Vietnam, each person will have an anmal sign based on the lunar year he/she was born. There are 12 animals in total with their various meanings as follows:

1. Rat (1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, …)


Rat is the first animal in Vietnamese zodiac so people with rat sign always want to be pioneers and leaders in all activities. Respected for its smartness and quick-witted, people with rat sign are imaginative and generous, especially with people on their same boat. You are working a “rat person”? Then do not spend a moment underestimating him or her. Maybe they appear with a dove-y look, yet inside they are calculating carefully every single step to win and conquer the rival to achieve their goal.

2. Buffallo (1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009…)


This is one of the most different features between China and Vietnam zodiac culture. For Chinese, ox is considered extremely important in their agriculture life. Moreover, Chinese climate is more suitable for ox to fully function their ability. For Vietnamese, a buffalo is the greatest asset of a commoner, and even for a village mayor, his buffalo herd is the most important property to protect.

In ancient Vietnamese, the word Happiness contains in its many elements involving rice plant and rice field. For a small farming economy Vietnam possesses, it is easy to understand why buffalo is placed at the position of a cultural symbol. It does not only bring about rice but secure feeling for Vietnamese.

The “buffalo person” is supposed to be a firm characteristic with born determination and leadership. Contradary to modest and compliant appearance, they are practical, strong, smart and agile. They respect tradition and love introversion and keep patience to reach goals. However, a buffalo life way is rarely smooth but rather rough before achieving success at the end of a journey. If your buffalo partner seems too serious, do not worry since it is just the outer of an extremely warm heart that can be fully opened by a passionate lover. Tours in Vietnam

3. Tiger (1950, 1962, 1974, 1984, 1998, 2010,…)


Tiger is definitely a holy animal of Vietnam, where it is considered the king of forest. Mentioning Vietnam’s territory with ¾ areas being mountain and forest, one can easily understand why the image of tiger is even integrated into pagoda’s and temple’s architecture in Vietnam, and thus becomes one of the holy deities of Vietnam belief.

Person with tiger sign is brave, smart and risky. He or she is expected to do unusual and extraordinary things and become extremely successful in life. However, as the strong one is often a black sheep one, some tigers confront many challenges from social bias, living very troubled lives. Tiger girls in Vietnam often have trouble in marriage since their personality is too strong, yet as mothers they consider children breeding the most serious thing in life. The way they protect and bring their children up is sometimes just overwhelming

4. Cat (1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011,…)

It is the same from the East to the West for dog and cat to be popular domestic pets. These two animals are loved by people all around the world (except those with an allergy), yet cat in Vietnam seems to be raised more widespread than dog. The very first reason for this difference is that cat is extremely useful for keeping rice from pests. Gradually, cat becomes more and more familiar with Vietnamese, sharing with them wealth and poverty, sorrow and happiness.

Cat person reflects the typical characteristics of cat, who is supposed to be tender but secretive. Cat person is courteous and sociable, yet always they keep for themselves a secret that makes them attractive. It is hard to tell whether cat people can be happy or unhappy in life since fate depends on many things else, yet definitely cat person is a mind of great depth.

(tobe continued)

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Whenever you travel to Hanoi, there are 3 main things you cannot miss:

  • A walk to Sword Lake and old quarters, a first place to come if you want to experience the hustle and bustle atmosphere. The great combination of locals and tourists.
  • A street food tour to enjoy the Vietnamese food. I ensure that amazing food will capture your heart.
  • A stroll along Hanoi streets that immerse yourself in the French colonial architecture, dating back to 19th century.
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Dong Xuan market

On my very first blog post, I am getting excited to share with you a story of Hanoi in the past, my beloved city.

Hanoi was occupied and built as the capital of French Indochina in the late 19th century. From the southeast of Hoan Kiem Lake, the city center was designed to reflect the power and to emphasize the power of France, the metropolis. They demolished the old buildings and replaced them with European features, especially the French ones. Vietnam travel tours

Firstly, the buildings were constructed for shelter demand. In the memory of homeland, the French architects replaced the original Vietnamese house-garden style with the block houses. However, the Vietnamese style was not totally eliminated. Thanks to the combination among local architecture and French format, among Eastern and Western tradition, a new style named Indochina architecture was created.

Phan Dinh Phung Street

Phan Dinh Phung Street

After French colonial conquered most of Indochina, Hanoi was appointed as the capital of the area. The buildings were reconstructed for purposes of territory arrangement and politics.  At the moment, some of the buildings are used as the working state offices like Ministry of Foreign Affair, State Banks of Vietnam, The Palace of President, the National Museum of the Vietnamese Revolution, or the Museum of Vietnamese History…

Museum of Vietnamese History

The Museum of Vietnamese History

Until now, the old French buildings are well conserved with original appearance. They become the familiar part of Hanoians in daily life. The highlight architectures may include Hanoi Railway Station, Long Bien Bridge, Dong Xuan Market, and several local schools…
sofitel-metropole

These constructions become the symbols of our city. For a city tour around, I hope you don’t miss the famous Sofitel Metropole Legend Hotel (built in 1901). Let’s stop off for a drink, watch busy life passing by and spend your relaxing time at the outdoor terrace café shop, a small Paris corner.

TRANG TIEN

Nearby is Trang Tien Street. Wandering along the pavement, you will see both the luxury bookstores, high-end clothes shops on the 1st floor and the well-reserved colonial French style on the 2th floor at each house. It’s a perfect combination of old and new things at Hanoi center. To the end of Trang Tien street, you reach Hanoi Opera House (built in 1901-1911), which is also a feature of the city.

NHA THO

Saint Joseph Cathedral is another ideal place. The beautiful 120-year old church significantly follows the Gothic style and design of Paris Cathedral. The church stands in one of the most crowded place in Hanoi, especially at weekend. People come here for chill time in a vendor enjoy a favorite local drink named lemon tea. Join them!

TA HIENIf you love nightlife, international corner – Ta Hien Street is a good spot. Drinking fresh brewed beer (named as “Bia hoi” in Vietnamese) – the most authentic taste; hanging out with friends, sharing your traveling plan with other tourists who you meet accidentally at the bar… all are great! But don’t forget to watch the buildings around you. Thanks to restoration project in 2010 of Hanoi government, the crowded Ta Hien Street remains its 19th century French style…

Wandering along the trees lined streets, discovering the hidden side of Hanoi via the old charming buildings is absolutely unforgettable experience. The colonial architecture has become an outstanding imprint, the special witness during the time. Nowadays, we till find the French feeling inside the hustle and bustle capital. Hanoi isn’t stuck in the past; moreover, it proudly gets the precious and unique beauty…

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You are planning to visit Halong Bay and would like to stay overnight on a cruise, still, as there are so many choices can be found online so you may find yourself quite confused and overwhelmed, right? Paloma Cruise – a very nice Deluxe Cruise will be a great suggestion for a mid-range budget.

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There are at least 5 reasons why you should choose Paloma Cruise among hundreds of other cruises in Halong Bay and here below I will go further into details to make it easier for you to reference

  1. Shared ride shuttle service 

For the round-trip transfer Hanoi – Halong Bay – Hanoi, besides using private transfer with the excellent level of privacy and comfort (with relatively high rate), you can also book for the shared shuttle van operated by Paloma Cruise to save cost and also to make friends with other travellers along the way. The 16 seater mini bus is well equipped with A/C and it will pick you up at all hotels in Hanoi Old Quarter for 3.5 hour drive to Halong. Normally, there are from 6 to 8 people sharing space in the comfortable van and the guide is friendly and willing to share with you everything about the daily lives of people on the Red River Delta.

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2. The cabins

To be honest, cabins on Paloma Cruise are not luxury but comfortable, clean and well appointed. There are total 22 cabins on boat (10 Superior, 8 Deluxe, 2 Suite and 2 Family Suite cabins). All Superior cabins are located on the first floor while other cabins are all located on the second foor. Location is the main difference between Superior and Deluxe cabins while their area and amenities are very similar. Suite cabins are more spacious with area of 23 sqm, both Suite cabins on Paloma Cruise are Double cabins so they are great choices for couples and honeymooners. During my trip, I stayed in the Family Suite cabin, very spacious (27 sqm) with a double bed and a single bed and the best part is the large private balcony with sun loungers where you can admire the breathtaking beauty of Halong Bay – ideal accomodation for a family of 3 to 4 members. There are free two bottle of water and fresh fruit in each cabin.

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3. Foods

With 2D1N package, the staffs on board serve set menu for the first lunch and dinner, a buffet breakfast and a la carte brunch on the second day. Food taste delicious and plentiful, if you are vegetarian or dieter, just inform the staff then the chef will prepare a special menu for you. The dinner is a highlight with the King Prawns on hot Rock performance

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4. Staffs and services 

Crews of Paloma cruise are young (except the captain, of course), very friendly and helpful. They also gave us a T-shirt as a lovely gift.

5. Itinerary and activities

On the first day, Paloma Cruise sails to less touristy and off the beaten track Bai Tu Long Bay with a visit to Vung Vieng fishing floating market. Here you can enjoy kayaking or visit the villages on a bamboo boat before swimming, relaxing on a quiet local beach. After coming back to the boat for a shower, the sunset party takes place on the top deck, some drink and fresh fruits are offered and I bet you will never want to miss this chance to take some amazing sunset photos. For those who love cooking, joining the cooking demonstration to know how to make Vietnamese spring roll is really fun. The second day with a visit to the famous Surprising Cave – a little crowded but worth to pay a visit.

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All in all, with a very reasonable rate, Paloma Cruise is a very good choice to enjoy Halong Bay!

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1/ Vietnam Visa Exemption

From 1/7, Vietnam allows free visa for travelers from 5 European countries: Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Spain within 15 days. This policy is valid from 1st of July until 30th June 2016.

Germany, France or Britain is the main markets of Vietnam tourism with many travelers come to visit Vietnam every year while Italy and Spain are the new markets. The decision of dropping visa to the travelers from these countries will surely increase the number of travelers to Vietnam.

Earlier, the government has also issued Resolution visa exemption for citizens of Belarus from 1/7 day to end on 30.06.2020 for a period of stay not exceeding 15 days, applies to all types of passports, entry purposes. Currently, Vietnam gives reciprocal visa exemptions to nine countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and unilaterally gives visa-free entrance to visitors from four Nordic countries, plus Russia, Belarus, Japan and South Korea. Vietnam tours packages

2/ Adjustment for Visa fee to Vietnam from Nov 23rd, 2015

Another good news for all travelers who still need to applies visa before entering Vietnam is the government has adjusted the visa fee on entry, exit, transit and residence in Vietnam. This policy will take effect from 23rd Nov 2015.

According to this new policy, the rate for foreign and Vietnam residing abroad are adjusted as follows:

  • Fees for visas valid once time fell from 45 USD to 25 USD
  • Visa valid up to 3 months decreased from 95 USD to 50 USD

Immigration fees collected in Vietnam dong. For the rate specified in US dollars (USD) shall be collected in USD or collected in Vietnam dong on the current exchange rate of USD into Vietnam dong. The rate will be the one that the State Bank of Vietnam listed on that day.

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For all the vegetarians worried about not being able to eat anything but rice in Hanoi – don’t worry! Today, we will gives you the insiders view on eating vegetarian cuisine in the capital.

“An chay” means no meat and is an essential phrase that usually gets the point across. Make sure to say it a few times or write it down. An chay means to eat vegetarian and although it is a useful word to know, I find “An Chay” to be more effective. Unless you are eating in a vegan restaurant, nuoc mam or fish sauce is served with pretty much everything and dishes without it can seem slightly bland. So I recommend carrying sachets of soy sauce to compensate. Vietnam Cultural Highlights

The following is a list of street food and small restaurants where a vegetarian can somewhat integrate one’s self into the wonderful culture and atmosphere that is Vietnamese food.

Street Food

  • Bun Dau: 55 Phat Loc Lane or Trang Tien Lane, Hoan Kiem
bun dau - noodle with tofu

bun dau – noodle with tofu

Freshly cooked by roving street stalls throughout the day, bun dau is a saviour for vegetarians in search of street food. So long as you like tofu. A plate of cold bun (noodles) is served with an abundance of fresh herbs, lime, chilli and freshly fried tofu that is crispy on the outside and smooth as silk on the inside. Make sure to specify “no meat” otherwise watch out for fried pork masquerading as tofu. Like many Vietnamese dishes, this will come with shrimp or fish-based sauce on the side, easily avoided if you wish. Vietnam travel packages

  • Banh Cuon Chay: 14 Bao Khanh Street or Banh Cuon Ba Hoanh at 66 To Hien Thanh Street.
banh cuon

banh cuon

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making banh cuon

Banh cuon is a rice paper crepe (of some sort) that is understated and, in my opinion, usually underrated. Here, you can see them making the fresh crepes by rapidly spreading and flipping the thin white sheets over a steamer. The result is a subtly-flavoured, warm slimy dish that tastes much better than it sounds. It is served with herbs, chilli and a steaming bowl of fish-based sauce on the side. The banh cuon chay comes with dried onion – We strongly recommend taking soy sauce to compensate for the fish sauce.

  • Fried Rice / Noodles
fried rice

fried rice

If you are not too concerned about:  meat touching your food or the occasional sprinkle of fish sauce, then you can usually grab a tasty dish at any of the small places serving fried rice or noodles where they will happily cook you up a plate of something with a few veggies and no meat. The noodles are usually the better option (particularly fresh pho noodles), but avoid ordering my which are just fried instant noodles. Instant noodles have a high salt content.

Restaurants

  • Trúc Lâm Trai: 39 Lê Ngọc Hân Street, Hoan Kiem
  • Chay Dưỡng Sinh – Homefood: 26 Trần Bình Trọng Street, Hai Ba Trung
  • Com Chay Nang Tam: 79A Trần Hưng Đạo Street, Hoan Kiem
  • Loving Hut: 192/4 Quán Thánh Street, Ba Dinh

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Useful Vietnamese phrases:

  • an chay: vegetarian
  • com chay: vegetarian food
  • nha hang com chay: vegetarian restaurant
  • rau: vegetable
  • khong co mi chinh: no MSG (when in north)/khong co bot ngot: no MSG (when in south)
  • khong co trung: no eggs
  • khong thit: no meat

Enjoy!

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Follow my last three posts, you can see that I start my trip in Cambodia from Mekong Delta in Vietnam, then take a speedboat to Phnom Penh, following by a long driving to Battambang and here is my final destination – Siem Reap.

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Siem Reap is totally different from other city because of the breathtaking Angkor Complex but before we start digging around these temples, I would like to show you how to move around this city in an easy way.

First of all is walking on our own foot. Siem Reap centre is very closely organised and you’re never far away from most of the town’s bars, restaurants, cafes and shops. A shaded walk up the riverside to the Raffles Gardens is also a really pleasant early evening stroll. Street crime in Siem Reap is really low, but take the usual precautions nonetheless, particularly after dark.  Cambodia Discovery tour

Next is the most common form of transport in Siem Reap – Tuk Tuk. You will find one or dozens of these guys everywhere in the central and nearby. A short journey in town is usually about $1 per person,max four people, and increased the further out you go. Half day hire can be around $8 to $10, and full day from $15 to $20, depending upon the distance involved.

Khiri-Cambodia-Siem-Reap-tuk-tuk

Each Tuk Tuk has a different decoration and you might find some are very unique or funny.

An environmentally-friendly option is bicycle. There are plenty of bicycle hire spots in town and this is one of the best ways of getting to see Siem reap. Check out the White Bicycle, a charity with several locations around town and Green e-bike, electric bicycles providing an noise-free and pollution-free option. Take extra care as traffic “rules” may differ from you home.

Other transports like taxi or bus are not available in Siem Reap. There are no metered taxis or bus services in this city. But, many hotels will arrange car hire for visiting temples or airport transfer. Or, you can take the bus to get to other destinations, not in town. About motorbike rental, you can’t rent motorbike in Siem Reap, unless it is part of a tour.

In my experience, hiring a tuk tuk to exploring around the temples will be the best choice as you don’t waste time on finding the way; don’t worry about parking places if you rent a bike or motorbike; the price is acceptable and you can feel the atmosphere of this area. A tuk tuk will cost around $14 to 20$ a day to cover all of the main temples and your driver can also act as a tour guide.

A little note about timing! Sunrise and sunset are the most popular times to view Angkor Wat so it can get very crowded. late morning and early afternoon tend to be the quietest times though it can be very hot so keep hydrated and avoid the sun where possible. Allow extra time to deviate from you intended route if you want to avoid the crowds.

You are now ready to explore the Angkor and I will show you my proud photos in the next post.

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