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Nowadays, local people in Hanoi do not use bicycle as one of the main transportation means. With the fast pace of life, streets are full of motorbikes, cars and buses, the capital city has become a little more hustle and bustle beside its authenticity.  Only students – mostly from Secondary schools – ride their bikes every morning going to nearby school, others live far in distance will choose electric-bike. These days, I miss a lot the times when having a bike for going to school is such a pride among us – high school students. We were wearing uniform which is white shirt or Ao Dai (for girls), having a funny bike racing in the school yard, or hanging out with friends in the weekends. Even now when I’m an officer and already got my driver license, I still love taking my old bike out and getting a short trip around my lovely city – why not?  Let’s explore the beauty of Hanoi by bike with: Indochina travel Vietnam

  1. West Lake

West Lake is the biggest lake – the air conditioner of Hanoi with cool and windy weather. With the diameter of approximately 17km, this is the most favorite place of coureur from professionals to amateurs or to anyone who loves the idea of biking along the peaceful lake.

Biking around West Lake

Biking around West Lake- source: internet

In the early morning or late afternoon, this lake becomes more crowded as people here, especially couples, are keen on seeing sunrise/sunset. As the lake is really wide, you will have a totally panorama view of the scene where the sun is nearly going up/down.

Sunrise in West Lake

Sunrise in West Lake – source: internet

Besides, the extreme highlight of this route is the lotus season.  Located near to the West Lake water-park is a 5 ha lotus field which blossom every June – July. The fresh scent of lotus and lotus tea will make your day more energetic. Lotus tea – one of the most elegant and sophisticated teas in Vietnam – is a specialty only served in the west lake where nowhere could ever compare. The tea is made by allowing the green tea to absorb the flower’s natural fragrance. This is done through several methods, but the most knowingly is stuffing green tea leaves into a flower and leaving them overnight.

Lotus field in West Lake

Lotus field in West Lake – source: internet

  1. The Old Quarter and the Sword Lake

The Sword lake is the symbol of Hanoi which makes it the must-not-miss site. Normally, this place is always full of people who are walking or joining in cyclo, but how special it is to ride a bike and combine both the sword lake with the 36 old streets. In the early morning, a lot of local elder people come here to practice, do some light physical exercises and walking around this lake for 2-3 rounds. This is a very local experience beside Ngoc Son Temple, The Huc Bridge or the Turtle tower and lots of green old tree.

resting next to Ho Guom

resting next to Ho Guom- source: internet

For the Old quarter, if you can visit here early in the morning when not so many stores and stalls are opened, you will feel the tranquility, see the old architectural houses with yellow outer walls, green wooden windows, or surprisingly Ta Hien street with no one which is totally different with the night Ta Hien street –  very noisy with tons of people.

Ta Hien Street in the early morning

Ta Hien Street in the early morning- source: internet

Living in Hanoi for more than 20 years, I myself have to admit that there are a lot of places here I have not reached to but I know, Hanoi is always there waiting for me to feel it by my own way, special way.

Sapa is famous for its unique beauty and climate all year round so anytime can be considered the best time to visit this magic land. If your travel period is within the summer of Vietnam from May to September, heading to Sapa is a brilliant relief to avoid the scorching hot weather and burning sunshine then feel the rush of cool air filled in your breath. Let’s explore Sapa in summer with: Indochina holidays

  1. Weather in summer

Located at the North West mountainous area of Vietnam, at a high altitude of 1600 meters comparing to the sea level and 380 kilometers away from Hanoi, this is an ideal location for summer retreat with pleasant climate and fresh atmosphere.

Terraced-Rice-Fields-In-Sapa-1

The average of temperature in Sapa town is only approximately 15 degree Celcius in which there are two warmest months: July & August when the temperature can reach up to 29.4 degree Celcius for day time. While the winter in Sapa is getting colder with fog and drizzle all day even some years with heavy snow falls at the highest peak, the summer in Sapa witnesses sunny days and cool nights at a very relatively stable temperature. Therefore, it is certain that summer is the perfect time for photos hunters and trekking lovers. However, summer is also the rainy season so sometimes of the day so this unfavorable condition of hot, humid and wet may hinder your enjoying fresh air and strolling around this lovely town. The only way to continue with your trip is to be well prepared for these sudden and infrequent showers.

  1. Breath-taking scenery

Thanks to its nature, the growth of diversified sauna & fauna make Sapa a distinctive and breathtaking beauty. This period can be divided in to 2 different parts: The first part is from May to end of July when it is time for the ethnic to grow rice terrace along the hills. You will be surprised by the whole valleys covered with lush and green color of rice. The vivid and lively pictures can’t be completed without the image of hard-working buffalos pulling plough across the terraces under the instruction of the tribal people. The second part is the August until early October when the terraced fields change seasonally to gold color when being ready to be harvested  under the sunshine and this is the most satisfying scenery that any tourists traveling to Sapa must see at least once in their lifetime.

On this occasion, tourists may also be awed by beauty of blooming colorful flowers along the slopes and down the valleys. Summer is the season of pensées flowers, the flowers of love and nostalgia. The cherry, pear, peach and plum also go into harvest time with juicy fruits. These can be a little sour but fresh taste and soft fragrant can relieve any tourists during hot days of summer.

The must see sites during your visit this period of time are: Ta Van village, Muong Hoa Valley, Ta Phin village and Ham Rong Mountain where you can enjoy the spectacular scenery and lovely surrounding countryside and tribal villages.

  1. Getting ready for travel

To have the most comfy and joyful trip to Sapa during summer, these tips are hopefully very helpful for you:

As the summer is quite cool, you can totally wear shorts, T-shirts and thin clothes but do not forget to bring a light jacket when hanging out at night or climbing up to the summit of mountain, Fanxipan for instance. A raincoat, umbrella is needed in case weather change. And it is great to have a scarf with you regardless of warm weather or cold weather because it can be multi-functional than you know.

If you love trekking, a pair of proper walking or trekking shoes is a must not miss so that you can feel free to wander around the town for the whole day or go uphill and downhill into the tribal village.

Image result for sapa summer trekking clothes

The chance of photos during summer is unlimited so this will be an excellent time for your passion of photo taking. Rechargeable battery is also an evitable stuff to bring along so that you will never feel regret of not having enough power for keeping all of stunning moments.

Due to the long walking outdoor, a few of snacks, milk or candies will be great to “charge” yourself while doing trekking or finding a resting place for food and drink. If you meet the lovely children on the route, these candies can be nice gifts for them but these can be easily bought in Sapa so there is no need to bring from Hanoi.

I believe that after reading this article, there will be no doubt for heading to Sapa this summer and wish you an enjoyable and memorable vacation in North Vietnam.

Happy traveling!

History of Apsara Dance

Who’ve ever been to Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom must be overwhelmed by the enormous scales and the extraordinary architect, along with the sophisticated sculpture on the stone wall. Thousands of stories are being told by the skillful hands of people in centuries in the past. And it’s not too hard to recognize the picture of the people with special posture, wearing unique costume and accessories. They’re dancing on the wall, called Apsara.

Apsara dance’s existence is known since 6th-7th centuries. The Javayarman VII King (most famous Khmer King of the Angkorian period), supposed to have thousands of dancers in his courts.

If you want to get more information about Apsara Dance, please view: Indochina tours Cambodia

During the Khmer Rouge regime (aka the Pol Pot’s genocide, a dark past in the Cambodia’s history, many artists had to leave the country or being arrested, tortured and killed. After the fall of the regime in 1979, the country wanted to revive the traditional arts, although at the same time people had to deal with many other challenges, thanks to a few surviving dancers who passed on their knowledge to young generations.

Apsara dance was traditionally performed only for the King, but now it is performed public for everyone and become a famous show attract tourists.  Though, the most important facet of traditional classical dance is still performed as a part of certain sacred ceremonies and award presentations in modern Apsara.

The Apsara sculpture in Angkor Wat

The Apsara sculpture in Angkor Wat

In 2003, the UNESCO recognized the Apsara dance as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

Costume

The dancers’ costume is recognized for its ornate costumes and headpieces. The costume is made of many of the silk drapings, which is called sampot sarabap in the Khmer language, in different colors. The headpiece of the lead dancer’s always be made in a brighter shade to highlight her with the others. There are some accessories the dancers usually wear like a choker, red or golden collar necklace, decorated with designs and copper adornments, are worn in addition to long earrings modeled after the krorsang flower.

As the Apsara dance focus very detail in each movement of the dancer’s body part, especially the gesture of hands, fingers, and feet, the dancers wear very big bracelets around their wrists and ankles. They will slide elegantly and clink together during the performance when the dancers move. The sangvarwhich can either be worn as a belt or carried on its own, is made of lightweight copper and decorated with golden and red floral designs.

One scene of the dance - the monkey and princess

One scene of the dance – the monkey and princess

The Beauty of Art in motion

Every single movement of the fingers has a particular meaning, worship the spirits of nature by depicting a blossoming flower or refer to the hundreds of legends of Buddhism or Hinduism. The dance is display for the different religions which Cambodia had been built upon ( Animism, Hinduism, and Buddhism).

The stories are told via the Apsara dance often depicted in the carvings of Angkor Wat with four primary roles: the male, the female, the giant and the monkey (usually played by a male dancer). Although traditionally, male dancers do play certain roles in Apsara dance, today the art is practiced and performed mostly by women.

The movement of the dance is extremely complex, thus the children (particularly girls) must be trained since they’re very young, so they can get enough skills and flexibility to execute intricate movements and bend their fingers like a flower.

Taking photos with the dancers after the show

Taking photos with the dancers after the show

Where is the show in Siem Reap?

If you are in Cambodia, Apsara dance is an experience not to be missed.   These are some places you can enjoy the show:

The Crystal Angkor Restaurant

Address: 30 NR6, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia
Tel: +855 12 786 786

Apsara Terrace

Address: Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor
Tel: +855 (0) 63 963 561

Apsara Theatre
Address: Off Wat Bo Road, opposite Angkor Village Hotel
Tel: +855 (0)63 963 561
In Vietnam, when the summer comes it’s time for companies to have holiday or company trip. Every year, companies have planned and searched for great locations/destinations for employees’ summer vacation.This is a great opportunity for whole team to know more each other and strengthen the bonds of friendship from different teams and departments, and also to charge energy, because happy workers can contribute more for the company.

The objectives for company annual trip are our executives can escape for a while from busy and stressful environment at the office. In this trip someone can relax their  body and mind and in the same time can spend a good quality time with their family. It’s also can strengthening a good relationship between executives and their family. Other benefit of this trip is our executive can work more focus and keep motivated to do they daily works. That mean happy worker can contribute more for the company.

Hai Hoa beach has white sand and blue water

This year, Indochina Voyages Team has planned an annual trip for our company in May. This trip involves the company executives with the spouse and children. We decided to visit Hai Hoa beach, is a well-known beach in the North of Vietnam. With the literal meaning of its name, Hai Hoa (means “Peaceful” ) beach in the north-central province of Thanh Hoa boasts the serenity that only beautiful natural scenery can provide (It is located  at Hai Hoa Commune, Tinh Gia District, Thanh Hoa Province, around 200 km from Hanoi). Its tiny white-capped summer waves attract thousands of local tourists in peak season.

Bai Dong

Bai Dong

The reason why we choose this destination because unlike other noisy and commercialized tourist hubs, visitors to Hai Hoa Beach enjoy the peaceful atmosphere of its stunning landscape and the fresh taste of its seafood. As it is quieter than some other beaches in the central region such as Sam Son beach, Hai Hoa is a boom for local people, the beach still possesses white sandy dunes and green, forested ranges near crystal clear blue waters.

On the first two days, we went to Bai Dong, a new beach in Thanh Hoa province, 30km from Hai Hoa. This place is not as crowded as other popular beaches. With peaceful scenery and  blue sea and white sand, the beach is still wild and naturally beautiful.

Hai Hoa beach in the morning

Hai Hoa beach in the morning

The second day was a fun-filled time for Hai Hoa beach. We swam, played football, and climbed up to the mountain. Apart from sunbathing or relaxing on the beach, drinking coconut juice, and chatting with friends over a glass of beer and savory snacks of seafood. Before dawn there is a flurry of activity that involves everyone, both young and old, after fishing boats return to their shores. Nets are gathered and washed as conversations continue, women weigh and sell fresh fish and children play cheerfully around.

Seafood market in the morning

Seafood market in the morning

Hai Hoa beach in the afternoon

Hai Hoa beach in the afternoon

At dawn, the beach is seemingly lit by a ball of fire that bounces off the ocean’s surface. Small fishing boats dock at the beach to sell fish, crab, and shrimp from their overnight catch. You can also surf the waves that surround the pristine island of Hon Me, not far away from the beach or  you can try to fish for cuttlefish at night.

In the summer morning, we did not miss the chance to catch the sunrise over the sea. Just at 5am, many people noisily call each other to wake up and run to the sea. The dawn is “dyed” a reddish purple in the horizon. It is a great feeling when you inhale the salty taste of sea and walking on the flat sand, seeing the fishing boats returning to the wharf in the early shimmering sunbeam.

Coming to Hai Hoa, you can also find Hon Me island offshore, and Soi mountain and Chay mountain in the South of the beach. Not far away from Hai Hoa, there are many other beaches, such as Hai Thuong beach, Nghi Son beach or Bai Dong beach…

blule water on Bai Da

We had great time together there. When leaving Hai Hoa, it is sure that we will eagerly wish for coming here again to return to the nature, and to immerse ourselves in the wild and poetic sea.

If you want to get more information about Hai Hoa beach, please view: Indochina tours Vietnam

You may ask me why, and I can tell you a hundred of reasons why I love this city so much, especially its summer. To me, Hanoi in summer is like a teenager girl, independent, emotional, rebellious, energetic, adventurous and risk-taking. But she is also very girlish, romantic, cute, funny and sensitive. Therefore, I think it is reasonable and understandable if she is changing her mind often. It is quite exciting in deed. Let’s explore Hanoi with Indochina tours

However, it is also true that sometimes following her mind is exhausting job. Fortunately, I have a wonderful woman who is always by my side, my beautiful Mama. My mother has a habit to watch weather forecast in the morning news to inform all of my family members. When I was in high school, she even woke up early just to make sure that there was a raincoat in my bag so I would not get wet. Even until now, when I have become a grown up woman, having my own daughter; she still reminds me to bring an umbrella every morning in this season. As a result, whenever I think of the rain in May, I always have taken a walk down the memory lane, and it is so sweet. It is fabulous to know that there is someone there who loves you, cares for you; and…you love them.

 Sudden rains in summer

Sudden rains in summer- source: internet

To me, the early summer is also the season of high school. In Hanoi at this time, you can see the mixture of violet, red, yellow and green covering almost every corner of the city. This wonderful palette is made of 3 kinds of typical flowers in summer, Phuong, Bang Lang and Diep. Unfortunately, I do not know their English names but I will attach their photos in this article. I hope you will identify them.

Phượng flower

Phượng flower- source: internet

I remember on my last day at school, I and my friend biked all around West Lake, watched some Phuong petals falling, took many photos in Vietnamese traditional dress. It was bitter-sweet as it marked the milestone in our lives. I also remembered that day, under the early rain of summer, we laughed and cried, we sang from the bottom of our hearts, gave many wishes to each other and wrote some last lines on each other’ shirt. Since that day, it has been very hard to meet all of my friends at the same time. Nowadays, some stay permanently overseas, some have got married and move to other parts of the country, some still live in Hanoi but they are too busy to go to the united meeting. And now, after entering the hard life, I cherish more those times, when we were so young and innocent, when we were used to our best friends. Therefore, to me, early summer is my youth, which makes me smile whenever I think of.

Bằng lăng flower

Bằng lăng flower- source: internet

May and June are also very special to me, as it is the season of corn. Red River has blessed Hanoi amazingly wonderful soil, which is suitable to many kinds of crops. At the middle of the River, there is a land made of Red River alluviums. From Long Bien Bridge, you can take a close look at this land. The farmers there grow a lot of banana, corn and many kinds of vegetables. In this season, you can go there, discover the way Vietnamese people plant and look after their trees, pick the fruits and corns by yourself.

Green crops

Green field next to Long Bien brigde- source: internet

And maybe, you can enjoy a hot corn right after ward. I bet this experience is wonderful. If you are looking for someone who is reliable and friendly to take you there, you can contact my friend. I bet It will add some special tastes to your trip in Hanoi.

I love Vietnam

Located in a remote and beautiful are dominated by Red Dao minority, Nam Cang village is part of the Nam Cang commune, Lao Cai Province. The Village is 35 km from Sapa Town and 60 km from the Lao Cai Station.There are about 267 households (1,578 persons) are living together in the region. Before the year 2000, nearly 80% of households were in hunger and poverty and over 70% of the population were illiterate, but due to a local development plan and investments in education and farming the population is now living under much better conditions. The Red Dao minority in Nam Cang nowadays living mainly on cultivation. The most famous plant of Nam Cang is the Amomum Tsaoko, one of many ingredients that made the special broth of Pho and it also used as a traditional Chinese medicine.

For more innformation about Nam Cang homestay, you can see: Indochina travel Vietnam

Lovely Homestay by the river

Lovely Homestay by the river

The drive on the way to Nam Cang is on mountain road running aside of the scenery Muong Hoa valley, with picturesque views of peaky mountains, endless rice terraces, waterfalls and Hill-tribes’ villages. Take a short walk up to the hill, the Nam Cang Riverside Homestay appears next to a fresh stream, with own suspended bridge and the jungle close by.

Children in Nam Cang Village

Children in Nam Cang Village

The Homestay is made by local ingredients: bamboo, wood, and leaves. Beds are set up nicely with high-quality linen. There are sharing bathrooms with hot water available. On the first floor is the dining station with some simple wooden tables. Meals are served by friendly staffs in Red Dao traditional dress. Foods are fresh and tasty.

Guests can go for a short trek to the village, visit some houses to see how the local people make the special papers by tree barks, a jewel workshop operated by an old man and his very simple tools. On the way, naive children are playing fun games and women wear colorful and diverse costumes are sewing or searing herbs. The Red Dao women are very skilled at the herbal bath, local medicine, and embroidery. And as far as you go, the locals always look with big eyes and followed by happy smiles. There are no hawker or vendor disturbing on the way.

Dinner made by fresh local food

Dinner made by fresh local food

Back to the homestay, guests can take a swim in the crystal stream. Local people said the stream is running through the Amomum forest, thus it has some special treatments and good for health. The homestay also offers herbal bathing service prepared meticulously of hundred types of different herbs mixing, which helps to discard stress, detox, eliminate a headache, backache, good for cold treatments, etc.

The Red bridge near Topas Ecolodge

The Red bridge near Topas Ecolodge

The whispering from the stream as a soft lullaby takes people into a beautiful sleep and waken up by the bird’s singing, enjoy a cup of coffee in the open lounge with breakfast and a book in the middle of the jungle, the homestay is an ideally place for nature lovers.

Some tips for Nam Cang

Traveling from Hanoi:

By night train from Hanoi Statin to Lao Cai. The night trains departure 21:00-22:00 from Hanoi train station to Lao Cai. Trains arrive at 5.30 at the Lao Cai train station. Guests then can drive to Nam Cang.

By private car: from Hanoi via the Hanoi- Lao Cai highway and reach to Nam Cang directly in about 6 hours.

There are some options for traveling to Nam Cang available: Day trip to Nam Cang, 2 days Sapa-Nam Cang trekking tour, 2 days Sapa- Nam Cang mountain bike tour or combine a stay in Topas Ecolodge & Nam Cang to experience both local and luxury services.

What to take along: backpack, good walking shoes, hat, sun cream, insect repellent, shorts & T-shirt for hot season and long trouser & light windbreaker jacket for the cold season. Giving money for children is not recommended but buying local souvenirs and giving sweets or chocolate are welcomed.

 

KEP or SIHANOUKVILLE? Which is better? Which is more peaceful? Which is more dynamic and has various nightlife activities? Which would be more suitable for me? This seems to be a frequent question of many people when they arrange their beach vacation in Cambodia.I have also found that this is also a question that I have received from many clients when assisting them making their traveling plan to Cambodia recently. Hence, I decide to write this post to give you some ideas regarding both beaches. Hope you guys would have the best answer and the best decision for yourself.

Back in the 1960s, when Sihanoukville was just a fishing village, KEP, 25km from Kampot, was already an affluent seaside resort. Subsequent events were unkind to the town and Kep has been fallen to oblivion. Traces of the town’s sombre past remain. The region is dotted with the gutted shells of colonial villas – tragic evidence of the Khmer Rouge’s destruction. Until recently, most were smothered by prolific tropical vegetation and home to squatters; now some have been restored, with more likely to follow, although the difficulty of establishing ownership means this will be a slow process.

You can see more information at: Indochina tours Cambodia

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Sihanoukville also known as Kompong is a coastal city in Cambodia and the capital city of Sihanoukville Province, located at the tip of an elevated peninsula in the country’s south-west at the Gulf of Thailand.

general-information-sihanoukville

In reality, the beach of Kep is quiet narrow and the sand is thin. Though the condition of the beach has been better recently when the local Government imports sand from nearby Kampot, which has the sand but no beach every two weeks and have somewhat changed all that, time and tide wait for no beach, so at the end of the fortnight the gritty black stuff makes a re-appearance.

Sihanoukville is totally different. With a surrounding coastline of white-sand beaches and sun-drenched islands would be Cambodia’s most happening sun-sloth destination for people.

About the restaurant, there are only some small restaurants opposite to the beach of Kep.  The most famous food of Kep is the crab – particularly the offerings at the crab market which attracts Cambodians a lot but I’m sure this is not a really attractive thing to travelers.

In the evening, if you have already stayed in Kep and you would look for more dinner options, you should travel back to Kampot – a small town which is 25kms away from Kep to have more choice.

Things are better when you are in Sihanoukville because there are wide range choices for your meals.

For the best place to stay and best things to do in Sihanoukville, if you are young traveler and you love parties, The Serendipity Beach area would be the perfect place for you.

If you love quiet place, further away from the hustle, in the far south of town, is relaxed Otres Beach, where cheap bungalow joints and bohemian-flavoured guesthouses are now neighbours with rather swish boutique resorts.

Otres-05

Otres Beach

If you are type of the adventurous can find sandy strips rimmed by casuarina trees and coconut palms to have all to themselves at Beyond Otres.

Sihanoukville is also the jumping-off point to Cambodia’s southern islands, where castaway-cool beckons.

Back to Kep, there is not much adventurous activities in this area. You can choose to visit some pepper plantation in Kampot, check out the crab market, hanging out at the beach or pay a short visit to Rabbit island – known as Koh Tonsay – a lovely little island about 25 minutes away from Kep. It is also one of the least-developed island, with no motor vehicles, no mains electricity and few residents, making it an ideal getaway from the grind.

rabbit island

Rabbit Island

You can also head out to Koh Svay (Mango Island) or Koh Pos (Snake Islan) to escape the crowds on Koh Tonsay. They are, like many Cambodian beaches, quite litter-strewn however. You can hire snorkelling gear on Koh Tonsay to bring along.

To compare about the two beaches, the beach of Kep itself is not that much but quainter and (usually) much less crowded than Sihanoukville. If you’re looking for lazy days of sunbathing or night time bar hopping, Sihanoukville should be ticked in your box.

In general, if you would look for a real beach escape, my recommendation would be: Just go ahead to Sihanoukville.

If you would look for a quiet place for yourself to chill in a short of time(may be a day or 2), then Kep would be for you.

Happy traveling!