Vietnam visa on arrival for Tourist and Business


Showing posts with label Travel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Travel. Show all posts

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Phong Nha Caves underground Vietnam

The world's longest underground river winds through Vietnam's Phong Nha cave (Phongnha) cave system, the name of which translates as " The wind's fang". Entering this cave is like venturing into the mouth of a giant beast, all the more mysterious since the cave rings with strange noise. Locals say it is music from a banquet hosted by the mountain God, but the acoustic tricks are actually echoes, which bounce off the limestone cliffs of the cave.

Shaped like a tube with a roof curved like the hull of a boat, this cave has acoustics properties similar to those of the fingal cave in Scotland, most importantly, all the primitive stone caves were preserved in their original form. Thus, visitors almost feel like they are going on a trip to the center of the earth.

he Son River flows into the mouth of the cave and continues underground, where it is known as the Nam Aki River . It emerges 20 km to the south near Pu-Pha-Dam Mountain .
Phong Nha Caves , also called Troc Caves , lie in the limestone cliffs of Ke Bang in Quang Binh province, 50 km northwest of Dong Hoi. Like most of the caves in this area, the Phong Nha Caves were shaped by the Chai River . The farther onne gets inside the Phong Nha Caves , the more illusory the stalactites and stalagmites look as they glitter when bright light is shone on them.

The main cave system contains 14 chambers, linked by an underwater river that runs for 1.5km. Secondary corridors branch off in all directions. The Outer Cave and some of the Inner Caves have roofs that tower between 25 and 40 meters above the water level.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

48 hours in Hanoi, Vietnam

The waiter was missing two fingers. The other two and his thumb were squeezed tightly around the throat of a bamboo snake, writhing and snapping and trying to relieve the waiter of one of his remaining digits.
With his other hand, he pulled a knife from his back pocket and made a delicate incision in the soft flesh of the snake's underbelly, into which he stuck his finger and ripped out its heart, plonking it into a small glass of rice wine in front of me. The wine blushed crimson.
He held the glass in front of my face. The heart was still pumping, sending little ripples through the liquid.
"Drink. Quickly," he said. "As guest, unlucky if you don't…"
I had arrived in Hanoi just a few hours earlier, having been invited on the inaugural direct flight from the UK to Vietnam, which cuts many hours off the travelling time.
It had seemed the perfect opportunity to see if Hanoi could work as a long-weekend destination. After a sleepless 11-hour overnight flight, with a seven-hour time difference and feeling utterly bewildered in the fog of jet lag, it was already looking like one of my stupider ideas.
"You here just for three days," Thone, my guide, had said at the airport. "Crazy. What do you want to see?" "Everything," I'd said, which was my second mistake.
And so there I was, surrounded by Hanoi families enjoying their reptilian repasts, swallowing the still-beating heart of a snake, followed by snake intestine and kidney stir-fry, sticky rice in snake bile, and snake-head crème caramel. As I washed it all down with a bottle of rice wine containing a cobra's penis, I had a vision of animal-rights activists and environmentalists in the UK slugging it out for the right to rip my heart out.
We walked back towards downtown Hanoi on the narrow walkway across the mile-long Long Bien iron-truss bridge, high above the Song Hong, or Red River – from which the city gets its name. Hanoi means "the city in the bend of the river".
HaNoi - Vietnam

It has six million people and 6m mopeds, and it seemed like they were all out riding across the bridge, carrying just about every load imaginable, forcing us to fling ourselves against the railings to avoid decapitation by a bed frame or getting knocked over the side by a wardrobe. The never-ending tide, combined with the trains that trundled across, made the whole structure bounce and pulse as if it was alive.

Just off the bridge, we entered the labyrinthine streets and alleyways of the Old Quarter, Hanoi's beating heart of commerce, as old as the city itself. Beneath a canopy of banyan trees dripping with Spanish moss, the pavements were full of people washing clothes, men welding metal, and makeshift barber shops. This made it necessary to walk in the road, amid the moped madness. Thone had perfected the art of negotiating the mopeds, communicating where the tide should part by wafting his hand in some divine way, like Moses.
Women in coolie hats weaved past bearing vast loads of cassavas and dried fish in baskets at either end of a flexing bamboo yoke, tiptoeing under the strain as if wearing shoes two sizes too small. If there was ever a place to feed western fantasies of the Orient, here it was.
Every street has a designated purpose, the legacy of the 13th-century guildsmen who divided up the Old Quarter into 36 areas, so the prefix "Hang" on street signs means "merchandise". We turned into Hang Ma, where the Hanoians go for their paper votive offerings to be burned on the anniversary of the death of a loved one. The votives are a reflection of their interests, so there were paper cars, stereos and life-sized bicycles.
Most shops had altars with burning incense and flowers – bought on the 1st and 15th of the Chinese lunar month for luck – at their entrance, Casablanca lilies and orchids: Vietnam is blessed with more than 1,000 varieties.
On to Hang Dong (copper bells and gongs), Hang Cot (bamboo) and Hang Non (hats). It was like the ultimate department store. On Thouc Bac (herbal medicine), the shops were crammed with lotus seeds, huge cinnamon sticks and jars of rice wine full of snakes and scorpions. The sweet smell was quite overpowering.
I was flagging now, seeing all of this as if through frosted glass. Thone took me to my hotel. I'd just dozed off when the speakers that line every Hanoi street started up, like the call of mosques, but instead of muezzin inviting the faithful to prayer, it was the government reminding citizens to pay their taxes. That stopped after an hour, after which the couple next door started having very noisy sex. At 5am the street speakers kicked off again. Then my phone rang.
"Time to go, Mike," said Thone, "no time to waste."
n the grey dawn light we arrived at the Brobdingnagian vastness of Ba Dinh Square, where elderly figures exercised, flapping like butterflies in time to staccato instructions from a woman at the front. A shrill flurry of whistles, then authoritarian martial music boomed out from unseen speakers and a column of soldiers appeared, marching with furious intent in uniforms as white as virgin snow. They raised Vietnam's flag in silent reverence.
"Now you go and see Uncle Ho," said Thone, pointing to a huge colonnaded building. "He's just back from Moscow for his annual touch-up, so should be looking good."
As I shuffled in, joining a snaking queue of Vietnamese, an angry-looking soldier told me to take my hands out of my pockets, and the one 10 yards along not to hold my hands behind my back. I felt like I was going to see the headmaster, which in a way I was, because suddenly I was staring at the yellow, goateed corpse of Ho Chi Minh – Marxist-Leninist revolutionary, revered father of modern Vietnam, liberator from French colonialism, who died in 1969 – lying in his glass sarcophagus. I looked around at the Vietnamese, some wiping away tears, some staring in awe, and felt like an interloper at a moment of private grief.
In front of Ho Chi Minh's house, we walked around a carp lake shaded by mango trees, which the Vietnamese seemed to appreciate, seeing as they were all applauding it. Thone explained that Uncle Ho is said to have called the fish to be fed by clapping his hands and thus visitors now do the same. I clapped. No fish came, but a boy next to me smiled.
We stopped at a backstreet restaurant for pho bo, Hanoi's delicious staple – a salty soup of rice noodles and beef, garnished with ginger and lime and fiery chillies. We ate it with our knees up around our shoulders, sitting on the Wendy House plastic stools that every Hanoi café seems to favour, and which Thone couldn't explain.
After lunch we walked through the five courtyards of the Temple of Literature, Vietnam's first university, founded in 1076, a maze of beautiful formal gardens framed by fig trees, with low-slung pagodas with sinuous roofs. Young women in dazzling white and yellow silk ao dai dresses, embroidered with delicate silk roses and gerberas, prayed to a statue of Confucius for good exam marks.
In the middle of the city we walked around the most famous of Hanoi's many lakes, Hoan Kiem, which glittered like mercury under the sun. We weaved through games of badminton being played on makeshift courts on the pavements, the nets strung between flame trees festooned with red paper lanterns that hang like pendulous fruit.
If the morning had been full of light, the afternoon was darker. We visited the Hoa Lo prison, nicknamed the "Hanoi Hilton" by US air crew downed during their ferocious bombing of the city. One room was full of dummies of emaciated Vietnamese prisoners shackled by the French colonial authorities to their beds, the next contained the prison's grisly original iron guillotine. Then there were photographs of smiling GIs playing table tennis, which illustrated either a more benign captivity or the fact that it's the victors who write the history books.
Close by, at Dii Vet, an Aladdin's cave of a shop selling exquisite lacquerware and hand-embroidered silk tapestries, a smiling boy held up a beautiful scene of Halong Bay for me to inspect. He had seven fingers on each hand and smooth skin on the side of his face where an ear should have been. Other young people sat at looms, their fingers weaving, but staring ahead with lifeless eyes.
"Deaf and dumb," said Thone. These were some of the five million people still hereditarily affected by the Agent Orange dropped by the US. "They make these things here and send the money back to their villages."
After another sleepless night for me, Thone turned up on his moped and patted the back seat. "Now you get to see Hanoi properly!"
We flew down a street lined with coffins and a street packed with shoes, along wide boulevards flanked by giant rosewood trees, around lakes and past temples, around us continued the intricate ballet of mopeds, carrying caged parrots, or hidden under mountains of flowers so they looked like carnival floats. We passed mustard-coloured French belle-epoque mansions, the magnificent French colonial opera house, and a huge statue of Lenin, and rode along a street of restaurants where glazed dogs lay on their backs in display cases as if waiting for a tummy tickle. I felt like I had never been to such a beautiful, strange, crazy place.
On the way to the airport, Thone dropped me off at the Thang Long, a water puppet show that has its 11th-century origins in the paddy fields of the countryside and which can be best described as Punch and Judy in a pool. I watched a succession of surreal giant fish, fire-breathing dragons and mutant mushrooms do battle with villagers, accompanied by a man playing the single-string dan bau, or zither, and a woman with the most haunting voice I've ever heard.
Fourteen sleepless hours later, I would be back in my flat in London, looking at two giant water puppets and a snake's penis in a bottle of rice wine, the only proof that this was no half-remembered dream.

Monday, October 8, 2012

HaLong Bay on high

Ha Long Bay is the jewel in Vietnam’s tourism crown, a stunning geological formation that captivates even the most travel weary and jaded of visitors.

Most people usually take a halong cruise  around the bay and Phong Nha Cave. You can choose one or two night trips to enjoy the mesmerising scenery and discover wonderful coves and islets or simply enjoy the views from the top deck of your boat.

As a repeat visitor I wouldn’t say I’m tired of Ha Long, but I was certainly eager to discover another side of the UNESCO World Heritage Site when a friend told me about the helicopter tour.
This would be a great opportunity to fly over the bay and enjoy a bird’s eye view of the limestone karst islets which, according to legend are the shards of diamond and jade, that were spat out by a family of dragons sent from heaven to help protect Vietnam from foreign invaders.
I was so excited at the prospect of climbing into a helicopter, I could hardly sleep the night before. But as the morning drew closer I started to get increasingly nervous. What if, I am scared of heights? Having never scaled any cliff faces, or jumped out of an airplane, how would I know?

Morning departure
I begin to suffer vertigo even before I arrive at Gia Lam Airport, 5km from downtown Hanoi, where I am to meet my tour guide and the helicopter crew. The flight departs at 8.30am. Still slightly anxious, I reassure myself that by flying to Halong Bay I’m at least avoiding the long, rather dangerous road from Hanoi to Hai Phong. Ha Long is normally more than a three-hour drive but via helicopter we expect to arrive in 45 minutes.

Our guide informs us that the Russian MI-17 helicopter seats 24 people and will reach an altitude of 300m. We are also in luck; the sky is clear and blue, a perfect day for flying. We set off and everyone is immediately glued to the windows and we see vast, beautiful rice fields pass below us.
The Red River looks like a long snake winding its way through a terracotta garden. Tran Van Huong, the captain, informs us that because a helicopter flies slower and lower than a jet, there is less chance that people will feel sick while taking off or landing. The helicopter is quite large and comfortable, but being a military chopper, there is no air- conditioning, just fans.
We are told we can visit the cockpit and talk with the four-member crew or, rather, shout at the crew –it is hard to make yourself heard above the throbbing engines!

The whole package
The Northern Serviced Flight Company, who operate the helicopter, also offer trips to Sapa in Lao Cai province and Dien Bien Phu, but tourists currently seem to prefer Ha Long Bay. The whole tour with Luxury Travel includes a cruise on a junk as well as a helicopter tour over the bay, plus transfer from Hanoi and back by chopper.
Ha Long Bay is certainly spectacular from the helicopter – it’s as perfect as a painting: the white sandy coves, the thick green forest, the rugged mountains and the jagged karsts jutting out of the emerald water.
I snap as many pictures as I can before the chopper lands at a heliport on General Giap Hill (named after General Vo Nguyen Giap as you might guess) Who knows when I will be 200m above Ha Long Bay again?
The chopper lands smoothly and we are back down on earth. Everyone is buzzing after the trip and I almost feel sad it’s over.
We are driven from the heliport to Bai Chay harbour, where boats and junks have gathered to meet the hundreds of tourists arriving from Hanoi. I can’t help but swagger a little smugly past the tired looking tourists clambering out of the buses and mini-vans thinking, I came by helicopter and I feel great! Coming by chopper I got to sleep in longer and had plenty of room on board.

For once, I am actually refreshed and energised as we set off to explore the caves and beaches around Ha Long. Later on we grab kayaks and paddle around, visiting floating aquaculture farms and beaches. On previous trips I was often slumped in a chair, too tired and stiff to do anything else, but today I am up for everything.
We enjoy a lavish seafood lunch on board and everyone is still in high spirits, reflecting on the amazing trip. It’s a little clichéd to say “this was unforgettable” but that’s how we felt!
After lunch the junk returns to port before we again climb on board the helicopter and set off for the capital where we arrive at 2.30pm. It’s hard to believe we still have the whole afternoon ahead of us!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Phong Nha Cave VietNam - Unesco World

Formed approximately 250 million years ago, give or take a few million years, Phong Nha Cave is the largest and most beautiful cave in Vietnam. Located in the village of Son Trach, 55km northwest of Dong Hoi, it was designated a Unesco World Heritage site in 2000.

Phong nha vietnam

It's remarkable for its thousands of metres of underground passageways and river caves filled with abundant stalactites and stalagmites. In November and December the river is prone to flooding and the underground cave may be closed.

In 1990, a British caving expedition explored 35km of the cave and made the first reliable map of Phong Nha's underground (and underwater) passageways. They discovered that the main cavern is nearly 8km long, with 14 other caves nearby.

Phong Nha means ‘Cave of Teeth’, but, unfortunately, the ‘teeth’ (or stalagmites) that were by the entrance are no longer there. Once you get further into the cave, it's mostly unspoiled. There's also a dry cave in the mountainside just above Phong Nha Cave. You can walk to it from the entrance to Phong Nha Cave (10 minutes) - look for the sign to Tien Son at the foot of the stairs.

The Chams used the cave's grottoes as Hindu sanctuaries in the 9th and 10th centuries; the remains of their altars and inscriptions are still here. Vietnamese Buddhists continue to venerate these sanctuaries, as they do other Cham religious sites.

More recently, this cave was used as a hospital and ammunition depot  during the American War. The entrance shows evidence of aerial attacks. That US war-planes spent considerable time bombing and strafing the Phong Nha area is really hardly surprising: this was one of the key entrance points to the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Some overgrown remains of the trail are still visible, though you'll need a guide to point them out to you.

You should he aware that Phong Nha is heavily visited by Vietnamese groups. The cave itself is fantastic, the experience less so. That is unless you like your World Heritage sites to incorporate litter, noise, people climbing on stalagmites and cigarette smoke in the underground caverns Of course these things are prohibited, but enforcement appears to be lax to say the least. Presumably these distractions can be avoided if you arrive early in the morning. The toilets might be less putrid then, too.

The Phong Nha Reception Department, an enormous complex in Son Trach village, organises tourist access to the cave. You buy your admission ticket here and organise a boat to take you to the cave. Boats seal about 10, so it's cheaper to share. The cave system is electrically lit, but you may want to bring a torch (flashlight), as some of the paths are poorly illuminated.