Free tickets to Ha Long Bay during holidays

from April 28 to May 1, Entry to Ha Long Bay in the northern province of Quang Ninh will be free to all travelers, as a way of saying thank you to visitors for voting the Bay as one of the Seven New Wonders of the World.


The free visits to the World Heritage site are being offered during Ha Long Tourism Week and the national holiday on the anniversary of the liberation of the south (April 30) and May Day, which always see a huge number of tourists. 

Visitors to Ha Long Bay this year will also have the chance to enjoy a number of new changes at the site and improved services. 

In the first three months of 2012, the newly-recognised wonder of the world attracted almost 420,000 visitors, of which 70 percent were overseas tourists, up by 19 percent over the same period last year. 

During the peak of the 2011 Ha Long Tourism Week, Bai Chay Port handled 16,000 visitors to the Bay on May 1 alone.



Monkey Island

Dao Khi or the Monkey Island is a favorite destination on weekends or holidays in Lan Ha Bay of Hai Phong city. Travelers are eager to go there to have bath or have party with monkeys.


The Monkey Island.

The Monkey Island is one of a group of islands located in the Lan Ha Bay, which is only 45 minutes by boat from the Ha Long Bay of Quang Ninh province.

To go to the island, visitors can take 40-minute boat from Haiphong city to Cat Ba Island and an additional 30 minute on boat from Cat Ba to the Monkey Island.

This is the only island in the Lan Ha Bay which is the home to dozens of monkeys. The troop of monkeys lives under the control of a red-face ‘monkey lady.”

Tourists give monkeys funny names, based on their characters, such as “Old Man,” “Beauty,” “Beckham,” “Ronaldo,” “Split Lip,” etc. Monkeys are very friendly with tourists.

After having bath or walking through the island for sightseeing, visitors often take some food or fruit. That is also the show-time of monkeys, to ask for food and drink.

Monkeys are also ready to have baths and play with tourists.

The "red-face" lady monkey.



A glimpse of Cham people In An Giang

Da Phuoc Commune, or Muong Cha is the cradle of most of Cham people  in An Phu District, An Giang Province.


An Islamic mosque in Muong Cha, Da Phuoc Commune, An Phuoc District, 
An Giang Province. 


The Cham minority in An Giang Province, who are mostly Islamic followers, are often called by many names such as Chàm, Chà, Chà Và, Chà Và Ku, Chiêm Thành, Gia Va, Mã Lai, Khmer Islam, Champa, Chm, Chm Bàni, Chm Islam, Chm Chuk, Chm Kaphir or Chm Jet. But Cham people do not like to be called Chà Và, which probably comes from Java, an Indonesian island, because they consider it racial discrimination.

Their Islamic mosques in An Phu District are the most unique features. The Masjid Jamius Sunnah Mosque is greatly admired thanks to its original architecture with the dome like a prominent garlic in the sky. Masjid is a place of worship for followers of Islam while Cham people consider it a name that Allah (God) put in the Koran. And Jamius Sunnah means beautiful things.

Most of Islamic mosques are decorated with paintings or carvings of Arabic characters or sentences from the Koran to honor Allah. The mosque has a lecture hall covered by a carpet. Iman, the head of the mosque, will stand next to the hall to host ceremonies such as weddings, funerals or other important rituals of Cham Moslems.
Before attending a ritual, followers must wash their faces, hands and feet carefully in accordance with the Sambayang rules, and tidy up their attire. According to the Islam, those with a clean body and well-dressed attire will be accepted by Allah when they pray in the mosque.

Muong Cha is also famous for brocade weaving and the popular workshop which most tourists choose to visit is owned by Tares, 75, who pursued this traditional craft more than half a century ago. Crossing a 500-meter-long wooden bridge and travelers will arrive at the shop that they can buy brocade products for souvenirs such as scarves, hats, handbags and sarong, among others.

At the end of the bridge are two Cham-style boats, and on the bank of the Da Phuoc River is a Cham house on stilts. Every day, locals cast the net to catch fish in the river, which is a main job of Cham people in the flooding season. Thanks to this job, their income is better and their living condition is thus improved. Visitors, especially foreign tourists, are very excited about contemplating the daily life of the locals.


Danang fireworks expects to attract 400,000 tourists

The annual Danang international fireworks attractive many tourists every years , which has helped the city develop Danang's tourism trademark.

Around 300,000 tourists visited Danang in 2011, ten times more than in 2008, when the first international fireworks competition was held.

The organizers forecast that the fifth fireworks competition on April 29-30 this year will attract 400,000 local and foreign tourists. They have already sold 40,000 tickets to the festival goers and mobilized 2,000 logistics and security personnel.

A number of travel operators have prepared short tours for visitors from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to visit the local sites and adjacent provinces.

A culture, cuisine and tourism festival will also be held north of the Han River Bridge from April 28 to May 2.

Located in central Vietnam, Danang is the third largest centrally-run city after Hanoi and HCM City.



Hanoi develops tourism products

     According to the local Culture, Sports and Tourism Department, Hanoi Capital will focus on further developing tourism products to attract more domestic and foreign visitors this year.


During a conference on plans for Ha Noi and Viet Nam tourism development held on Tuesday, the department said tourism products were still limited due to delays in official approval.

Deputy head of the department, Truong Minh Tien, said they have been collecting opinions on developing and exploiting tourism from related enterprises and sectors.

The department is expected to submit its plan to the People's Committee of Ha Noi for approval by June, Tien said.

Under the plan, Ha Noi would develop the Thang Long Citadel, Dong Ngac Village, the Ba Vi tourism area, the Old Quarter, theatres and other existing tourism sites.

Additionally, the department would run promotion programmes in potential markets such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Eastern Europe, China, South Korea and Japan.

Ha Noi is scheduled to organise its international tourism fair 2012 in December to promote tourism programmes among domestic and foreign firms.

The capital city has promoted co-operation with provinces and cities in developing the tourism industry, including HCM City, Hue, Da Nang and Can Tho as well as Quang Ninh, Lao Cai and Lang Son provinces.

Last year, the city saw a year-on-year increase of 10 per cent in visitor numbers to reach 13.9 million, including 1.9 million foreigners. 

Tours surge

The four-day holiday to celebrate Southern Liberation Day on April 30 and International Labour Day on May 1 has boosted demand for trips to destinations both at home and abroad.

Nguyen Minh Man, head of Vietravel's Communication Department told the Dan tri online newspaper that many tours for this weekend's holiday were fully booked while others were only 70 per cent full.

Vietravel expected to enjoy a year-on-year increase of 20 per cent with 25,000 tourists set to take domestic and foreign tours during this year's holiday, Man said.

SaigonTourist has sold 65 per cent of its 16,000 pre-arranged holiday reservations for the holiday, a 10-15 per cent increase over last year.

FidiTour has also seen an increase in tour bookings. Nguyen Thi Tuyet Mai, external director of FidiTour's Communication Division said the number of group tours had increased against individual tourists because this option allowed them to avoid the price increase that had been applied to individual travel.

The company had to work with airlines to increase the number of flights to Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia due to high demand, Mai said.

Da Nang was a hot domestic destination because the central city was hosting an international fireworks festival to celebrate the holidays, the tourism firms said.

Most prices had not increased because contracts were signed several months ago prior to petrol price increases, they said.



Hanoi in top ten Asian cities for hawker food

Hanoi has selected as one of the Asia's 10 greatest street food cities by CNN Go,  CNN’s travel website. The list also has Penang of Malaysia, Seoul of South Korea, Bangkok of Thailand, Fukuoka of Japan, Taipei of Taiwan, Singapore, Manila of Philippines, Phnom Penh of Cambodia and Xian of China.

CNN Go describes Hanoi as “the birthplace of many quintessential Vietnamese dishes, such as pho and bun cha, and the city is often cited as one of the world's great food capitals.”

According to CNN Go, Hanoi is also a street-eater's paradise, with a plethora of options for those who want to eat like a local. In fact, many swear that the best food in Hanoi is found on the sidewalk, with dishes that often feature fish sauce, lemongrass, chilies, and cilantro and other fresh herbs.

“The city, which celebrated its 1,000th birthday last year, has put those centuries to good use perfecting its curbside nibbles. Although vendors often cook in small shop fronts, they serve their wares on the sidewalk, on small plastic tables and chairs that can seem woefully inadequate for overgrown foreigners,” CNN Go comments.

Below are the ten special cuisines of Hanoi:

1. Bun cha

Possibly the most delicious food available to man, bun cha is the lunch of choice all over Hanoi. Pork patties and slices of pork belly are grilled over hot coals and served with fish sauce, tangy vinegar, sugar and lime, which, when combined, creates a sort of barbecue soup that is eaten with rice vermicelli and fresh herbs. Accompanied by deep-fried spring rolls, this calorically rich dish is served with garlic and chilies on the side for an extra kick.

2. Pho

As the birthplace of pho, Hanoi is ground zero for the fragrant rice noodle soup served with fresh herbs that has become popular all over the world. It's no surprise, then, that Hanoi's pho is outstanding. Two variations are most popular: pho ga (with chicken) and pho bo (with beef). Pho is traditionally served as a breakfast food, so you'll find pho sellers all over town from before dawn to mid-morning.

3. Bun rieu cua
Freshwater crabs flavor this tangy tomato soup that's made with round rice vermicelli and topped with pounded crabmeat, deep-fried tofu and, often, congealed blood. An odoriferous purple shrimp paste is offered on the side, but don't be afraid -- it tastes delicious. Chilies and fresh herbs are the finishing touches for a complete one-dish meal.

4. Barbecue chicken

Ly Van Phuc is its official name, but the place is colloquially known as "Chicken Street" in honor of the tasty poultry being barbecued up and down this crowded alley. Grilled chicken wings and feet, sweet potatoes and bread that's been brushed with honey before being grilled are served with chili sauce and pickled cucumbers in sweet vinegar. The simple, enticing menu is nearly identical for all the vendors on the street.

5. Sticky rice

In the morning you'll find the sticky rice vendors out hawking their wares. Sticky rice is a hugely popular carb-rich breakfast food that comes wrapped in a banana leaf. There are dozens of variations on the dish. One is served with crushed peanuts and sesame salt, another involves white corn and deep-fried shallots.

6. Iced coffee

Coffee was brought to Vietnam by the French and is, along with baguettes, one of their lasting culinary legacies. Beans are grown in Vietnam and roasted, often with lard, before being ground and served in single-serving metal filters. Drinking a cup of cafe nau da, iced coffee with condensed milk, on a busy side street is one of Hanoi's great pleasures.

7. Nem cua be

You can find many types of excellent spring rolls all over Vietnam, but nem cua be, made with fresh crab meat, are particularly good. Unlike regular spring rolls, they are wrapped into a square shape before being fried. Nem cua be are a specialty of Hai Phong, a seaside town not far away, but are fantastic in Hanoi as well.

8. Chao ca

Toast has nothing on chao ca, so if you're looking for a satisfying breakfast in Hanoi, why not try a steaming bowl of fish porridge? Like Chinese congee, it's a rice gruel made by cooking down the grains until they are nearly liquid. In Hanoi, it's most often served with green onion, sprigs of dill and slivers of ginger.

9. Banh cuon

Banh cuon is a Northern Vietnamese dish that migrated to Hanoi. Thin steamed rice flour pancakes filled with minced pork and cloud ear mushrooms are served with nuoc cham, a fish-sauce-based dipping sauce, fried shallots and fresh herbs. Slightly goopy in texture, banh cuon are often eaten for breakfast or as an evening pick-me-up.

10. Muc nuong

There's no greater pleasure than drinking on a busy Hanoi sidewalk, and what better to nosh on while you do--than muc nuong? Dried squid is grilled over hot coals before being shredded and served with a spicy sauce. It's a chewy treat that is best washed down with shots of rice wine.



Despite big economic difficulties, Vietnamese still spend money on traveling

A lot of domestic and outbound tours have been fully booked in the May holiday this year


The forecasts that the demand for traveling would decrease as people have to fasten their belt in the context of high inflation have not come true. Vietnamese people still spend big money on traveling and entertainment services. While the Ministry of Planning and Investment reported that more than 3000 businesses halted operation just in the first two months of the year, travel firms still have reported the sharp increases of the tourists in groups.

May holiday tours fully booked

The May holiday is believed to be a busy season for travel firms, as employees would have four days off. Therefore, though the holiday would come only in one month, travel firms now do not receive more travelers for some tours.

Quoc, an officer of a bank branch in Thu Duc district in HCM City, said that he booked the tour for the bank’s staff to the central city of Da Nang on the May holiday in February already. Now he wants to book the tour for some more officers, but the travel firm has refused to serve.

Not only the tours to Da Nang, where the international firework festival will take place, but other tourism sites also have also become the destinations of people on the May holiday. Dan tri newspaper has reported that the demand on the May holiday has increased by 15-20 percent, despite the big difficulties and high inflation.

Nguyen Minh Man, a senior executive of Vietravel said that a lot of tours for the May holiday have run out, while other tours have seen the occupancy rate of over 70 percent. He said that the travel firm expects to serve 25,000 travelers who take domestic and outbound tours this May holiday, an increase of 20 percent in comparison with the same period of 2011.

Saigontourist has reported that it has sold 65 percent of the total 16,000 seats offered for the May holiday, an increase of 10-15 percent over the last year. Fiditour, which has received bookings for the last two weeks only, has also reported that 40 percent have been booked.

Especially, travel firms all have reported the sharp increase of the travelers in groups this year. In general, businesses do not organize tours for their staffs on big holidays, because they fear the overcrowded tourism sites and low quality of services. However, things seem to be quite different this year.

A representative of Hanoi Redtours said on Lao dong newspaper that the 4 day and 3 night Da Nang – Hoi An – Ba Na tour proves to be the most favored one this year, because travelers would have the chance to attend the 2012 international firework festival.

Demand for outbound tours on the rise

Nguyen Thi Tuyet Mai, a senior executive of Fiditour, said that the travel firm now has to contact airlines to ask for more flights to Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia because of the increasing demand. Vietnamese travelers not only choose near destinations with low fees, but they tend to go to farer markets this year.

Besides the familiar tours to South East Asia countries, travelers have booked the tours to Japan, South Korea, the US and Europe. A travel firm has revealed that the number of travelers booking tours to the US for April increased by two folds in comparison with the same period of the last year.

Travel firms have said that the number of travelers keeps rising steadily, because they have been trying to keep the tour fees unchanged, or the tour fees have increased very slightly by five percent, because travel firms signed contracts before with service providers at fixed prices.

C. V


Travel firms fret over higher admission fees at tourism sites

Tour operators into a difficult position after Many provices have announced to revise up ticket prices higher for entry into cultural relics sites and tourist attractions

After Thua Thien-Hue Province began the admission fee increase at cultural sites in the World Heritage-listed city of Hue, other provinces frequented by tourists have also followed suit. Late last year Quang Ninh Province imposed higher prices on tours of the World Heritage-listed Halong Bay while Hanoi City recently raised admission fees at tourist sites and water puppetry shows.

“Fees for entering Hanoi’s popular tourism sites are up by VND30,000 per person. The ticket price for water puppetry performances for international tourists are now 30% higher than before. Admission fee rises in other provinces have delivered a blow to us as tour arrangers,” said Cao Tri Dung, director of Vitours.

Ben Thanh Tourist earns little profit in the current economic situation but it has to use part of it to deal with sudden rises in admission fees at tourist attractions, said Nguyen Minh Quyen, deputy director of the HCMC-based company. Like other firms, Ben Thanh Tourist gets payments from customers in advance, so it is impossible to change prices of already-booked tours.

“A Halong Bay tour cost only VND40,000 per visitor in the past but now the price is double. Admission fees at other tourist destinations have picked up by dozens of thousands of Vietnam dong. This will be a huge sum when we add them up,” Quyen said.

Given current economic woes, travel firms will find it hard to woo local and foreign tourists if their tour prices are up. 

Dung of Vitours said this year would be tougher for the tourism sector as other costs such as those of transportation and catering services were on the rise as well.

“Our profit is just 3-5% of a tour’s price but input costs for some package tours have edged up 5-7%, thus eating into our profit or even leading to losses,” he added.


Legendary four-handed Buddha pagoda

 After Crossing immense golden paddy fields in Nui Sap Township (Thoai Son District) from Long Xuyen City. Traveling some 10km, Tourists will reach Oc Eo Township which is considered the cradle of Oc Eo culture and civilization by archaeologists.


Oc Eo culture is a common name of the civilization of the legendary Kingdom of Funan in the southern region. After some 1,500 years of natural and historical vicissitudes, the culture has fallen into oblivion.

In Oc Eo Township, there is a pagoda often called Chùa Pht Bn Tay (Four-handed Buddha Pagoda) or Linh Sn C T (Linh Son Ancient Pagoda) by local people.

From Oc Eo Market following an asphalted road southeastern of Ba The Mountain, tourists will see the entrance of the pagoda on the mountain slope, with two porcelain lion statues welcoming guests. Climbing the multistairs, tourists will enter the main three-door gate of the pagoda. On either side of the gate are four parallel sentences and four lines of Chinese characters promoting the dharma.

Entering the yard, tourists seem to be lost in a peaceful space with tall shade trees and breezes, and the rustling of dry leaves on the ground.

The main hall of Linh Son Pagoda in Oc Eo worships a four-handed Buddha statue. The statue was made of black stone with a rotund appearance and open eyes performing yogic meditation posture. The Buddha wears an indigo-blue dress and a hat like that of a Tibetan Lama, and holds a scarce objects in all his four hands. The upper right hand holds a necklace, the upper left hand exorcises by clasping, the lower right hand holds a small bell, and the lower left hand holds a pearl.

According to legends and the master monk of the pagoda Thich Thien Tri, in 1913, when the French authority built roads and Ba The police station at the foot of the mountain, locals found an intact black-stone statue, which has four hands and is 1.7m tall, buried two meters underground. Local Khmer people had strong young men carry the statue up the mountain to worship, as they believed that it was the statue of Neata Phrom, the God of Mountain. But they could not do so because the statue was too heavy. They then asked local elders to set up an altar and pray, and the statue was easily carried to where it is now.

Two schist steles, each being 1.8m tall, 80cm wide and 20cm thick, were also found. The steles were curved with ancient characters that no one could read. Locals then built Linh Son Pagoda to worship the four-handed Buddha.

According to researchers, this four-handed Buddha is in fact the statue of Vishnu with the seven-headed God Snake of Nga. The ancient scripts carved on the steles have not yet been deciphered, but they are considered to have the same origin with Brahmi scripts used by Indian people between the second and the sixth centuries A.D.

At the back of the pagoda, near Nam Linh Son archaeological site, is a four-branch Dipterocarpus alatus which is almost 50 meters tall. Locals call it cây Bn Ngón (four-fingered tree), considering them the fingers of Buddha.



What to do to attract more Japanese travelers? - part 2

     How to lure more Japanese travelers to Vietnam as said by Vietnamese travel firms that remains  a headache.

On Phu Quoc island
Doing business in pain

The Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT) reported that 481,500 Japanese travelers came to Vietnam in 2011, an increase of 8.9 percent in comparison with 2010. 

At the HCM City International Tourism Trade Fair held in September 2011, a representative of JTB, the leading travel firm in Japan, said before the Vietnamese high ranking officials that a lot of Japanese people would get surprised when hearing about such a high number of Japanese travelers to Vietnam. The problem is that Vietnam counted on the Japanese people who came to Vietnam for the business purpose as well. Meanwhile, Vietnam has yet become a popular choice for Japanese travelers.

General Director of Vietravel, Nguyen Quoc Ky, when asked about the Japanese market, said that Vietnamese travel firms now have to “do business in pain.” Japanese partners have repeatedly asked for the tour fee reductions. In 2011, the number of Viettravel’s Japanese clients increased by 21.8 percent, but the travel firm had to accept the 10 percent fee reductions. 

Ky said that the partners have asked for a further fee reduction of 10-15 percent in 2012, while all the input costs have increased sharply.

“Since the percentage of travelers returning to Vietnam remains modest, we have to build up a new strategy to attract travelers and accept a painful competition by offering tour fee reductions,” said Shigemastsu Akifumi from SIH Song Han, adding that travel firms have been facing big difficulties, while the management agencies do not know about that.

When asked about the measures to attract Japanese travelers by 2015, General Director of JTB-TNT Nguyen Van Tan expressed his worry about the lack of tour guides.

Nguyen Xuan Ky, Marketing Director of A Dong Trade and Tourism Company, said that A Dong once planned to launch heavy promotion campaigns in Japan, but it then decided to develop the market in a cautious way, partially because of the lack of tour guides.

“How will Vietnam plan to develop the number of tour guides who can speak Japanese?” Ky questioned. In fact, this is the common question of many other travel firms.


Saori Kozumi from Apex travel firm said that in Japanese families, wives would make decisions on choosing tours, therefore, travel firms need to draw up the special attention from Japanese women to their products. In fact, Vietnam has many things attractive to Japanese women, such as ao dai (traditional Vietnamese long dress), meals, shopping, and beauty care services.

Vietnam to open tourism promotion office in Tokyo

Ten years ago, the government agreed in principle to the opening of VNAT’s representative offices in foreign countries in order to push up the tourism promotion in some key markets.

Vietnamese management agencies and some non-government organizations have recently shown their determination to open a tourism promotion office in Tokyo. The Japanese side has set up a committee in charge of lobbying for the support to Vietnam to open office, which gathers diplomatic officers, businesses and telecom agencies of the two countries.

An official from VNAT has revealed that the office may be opened in 2013.

Analysts have commented that it’s a little late to think of opening a representative office now. Laos and Cambodia both have had the offices already, though they received less Japanese travelers than Vietnam.

Sources have said that the estimates for the opening of the office from February 2012 to January 2013, would be 4.2 billion dong. Meanwhile, VNAT’s Deputy General Director Hoang Thi Diep has admitted that the State has allocated the modest budget of 1 billion dong.

Nguyen Thang