A Photo Journey through Vietnam

9 09 2014

Our tour leader Tara has done a fair amount of travelling throughout Vietnam, yet is never short of fantastic photos to send back to us in the Bristol office. Here are a few pictures taken during the recent Highlights of Vietnam tour….

Here she shares 20 snapshots of day to day life in this beautiful country:

Vietnam motorbike

Hanoi hustle & bustle! Can’t find a parking spot for your motorbike…?

Vietnam Photo Blog

Sure you can! You’re always ‘Welcome’ at the jeweller’s! :-)

Vietnam Photo Blog

The gateway to Halong Bay

Vietnam Photo Blog

Even the floating fishing village’s youngest inhabitant has to do his laundry

Vietnam Photo Blog

Golden sunset over Halong Bay

Vietnam Photo Blog

Michelin Man

Vietnam Photo Blog

Temple gate at Con Son temple

Vietnam Photo Blog

Incense & serenity

vietnam Photo Blog

Dragon boats at Hue’s Perfume River

Vietnam Photo Blog

Central Vietnam’s green countryside

Vietnam Photo Blog

Going back to imperial times in Hue’s Purple Forbidden City

Vietnam Photo Blog

‘Matching the colours of my outfit to my environment always makes me look stunning’ :-)

Vietnam Photo Blog

Mekong river fish

Vietnam Photo Blog

Hopping on/off the ferry

Vietnam Photo Blog

Getting to the floating market

Vietnam Photo Blog

Life on a boat in Mekong Delta

Vietnam Photo Blog

Cobra & scorpion rice wine anyone?

Vietnam Photo Blog

Grapefruit and shrimp salad in Saigon

Vietnam Photo Blog

Second starter: fried and fresh spring rolls

Vietnam Photo Blog

Vietnam’s Independence Day fireworks over Saigon





A day in Phnom Penh

26 08 2014

Following on from her last picture blog, resident and tour leader, Tara, suggests the perfect way to spent a day in Phnom Penh.

If you’re looking for a point to start your Perfect Day in Phnom Penh, the place where Phnom Penh’s story all started makes perfect sense.

Take a tuk tuk to Wat Phnom (temple hill), the small hill north of the city, where religion and founding history go hand in hand. It’s a Buddhist ‘wat’ (temple) and the surrounding area provides a favourite hang out spot for families and couples.

The reason why I keep coming back here is the little Chinese temple is because I just can’t resist trying to catch a glimpse of my fortune. All the way in the back, there’s a little shrine where you will find a small wooden container, holding little numbered sticks. Think of an issue you have and shake the container carefully so that only one stick drops out. Show the number to the temple’s keeper and he will give you a little piece of paper with the corresponding explanation… in Khmer language – Your perfect opportunity to talk to a local! They will be happy to translate for you, as they will likely be curious to know a foreigner’s fortune! If you can’t find anyone, your hotel receptionist will be able to help you out later.

Cambodian Fortune Telling

Jump in a moto taxi (if you can’t, don’t worry, they’ll soon find you) and enjoy a short, 1$ ride on the back of a motorbike to the covered central market (Phsar Thmey) for some 1930’s architectural and 2014’s personal style! Anything you need? You’ll find it here! Don’t spend all of your time in the small shops inside, go for a stroll along the stalls around the building to take a look at the wonderful flower arrangements and religious woodwork.

If your feet and the heat allow you, take a short walk to the corner of Street 154 and 81 where you will find ‘Cabaret’, a lovely tranquil place to relax and enjoy lunch, away from the market’s madness. I still haven’t decided who I find the most charming, the French PR lady or the Khmer staff, they all make you feel very welcome.

A visit to one of Phnom Penh’s many museums or spa’s will help you escape the afternoon sun until about 4pm, the best time of the day.

It probably doesn’t sound like a perfect part of your perfect day, because Cambodia’s recent history is far from that, but spending time at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in the former S21 Prison will give you the perfect insight:

You’ll understand why Cambodians are just happy to be alive, why they really don’t care about the tenth power cut today, why they collectively feel that they’re making awesome progress and why they’re so grateful just knowing where their family members are.

To us, life in Cambodia might sometimes look like random chaos with everybody just doing what they’re doing. To them, this is what peace looks like.

Around 4pm, the city comes to life. Jump in a tuk tuk and ask the driver to drop you somewhere along the riverfront (Sisowath Quay) and make your way down to the Royal Palace grounds. The further north the driver drops you off, the more strolling and people watching you’ll enjoy.

Royal Palace grounds, Phnom Penh

Everybody’s out at the riverfront now or in the green area between the Royal Palace and the river, for some walking, socializing, playing football, buying balloons or having a picnic.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

If you’ve worked up an appetite, buy a local snack from one of the street vendors, or if you wanna go with what you know, stop at the corner of Sisowath Quay and Street 184 for some of Cupcake Café’s cheerfully coloured delights and a coffee to go and join the picnicking locals.

No better place for pre dinner drinks than nearby ‘FCC’ (corner Street 178) where you find one of the best river views and people watching seats on their rooftop terrace (best before 5:30pm) Even after sunset, you can enjoy the lively atmosphere and great food.

But if you prefer to go local and try the best traditional dishes from the provinces, go for dinner at ‘Romdeng’, one of my favorite restaurants, where the crispy fried tarantula is waiting for you!

Friend tarantula, Cambodia

Phnom Penh is a great city. Take a look at Tyler’s photos from the  capital.  Let us help you discover it.

 





Countdown of Weird and Wonderful things to do in Vietnam (Part 2 of 2)

18 08 2014

As promised, our countdown of “Weird and Wonderful things to do in Vietnam” continues. While some of these might take you a bit outside of your comfort zone, the following recommendations are a recipe for adventure that will leave you with memories for a lifetime!

Even if you're not comfortable with driving a motorbike or scooter yourself, going with a qualified driver will give you a completely different perspective on life from a local's view.

Even if you’re not comfortable with driving a motorbike or scooter yourself, going with a qualified driver will give you a a true local’s perspective.

8) Taking an old motorbike through the Vietnamese countryside

Vietnam has over 37 million registered motorbikes and only 2 million cars so if you want to experience the roads the way the locals do you are going to have to take the plunge and get on one yourself. Of course, if you’re not an experienced motorbike driver than this is probably not the best place to learn so you might want to consider getting an experienced local to take you around. The good ones can get you out in to the countryside and show you a slice of rural Vietnam.

7)  Try egg coffee in Hanoi

Since the days of French Indochina, Vietnam has had a culture of coffee but “egg coffee” is surely a Vietnamese creation. Although its title may not be tempting, I’ve yet to meet someone who has enjoyed the taste. The fluffy concoction has a slightly – but not sickeningly – sweet taste with a lovely coffee aftertaste. So next time you’re in Hanoi, pop in to the Giang Cafe and give it a try.

 

Enjoy a sundowner on Whale Island.

Enjoy a sundowner on Whale Island.

6) Enjoy a view of the stars late at night on Whale Island

While it certainly doesn’t have to be Whale Island, heading to one of Vietnam’s many island is a great way to ensure a relaxing and romantic experience. When contrasted to the maddening traffic of Saigon or Hanoi, you’ll hardly be able to believe that you are in the same country when you arrive at a traffic free island like Whale Island (a few short hours from Nha Trang). Apart from the great food and nice scuba diving, the night time sky here is vivid and vast.

5) Use the communal tobacco pipe at a streetside vendor in Hanoi (even if you don’t smoke… especially if you don’t smoke!)

I don’t smoke and I would be the last one to promote such a vice but, since you are unlikely to have access to a Vietnamese water pipe back home, there’s probably not too much risk of getting addicted. Throughout Vietnam but especially in Hanoi, you will see street side vendors at little plastic tables selling things like chewing gum and soft drinks but the majority of these also have a communal tobacco water pipe where locals can stop by and buy tiny packets of tobacco to smoke at the vendor’s table. It’s strong stuff and smoking kills so try it at your own risk but if you are into experiencing all sides of Vietnam then this is one more to add to your list.

Rub elbows with the locals on a Mekong Ferry.

Rub elbows with the locals on a Mekong Ferry.

4) Hop on a local ferry in the Mekong Delta even if you don’t know where it’s going

This may sound like a horrendously bad idea but don’t worry, as long as you remember where the ferry drops you off you can always catch it back in the opposite direction. Almost all the small ferries in the Mekong Delta run continuously and serve more as bridges than as transportation to a different part of the Delta. The Mekong Delta has always been one of my favorite parts of Vietnam and getting away from the tourist path here is one of the most rewarding travel experiences to be had.

A riverside mango shake in the Mekong Delta.

A riverside mango shake in the Mekong Delta.

3) Go to karaoke

Karaoke isn’t usually associated with Vietnam but it is a massive past time and many Vietnamese take great – and deserved – pride in their singing voices. If you’re a few drinks in and trying to decide where to go to next, how about taking the plunge and trying out a karaoke box. The machines are loaded with as many English songs as Vietnamese and you can drink and sing till your hearts content.

We crossed paths with this little man on the back of water buffalo. Who knows where he was coming from or where he was going but he didn't look like he had a care in the world.

We crossed paths with this little man on the back of water buffalo. Who knows where he was coming from or where he was going but he didn’t look like he had a care in the world.

2) Bath in a river after a long hike in Mai Chau

Vietnam’s cities are packed with culture, cuisine and buzzing life but Vietnam’s countryside is one of the greenest and most beautiful that you will see anywhere in the world. The rice paddies and jungles and wooden huts can take you on a time trip to the world of the past (minus the odd motorbike and the antennas attached to the stilted houses so that everyone can gather around to cheer on their favorite European football teams). Walking or trekking through the hill tribe areas is a magical experience and coming to your destination at the end of the day feels extra rewarding when you can bath in a river and then sit down with a beer just as the sun starts setting.

You only have the chef to blame if you don't like the way your meat is cooked here!

You only have the chef to blame if you don’t like the way your meat is cooked here!

1) Grill your own meat at one of Saigon’s many BBQs

There is so much incredible food in Vietnam that it can be hard to know where to go. And it’s tempting to just keep going back to similar style restaurants because all of the menus are so varied that you never need to worry about running out of new options. But if you are looking for a completely different experience, trying sitting down to personal BBQ at one of the many establishments in Ho Chi Minh City. My personal favorite is the Bo Tung Xeo BBQ and beer garden. Oi troi oi!





A Countdown of Weird and Wonderful things to do in Vietnam (Part 1 of 2)

13 08 2014

I was recently asked for a list of “weird and wonderful things to do in Vietnam”. To be  honest, I couldn’t think of as many ‘weird’ things to do as I would have liked to but there is certainly no shortage of wonderful experiences is in this vast and varied country. Without further ado, here’s my list!

 

A walk in Hoi An

It’s often the simple things in Vietnam that stick with me the most. It’s certainly easy to find beauty in everyday street scenes like this one.

 

16) Eat scorpions in Saigon! (Ho Chi Minh City)
Vietnam has some of the world’s greatest cuisine – street food to die for and fine dining with flavors beyond comparison. And while eating scorpions probably doesn’t fall into either of these categories, you can be sure that it’s an experience you won’t soon forget.

 

Freshly cooked scorpions!

Freshly cooked scorpions!

 

15) Drink rice wine with your hosts at a hill-tribe home stay. ~
I love walking through the terraced rice paddies of Northern Vietnam. Mai Chau is a personal favorite, not only for its scenery but for the home stays available here. There is nothing quite like sharing a big pot of rice wine after a long day walking through the country side.

Getting to know the locals

Making friends with the locals in a hill tribe area of northern Vietnam.

14) Jumping off of the Ba Ho Waterfalls near Nha Trang.
I love sitting on Nha Trang’s beaches or taking a jet ski out in the water but I also like to get away from the resort type atmosphere and go up in to the nearby hills. In particular, I find the Ba Ho Waterfalls an especially nice option for a hot afternoon. A short walk up to the falls is rewarded with a nice swim under these pretty waterfalls. And if you’re daring, jump off the rocks above the falls and into the not-so-deep water below – at your own risk of course!

13) Pay a cyclo driver to let YOU drive THEM somewhere.
It’s great fun to be peddled around town in the comfort of a cyclo but if you really want to appreciate the hard work that these guys do day in and day out, try giving the cyclo driver a ride around the block. If nothing else, you’ll have a great picture as a memento.

If you are not a cycler, try tipping one of the local market sellers to let you carry their load for a bit. You'll wonder how these little ladies manage it all day long!

If you are not a cycler, try tipping one of the local market sellers to let you carry their load for a bit. You’ll wonder how these little ladies manage it all day long!

12) Try eating at a street food stall where you have no idea what’s in the food.
I’ve said it before and I shall say it again… and again… and again. The street food in Vietnam is some of the best you can have anywhere so, while it may be intimidating, dig in! The best way to go about this is to simply wander around and look at what the locals are eating. If something looks good, even if you’re not quite sure what it is, pull up a stool and point at your neighbor’s food and wait for something delicious to appear. Even if you don’t like it you are bound to make some friends and you can be guaranteed that you won’t be breaking the bank.

 

Street food in the rain!

Street food in the rain!

11) Stay in a city that isn’t listed in your guidebook.
As guidebooks become ever more extensive, this may seem like a task but you won’t need to go far to get truly well away from the so-called “beaten path”. Although there is unlikely to be any “sites” you will be amazed at what a truly special experience merely by taking the daily life of the locals.

10) Buy a couple rounds of drinks at a bar where you are the only foreigner.
It’s not likely to cost you much but you can be sure that it will come back in full. If you find yourself in a non-touristy part of town or perhaps a residential area and you see a little street side bar, sit down for locally brewed beer and if you like the atmosphere gesture to the waiter or waitress that you’d like to buy a round for everybody. Locals might be impressed but they won’t be outdone. You are sure to get a few beers in return yourself and some conversation to boot – not that you’ll be able to understand of course!

Bia Hoi

Bars in Vietnam come in all shapes and sizes but there’s nothing cheaper than the Bia Hoi places. And the beer’s not too bad either.

9) Go shopping in HCMC’s Chinatown and find something useful to take home as a souvenir.
The Cholon District in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) is one of the most interesting in the city. Food, culture and shopping unite to ensure that there is something for everyone. But rather than buying something from one of the international chain stores that can be found all over the world, try looking at the local artisans’ products. Granted, they are not always of the highest quality but if you’re a smart shopper and look closely at the workmanship, you can find a pair of scissors, kitchen utensil, tool set or nail clippers that will last you a lifetime and remind you of your trip for just as long.

 

In case the above wasn’t enough, more wonderful experiences are on the way. 8 through 1 will be coming soon!

 





Angkor What? -Life in Cambodia

6 08 2014

I am currently leading the Indochina Encompassed tour and in Siem Reap. It is hard not to be impressed with Angkor Wat, but there is so much more in this region, that many people are not aware of….

Kampong Khleang

When people hear about ‘Siem Reap’, they immediately think ‘Angkor Wat’. Or at least, most travellers do.
Not locals. Many of the people living in the Siem Reap province have never seen the beauty of Angkor. They see the beauty of the surrounding countryside.
They don’t know about life in times of the great Khmer Empire. They know daily life on the Khleang river.

Life on the water

Take a closer look at the life in the floating village of Kampong Khleang. During rainy season, the vast amounts of rain water cause the flooding Mekong river to push its water back up (!!) the Tonlé Sap river. The river feeds the Tonlé Sap Lake which grows up to ten times its size during the dry season.

Stilt houses

Needless to say that only the communities in stilt houses and people living in the floating villages on the river can build their lives in this fertile but ever-changing environment!

Boating along

Life on the Khleang river isn’t just life on a boat…Because it’s never ‘just a boat’. It’s home, it’s a means of transportation, it’s income. Even the youngest members of the family understand this remarkable way of life!

River family

Here are some more pictures from life on Tonlé Sap.

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A photographic trip through Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam

30 07 2014

Michael Cross travelled with InsideVietnam Tours earlier this year on his own Indochina Encompassed trip through Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Combining some of the cultural sights with a bit of hiking and adventure on two wheels, Michael has kept a fantastically detailed travel blog from his trip which he has kindly shared. Here are a few images that give a good taster of his trip. Enjoy!

 

 

Siem Reap Navitu Hotel

First stop Siem Reap, Cambodia

Angkor Wat

The famous temples of Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Alms for the monks

Luang Prabang, Laos – Waking up early to see the monks dawn alm offerings

Kuangsi Falls

Spectacular Kuangsi Falls, Laos

Luang Prabang night market

Tasty food at Luang Prabang night market, Laos

Luang Prabang temple

A beautiful temple in downtown Luang Prabang, Laos

Cucphong national park

Trekking through the jungle in Cuc Phong National Park, Vietnam

Sampan Ride

Sampan Ride through the Van Long Nature reserve, Vietnam

Sapa lake, Vietnam

Mist on the lake,  Sapa, Vietnam

Paradise cave vietnam

Paradise Cave in Phong Nha National Park, Vietnam

Dragon Boat on the Perfume River

Dragon Boats on the perfume river in Hue, Vietnam

Tu duc mausoleum

Tu duc mausoleum, Hue, Vietnam

Bike ride Vietnam

Fun on the bike to My Son, Vietnam

Cham ruins at My Son, Vietnam

Cham ruins at My Son, Vietnam

Heavenly falls

Heavenly falls, Nam Cat Tien. Vietnam

Vietnam city hall

Ho Chi Minh City Hall, Vietnam

 Thanks  for sharing your blog Michael. Looks like you enjoyed yourselves?!

Take a look at the detailed blog here, alongside more fantastic photos too. 





Perfect Day in Phnom Penh

23 07 2014

Our tour leader Tara spends a lot of her time in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh. She shares a few of her favourite things to do whilst in the city…

Getting to know the heart of a city means spending time in it; in Phnom Penh’s temples, markets, streets and life. Looking, learning and loving it.

monks in Phnom Penh

1) Waking up early and getting out there pays off, whether you’re a monk going on alms round, or a traveler wanting to witness this daily ritual.

Local morning market in Phnom Penh

2) Don’t miss out on the colours, smells and textures of a local morning market!

Phnom Penh Fortune Teller

3) Want to know about your Fortune? Shake the wooden sticks carefully until one drops out. 

Then find a local to translate it for you :)

Travelling to Phsar Thmey market on the back of a motorbike

4) Head to Phsar Thmey market on the back of a motorbike. When in Rome…

Perfect day in Phnom Penh

5) Dresses, flowers & flowered dresses. Bags and bike brakes. You need it, you’ll find it!

Hairdresser in Phnom Penh

6) No hair dressers appointment needed. Any time, any place.

Perfect Day in Phnom Penh

7) Try some of the more interesting food on sale….or maybe not.

Perfect day in Phnom Penh

8)  Watch painters gain spiritual inspiration.

Perfect Day in Phnom Penh

09)  The squares and riverside boulevard come alive late afternoon.

Perfect Day in Phnom Penh

10)  The trouble a tour leader goes through to find the best places to eat…

The Mighty Mekong River

11)  The Mighty Mekong River

Always a perfect day in Phnom Penh. Come and discover it for yourself on the ‘Vietnam and Cambodia Uncovered’ tour with Tara.








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