Solo Road Trip: A Weekend Getaway to Tam Dao Mountains

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Only 80 km to the northwest of Hanoi, Tam Dao (meaning 3 mountains in Vietnamese) is a perfect destination to escape from the heat, noise and pollution of the capital for a day or two at weekend.

My first visit to Tam Dao was somewhat 12 years ago and I vaguely remember anything about it. Thus, my motorbike trip there recently was pretty much like a brand new visit. For travel tips (i.e hotels, restaurants, sights, etc.) please check out travelfish (English) or toidi.net (Vietnamese). These two are my favorite sites when it comes to travels in Vietnam. However, there is one thing neither of the sites mention very clearly, which is the transportation. There is no direct bus from Hanoi so you may have to catch 2 or 3 buses or a taxi in order to get there; therefore, if you have a motorbike I do suggest you make use of it. The road is smooth and very well instructed (of course a phone with GPS is still recommended) and the last 13 km is incredibly beautiful though might be tortuous for new drivers. The total drive may take you around 2.5 – 3 hours. Read the rest of this entry »

2015 New Year Road Trip: Hanoi – Ha Giang – Cao Bang

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My first motorbike road trip of 2015 was to Ha Giang, a place claimed by many as “the most beautiful part of Vietnam”, which I totally endorse. The trip was friggin cold though.. Before setting off I recalled the cold we went through 2 years ago in another new year road trip and equipped myself carefully with multiple layers of clothes, 2 pairs of socks and 2 pairs of gloves. However, they didn’t help much when the mist came down at night. Honestly, the -20 degree Celsius in Poland that I experienced wasn’t as fearful as that mountainous chilly mist.

We drove our bikes for a total of 1,100 km (~684 miles) during 5 days across Ha Giang city, Meo Vac town, Dong Van rock plateau, and then straight to Ban Gioc waterfalls in Cao Bang (my second time here) before heading back to Hanoi. This is personally my longest road trip and the nature was also one of the most spectacular.
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Travel from Vietnam to Myanmar: Bagan – Inle Lake – Yangon

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Myanmar, with its numerous magnificent Buddhist temples, has become the most appealing and exotic destination in Southeast Asia, even to other ASEAN fellows. The country only opened up itself in 2012, and only from Oct 2013 could a Vietnamese passport holder like myself enter the border without having to acquire a visa.

Most people say now is the good time to visit Myanmar before it is fully touched by Western influence, but my feeling from a week rushing across the country (23-31 Aug 2014) is that it is already quite integrated. And someone even said to me Myanmar would develop fast, even quicker than Vietnam before. Perhaps.

A few things to be aware prior to the trip:

1. Traveling in Myanmar is NOT cheap. I often say traveling in Laos is more expensive than in Vietnam, then traveling in Myanmar is even more expensive than in Laos. Note that fact and prepare your budget. I say, modestly you would spend USD 300-500 in a week. There are entrance fees for Bagan and Inle Lake (we skipped Mandalay so I don’t know if there is any entrance fee there), there is no entrance fee for Yangon but tourists have to pay to go in almost all of tourists’ attraction sites here.

2. Internet in Myanmar runs at snail’s pace. It almost doesn’t work in Bagan, and is very limited and slow in Inle Lake and Yangon. Thus, write down and print everything you need in advance.

3. Burmese people are generally nice and lovable, even the street hawkers. Don’t be too hard on them, spend your money! (Probably this will change soon when too many tourists come in and ruin the people’s purity, just like what happened to Vietnam or Cambodia)

4. Don’t miss Bagan in your travel itinerary. It’s like Cambodia‘s Siem Riep or Vietnam’s Hue. It’s the country’s legacy. Probably visiting once is enough, but it’s a MUST. Read the rest of this entry »

“The West is best. Or is it?”

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(Kéo xuống để đọc tiếng Việt. Nếu bạn là người Việt thì hãy bỏ qua phần tiếng Anh và đọc luôn tiếng Việt vì nội dung ở đó có phần sâu và sắc hơn)

Recently there was a talk show happening at Manzi with the participation of Nguyen Qui Duc, Phan Y Ly, Anh-Minh Do and MC Dang Hoang Giang that attracted lots of attention from young Vietnamese people. The “hot” topic was: “The West is best. Or is it?”; both the host and the three guest speakers were “international Vietnamese” who returned to Vietnam after spending many years abroad. And with those four “returnees” we could already assume their answer to the topic without even having to attend the talk. No, it isn’t. Read the rest of this entry »

Road Trip: Hanoi – Moc Chau – Son La – Pha Din

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I have been taking motorbike road trips a few times before and it has become a serious hobby. Whenever there are long holidays, long enough to jump on the bike to drive to the mountains and back, I would definitely take the chance to get out of the bustling capital for a while. The more I go the more I realize how beautiful my country is, the kind of beauty that you, young Vietnamese people, need to go nowhere else to find. Heaven? It’s here! Right on your motherland!

Contrast to the last trip packed with 13 peeps this time our groups had only 4 people. We headed out of Hanoi on the 6th of Feb, also our Tet holidays (traditional lunar new year holidays). During roughly 3 days we drove our manual Honda through almost 800 km all the way from Hanoi to Moc Chau, Son La, Pha Din pass (one of the 4 most famous mountain passes in the North of Vietnam) and back. Read the rest of this entry »

On the topic of religion in Vietnam: So you really think we are atheists?

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The crowd squeezing each other to pray for a prosperous new year in Yen Tu Pagoda

Religion in Vietnam on Wikipedia proclaims: “Officially, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is an atheist state”.

That statement is perfectly correct and needs no further argument. However, do pay attention to the keyword “officially”, because the actual question is: how about “informally”? Now, this gives room for debate.

Feudal Vietnam was mostly a Buddhist country but Vietnam under Socialism declares no national religion, and most of its population also don’t “officially” follow any particular belief. Normally, when we fill in application forms that asks for religions, we always tick “none”. Nevertheless, it doesn’t mean Vietnamese people are all “non-believers” as reported. Read the rest of this entry »

Visiting Cambodia

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Last week I came to Phnom Penh and spent two wonderful days with my lovely Cambodian friend Kounila Keo. I first met her from the ASEAN Blogger Festival in Solo Indonesia and we’ve been talking a lot ever since, but we could only meet again just now.

It was not the first time I’ve been to Cambodia. Last year in March I took a package tour to Phnom Penh and Siem Riep. The advantage of taking a package tour is that you have most of the popular tourists’ destinations checked, you don’t have to plan for your trip, and in fact it is also relatively cheaper than going by yourself (seriously!). However, after the package tour experience I told myself “never again”. I don’t like going in big groups, especially when people are loud or slow, and I also prefer having more than 20 minutes at Phnom Penh Central Market (What’s up with the tour guide giving us only 20 minutes in the market?)

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