From the bustling and dynamic city of Ho Chi Minh (Sai Gon), we mesmerized with the poetic beauty of Can Tho and Chau Doc down in Mekong Delta, to the ancient and charming town of Hoi An in Da Nang, from the historical old town of Hanoi then we went up to the mountainous highlands of Lao Cai where culture is so rich and preserve, we then cruised the famous Ha Long Bay before we went down to the breathtaking landscape of Ninh Binh. Yes, that's how we explored and captured Vietnam in 15 days... i love every place we've been, enjoyed every single day from south to north, stress-free just pure fun and photography.
“…a world where the colors are more vivid, where the landscapes are bolder, the coastline more dramatic, where the history is more compelling, where the tastes are more divine, where life is lived in the fast lane.”, said Lonely Planet, one of the most famous tourism digital news in the world, about Vietnam. Truly so, having thousands of attractions including culture, nature and adventure, nightlife, national parks, villages, heritages along the S-shaped land, Vietnam is an extremely charming destination for tourists worldwide.
Notre Dame Cathedral, Ho Chi Minh
HO CHI MINH CITY (Saigon)
If you have visited a number of cities in Vietnam but forgot Ho Chi Minh City, you have not known much about Vietnam for real. It is considered the capital of the Southern area of Vietnam. It is located near the Mekong delta, about 1,760 kilometers south of Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city in Vietnam with the population of more than 7.3 million in the area of 2095.5 square kilometers (908 square miles). Ho Chi Minh City is the second heart and soul of Vietnam, to Hanoi. It's a bustling, dynamic and industrious center, the largest city in the country, the economic capital and the cultural trendsetter. Yet within the teeming metropolis are the timeless traditions and beauty of an ancient culture.
HISTORY: Ho Chi Minh City (abbreviation HCMC), commonly known as Saigon is the largest city in Vietnam and the former capital of the Republic of Vietnam. The city used to be a small fishing village, inhabited by Khmer people, Cambodia before becoming a land under Nguyen dynasty rule in 1698, being conquered by France from 1950 to 1975. Throughout its long history, HCMC appears to be not only a modern and dynamic city but a cultural and historical one as well.
Following the Fall of Saigon in 1975, Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City. Nevertheless, the old Saigon moniker is still used by both Vietnamese and foreigners. Text Credit: www.vietnamtourism.org.vn
Fruit vendor - Cai Rang Floating Market
Vietnam’s ‘rice basket’, the Mekong Delta is a watery landscape of green fields and sleepy villages, everywhere crisscrossed by the brown canals and rivulets fed by the mighty Mekong River. Its inhabitants – stereotyped as friendly and easygoing – have long toiled on the life-sustaining river, with their labours marked by the same cycles governing the waterways.
The delta, which yields enough rice to feed the country with a sizable surplus, was formed by sediment deposited by the Mekong. The process continues today, with silt deposits extending the shoreline by as much as 80m per year. The river is so large that it has two daily tides. Lush with rice paddies and fish farms, this delta plain also nourishes the cultivation of sugarcane, fruit, coconut and shrimp. Although the area is primarily rural, it is one of the most densely populated regions in Vietnam and nearly every hectare is intensively farmed.
The uniquely southern charm with its welcoming introduction to life along the river is the real draw, and visitors can explore quaint riverside towns, sample fruits bartered in the colourful floating markets or dine on home-cooked delicacies before overnighting as a homestay guest.
Can Tho has simple, poetic beauty with well-off villages under shade of coconut trees. It is wonderful to take a boat trip along the riverbanks on fine weather days. In the heart of the Mekong Delta, and often referred to as Vietnam’s rice basket, Can Tho is home to many orchards and farms, and it’s the goods from here tourists flock to see in the floating markets dotted around the city.
Can Tho is over its 200 years as the main town, once known as Tay Do and now one city of Vietnam. All of economic, culture activities closely relate to river and canals which like the 'street'. Can Tho has simple, poetic beauty with well-off villages under shade of coconut trees. It is wonderful to take a boat trip along the riverbanks on fine weather days. On the east bank of Hau River is Ninh Kieu Wharf, which is well known for its beautiful location. Other interesting places are Bang Lang Stock Sanctuary, Can Tho and My Khanh Tourist gardens and Can Tho Market.
DA NANG CITY
The city is in the site of the East Sea and Han River with special different charms. Nature has offered the city a great position among three World heritages generously: ancient royal capital Hue, ancient city Hoi An and Holy land My Son. Thanks to this, Da Nang plays an important role in hosting, serving and transferring visitors. Not only being in the middle point of three world heritages, but also does it have numerous unforgettable beautiful scenes.
Da Nang City is located in middle of Central Vietnam, between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, separated from Laos by the western Truong Son Mountains. It is surrounded by Thua Thien-Hue along the northern border and Quang Nam on the southern border. It is embraced by the East Sea with 150km of seacoast.
Ngu Hanh Son (Marble Mountains), Hoa Hai
Landing at a very modern Danang airport, we straight to Marble Mountain -- named as 5 elements of universe and stone carving village of Hoa Hai and then another forty-five minute drive into Hoi An along a respectable highway, which navigated through construction sites and development on both sides. Many of these sites were advertised as forthcoming holiday resorts, that’s a lot of tourists. I envisage that one day Danang and Hoi An will be joined by these developments.
Local Fisherman at Thu Bon River
Old Vietnamese wearing Non La
Different Shape and Colorful Lanterns
In Hoi An, our first destination was to view the Japanese Bridge built in the early 17th century by Japanese craftsmen. Then we continued our way along the river, the dark murky water hiding its secrets and looking very uninviting. Wooden fishing boats with a single sail had finished their morning’s work and were roped to a bridge which was adorned with silk lanterns evocative of the strong Chinese cultural influence which dates back to the 16th century. Then Chinese and Japanese traders built the commercial centre and Hoi An was a busy port. On the 14th of every month Hoi An celebrates this delightful aspect of its heritage by turning off all the electricity and the Old Quarter is lit only by the beautifully coloured and shaped lanterns.
Facing the river are small two-storey houses, most of them now shops with enticing modern paraphernalia and clothing hidden behind the intricately carved wooden facades. The old buildings have withstood 300 years of frequent flooding and battering.
The Basket Boat is known locally as “Thung Chai” and is very popular among the local fishermen in the central regions of Viet Nam. The local fishermen really like to use it because it is very mobile and convenient, as it can easily transport people from their big boats to the land. Furthermore, the fishermen use it to catch fish with the fishing net and to carry oil, wood, food and other things they might need while fishing. The shape of the Basket Boat is to be re-tarred every 6 months, depending on how one much care one puts in using it. The safe capacity is normally 5 people per Boat (4 guests + 1 rider). In order to learn how to have a go at it, you must have a practice round first, and then go for the real thing the second time. It will certainly be a lot of fun, with loads of spinning around as the boat will madly go round and round and round. In fact, the Basket Boat is also called “The Round Boat”, for obvious reasons. Another name for it is “The Coracle Boat”, from Wales in The Great Britain.
The Basket Boat is a unique and very interesting eco-tour STRONGLY recommended to groups of travelers and to companies looking at organizing Team Buildings or other activities on the river or sea, with the purpose of having fun and special experiences.
Charming Town of Hoi An at Night
Lao Cai is one of several provinces situated on the Sino-Vietnamese border. Topography of Lao Cai is diversified with rivers, high mountain peaks, steep and high mountain passes, deep streams and wide valleys.
Preserves with lots of special cultural and historical sites. Outstanding vestiges is ancient stone engrave area with picture of map, handwriting, people thousand years ago in Muong Hoa Valley (Sapa), Pho Rang vestige.
Sapa is a lovely hill station town in Northern Vietnam near the Chinese border. The region as also known as “the Tonkinese Alps” and it’s culturally rich with different hill tribe minorities, lush mountain ranges, rice fields and an overall, breathtaking views! Once there, you’ll easily understand what the hype is all about. Shops selling tobacco, trekking clothes and souvenir crafts from the hill tribes will help you burn your dong. The town is completely walkable but if you want to explore outside of town, it’s best to do it by van or motorbike if you can.
There are two ways to get to Sapa by overnight train or bus. The train from Hanoi to Lao Cai station takes around 8 hours, leaving around 10pm and arrive at 6am the following day, that's what we took and I bet you its worth experiencing to sleep overnight in the train. After arriving into Lao Cai station, our private van drive up to the winding road to Sapa town for another hour.
For those who are not comfortable sleeping in the train, there are sleeper buses that you can book through your hotel from Hanoi to Sapa station.
Beautiful Pattern of Rice Terraces View at Lao Chai
Catcat Village is about three kilometers from the town of Sapa and it is navigable by foot. One will be impressed by the peacefully picturesque sceneries. People can easily catch sight of women sitting in front of the loom with colorful pieces of brocade, while children playing around with pets or even livestock. From the plain brocade, then women can carefully dye them with special leaves and embroider beautiful patterns of flower and animal on them. Moreover, many residents of Cat Cat Village are also skillful at manipulating sophisticated gold and silver jewelry.
Located about 17km in the west of Sapa, Ta Phin is a village of Red Dao’s people possessing a rich culture that has not been damaged by the modern life. From Sapa, it will take about 30-45 minutes to reach Taphin by car.
Coming to Ta Phin, you will immediately catch sight of groups of Red Dao’s women gathering together, keeping inside their hands colorful reels of thread and clothes. They sew continuously, even when offering the goods to the customers. Amazingly, most of them can speak quite well, some use Vietnamese less than English.
Since 1998, Ta Phin has officially become the “brocade village”, where tourists can find the distinctively hand-made brocades made by ethnic people. All of the products are eye-catching with numerous bright colors and patterns, ranging from bag, scarf, purse, to skirt, and even backpack and coat. Ta Phin is also the main supply of brocades for shops in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, and the products are exported to foreign countries as well.
H'mong Woman of Red Dao Group in Ta Phin
Literally the “city between the rivers”, is the capital and second biggest city of Viet Nam. The historical Old Town, the colonial French Quarter, ancient temples of more than thousand years of age and various scenic lakes and landmarks make up one of the most fascinating cities of Southeast Asia, with a mix of Chinese and French influences enriching the vibrant Vietnamese culture.
The compact city centre is bordered by the Red River (Song Hong) to the east as well as to the north and a railway line to the west with the Hoan Kiem Lake nowadays being its focal point of public life and an excellent point of orientation. North of the lake lies Hanoi’s historic heart, the Old Quarter (Phố Cổ Hà Nội). Most of the street names still originate from the 13th century when every guild had its own street, usually called “Hàng” meaning “merchandise” followed by the name of the product, which is produced or sold there. Since at that time the tax depended on the width of the house frontage, the area is famous for its so-called tube houses, buildings with narrow frontages of two to three metres with a length of 20 to 60 metres.
Fruit Vendors using Bicycle, Hanoi
Towering limestone pillars and tiny islets topped by forest rise from the emerald waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. Designated a World Heritage site in 1994, Halong Bay's spectacular scatter of islands, dotted with wind- and wave-eroded grottoes, is a vision of ethereal beauty and, unsurprisingly, northern Vietnam's number one tourism hub.
Sprawling Halong City is the bay's main gateway but its dowdy high-rises are a disappointing doorstep to this site. Most visitors sensibly opt for cruise-tours that include sleeping on board within the bay, while a growing number are deciding to eschew the main bay completely, heading straight for Cat Ba Island from where trips to less-visited but equally alluring Lan Ha Bay are easily set up.
The bay consists of a dense cluster of some 1,600 limestone monolithic islands each topped with thick jungle vegetation, rising spectacularly from the ocean. Several of the islands are hollow, with enormous caves. Hang Đầu Gỗ (Wooden stakes cave) is the largest grotto in the Hạ Long area. In 1994, the core zone of Hạ Long Bay was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site according to criterion vii, and listed for a second time according to criterion viii.
Inside Sung Sot Cave, Ha Long Bay
Situated on the Red River Delta, Ninh Binh separates the North and the Central Vietnam by Tam Diep Mountain Range. It is surrounded by Hoa Binh, Ha Nam provinces on the north, Nam Dinh Province on the east and Thanh Hoa on the west and the south.
Ninh Binh is one of the famous and popular destination in the Northern Vietnam. There are many picturesque and majestic landscapes to visit in Ninh Binh province. Coming here, tourists will immerse themselves into the natural and magical beauty of landscape in the province.
Ninh Binh province is famous for the eco tourism complex of Trang An including Bai Dinh pagoda - one of the greatest pagodas in Vietnam and it is also a Buddhist center in the Northern Vietnam. Besides the famous attraction of Trang An and Bai Dinh pagoda, Tam Coc is another well known attraction in Ninh Binh that we can miss to visit when coming to Ninh Binh. Tam Coc is located in Ninh Hai Commune, Hoa Lu District, Ninh Binh province. It is really a natural complex with immense space and view.
Tam Coc means "three grottos" and it is also known as "Halong Bay on land and on rice field". Tam Coc is considered the central relics of Vietnam with a lot of limestones and historical sites. Tam Coc has the area of 350,3 hectare. It is divided into the first cave, second cave and the third cave. Three caves are created by Ngo Dong River throughout the mountain. To enjoy the beauty of Tam Coc, tourists can take a boat and travel along to the Ngo Dong River. Tourists will enjoy the immense and stunning beauty of nature. Especially, the color of rice paddies in green and yellow at two sides of rice field along the river will bring visitors different feelings.
To enjoy the beauty of Tam Coc, tourists can take different tour routes to travel to beautiful landscapes in this place. The idea route may be Tam Coc - Thai Vi Temple - Thien Huong Grotto. During the route, tourists will take the chance to visit Tam Coc, Thai Vi Temple and Thien Huong Grotto. First of all, traveling on boat to admire the majestic and immense beauty of Tam Coc in various colors of rice paddies. The natural landscape with the combination of rice field and romantic river, the river in the shape of Dragon meandering to give tourists wonderful and interesting experience.
Sunset at Tam Coc, Ninh Binh
Trang An located about 3 km away from the ancient capital of Hoa Lu, is a wonderful landscape. Road from Trang An to Ninh Binh is very long and smooth and both sides of the road are the newly planted trees with premature green leaves.
We visited Trang An early morning on our last day in Ninh Binh, the atmosphere here is very cool with charming scenery of the majestic mountains reflecting the calm and clean water surface. On waterfront, there are many blue boats making the scenery more charming as a nice picture.
Trang An has nearly 50 large and small caves, but a tour around this area just has to go through 10 large caves. In these caves, rocks were eroded by water many years ago and it created these lively and colorful stalactites.
Each cave has a private name such as Ba Giot, Nau Ruou, Toi Cave. That is an amazing experience when you sit on a boat to explore these caves. Because you not only sit still but also not tilt from side to side and bow your head very low to avoid stalactites hanging down from the top of the cave.
After we explore Trang An, we headed back to our hotel to freshen up and hit the road back to Hanoi for another 3 hours to catch our flight at night back to Manila.
That's the end of our 15D/14N Vietnam Photo Tours.... our thanks to my tour operator in Vietnam to Mr. Cao of LV, to our excellent guides Mui, Sue and Tuan, and to the group specially to my Uncle and my Bro (you know who you are) for the trust, support and true friendships, til' our next photo escapades. I'll keep you posted! =)