Travel Blog Hue, Vietnam
Supported by a fleet of valued high-speed boats, plus a team of well-trained and experienced pilots, Blue Cruiser is pleased to present our transport service for tourism, business trips, and ecologic reconnaissance on the Saigon andMekong watercourses in Vietnam and Cambodia by high-speed boat.
Cruising from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) to Can Tho, passing small channels to big rivers of Saigon River, Can Giuoc River, Vam Co River, Tien River (the Northern Branch of Mekong River). You can enjoy nice scenery of the riverbanks. On the way, you can stop at Cai Mon, Ben Tre or My Tho, Thai Son Island, Cai Be, An Binh Island, Sa Dec. You can view the typical characteristics of the southern Vietnam tradition with cultural and spiritual activities, listen to traditional music, visit alcohol and candy making shops or go into the center of the island to visit orchards and enjoy fresh tropical fruit, then return to the motorboat on wooden sampan. You can see a forest of coconut trees, visit coconut candy shops and factories processing coconut products such as coconut fiber, coconut active coal, etc.
After visiting the attractive Cai Rang Floating Market, the boat goes upstream on the Hau River (one of the biggest branches of Mekong River) to Chau Doc. On the way, you can visit a floating fish farm and a Cham Village (the Ethnic Minority in Vietnam with a Muslim culture).
Departing daily from Chau Doc, our speedboat takes you on the Hau River to Vinh Xuong border (between Vietnam and Cambodia), continuing on the famous Tone Le Sap River to International Port – Phnom Penh – Cambodia. The trip will take you through the lower sections of Viet Nam Mekong River to the Cambodia Mekong River.
Besides discovering the beautiful landscapes of Mekong River, you can take a one-day tour by speedboat from Saigon visiting the historical Cu Chi Tunnels, Binh Duong, Vung Tau, Can Gio, and Vam Sat nature preserve.
On Board Service included: Hot Tea, Hot Coffee, Cookies, Cold Mineral Water, Small sweet Bananas, Wet towel
Hang Chau Express boat
Price: US$ 30/ticket
Total: US$ 33/ticket
In Chau Doc: 7.30 A.M
In Phnom Penh: 12.00 P.M
Itinerary: 3,5 hours
Time of formalities: 1 hour
From 1 to 3 years old: free
From 4 to 8 years old: ½ ticket
Including: guide, insurance, entry-exit fees at the border, V.A.T
For charter: all kinds of boat: 13 seats, 20 seats, 24 seats, 26 seats.
This is our current inventory of available boats.
All capacities include 30 Kg of luggage per passenger. Seating is shown as Inside + Outside
BC-04 Engine 250 HP x 2 Diesel Volvo
Width 3.0 meters / 9′ 10″
Length 12.8 meters / 41′ 12″
Speed 50 kmph / 31 mph
Capacity 24 passengers + 8
Upstream route from Chau Doc to Phnom Penh: time at 7:00 A.M at hotel in Chau Doc or 7:30 at Con Tien floating restaurant
Downstream route from Phnom Penh to Chau Doc: time at 11:45 A.M at hotel in Phnom Penh or 12:00 at 103, Sisowath, SK Phnom, Kh Daun Penh, Phnom Penh
The boat staff will send local transport to your hotel in central of Chau Doc or Phnom Penh to transfer to the port. The transfers/pick up are INCLUDED in my rate.
In Chau Doc: Con Tien floating restaurant, Tran Hung Dao Street, khom 5, Chau Doc town, An Giang Province, Vietnam
In Phnom Penh: Number 103, Sisowath, SK Phnom, Kh Daun Penh, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Upstream route from Chau Doc to Phnom Penh, the boat will arrive Phnom Penh port at 12:30 P.M
Downstream route from Phnom Penh to Chau Doc, the boat will arrive Chau Doc port at 17:00 P.M
Thoai Ngoc Hau Tomb
Location: At the foot of Sam Mountain, Vinh Te Commune, Chau Doc Town, An Giang Province.
Characteristics: Thoai Ngoc Hau Tomb is a fine piece of art of ancient architecture.
Thoai Ngoc Hau Tomb is located in front of Ba Chua Xu Temple, that is the biggest monument at the foot of Sam Mountain, 5-km southwest of Chau Doc.
Thoai Ngoc Hau (1761-1829), originally named Nguyen Van Thoai, was the first man from this area to exploit the virgin soil, establish living settlements, and dig Vinh Te and Thoai Ha channels. He was buried there along with his two wives and a temple in his honour was built in the 1930s.
Chau Doc Floating Village
Chau Doc’s main attraction is a three-hour boat tour that takes in the floating market, the floating village offshore, a Cham village across the river, and perhaps a peek at the Kinh Vinh Te (the canal that leads south to Ha Tien – not terribly exciting).
The FLOATING MARKET, busiest at 7am, is about 10 minutes downstream from the central market. In the morning, locals in row boats paddle out to stock up for a day at the market. Boats head off to pick up fruit in Sa Dec or Can Tho every few days, but there’s always plenty of business in the early hours.
The ‘FLOATING VILLAGE’ is comprised of aluminum-roof-and-walled homes atop huge, netted ‘fish farms,’ where hundreds and hundreds of ca vo dem fish await canh chua bowls; some get shipped downriver to Can Tho and beyond; note the huge moored wooden boats, which flood their lower decks to keep the fish alive during the trip.
Another popular stop is DA PHUOC, a Cham village across the river on Con Tien island from Chau Doc’s center. Here you’ll see women wearing turbans made of Cham-style fabrics that they weave – during dry season – under their homes that stand on stilts. During the rainy season the water levels are too high. Cham women often put on conical non la hats when they go to Chau Doc market, to ‘blend in’ apparently. The 1992 mosque occasionally hosts wedding parites, as the village has no other building big enough to host the event; note the small cemetery behind the building.
The Lady Temple ( Mieu Ba Chua Xu)
The Lady Temple is an important relic of An Giang Province. There was a legend about this lady and most of Vietnamese people believe that she has a great powerful that lured thousands of people came and prayed every year.
According to a story, around 200 years ago, the Lady ‘s statue was found by local people and was carried down by 9 virgin girls from the top of Sam Mountain to the current place.
There are many legends about the source of that statue but it still in secret.
Tay An Pagoda
Tay An or Nui Sam Pagoda or “Tay An Co Tu” is a located right in the bottom of Sam Mountain, Vinh Te Commune, Chau Doc Strict, An Giang Province, 5km from Chau Doc Town. Its architecture was the combination between India and Muslim and the old Vietnamese Pagoda style. The materials were bricks, tiles, cements…There are many statues of Buddha which were carved very fine that featured for the carving art of Viet Nam in the 19th century.
This pagoda was named on national relics list.
Sam Mountain also called as “ Vinh Te Son” or “ Ngoc Lanh Son” with the height is around 284m above sea level. There was a time, Sam Mountain was covered by the flamboyance flowers in summer time that created a wonderful scene with the red color in all over the Sam Mountain.
From the top of the mountain, people can observe the large area of the border from Chau Doc Town to Tinh Bien, there was a bastion of the Southern Army up there.
Vinh Te Canal
Vinh Te Canal is a famous canal in which is located between An Giang and Kien Giang Province in the Mekong Delta.
In 1816, under Gia Long King Dynasty, the King and his imperial recognized that Ha Tien and Chau Doc would be developed if they were connected. However, this area just was exploited and people were very poor that Gia Long King was delayed this project and started in 1819.
Vinh Te canal was completed in 1824 with 91km long, 25m wide and 3m depth. Around 80,000 persons were working for this project , a big part of them were Khmer people. Many people died because of the diseases, exhaustion and the wild animals.
An Giang is a province in Vietnam that borders Cambodia. It is most popular for being the place where one finds Chau Doc. The city is situated at the intersection of a tributary linking the Bassac and Mekong Rivers. Chau Doc may be a little city, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in colours and is probably the only place where pastel colours are chosen to beautify store fronts.
Chau Doc is close to the river border of Vietnam and Cambodia. Anyone who travels to and from Phnom Penh by boat will pass by the city, and staying overnight is highly recommended. Aside from the colours, visitors will also captivated by the locals; the people in Chau Doc, including the xe dap loi drivers, are nice and friendly. Foreigners need not worry too much about a language barrier—English is spoken in most hotels and guesthouses, while most restaurants have an English-language menu.
Bay Bong restaurant
Bay Bong restaurant doesn’t look like much, but the food is really something. According to Mekong explorer Le Van Sinh, it’s the best in the delta, specializing in hotpots and soups, as well as fresh fish dishes. Try the ca kho to (stewed fish in a clay pot) or canh chua (sweet-and-sour soup).
Address: 22 Ð Thuong Dang Le
Phone: 076 386 7271
Price: mains 60,000-140,000d
Lam Hung Ky restaurant
There’s a strip of Chinese restaurants on Chi Lang, including the busy Lam Hung Ky, complete with the usual strung-up ducks and chickens. It serves good food, despite the menu offering misleadingly unappetizing items like ‘instant boiled assorted meats’.
Address: 71 Ð Chi Lang
Phone: 076 386 6745
Price: mains 50,000-100,000d
Hours: breakfast, lunch & dinner
Thanh Tinh restaurant
Thanh Tinh translates as ‘to calm the body down’ and it will do just that for vegetarians looking for a reliable menu
Address: 13 Ð Quang Trung
Phone: 076 386 5064
Price: mains 30,000-60,000d
Hours: breakfast, lunch & dinner
Truong Van restaurant
Nothing fancy here, just good Vietnamese food at decent prices.
Address: 15 Ð Quang Trung
Phone: 076 386 6567
Price: mains 40,000-80,000d
Hours: breakfast, lunch & dinner
Hong Phat restaurant
Good Chinese and Vietnamese food.
Address: 77 Ð Chi Lang Town Centre
Phone, tel, info: 076 866 950
Hours: breakfast, lunch & dinner
The most sophisticated dining experience in Chau Doc is here at the Victoria Chau Doc Hotel. The menu includes some delightfully presented Vietnamese food, as well as a wonderful selection of international dishes to make the mouth water. Desserts are devilish or there is more simple fare at the Bamboo Bar.
Address: 32 Ð Le Loi
Phone: 076 386 5010
Price: mains US$6-18
Hours: 06:00-11:00 & 18:00-23:00
At night, you can also try a variety of cool dessert soups (che) at Che Stalls on Ð Bach Dang, next to the pagoda.
Address: on Ð Bach Dang, next to the pagoda Town Centre
Sinh To Stalls
If you’d like to sample the best fruit shakes (sinh to) in town, look out for the Sinh To Stalls.
Address: cnr of Ð Phan Van Vang & Ð Nguyen Van Thoai Town Centre
How to get there
The best way is taking overnight train from Hanoi to Sapa then connect with a road trip for 1 hour.
There are many people who try to ask you to buy bus tickets either outside or inside Lao Cai train station, you can accept their invitation, however, you should only paid when the bus really departs.
For a comfortable seat, it should be better to book the shuttle bus, you may not be pushing to seat with 15 people for a mini bus of 16 seater.
Best time to Travel
Sapa is at its green and best time on July, August, September, October and November.
Many people suppose this is rainy time but we believe it is a beautiful time for many regions:
- Rice & corn planation starts in June and finish in October. This is the wonderful period to admire the green nature and some special rite which deprived from rice cultivation.
- The rain often comes in summer but not for long and the view is simple what you expect through the postcards, video and photos
- There are less tourists coming to Sapa this time, more promotion for hotels especially 3*, 4* hotels
From December to April, the weather turns to be pretty cold but no rain. If you wish to enjoy an adventure without being interupted by weather, this is the good choice. The landscapes remains at their magnificience and awesomeness.
This is one of the most sensitive thing while traveling in Sapa. Many local woman especially Black Hmong and Red Dzao tribe will attract you with some short conversations and persuading you to buy something for them. There maybe 1 person of 1 small group will come to you with a nice talk, however, they may ask you to buy at least 1 piece of each person.
Most of travelers come to Sapa will do trekking or some types of outdoors, the tour guide will consume more energy in Sapa than other part of Vietnam. The tip is not compulsory for many company, specially Sapa Travel Expert, however if the tour guide`s performance is perfect, we encourage you to tip with 5usd/ day/ person.
Unique experience in Sapa
Hill tribe markets are one of the most unique experience in Sapa. The highlight of this cultural visit originated from the meeting with local tribes from different areas with different customs.
At Sapa Travel Expert, we are able to offer you visits to market that you may not meet any tourist and being totally off beaten track to enjoy the authenticity.
Off road trekking: for discernning travellers, normal trekking route with numerous of tourists may not be interesting and your experience is so common, we offer you off -road trek that we ensure your experience is different and enjoyable. For such type of tour, we guarantee 100% refund if you do not feel satisfied with the trip.
Orient Express Train
Orient Express Train is wooden carriage, soft sleeper A.C cabin with soft 2 berths VIP, deluxe 2 berths, 4 berths deluxe cabin and two toilet. Each berth is equipped with individual reading lights, baggage storage and spacious trunk for suite case and hand luggage.
A Private Orient Deluxe 2 berths cabin and VIP Orient 2 berths cabin create an intimate space for couples with 2 berths only. These cabins are lovingly designed to for those who desire to have the privacy with remarkable interior decor.
Besides, our “Orient Express Train” staff members are always ready to offer you the best customer care and complementary services
Fanxipan express train
Fanxipan Express Train with air-conditioning wooden 2 berths and 4 berths cabins. Each berth is equipped with reading lights, baggage storage, flower, mineral water and napkin. Each passenger will be service food and drink such as fruit juices, tea and snack.
Fanxipan Express has a mini bar on the corner of each carriage offering Vietnamese and western delights, snack and drinks. If need, please press the ring in the cabin.
Hara express train
The brand new Hara Express Train has just been introduced to operate routing Hanoi – Lao Cai – Hanoi with 4 fully decorated carriages with high standard soft sleepers with air-conditioning wooden cabins with soft 2 berths cabin
Hara Express Train is wooden carriage, soft sleeper A.C cabin with soft 4 berths and two toilet at either ends. Each berth is equipped with individual reading lights, baggage storage and spacious trunk for suite case and hand luggage. The train is provided with also water and cold tower.
King express train
Deluxe Vip King Express carriages can accommodate 26 berths with superior and deluxe cabins, accompanied by the hospitality of King express train staff. The enchanting luxury, the comfort facilities of the wood-paneling cabins will make your stay in these carriages memorable. Passengers are to hold the best opportunity to relax or simply let the beauty gliding over your spacious windows. Luxury, inspiration and refreshment are main character of these carriages. All berths are wooden-paneled, air-conditioned with individual reading lights, baggage storage. Passengers are served with a very tasteful drink in the morning upon the arrival to Lao Cai or Hanoi.
Superior cabins offer a cozy atmosphere with 4 berths in one compartment, relaxing to read or enjoy an intimate conversation.
Deluxe cabins create an intimate space for couples with 2 berths only. These cabins are lovingly designed to for those who desire to have the privacy with remarkable interior decor. They are the epitome of a small observation car.
Victoria express train
Reaching Sapa has never been more appealing: travel in style on board the luxurious Victoria Express Train. The Victoria Express Train features one dining carriage and two sleeping carriages to make your traveling experience a most comfortable one.
The train departs six times a week, linking Hanoi to Lao Cai. The Victoria Express Train is a 10-hour trip from Hanoi to Lao Cai, accommodating 48 passengers with comfortable seating, a dining carriage and two luxurious sleeping carriages.
Each sleeping carriage has 6 superior cabins (4 berths) and 1 deluxe cabin (2 berths), all are air-conditioned, wood paneled, with individual reading lights, baggage storage, toilets and oversized windows.
Watch the beautiful scenery in front of you, from the luxury of your seat, or take a nap in the comfort of our cozy sleeping carriage. If you prefer, you can indulge yourself in our dining carriage, where you can savor the delights of traditional Vietnamese and Western cuisine. Our talented Chef Nguyen Tien Duc will be waiting for you with a selection of the best wines, adding a further exquisite touch to a memorable experience.
The Victoria Express Train is exclusively reserved for Victoria Sapa Resort’s in-house guests only. To make a reservation for the Victoria Express Train, you need to complete a Victoria Express Train reservation form that is part of the Victoria Sapa Resort rooms reservation form.
With its elegant carriages, the Victoria Express Train recalls a more romantic era. Passing through the exotic landscapes of North Vietnam, between the charming cities of Hanoi and Lao Cai (train station at a distance of 34 km (21 miles) from Sapa), it offers every visitor a wonderful traveling experience.
Ratraco train is one of the best trains to Sapa with wooden cabins. With a special design including soft four berths and two toilets at either ends features four soft berths in each cabin with individual reading lights.
The Ratraco train is also designed with baggage store and spacious trunk for suit case and hand luggage. The train provides also water and cold towel.
Tulico express train
Tulico Express deluxe train offers comfortable air-conditioned soft sleepers. This is a good value for money train carriage. It is good and clean cabin, especially the deluxe 2 berth cabin ( for 2 persons only) between Hanoi and Lao Cai. While this is is not a luxurious train it offers good alternative transportation to get to Sapa from Hanoi. It is soft sleeper, A.C and clean 4 berth cabin. The train provides you one bottle of water, small snack and a napkin.
Livitrans express train
Livitrans is a newly built train connecting Hanoi and Sapa. It is considered one of the most luxurious trains in Vietnam with its equipment equivalent to a high-class hotel.
The train is a joint venture between Vietnam National Coal and Mineral Industry Corporation and Vietnam Railway Corporation which officially starts its operation on 1st September 2007.
Livitrans Express Train, which comprises of 9 wooden carriages and one electricity generation compartment, is expected to expand to 15 carriages to be able to accommodate 420 passengers in the near future. The train will feature sleeping carriage with 2 berths, 4 berths and 6 berths, a bar, toilets, LCD television sets on board, etc… of aviation standards. Passengers will be also offered drinks, confectionery and newspapers for free.
With friendly staff and high class services, Livitrans Express Train will surely bring you a memorial trip to Sapa.
Pumpkin Train is not a separate train, it offers soft sleepers, A/C and clean four-berth cabins in 2 carriages which go with local trains between Hanoi and Lao Cai. The cabins are quite nice following the wooden decorated form make it more cozy & clean. Bread & small bottle of water are supplied in every one for free. Pumpkin train is one of the best choices for tourists to Sapa.
In order to meet the needs of clients, the Royal train is also a part of regular train with 2 carriages in SP1 and SP2 between Hanoi and Lao Cai. The Royal Train is attracted by offering soft sleeper carriage, A/C clean four-berth cabins which create cozy comforts for travelers during the trip.
Tsc express train
The TSC Express Train is wooden carriage, soft sleeper AC cabin with soft 4 berths and two toilet at either ends. Each berth is equipped with individual reading lights, baggage storage and spacious trunk for suite case and hand luggage. The train is provided with also water and cold tower.
- From Hanoi Railway Station: at 21:30 and arrive Lao Cai station around 06.00am
- From Lao Cai Railway Station: at 20:20pm, arrive Hanoi station around 05.30am
Bac Ha Market
Bac Ha market is well-known for its naturally sub-tropical scenery. Tam Hoa plums are really a local specialty: sweet and fresh. This seems to be created by its own land, people and nature. Average temperature here is 19°C and it’s not so cold as in Sa Pa. Bac Ha is specifically identified by each mount, each house and naturally-made carpet of white plum-flowers in spring. There are 14 ethnic minorities and the Mong ethnics count for 47% then the Dao, Tay, Nung, Phu La… Mountaineers take care of their horses as their properties, means of transport and close friends. Besides plums, Bac Ha is reputed for its alcohol (made of maize). Maize is grown on high mountains, its low in productivity but high in nutrition. To make alcohol, it’s fermented with Hong My seed (the local only plant). Bac Ha alcohol is well-known due to its source of water. So it’s surely believed never to have faulted one in Bac Ha market. Mong or Tay or Dao ethnics’ minority girls and boys, with their best dresses on, go to the market to relax and meet their friends. At sunset, they leave with a promise to see again. Visitors to Bac Ha are opportune to understand the local traditions and customs, taste local specialties, meet nice people and know a land code-named: white plateau.
Coc Ly Market
It is the colorful market in a mountainous area where the Flower H’mong mainly gathers to exchange their homemade products.This Tuesday market is about 35km from Bac Ha. You can get here via a fairly good road, or by road and river; hotels in Sapa and Bac Ha can organise trips. Coc ly is a small village on the Chay river inhabited by the Flower H’mong Minority people. The Flower H’mong traditionally wear a distinctive and bright coloured costume. They are a gentle, softly spoken people who live in the steep mountainous country close to the Chinese border. Because Coc Ly is more remote than Sapa, the dress and way of life is more traditional than in the large centers. The market deals in fruit, vegetable, pork and chickens, in addition to colourful fabrics and items of traditional dress. There is a buffalo sale in progress and many of these placid animals are tethered close to the market. Buffalo are still widely used in the growing process, especially in the mountainous regions.
Can Cau Market
Cancau market is one of Vietnam‘s most fascinating open –air market, and isolated market which takes place only on Saturday every week.
This is a lovely local market which still retains the local quaint and authentic
being of the main tourist route.
The areas is close to China border and in a hidden place, less visitors come here. – Horses, dogs, cat, pigs and textiles…. all on sales! This is of most amazing market you’ve ever seen. Opportunity to takes best photos
Sapa Love Market
Sapa is also famous for its love market, which takes place on saturday evenings. The love market of Sapa used to be the place to find a partner to get married. With the tourism, the real love market does not take place anymore. Currently you can only see a representation of the love market. Do not miss it anyway if you are staying here a saturday night.Young Red Dzao hill tribe used to come to Sapa to sing songs to the opposite sex. Girls sang the songs hidden in the dark, when a boy found them, and if they matched together, they disappeared into the forest for three days. Some of them got married after that.
Muong Khuong Market
Big market with a wide range of ethnic groups: Hmong, Dao, Nung, and merchants from other ethnic groups who come all the way from China to sell their products. Several Pa Zi women sell traditional incense made from the bark and resin of scented trees.
Muong Khuong market takes place on Sundays and is located in a small border town, which is frequented by Flower Hmong, Tu Di, Tay and Giay ethnic minorities. They come from surrounding villages to buy and sell local products such as food and material for agriculture and fabric.
Lung khau Nhin Market
Taking place every Thursday, Lung Khau Nhin Market is a small market hiding itself among the mountains and forests of the far north Vietnam about 10 km from the border with China. Although not being so big or famous among visitors as Coc Ly and Can Cau, Lung Khau Nhin market, be side a normal shopping place, play an important role to spiritual life of local ethnic peoples Flower H’mong, Black Zao, Zay, and especially to those who come from very small ethnic groups such as Pa Zi, Tou Zi, Tou Lao who live in small and isolated villages around this corner of the country, come for meeting, socializing…
Binh Lu- Tam Duong Market
Binh Lu market & Tam Duong market opened every sunday.
Binh Lu and Tam Duong market is located on the other side of Sapa, passing the 1900 meter Tram Ton pass, Viet Nam’s highest mountain pass and considered the most beautiful stretch of road in the country.
The town is bustling with activity as the local hill tribes gather for their weekly market day, amazing tribal markets in Binh Lu where thousand of Thai Kadai language groups such as Tai Lu, Tai Laos, White Tai, and H’mong – Yao group (black Yao, Yao Lantien..) Giay, Khomu.. comes to buy and sell their own produces.
Every Sunday from 8 am to 1 pm.
The road trip here takes about 3 hours from Lao Cai (127km) and 1 and a half hours from Sapa (90Km).
Pha Long Market
Very rural seldom visited market, where you can meet ethnic groups that are only found in this particular district of Vietnam, mostly Hmong, Nung, Tou Zi, Pa Zi and Tou Lao. Along the road, in a landscape of mountain peaks, numerous Nung et Hmong villages. Lots of traditional houses with baked earth tiled roofs.
Pha Long market, Saturday morning from 6 a.m. to twelve.
Cao Son Market
Location: The road trip here takes about 2 and a half hours from Lao Cai (75km) and 3 and a half hours from Sapa(115Km)
Most the participants are Flower H’mong, Black Zao, Nung, Tu Di, Pa Di ethnic form villages in the surrounding region but many come from China to add more colors to the market. Cheerful and smiling faces are everywhere at the market place and the peoples behave like close friends meeting again after long time away. It is easy to realize women from different groups through traditional costumes they wear while men’s dress are similar.
Per week for just one session meeting on Wednesday, at the market session, right from early morning, individuals or groups of ethnic minorities come to Cao Son Market.
Muong Hum Market
Muong Hum located in Bat Xat district, about 50km far from Laocai. Muong Hum Market is set on open flat land at the bottom of a large and scenic valley by a small river and surrounded by terraced rice paddies. It is often empty and quiet on the other weekday, waken up and busy on Sunday. This market is well-known as one of the most interesting Sunday market in Lao Cai province and possibly a good alternative trip to Bac Ha market for visitors thanks to the very large variety of the ethnic minority peoples to attend and quite easy to be distinguished through their traditional clothes.
Si Ma Cai Market
Location: Simacai is 27km from Bac Ha, 98km from Lao Cai City and 135km from Sapa
Si Ma Cai is not as frequented as Bac Ha or Sa Pa, also located in the mountainous province, since it is nestled at the far end of a road near the border with China. Traveling there requires visitors to hold onto their hats and their seats either in a car or on a motorcycle for nearly 40 kilometers of bumpy, winding road from Bac Ha.
Mountain adventurers like to compare Si Ma Cai in the northern mountainous province of Lao Cai to a shy lass with discrete charms sleeping in the mountain as the beauty of the little-known village lies in the quiet and simple daily lives of different peoples.
Xin Cheng Market
Xin Cheng market opens on every Wednesdays. It offers the opportunity to discover a colorful gathering point of many local minorities (Flower Hmong, Tay or Giay).
On the way to the Bac Ha market along the Chinese border, you will enjoy amazing mountain scenery, charming rivers and terraced rice fields. People from vicinities meet at the market to exchange tobacco, clothes, fruits, horses, buffaloes and many other local products. Xin Cheng is also a social gathering point for the villagers to meet and exchange the latest news.
On the way back to Sapa, you will pass by the Hmong King Palace which was built in the early 20th century during the French colonial era.
Ham Rong Mountain
Named Ham Rong in Vietnamese, Dragon Jaw Mountain overlooks the town of Sapa – just look to the northwest and you will see the peak forming the ‘dragon’s jaw’ rising impressively over the town. The route to the top begins with a walk through a beautiful orchid garden, and then on to a European style botanical garden where you will find a variety of colourful flowers and plants. By this time you will be at a good altitude to stop and appreciate the stunning views across the Muong Hoa valley to Fansipan Moutain, the highest peak in Vietnam, and over Sapa town itself. From here you will continue upwards to Heaven’s Gate where you can enjoy great views of the ‘dragon’s jaw’. Eventually you will reach the mountain peak where you will be treated to unrivalled views over the valley and a birds eye view of Sapa. Take it all in while resting your legs and looking forward to the easy-going descent back to Sapa for a well deserved refreshment!
Thac Bac lies beside National Highway No 4D, about 12km from Sa Pa Town’s centre. Silver Waterfall is formed by sources of water from the Lo Sui Tong mountain peak. From the distance, the waterfall looks like a white dragon looking down from the sky. You can reach the Silver Waterfall by motor bike or by car in half an hour. From there you can see stunning view of the surrounding mountains and the last forests belonging to Hoang Lien National Park.
Cat Cat Village
Cat Cat is a small but bustling village situated at the foot of Fansipan Mountain. Here you will see traditional H’mong homes at their best, and you will be able to meet a H’mong family to learn more about their way of life. The village is also the perfect place to see traditional clothing being made, hemp being dyed and women weaving.
Ta Phin Village
Ta Phin Village is located in Ta Phin Commune, Sa Pa District, about 12km northeast of Sa Pa Town. The village is surrounded by mountains and owns spectacular rice terraces. The best time to visit Ta Phin is in late afternoon when tourists can enjoy amazing view of sunset over the village and the whole surrounding areas.
In Ta Phin Village there are two ethnic minorities living in harmony. They are the Red Dao, who make up the majority, and the Black Mong. It is the best for the tourists to distin-guish the difference in culture, way of living of ethnic minorities in Sapa.
Lao Chai village
Lao Chai is a village of black H’Mong ethnic group. Lao Chai is a commune composed by three large villages with over 100 families of the Black H’mong ethnic, and people here are quite hospitable.
Location :About 7-8 Km southeast of Sapa town on the west bank of Muong Hoa River.
Lao Chai is a commune composed by three large villages with over 100 families of the Black H’mong ethnic. From a high point of the main road 8 Km from Sapa town, great view of the whole village open wide to offer the marvelous panorama of the village, backed by high mountains and facing the river. The H’mong people in this village experience rice intensive farming on the lower land near the bottom of the valley as main source of earning while growing corn on the mountain slopes at the back of the village.
In this village which you will have a welcome feeling at any house of the hospitable people there. You can interact them, learn about their culture and customs.
Ta Van village
Ta Van commune in Muong Hoa valley is located in the south and 8 km away from Sapa town ship.
Ta Van means “a big turning road” like a basket brim, or tripod-leg line.
Vast terrace fields with unique position of a big turning road become a landscape and a destination of Ta Van.
Seo Mi Ti scenery-old pine forest, a half day of sloping road away from township centre, is also a particularly interesting eco-tourist site of Ta Van.
And Ta van has become an integral tourist site for ecological excursions in Sapa.
Can Cau Market
Can Cau Market hold on every Saturday from 6hours until midday. Can Cau Market is a small, but it is the place where you can encounter Flower H’mong, Phu La, Black Dao, Tay and Nung minorities in colorful costumes. The Flower Hmong minority is the most common here, and their colourful dresses makes is a beautiful sight. Set in the mountains near the Chinese border, Can Cau Market is the area where different minority groups in colorful dress exchange local items. You will spend the whole morning there then go to Bac Ha for lunch. Light trekking to nearby villages and visit the old castle of the former Hmong king are also highlights of trips.
Coc Ly Market
Leaving Sa Pa early Tuesday morning or picked up in Lao Cai arriving with the train from Hanoi, we drive with land cruiser to Coc Ly Market. The drive from SaPa will take us approx. 2 1/2 hour. We visit the market with all it’s colourful ethnic people such as Flower Hmong, Phu La and Dao Tuyen who gathers to buy and sell. Before lunch we go on a short trek to the nearby village of Sa Koun Ho which is inhabited by the Flower Hmong and Black Dao minority. We enjoy lunch in a local restaurant before we leave Coc Ly and drive to Trung Do village – inhabited by Tay minority. From the village we go by boat down the river, where we experience the magnificent sight of the beautiful caves and bustling life on the riverbank. The boat trip takes us about 2-2 1/2 hours before we are picked up by our jeep. The jeep takes us back to SaPa or to Lao Cai train station depending of your wishes.
Bac Ha market
This is a big market filled with many different hill-tribe peoples. It is the most colorful market in North Vietnam. At the market, you have chance to enjoy Bac Ha people simple but unique kinds of food with special wines made from rice, cassavas, corn and different sorts of fruits such as plumps, apples, peaches… talking to the minorities through the guide s interpretation.
Bac Ha market is well-known for its naturally sub-tropical scenery. Tam Hoa plums are really a local specialty: sweet and fresh. This seems to be created by its own land, people and nature. Average temperature here is 19°C and it’s not so cold as in Sa Pa. Bac Ha is specifically identified by each mount, each house and naturally-made carpet of white plum-flowers in spring. There are 14 ethnic minorities and the H’Mong ethnics count for 47% then the Dao, Tay, Nung, Phu La… Mountaineers take care of their horses as their properties, means of transport and close friends. Besides plums, Bac Ha is reputed for its alcohol (made of maize). Maize is grown on high mountains, its low in productivity but high in nutrition. To make alcohol, it’s fermented with Hong My seed (the local only plant). Bac Ha alcohol is well-known due to its source of water. So it’s surely believed never to have faulted one in Bac Ha market. Visitors can see the locals selling their own alcohol without feelings to be cheated.
Vientiane is the capital of Laos. Compared to the hectic, bustling capitals in other Southeast Asian countries, Vientiane’s deliciously relaxing atmosphere makes it feel like the small town it is. After you’ve done the round of temples, the best thing to do here has always been to wander down to the riverside, relax with a cold Beerlao – the national beer – and watch the sun set over the Mekong.
Of course, the booming tourism industry is changing this by slowly but surely bringing the excesses of Thailand and China to this formerly sleepy city. It has also become famous for bedbugs. Just like any other Southeast Asian capital/major city, Vientiane is experiencing a building boom. Even its Presidential Palace is having a major makeover-addition and a new convention centre has opened recently.
Settled since at least 1000 CE, Vientiane became an important administrative city of the Kingdom of Lan Xang (“million elephants”) in 1545. Ransacked in 1828 by the Siamese, Vientiane experienced a resurgence when it became the capital of the French protectorate, a position it kept after independence 1953, and was unchanged after the communist revolution in 1975. Today Vientiane is the largest city in Laos, with an estimated population of 210,000 in the city itself and some 700,000 in Vientiane Prefecture.
Vientiane is stretched out on the north-eastern bank of a bend in the Mekong River. From the river bank inland, the main roads running parallel to the river are Thanon Fa Ngum, Thanon Setthathirat and Thanon Samsenthai. The central district, Chanthabuli, contains most of Vientiane’s government offices, hotels and restaurants. Vientiane’s widest boulevard, Thanon Lane Xang, runs from the Presidential Palace (now used for government offices and for state receptions) to the northeast around Patuxai, the Victory Gate, towards Pha That Luang, the That Luang Stupa, the most important religious monument in Laos.
How to get there
Vientiane’s Wattay Airport (IATA: VTE, ICAO: VLVT) is 4 km west of the city. International services are quite limited, but this is slowly changing.
There are direct flights to/from:
Bangkok Suvarnabhumi: Thai Airways, two flights daily (code share with Lao Airlines) and Lao Airlines, one. Bangkok Aurways also operates one flight daily
Ho Chi Minh City (Viet Nam): Vietnam Airlines daily via Phnom Penh; Lao Airlines three times/week via Pakse
Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia): AirAsia daily.
Phnom Penh (Cambodia): Vietnam Airlines daily.
Kunming (Yunnan, West China): China Eastern Airlines operate four and Lao Airlines three flights weekly. Lao Airlines and the Lao Consulate both have offices in the Camellia Hotel, Kunming.
Singapore: Lao Airlines flies four times a week on Monday, Wednesday, Friday & Sunday.
Lao Airlines flies to five domestic destinations (three to five flights daily to Luang Prabang; once or twice daily to Pakse, four times per week to Huay Xai and Oudomxay, and six times per week to Xieng Khuang (Phonsavan).
Lao Air, the second Lao airline, operates two flights weekly each between Vientiane and Phongsali, Samneua and Sayaboury (Sainyabuli) (aircraft: Cessna).
Lao Central Airlines has daily flights between Vientiane and Luang Prabang (aircrafts: B737 and Sukhoil Superjet 100).
The railway link across the Mekong finally opened in March 2009, and there are now four shuttle services daily from Nong Khai to Tha Naleng, some 13 km away from Vientiane and reachable by shuttle bus from the Morning Market. The shuttle trains are timed to connect with overnight trains to and from Bangkok, with around 90 minutes buffer time at the Thai side of the border for buying tickets and Immigration.
The other option is to get off the train at Nong Khai and cross the border by bus via the Friendship Bridge. The Nong Khai station is just 1.5 km from the bridge, so if you take a tuk-tuk it should cost no more than 30-40 baht for all, after bargaining of course. Outside the station there’s an information board listing the official prices to the nearby destinations. Most tuk-tuk drivers will stop at a travel agent just outside the station and try to coerce you to buy both a Lao visa and shuttle bus to Vientiane. Don’t listen to them: you can get a visa and shuttle easily at the Lao border.
The Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge (Saphan Mittaphap) from Nong Khai, Thailand is the most common means of entry. The bridge cannot be crossed on foot or by bicycle (theoretically; however people have been seen strolling the bridge), but there are frequent 20 baht shuttle buses just past Thai immigration. The price changes depending on the time of day and day of week. You will get a receipt. Bicycles can be carried on buses in the cargo compartment.
Direct bus services to Talat Sao bus terminal from Nong Khai (55 baht), Khon Kaen (185 baht from Khon Kaen Aircon Bus Terminal (Prab-argat) at 07:45 (usually delayed till 08:00) and arrives Vientiane Talat Sao Bus Station around noon. Second bus departs at 15:15), Udon Thani (80 baht).
If you dont already have a Laos visa in your passport, bus will not wait for you at the Laos immigration point (you will have to take the local green bus 14 near immigration gates or tuk tuk
A direct bus from Hanoi takes at least 20 hours (despite what the travel agents might say, avg 24 hrs) and should cost about US$15-20. There is a twice a week VIP bus (better seats) and a local bus that departs every day. For the local bus: apparently you’re not always certain of a seat and Vietnamese people tend to sit and never get up again until you’ve arrived.
The journey from Hue is 14-18 hrs and should cost US$20-30. The bus arrives at Southern Terminal where you have to bargain hard with tuk-tuk drivers. The ride to town after midnight is 30,000 kip. There are local buses heading towards town from here that usually stop at the central market priced at about 10,000 kip.
If you arrive before 8 pm, ignore the Tuk-Tuk drivers, walk out the gate, to the right you’ll see a row of ATMs, right next to it a “bus shed” with seats. The Tuk-tuks will tell you the bus is cancelled, just left, etc. be patient and wait for the local bus to arrive. A bus to city centre is 3000 kip (March 2013).
The bus trip from Phnom Penh to Vientiane costs about US$50 if you go ‘VIP’: this involves a bed for the night portion of your trip; however unless you have a partner you will share the rather small bed with a random passenger of the same sex. The bed is comfortable, though there have been reports of leaking windows and wet mattresses.
At the Lao-Cambodian border, essentially the same form has to be filled out numerous times (to ensure each official gets his ‘fee’). If you can’t carry your luggage 500 m from the Cambodian border post to the Lao, you’re out of luck: the bus staff will have disappeared by now. The border process is hot, slow and enervating.
Regardless of what the travel agent or busline tells you, the Phnom Penh-Vientiane (or vice-versa) trip usually involves four separate buses, not two. The Phnom Penh-Lao border and Pakse-Vientiane legs are comfortable enough. However in between the border and Pakse in Southern Laos you will be crammed into a minibus or open van, sit on other people’s laps, etc, as the vehicle does the rounds of every guesthouse in the region. You will eventually be transferred into another van, and the process repeated. It can take 4-6 hours, and it is seldom clear where you are, where you are going, or who is in charge..
If the busline talks you into putting your luggage on a second bus (because of space problems), it is liable to vanish along the road.
The bus trip from Phnom Penh to Vientiane, or vice-versa, averages 27 hours.
From elsewhere in Laos
Buses to and from destinations in Vientiane Prefecture depart from the Talat Sao bus terminal, just east of the Morning Market. There is an informative schedule and schematic diagram of the bus piers painted on the central building, which is where you can also buy tickets.
The Southern Bus Terminal, used by all buses coming from the south (including VIP), is on Thanon Kaisone Phomvihane, which is the first stretch of the “Route 13 South”. IT is also called the Dongdok Bus Station. It is 10 km and, perversely, north east of the centre. If you are lucky, the cost of a tuk-tuk is 15,000 kip. Public bus number 23 or 29 stops by the entrance of the southern bus station and connects it with the Talat Sao bus terminal (Morning Market) at 5,000 kip, from where it is a ten minutes walk into the tourist centre.
The Northern Bus Terminal, recently moved out of city centre – about 20-30 minutes ride – is where all buses to the north arrive and depart.
Note that if you buy a bus ticket, with quite a margin, in town, it should include the transfer to the respective terminal.
What to see
Vientiane is best viewed as a comfortable transit point for other places in Laos, or as a recuperative stop on the way out. It’s a pleasant enough place, but generally, there is little reason to spend more than a couple of days here.
Lao National Museum (Revolutionary Museum ພິພິຕະພັນແຫ່ງຊາດ), Thanon Samsenthai (next to Lao Plaza Hotel). 08:00-12:00, then 13:00-16:00. Formerly the Lao Revolutionary Museum by name, the historical exhibits on the first floor are modest though very interesting in depicting some of the early history. They include one of the original Jars from the Plain of Jars and various stone and bronze age implements. The second floor provides us with a great insight into the 18th Century Laotian Kingdom and the customs of the day. It would appear that the Loatians didn’t treat their guests quite as well in those days, often keeping them from leaving the country for several months. The floor builds up to a fervently revolutionary pitch as it documents the heroic struggle of the Lao against the Siamese (Thai), French and American imperialists. Exhibits include items such as socks worn by Politburo members when they escaped from prison and Kaysone Phomvihane’s chest expander. The final rooms, on post-revolutionary Laos, are mostly a photo gallery of pressing topics such as the comrades of the 7th Plenary Session of the Laos People’s Congress inspecting fertilizer production processes. The final rooms provide an insight into some of the modern advancements, though these are fairly dowdy and uninspiring. A guestbook regularly features amusing arguments between young western visitors on the subject of communism. Most exhibits are labelled in English, though some French labelling remains, occasionally to the exclusion of English. Foreigner: 10000 kip, Laotian: 2000.
A local rendition of Paris’ Arc de Triomphe. Besides the elaborate Buddhist embellishment, it differs from the original in having four gates instead of two and being just a bit higher (to trump the French). Reasonably impressive from afar, a surprisingly frank English sign inside the monument labels it a “monster of concrete” when seen up close – and the concrete in question was donated by the US, although it was supposed to go towards a new airport instead: hence the nickname “the Vertical Runway”. The monument itself aside, the palm tree-lined park around it complete with fountains is quite pleasant though lacking of shade during the day time. You can climb up to the 7th story for a nice view of central Vientiane and three levels of souvenir shops with less than enthusiastic sales people sitting about. Features a musical fountain nearby that attracts visitors from around Laos and Asia, as well as a World Peace gong presented by Indonesia. Roving cameramen will be happy to charge you for photos near these attractions. 3000 kip (to climb).
COPE Visitor Centre, Khou Vieng Road (1km from Talat Sao (Morning Market) Opposite Green Park Hotel). 09:00-18:00. The Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise, or COPE, is a local not for profit organisation that provides orthotic, prosthetic, rehabilitation and advocacy services for survivors of UXO accidents and other people with disabilities in Laos. During the Vietnam War (1964-1973), conflict spilled over into Laos in a secret war where more than 500,000 bombing missions dropped over two million tons of ordnance on the country. The COPE Visitor Centre provides visitors with the opportunity to understand the impact of UXO on Lao PDR, issues related to disability in developing countries and the work of the COPE project through a free permanent exhibition. The Visitor Centre is open from 9am to 6pm daily. Visitors are invited to watch documentaries on UXO, read survivor stories and interact with rehabilitative devices. The Visitor Centre also hosts a gift shop selling wares from local Lao organisations and the Karma Café where delicious homemade ice cream and Lao coffee are available. Exhibits are appropriate for all ages. Free parking. Free entry.
The Art of Silk, Manthatourath Road, Lao Women’s Union, ☎ 7719798 or 2202547. Mon-Fri 9am-4pm. A local magazine says “Phone before visiting as there is no permanent staff.” free(?).
Kaysone Phomvihane Museum, km6 Dongdok Road, ☎ 911215. Tue-Sun 09:00-16:00. Museum about Kaysone Phomvihane. Foreigner: 5,00 kip, Laotian: 2,000 kip.
Lao People’s Army History Museum, Kaysone Phomvihane Road, Ban Nongsangthong, ☎ 900662. Tue-Sun 08:30-16:30. Museum about the army. Foreigner: 5000, Laotian: 2000.
Memorial of president Souphanouvong, Kaysone Phomvihane Road, Ban Phonsa-art. Tue-Sun 08:30-16:00. Foreigner: 5000, Laotian: free.
Temples and Stupas
Some temples (indicated below) charge an entry fee of 2,000/5,000 kip for Lao nationals and foreigners and are open 08:00-16:00, with a noon-13:00 lunch break. The monks of those that don’t charge a fee will be grateful for a small donation in the box.
Wat Si Saket, the oldest standing temple in Vientiane
Wat Si Saket now signposted as Sisaket Museum. Entrance fee 5,000 kip. Corner of Thanon Lane Xang and Thanon Setthathirat. With very contemplative ambience, probably the oldest standing temple in Vientiane and among the most atmospheric. Built in 1818 by Chao Anou in the Bangkok style and hence left unsacked when much of Vientiane was razed in a Siamese raid in 1828. Within the cloister walls are hundreds of niches housing Buddha images large and small, made of wood, stone, silver and bronze. In the centre of the courtyard is a five-tier-roofed sim (ordination hall) housing yet more Buddha niches and beautiful but fading murals of the Buddha’s past lives.
Hophakaew Museum. Entrance fee 5,000 kip. Thanon Setthathirat (opposite Wat Si Saket). An elegant, and majestic structure, King Setthathirat’s former royal temple, which housed the magical Emerald Buddha (pha kaew) after it was taken from Lanna (Chiang Mai). The Siamese took it back in 1779 – the image is now housed in Bangkok’s Wat Phra Kaew – and came back in 1828 to raze the temple for good measure. The present structure is a 1942 reconstruction of dubious provenance. The temple no longer operates and the interior has been turned into a small jumbled museum housing Buddha images; look out for the beautiful tall, lithe, long-armed Buddha in the hands-down “calling for rain” pose.
Black Stupa (That Dam). Thanon Bartholomie (off Thanon Samsenthai near the US embassy). The mythical abode of a seven-headed dragon that protects Vientiane. It was renovated in 1995 but still has an attractive patina of age, and is slowly being overgrown again by lush grass vegetation. Warning: there have been dog attacks here at night.
Pha That Luang. 5,000 kip Entrance fee (2,000 kip for Laotians). Thanon That Luang (2 km east from Patuxai). The national symbol and most important religious monument of the country, That Luang is a three-layered gilded stupa. The current version dates from 1566, although it has been ransacked and renovated numerous times since then. All days 08:00-12:00, 13:00-16:00. Accessing the inner courtyard gives you a slightly closer view of the stupa, and lots of Buddha statues. Vientiane’s most important festival, Bun That Luang, is held here in November on the night of the full moon.
There are two temples beside That Luang: Wat That Luang Neua to the north(ish) and Wat That Luang Tai to the south(ish), both presently being renovated.
Wat Si Muang. Between Thanons Setthatirat and Samsenthai, about 1km east of the centre. Free. Disney-esque and gaudy in set-up, one would not think that it’s a religious compound. Despite its small size, the temple is very active. Followers believe that lifting the small uddha statue 3 times from its cushion means that your prayers or questions will be answered. The city pillar is being housed in a pagoda-like structure now being constructed separately on another block northwest across the street.
Wats Onteu, Inpeng, Mixay and Haisok are along Thanon Setthatirat right in the town centre, and therefore the most likely temples to be visited by tourists.
There are many more temples all over the town, but it must be said that if you are out to admire temples Luang Prabang is the place to go, not Vientiane.
Buddha Park (Xieng Khuan) is a bizarre outdoor collection of huge concrete sculptures of Buddhist & Hindu deities, and real & imaginary beasts. The reclining Buddha is especially impressive. Built in 1958 by mystic Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat, who left the country after the communist take-over, and in 1978 he established a similar but more impressive park (Sala Keoku or Sala Kaew Ku) across the river in Nong Khai, Thailand. Located 24 km from the city, it’s about 6 km to the east of the Friendship Bridge – hence it’s well worth visiting on the way into or out of Laos if you’re crossing the Friendship Bridge, as this will save a 48 km round trip if you visit from and return to Vientiane. You can hire a tuk-tuk for the entire Vientiane – Buddha Park – Friendship bridge (or vice versa) trip, but taking the public bus #14 is much cheaper. The bus #14 leaves Talat Sao station to Xieng Khuan at 15 to 20 min intervals. The timetable is painted on the wall near the ticket office. Fare is 6,000 kip one-way, and it is no problem to flag down a bus on the way back or to the Friendship Bridge. The buses can be dilapidated minibuses without air-conditioning or new air-conditioned coaches sponsored by a foreign country. You may be required to change buses at the Friendship Bridge to another bus (also #14), in which case the fare will be 4,000 kip to the bridge and 2,000 kip for the remaining distance. The conductor will advise accordingly.
On the main road (Thanon Thadeua), just before the access road to the Bridge branches off, is the National Ethnic Cultural Park where typical houses of various ethnic groups are on display, although only from the outside unless a custodian unlocks some of them. There also are some statues of dinosaurs and a rather dismal small “zoo”. Generally the only activity are kiosks selling drinks and snacks, but there are said to be occasional cultural shows. Tour operators often take their guests here before or after a visit to the Buddha Park. Well, but it is not a place to go out of your way to visit.
The project for the preservation of the old Vientiane Wall, Ban Nonghai (traffic light the way to go to Thadeua), ☎ 330-164 or 560-7620. 08:00-17:00. ” free.
What to do
Monk Chat. Once a month, local monks gather at the Sangha College (Wat Onteu) for chats with tourists.
Green Discovery Laos, on Setthathirat Road (next to Khop Chai Deu). Agency organising adventure tours and eco-tourism. They have a 100% safety record. The trips are environmentally friendly and socially responsible. Green Discovery is committed to ensure that local people not only benefit financially from tourism but also are their true business partners by helping to develop our programs and activities. City tour Vientiane: See the landmarks and highlights of Tad Luang with its Buddha relics, of the Kaisone Phomvihane and Hor Pra Kheo museums, of Wat Sisakhet and Wat Simuang, or Patuxai, the ‘vertical landing strip’, all of which have to tell their own stories. Embark on day tours to Nam Ngum reservoir or the whimsical Buddha Park. In the outskirts of Vientiane, take a thrill with zip-line adventures inside the Nam Lik forest, watch wild elephants at Ban Na, or discover the beautiful world of orchids of Phou Khao Khouay. Start from here cross-country motorbike or cycling tours, enjoy kayaking trips to Vang Vieng or do cave expeditions.
Zip-Lining Adventure. Beginning of January 2010 Green Discovery opend up the first Zip-Lining park in Nam Lik just 2h away from Vientiane. Zip-lining gets you the feel of freedom while whooshing from tree to tree along steel wires in up to 37 meters height and 180 meters in length! Scaling the dizzying heights on ropes, giant nets, sling or U-bridges and getting back to earth through ‘abseiling’ adds to the extra-ordinary excitement.
Trekking through nature parks. The National Protected Area of Phou Khao Khouay is the nearest National Park to Vientiane, the nearest point just over an hour away. Besides some great scenery and beautiful waterfalls, the NPA offers trails through dry evergreen and mixed deciduous forests, numerous waterfalls and rivers. Wildlife is abundant but elusive. Tours can be booked with Green Discovery Laos email@example.com.
Picnicking on the Shores of Nam Ngum Lake, 90 km from Vientiane. A local favourite. There are floating restaurants along the lake shore; their specialty is fish fresh from the lake. Cruises among the lake’s islands can be booked here, which makes for a relaxing couple of hours. Just inquire at your guest house/hotel or at any travel agency (where they will then try to sell their tours).
Lao Massage, ☎ 02028582332. Your masseur or masseuse will be grateful for a tip. The staff will be happy if you have the decency to take a shower before you go. They won’t say anything to your face, but smelly foreigners make their job less than pleasant. The one next to The Drop Zone on Chao Anou Road is particularly delightful. The massage parlour does not really have a name, and the most prominent signboard merely says “now open”. US$10-16/hour.
Centre Culturel et de Cooperation L’inguistique (French Cultural Centre), Lane Xang Road. Has a French library and a small theatre that shows plays and films.
Grooming (Holiday Barber), Chou Anou Road (across from the Home Ideal Department Store). The best salon in Vientiane. To get an idea of how reasonable the pricing is, here are some of the services and their prices: 1 hour long massage for 30,000 kip, manicure/pedicure and foot scrape for 30,000 kip, Brazilian blowout 100,000 kip.
Muay Lao (Kickboxing) (Kuanjai Sikhot Boxing Gym), (on the same road as the airport, going out of town; head towards the Sekhai Market. Make a right turn right before the market, then go straight and make the first left turn, go straight another 700 m), ☎ 020 566 32835. A national sport of Lao PDR. Similar to Muay Thai, but not a tourist trap like most gyms in Thailand.
Meditation (Lao Dhamma Center), (on Route 13, to the south, at km38). Peaceful Buddhist meditation centre with a daily schedule dedicated to sincere meditation practice. Foreigners are welcome. It is difficult to find such a place elsewhere in Laos.
Bicycle Touring (Vientiane ByCycle), (tours start at the parking lot of Khong View Restaurant), ☎ +856 205 581 2337. half and full day. Vientiane ByCycle offers awesome guided bicycle tours through and around Vientiane. They take you off the beaten track to places where you usually wouldn’t go. Along villages, temples, school yards, the banks of Mekong River, crematoria, markets, and local businesses. They have excellent quality mountain bikes. Make reservations through their website.
Adina Spa, 170 Phonesaath, Kaysone Road (half a kilometre north of Patuxay Monument.), ☎ +856 21 414138. Daily, 09:00- 22:00. Adina Spa is well-known as the first to have opened its doors to offer full service spa and massage treatments in Vientiane. Started in 2005, this spa has provided excellent service to visiting dignitaries.
Champa Spa, Fa Ngum Road (on the Mekong Riverfront), ☎ +856 21 251926. Daily, 09:00 – 22:00. Champa Spa has pretty much has all the services you would expect from a spa and massage place.
Lao Experiences Cooking Course and Food Tours, (Bookings at The Full Moon Cafe), ☎ 020 95553097/02055699429. Daily. Learn about Lao people and their culture. Cook Lao-style in the garden on a quiet stretch of the Mekong River.
Cooking Class Lao Experiences & Food Tours (firstname.lastname@example.org), Book at The Full Moon Cafe, ☎ 020566699429. The Lao cooking class is in a secret location 15 minutes from the town centre in a Mekong River Village. You use traditional cooking methods and learn about Lao people as you cook. The Fresh Market Tour & Taste at the biggest market in the city plus a visit to a cute family café in a family compound added to our understanding of this city and it’s people.
Where to eat
There are many restaurants in Vientiane. They offer a wide selection of cuisines, from Chinese to Tex-Mex. More restaurants open all the time, but many are there for just a few months before they go under. A few are successful and stay and may even flourish. It’s a question of offering something special, either in the way of the food served, or the atmosphere, or the friendly and competent service.
Noodle shops can be found all over the town. They typically serve rice noodle soups (“feu”, a close cousin to Vietnamese phở and Chinese 粉 fan2), often also fried rice and other rice or noodle-based dishes. Prices are very moderate: around 1 USD for a large bowl or plate.
Ban Anou Night Market is only about 1 block long and starts setting up at sundown, but it has some of the best cheap eats in town. There’s a wide range of street snacks available, including pho made with hand-pulled noodles, little lettuce-wrapped snacks with peanut filling (miang), all types of grilled skewered meats, grilled sticky rice, local beverages made from coconut, chai tea, corn grass jelly, and more. Particularly worth trying are the small rice pancakes. Two hemispheres of rice-based batter are fried in a tin, filled with minced pork and bean sprouts and put together. About the size of a flattened tennis ball, and absolutely delicious.
Ray’s Grille, (Rays Grille Laos 17/1 Sihom Road ,Vientiane Laos. Near many backpacker hotels and hostels), ☎ 2058966866. Serves delicious Philly cheesesteaks,Burritos, quesadillas,Large fresh salads & beef smoked hotdgs. Baguettes are freshly-baked each day and sandwiches are given generous amounts of mozzarella and cheddar cheeses. Middle-eastern options, Falafel,Kofta, are accompanied by home-made tahini or tzatziki sauce. The quality of the food is rivalled only by the friendliness of the chef. “Ray” is the owner’s young son.
Stay Hungry Burger, (Setthathirat Road near Nam Phu, in front of State Bookstore), ☎ +8562077516084. Stay Hungry Burger’s claim is true, you really do stay hungry after eating there as the burger are the smallest in town.
Vegetarian / Vegan
Happy Golden Age A reasonably priced (15,000kip for noodle soup) vegan restaurant. Seems to be Vietnamese-centric with assortment of mock meats and dishes. Staff was nice, place was clean, they spoke some English. Its where Rue Saylom curves behind the “Vientiane Plaza”.
Nirvana Simuang Road. (a small road connecting Sethattirat Road to Khou Vieng Road. in Ban Simuang, Muang Sisattanak, close to the famous tourist site Wat Simuang). Delicious Lao traditional vegetarian/vegan food with some Western-style options. Nice change from the mostly Chinese-style offer of other buffets. High diversity and rotation rates. In the evening, ask for the menu (they have two – one basic one with pictures and another, much larger). 20,000 kip buffet at lunch hours. Open M-Sa. Family-managed, very clean. Some English spoken. Tel: +856 21 217 385.
Vegan restaurant @ Talat Khuadin Inside the market opposite the Talat Sao. Pass the big basket shop and you will see a wooden sign pointing you down an alley. Offers a lunch time buffet serving vegan Laotian food. You can also get there from Mahosot Road: go north past the bus station and watch for the alley on the right. Down the alley you’ll see a “vegetarian” sign on the left. The buffet is open from 10:00 to 14:30 for 20,000 kip per person.
Vegan food stall @ Talat Sao food court (at the top level of Talat Sao shopping mall). All plates at 10,000 kip each. Buffet plates, excellent veg spring rolls and noodle soups.
Benoni Cafe, on the first floor of Phimphone Market (entrance next to it), opens from 10:00 to 17:00, and offers a wide range of reasonably priced Asian and European dishes. The owners are Lao, but speak fluent English, French, and German. daily specials and home roasted coffee beans, basis for one of the best coffees in town. Busy at lunch time, discounts after 14:00.
Café des Arts, Heng Boun Road (close to Lao Cultural Hall), ☎ +856 021 212 260. M-F, 10:00-14:00, 17:00-23:00; weekends evenings only. Excellent home-made pasta and pizzas for around US$6-7, as well as a good selection of wines, including by the glass. Accepts kip, Thai baht, Euros, US dollars. Most expensive pizza, 73,000 kip.
Café Indochine, Setthathirat Road. Authentic Vietnamese food. Particularly recommended: the set meals at about US$4-5. When there are more than just a few guests, the kitchen staff may lose sight of their priorities.
Chokdee, Mekong road. Belgian food and Belgian beers. Good food, but the fries were a bit disappointing. Rather sloppy and not the Belgian quality they claim they serve. The restaurant serves a wide selection of Belgian beers as well as Beerlao. Maybe not the place to go for cocktails though.
Aria Mixai Italian Culinary Arts 8 Rue Francois Ngin, Ban Mixai , Phone: +856 30 570 0831, or +856 21 222 589 [www.ariaorg.com] . Finest Italian dining in the capital, real Neapolitan pizza with wood fired oven, superb Italian cuisine, excellent selection of homemade pasta’s and gourmet choice of meats and fishes, and a really good ice-cream bar. The most popular buffet in town. Extensive Italian wine list ranked among the top ten in Asia. Price Range from 6$ up
Balkan House, Thongsangnang Village (from Thongkhankham market, second traffic light left, than first street right opposite Nakhomesack Hotel, down the street 300 m on the left side), ☎ 020 7709 729. Tu-Su 08:00-15:00 & 18:00-23:00. Traditional Yugoslav and Mediterranean home-made dishes, prepared by a Montenegrin chef. From US$5-15.
La Belle Epoque in the Settha Palace Hotel. Excellent food in an atmosphere of colonial elegance but the service needs improvement. Main courses starting at US$8.
Nam Phou. The first and arguably the best of the restaurants around the Fountain (Nam Phu), with good food and exceptional service. A favourite of NGO types.
L’Opera: at the Fountain; good Italian food, but not quite comparable to what you get in the owner’s home country. Good pizzas. Don’t go there if you cannot stand opera – it is played continuously in the background though not, fortunately, so loud that it drowns the conversation.
The massive influx in recent years of Chinese investment into Laos may be controversial, but one area in which it has had an undeniably positive impact is the vastly increased quality of Chinese restaurants in Vientiane. No reason anymore to settle for the ghastly Hong Kong Restaurant or uninspired banquet fare in the big hotels. Vientiane has a growing selection of authentic regional Chinese cuisine, particularly from the southwest.
Fu Man Lou 福滿樓 (Tel: 21-262249; mobile: 020-55519185), Luang Prabang Road: this restaurant is so successful it now has two locations. The one on the road to the airport is the best by far. It is the most established of the better Chinese restaurants in the city, and the Chinese diplomats posted to Laos often dine here. Food selection is multi-regional, but the Sichuan dishes are well done.
Dihao Hunan Restaurant 帝豪酒店 (Tel: 21-262799), on T2 Road not far from Patuxai. If you are craving spicy Hunan fare, Dihao serves up some of the best you’ll find this side of Changsha. Hunanese-owned and operated (the Hunan Chamber of Commerce is on the 4th floor), Dihao is likely the finest and most authentic Chinese restaurant in Vientiane at the moment. Staff speak Chinese and Lao, and the menu is same, but every dish has its own photo. Order anything containing chilies, and you can’t go wrong.
Jiu-Jiu Restaurant 久玖酒家 (Tel: 21-213059; mobile: 020-55333419), Luang Prabang Road (almost directly opposite the Marina Nightclub): an unheralded gem, this restaurant offers fantastic southwestern Chinese cuisine. The chef hails from Qujing 曲靖 in Yunnan Province. The food is best described as Yunnan-Sichuan fusion. Helps if you know Chinese, but the staff can speak Lao as well. Menu contains plenty of photographs, so if all else fails, just point.
Where to drink
Vientiane has a few bars/clubs, and there’s no shortage of places for a quiet Beerlao. In particular, the Mekong shoreline has long been the epicentre of low-key night life, although a massive construction project to build a flood management system and a riverside park has seen most of the bamboo-and-thatch beer gardens here disappear.
Bor Pen Nyang, (Fa Ngum Road (the river promenade), ☎ +856 20 787 3965. Breezy fourth-floor (no elevator) bar/restaurant which overlooks the Mekong. Tourists, locals, expats, working girls and ladyboys in seeming harmony. Claims the most extensive fine whisky range in Laos and stocks a wide range of liquors. Special daily cocktail for 20,000 kip. Pool & snooker tables on the 2nd floor. At the back of the bar there is a winner stays/loser pays pool competition every night.
CCC Bar, Supanvong Road, Ban Haai Sok. The second of two gay bars in downtown Vientiane, located next to Silapa Restaurant and catty-corner from Vat Inpeng. Friendly atmosphere and staff with good dance beats. Mixed drinks typical cost around 30,000 kip, with happy hour between 19:00 and 21:00. Second floor has a dance floor.
Deja Vu, (next to L’Opera Restaurant on Nam Phu Square (Fountain)). A classy and cozy bar, owned and run by a Japanese-speaking Lao owner. Closed on Sundays. Approximately 50K kip per cocktail.
Don Chan Palace. closes at 04:00 on weekends. An after-hours club popular with working girls. Closed now for renovation.
GQ Bar, (off Rue Chao Anou (the same street as the Inter City and Lao Orchid Hotel, off Fa Ngum Road along the river)). One of two gay bars in downtown Vientiane. Closes between midnight and 01:00, when some head off to the @Home nightclub. Friendly staff, crazy owner, cheap drinks, and occasional cabaret shows around 24:00.
Jazzy-Brick, (Setthathirat Road nearly opposite Kop Chai Deu). A classy, and expensive, bar. The sign out front states “no shorts, no flip-flops allowed”.
Where to stay
There are numerous places to stay in Vientiane, but there is little budget accommodation. Most options are mid to high-range for Lao standards, and can go up to astronomic prices exceeding the yearly salary of most Laotians, and which can not be paid in local currency. In recent years many new establishments have opened, but mid-2007 the Government announced plans to restrict the number of new permits: they wish to concentrate on quality rather than quantity. The days that anyone could convert their home to a guest house seem to be over.
Budget accommodation in Vientiane fills quickly and can be difficult to find by late afternoon.
Benacam Guest House, Ban Watchan. checkout: 11:00. Clean, nice rooms, great value. Nice bathrooms with great water pressure, real shower, clean bed linen. Rooms can be small, have fridge and cable TV. Wi-Fi, although signal can be weak in areas.
DreamTime Eco Retreat, ☎ +856 20 77 895 721 (email@example.com). If you are looking for peace and quiet, this is the place. Seven bungalows scattered in the jungle with a small stream. Mike, the owner, is really nice and helpful with everything. Located 30 km from the city. Price depends on the type of bungalow, 30,000-90,000 kip.
Mimi Guest House, (Francois Ngin Road), ☎ +856 20 55 666 736. Doubles for 50,000 kip.
Mixay Guesthouse, 54 Nokeo Koummane Road. Simple rooms with fan and shared bathroom. Friendly staff. Clean, but has ventilation issues in some rooms (especially on the top floor where there is a smoking section). Watch your head on the stairs, watch your step, and be patient with the staff. Free Wi-Fi, but only between 09:00 and 23:00. Dorms with/without breakfast 50,000/45,000 kip, single with/without breakfast 70,000/65,000, Double with common bathroom with/without breakfast 90,000/85,000, double with bathroom with/without breakfast 100,000/90,000 kip, double with air-con with/without breakfast 110,000/100,000 kip.
Asian Pavilion Hotel, 379 Samsenthai Road. Good, if not quite their self-proclaimed “fascinating” mid-range choice. Formerly known as the Hotel Constellation as chronicled in John le Carre’s, The Honourable Schoolboy. Rooms from US$26 with air-con, hot water, cable TV, breakfast and airport transfer.
Baan Champa Lao Heritage Hotel, 125 Phnompehn Road (Anou Village), ☎ +856 20 50 23782, 20 55 05840 (firstname.lastname@example.org). Baan Champa is a clean modest hotel. It’s a family-run, relatively new and is located in a quiet area only 2 blocks from the National Museum and Cultural Centre. Itmis possible to book a bus to Luang Prabang and train tickets to Bangkok at reception. They are extremely kind and helpful. Room rates US$15-25 incl breakfast (toast, fruit, tea, coffee).
Beau Rivage Mekong Hotel, Fa Ngum Road (on the river road but at the shady tree-lined stretch that has not yet been “developed”, a few hundred metres upriver from where the road has been asphalted). New, very nice. All rooms have Wi-Fi, courtesy of the HBRM Spirit House next door. Room prices from US$40-70 depending on season and single or double occupancy.
Settha Palace Hotel, 6 Pang Kham Street (right at the end of the street, north from Nam Phu past Lao Plaza and Days Inn Hotels). Built circa 1932, the luxurious Hotel has been restored to its former charm. Re-opened in 1999, the French colonial architecture, its period furniture and its landscaped gardens with a free-form pool, complemented by modern facilities, are some of the features of this historical landmark in the heart of Vientiane. If you see a London taxicab cruising the streets, it’s theirs, used to ferry guests around. They have an excellent restaurant “La Belle Epoque” (see below) and an open air sidewalk café. Room rates from US$105.
Green Park Boutique Hotel and Resort, Thanon Ku Vieng (About 1 km east from the Morning Market). A newer boutique hotel built in Lao style – several buildings in a garden setting. Nice pool. It is somewhat away from the centre, but ideal to “get away from the bustle”. Recent guest complaints about lost or stolen items have been verified by local authorities. Be careful with your belongings at this hotel. (Shuttle bus to the city centre every hour until 22.00). Room rates depend on season and start at 100 to 125 USD (single); 110 to 130 (double).
Don Chan Palace, (far out at the eastern end of the river promenade). This hotel was completed in 2004, almost complying with the municipality’s town planning by-laws which at the time limited buildings in Vientiane to 7 storeys, although Don Chan has 14. Offers panoramic views of the city. It has a swimming pool overlooking the Mekong and a popular open-air beer garden overlooking the Mekong which gets crowded late in the evening. Rooms are showing their age, and often smell of stale cigarettes. Slightly far from the centre but hotel provides shuttle service. From US$68.
Salana Boutique Hotel, Chao Anou Road, 112 Ban Wat Chan, Chanthabouly District (just 2 minutes walk from the Mekong River and Chao Anou Park), ☎ +85621254254. Recently named by Frommer’s Budget Travel Magazine as one of the best boutique hotels in the world, Salana Boutique Hotel was revamped from the old site of Xaysana Hotel, and opened only recently in October 2010. Boasting a total of 41 rooms, Salana Boutique Hotel offers an excellent location in the centre of the city and near to the Mekong River, the recently finished Chao Anou Park, as well and other nearby attractions. The hotel is well known among business travellers and tourists, and have received many positive reviews since opening. price.
Mercure Vientiane, Unit 10 Samsenthai Road, P.O.Box 585, Samsenthai Road, Sikhotabong (150 m west of Fa Ngum Park), ☎ (+856) 21/213570/1 (email@example.com, fax: (+856)21/213572/3). Has absorbed the former Novotel in new premises, where it provides the standard it’s 4-star status demands. Truly friendly staff with surprisingly good English, a peaceful courtyard with spotless pool, fitness centre and steam bath. Very family-friendly. Quality Sunday brunch (11:00-15:00) at 130,000 kip including use of pool and fitness centre. Saturday and Sunday poolside BBQ (15:00-18:00). Despite the price range, Wi-Fi usage costs extra (starting from 20,000 kip per hour). Rooms from 49 USD (all prices +10% service charge +10% taxes).
Ben Tre is the capital of eponymous Ben Tre Province in southern Vietnam. Although only a 20 min ferry-ride away from bustling My Tho, this seems to be barrier enough to give the town a genuine backwater feeling. Tourists are still a scarce species and locals are open and friendly.
Ben Tre Province provides some of the most beautiful scenery in the Mekong delta. The milk coffee colored waters wind their way along small channels lined with water palms, thatch and bamboo houses are nestled in the lush orchards. The famous Vietnamese poet Nguyen Dinh Chieu was born in Ben Tre Province, but until now this fact hasn’t spawned touristic exploitation.
How to get there
Ferries from Rach Mieu in My Tho (20 min/24h) arrive some 10 km north of Ben Tre, so you might want to hire a Xe Om to take you to the town center.
There is also a ferry from Vinh Long Province to the north-western part of the island, again you may want to hire some sort of transport to cover the remaining distance to Ben Tre town. There is also bus 8 from ferry pier to Ben Tre. It seems frequent, costs about 25,000 Dong for 2h trip. You will need a taxi (moto ~ 20,000 Dong for 10min ride). Pay attention when arriving in Ben Tre as the bus goes to outer bus station. Best seems to stop at the roundabout after the two big bridge and Mat Kinh Dien Bien Phu optic shop and take a taxi (moto ~ 15-20k Dong) to the town center.
Direct (mini-)bus services from Ho Chi Minh City are to be found at Cholon and Mien Tay bus station. A new bridge, constructed in 2009, now connects the city to My Tho so the bus ride is direct, without a ferry. On arrival at the bus station in Ben Tre, a very welcoming man with good English will try to get you to his travelling guide rated guest house by showing books and stuff. In fact, the ride there takes you back where your bus came from, halfway to My Tho, about 10km from Ben Tre. Make sure to get from Ben Tre bus station into the town of Ben Tre, not elsewhere.
How to get around
The town is stretched along the river, so a bicycle or a motorbike seem to be the best way, especially if you are planning to take it to the orchards on the far side of the river.
What to see
There are no real sights in their own right, but you could have a look at the unspoiled market or visit the rice wine factory on the south bank, 0.5 km west from the old bridge. You can also visit the inevitable coconut candy factory here. It’s a must if you haven’t been to one yet, since in this “factory” basically everything is done by hand.
What to do
Trung Tam Dieu / Ben Tre tour operation center (closed during lunch) has some tours by boat (US$ 25/30 for 1/2 persons 3-4h), by bike or cart and homestay addresses. It also gives some information on the city. Another option is to speak to one of the man standing around the tourist oriented boat pier (best change is between 2PM and 5PM), which is located on the area west of the new bridge. Some offer nice boat tours combined with biking on one of the islands for around 30USD.
Explore the Delta. boat trips are one of the nicest ways to negotiate the network of channels, but the land in between the waters is just as fascinating. It’s fun to follow some of the small trails along the channels, crossing sidearms on very basic bridges and walking by fruit and coconut orchards.
Coconut candy factory. There are apparently four factories across town. The shop selling the coconut candy (keo dua) is in the front and the factory is in the back. The visit of the factory where you see the women making the handmade candy is free. 212B Dai Lo Dong Khoi (there is a second shop across the street). Enjoy!
Ben Tre green tourist (Bao Duyen Tourist), 18D, An Thuan A, My Thanh An, TP Ben Tre, Ben Tre, Viet Nam (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org), ☎ 0753817366 – 01267593979.
There is a big coopmart with low Air conditioning (food, department store, game center) near ‘Cong Vien Dong Khoi’ park and north of lake/pond
Where to eat
The usual food stalls are found around the market. Be warned that one of the favourite soups in the Delta, Hu Tieu, contains boiled intestines and liver, so choose wisely. There is also a floating restaurant near the old bridge. Sweet bakery for breakfast? Go to the huge CoopMart (8-22) just behind street Hai Ba Trung. It’s very good here and budget.
Nam Song, Phan Ngoc Tong. Attention extra 2,000 Dong if you use the wet tissu. I never saw a single local eating here, and we were never able to get food here. prices from 25k (com ga) to 250k (tom xao).
Where to drink
Coldest beer in Ben Tre? Go to the Oasis. Bar closes at 9.30pm.
Club 007: Most popular nightclub in town. Extremely loud techno(earplugs recommended). Only busy on weekends. Mostly 18-30 year old crowd with some slightly older, wealthy locals in the VIP area.
AP 1 – Xa Son Dong – QL60 – TP Ben Tre Ph: 075 3833 369
Where to stay
Ham Luong Hotel, 200 Nguyen Van Tu, 5th Ward, ☎ (+84-75)818 595. One of the best hotels in Ben Tre and fancy for a three star hotel with outside swimming pool, steam bath and sauna. Buffet breakfast is a mix between asian and western food. All rooms have cable internet, TV with English channels and so on. Next to Ben Tre tourist. Rooms between 17 – 39 dollars.
Khach San Phuong Hoang, 28, Hai Ba Trung, Phuong 2, TP. Ben Tre (town center, north of ho truc giang lake/pond), ☎ 0722.214.171.124. Cold shower (some hot ?), Fan or Air condition, Free wifi, Limited english-speaking staff between 120-180,000 Dong for a single room.
Khach San Dong Khoi / Dong Khoi Hotel, 16, Hai Ba Trung, Phuong 2, TP. Ben Tre (town center, north of ho truc giang lake/pond), ☎ 075.3822501 – 075.3822632 (email@example.com, fax: 075.3822240). hot water except cheapest rooms, free wifi, restaurant, karaoke, massage single 150-240k, strangely prices dropped if checkin after 4pm 100-120k.
Nha Nghi 99, 73, Phan Ngoc Tong, Phuong 2, TP. Ben Tre (town center, street south of ho truc giang lake/pond), ☎ 075.3831234, 075.3811233. Air condition, no wifi, limited english-speaking staff. single 150k Dong.
Oasis hotel, 151 My Thanh An, Ben Tre 1234, Vietnam (across river), ☎ 0752467799. kiwi and vietnamese owners, free wifi, swimming-pool, english, viet, khmer spoken. cold beer, local knowlebge. number one on trip advisor
Que Huong, 38 Hai Ba Trung (Red house in front of the town’s chilly lake.), ☎ 075 3835 888. All rooms with hot shower and fresh towel, Fan 100k-120k, A/C 160k-180k. Good service, limited English and friendly.
Hai Long Hotel, 500 A2, KP2, Tan Phu, Ben Tre City, Ben Tre, Viet Nam ((Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)(English speaking : 0918.516.626 )), ☎ 0753.8511236 – 0753.829505.
Two star hotel 100 – 300k Dong.
How to get out
to Ho Chi Minh City: 70k Dong, on tran quoc tuan street north of the lake/pond.
to My Tho: ~20k, on dong khoi street, bus stop near school
The cargo boats also will take you to places like Tra Vinh, Can Tho or Vinh Long. The boats leave between 8h30 and 9h every day. It takes a very long time, but it’s a adventurous and cheap option (expect to pay between 60.000VND and 120.000VND each person). They leave from the area east of the new bridge. Boats are light blue.
Ba Tri: 40 minute scooter ride east of Ben Tre
Phu Quoc is a very mountainous and densely forested Island of 1320 sq km; it is 48 km in length from south to north and has a population of approx. 80,000 people. Situated in the Gulf of Thailand 45 km west of Ha Tien on the Vietnamese mainland and 15 km south of the coast of Cambodia, Phú Quôc is ringed with some of most beautiful beaches in Vietnam, and offers the best seafood in the country. Phú Quôc Island served as a based for French missionary Pigneau de Behaine from the 1760-80s and at one time he provided shelter here for Prince Nguyen Anh (later Emperor Gia Long) when he was being hunted by the Tay Son rebels. During the Vietnam war there was little fighting here but the Island was used by the Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces as a prison for captured Viet Cong. Phú Quôc is not really a part of the Mekong delta and also doesn’t share the delta’s extraordinary ability to produce rice & fruit due to its soil quality and inaccessible terrain. It is, however, home to the best Fish sauce (nuoc mam) in the world, also reputedly known to produce high quality pepper and fantastic seafood. Another point of interest in Phú Quôc is the island’s native dog; this dog was originally a wild animal and later trained as a hunting dog by local people. These days they are very domesticated and it’s unusual to go anywhere on the island without seeing one of these dogs! These animals have unusually sharp teeth (as they tear their food when they eat it rather than bite) and have claws that over the years have been conditioned for catching their prey and are razor sharp.
Phú Quôc is still what Phuket would be if it hadn’t been overrun by development. Phú Quôc island and its beaches was voted to be “The Most Cleanest and Beautiful Beach of World” by ABC News as from the end of February, 2008. However, this is about to change. There are extensive plans to develop Phú Quôc, including high-rise residential areas, several new towns and suburbs, complete rebuilding of Duong Dông’ city center, and replacing the existing small PQC airport. The new international airport south of Duong Dông is under construction and expected to open in 2013 or 2014. The main north-south road between Bai Thom and An Thoi is already being upgraded to a 2+2 lane highway, a new tared road from Duong Dông to Gan Dau is ready as far as Cua Can, which has a new bridge. A golf areal is planned as well as a casino in the north. A ferry connection to Sihanoukville (Cambodia) an visa-free-entry have been discussed in the past. Phú Quôc will be something completely different in 10 years if the current plans do materialize soon.
Phu Quoc Island has a tropical climate which has three seasons: High, Shoulder and Low Season.
High Season: During the period between November to March, where the daily maximum temperature is typically and on average about 31 C, and the daily minimum temperatures (before sunrise) about 23 C. The skies are generally sunny, with possibly some light high cloud in early morning that clears by mid-morning, and the humidity is at it lowest throughout the year.
Shoulder Season: During the period between April to June and late October, where the temperatures are a bit higher than during the high season, and the humidity around 80-85%. Crowds are less during this time and good chances of reasonable weather.
Low Season: During the period between July to September, which is dominated by the monsoons.
How to get there
Visitors from any country arriving to Phu Quoc by cruise ship no longer need a visa for stays of up to 15 days. A passport with at least 45 days’ validity is still necessary.
Visitors arriving in Phú Quôc by any other means (eg. plane) are still subject to normal visa regulations.
You can fly to the Duong Dông airport (PQC) from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) on about five daily Vietnam Airlines turboprop flights with ATR-72 (55 minutes). Since 2010 Air Mekong flies with Bombardier CRJ-900 jets from Ho Chi Minh City for about the same prices in 35 minutes. From Rach Gia there are two Vietnam Airlines flights per day.
There are ferries and hydrofoils between Phú Quôc to Rach Gia (pronounce: Rad-Ya), Ha Tien and Hon Chong. You may be told by tour agents that the fast boats are full, but if you go to the dock where the boats depart you may have the opportunity to buy tickets from street sellers.
Phu Quôc – Rach Gia – 0800, 0810
Rach Gia – Phú Quôc – 1300, 1310
Hydrofoils takes 2 1/2 hours, costs 295,000 Dong, book at http://www.duongdongexpress.com.vn/ or http://superdong.com.vn/Pages/HomePage.aspx. As of March 2012, SuperDong was the only option as the other company had shut down three years ago (or so we were told) and the ride cost 320,000 Dong (a sign posted inside the booking office at the pier confirmed this quoted price). When coming from Ho Chi Minh City you can book a combined night-bus + boat ticket for around US$26 (including pick up from hotel) at travel agencies.
Phú Quôc – Ha Tien
Small fast ferries (not Hydrofoils) takes 1hour 30 mins. Costs 230,000 Dong. Daily at 0800 and 13.00 Large car ferry (steel hulled,capacity 400 pax 300 m/cycles and 30 cars) leaves at 08.20,takes 2 + 1/2 hours and costs 165000 VND m/cycles 100,000 VND
Phú Quôc – Hon Chong – 1230
Hon Chong – Phú Quôc – 1000
Costs 160,000 Dông.
Depending on the season, you may not find taxis on arrival in Phú Quôc, though there will likely be a few motos. Minibus ply to the two main towns, but tickets are sold on the boat and sell out before arrival. Cost 20,000 Dong. Transfer can also be arranged through your hotel. On Sep 2011, three choices to leave the pier: taxi ~210,000 Dong, mini-bus down to 120,000 Dong (three persons) or moto-taxi (but it’s a long ride on a not so good road)
Be warned that the boat can get overcrowded and may have the unfortunate lingering odor of previous passengers’ weak stomachs. The journey is pleasant and smooth during the low season but is often beset by jarring waves during the high season; hotel staff can advise you of ocean conditions.
You can arrange a transfer from ferry port (Bai Vong port) to your hotel. Taxis and motorbikes congregate outside the ferry port and can shuttle you to the bus terminal (some 15 km out of town).
How to get around
One of the joys of the top-rated Long Beach accommodation options is that everything is so accessible. Base yourself at Mai House or the Tropicana and you can walk to everything and happily fill a three or four day holiday doing nothing at all. Camp down at La Veranda and you might not emerge. If/when you are ready to venture forth, then do it right….
There’s no doubt about it, if you’re young enough (at heart anyway) you’ve got to try seeing some of Phu Quoc on a motor scooter. They can be hired for $5 – $12 a day from your hotel/resort. There is no paperwork, no insurance and no deposits. You negotiate if you break or lose your bike. There is a request that you refill with fuel when you finish. Roads are mostly red dirt and full of pot holes. As in much of Asia, there are no traffic rules in the usual European or North American and whatever sense of the word: you are responsible for not hitting anybody or anything, and you are responsible for nobody else hitting you, and that’s about it. You are supposed to drive on the right, but not everybody always does that. So there you have it, not entirely safe, but an awful lot of fun. Note: don’t fret too much if you run out of petrol or get a flat tyre. You’ll be amazed how fast a local will stop to help you. Puncture repair men are plentiful on the island and will leap at the chance to come to your aid for a small fee. If you do find yourself in a bit of strife with your rental, there are a few repair shops on the island that will mend your bike at a cheaper price than the damage costs of the hirer. A typical repair shop is GIA PHU on 25 Tran Phu in Duong Dong (Linh- 0938137988). Depending on the severity of the damage, it could save you a lot of money. Moto taxi are about 200,000-400,000 Dong or US$10-20 for a day trip. Be sure to agree how many hours and locations you want to do with the driver. It’s difficult to really lower the price for half-day or less.
After a moto, your next best option is a Jeep with a driver. Given you pay for petrol, it can work out a little more than a half or full day’s hire of a taxi, but well worth it. Call Jeep For Rent locally on 0939 402 872. $30 for 6hrs, $50 for 24 hrs. Alternatively, try Carole on 0773 8848 886 or Searama on 0773 994 577. For the best but most expensive jeep, call La Veranda on 0773 982 988.
Taxis are plentiful for Long Beach but can be a tiresome delay further afield. Booking them by the day is often a better bet. They’re more expensive than you might be used to in Saigon. Most taxis use meters, and you pay what the meter shows. Short trips in Duong Dong are up to 60000 dong. For a full day and a given itinerary you make a flat deal, e.g. 650000 ($35) round one of the halves of the island, which may be what you would end up with also if the meter was running. It seems that you mostly pay for the distance driven; the driver sleeping in the drivers’ hammocks does not cost that much. Ask your hotel or try Le Giang on 0773 848 444 or 0913 788 262, or give Mr Tam a call 0913 197 298.
Saigon Phu Quoc Resort have their own large boat you can charter from Long Beach. Otherwise all resorts run tours with charter boats. Cost varies depending on number of passengers.
What to see
The island is quite large (over 40 kilometers from north to south), and to get around it is much better to rent a moto (motor scooter) for about $10 per day. Otherwise you can rent a taxi for about $35 or $40 half-day or full day. In case of a tour on motobike, go at “D.S” Bar. Stephane, the owner, can advise you great itineraries. He used to be a tour-guide on the island. He speaks english, french and spanish. And by the way, have a drink. Good music, “flat” pool table and cheap cocktails. On top of it, Stephane and Diem (his vietnamese wife) are very nice and friendly people. “D.S” Bar is opened until late by night.
- There is a forest trail starting from the main road about 5 km east of Ganh Dau at the northwestern corner of Phu Quoc. The trailhead is marked, going south from the road, but the sign is in Vietnamese only. However, there are no other signs on that road, so the trail is difficult to miss. The trail itself is unmarked, but easy to follow (and some drive their scooter on the trail). The trail is a moderately interesting walk: you can hear birds and insects, but don’t expect to see much wildlife.
- The roads going round the northwestern corner of the island are an interesting ride with a scooter (and also possible do with a car or taxi). The roads are quiet and safe, and also the unpaved roads are easy to ride (just be careful with soft loose sands in some places). You can stop for coffee or lunch at the Chez Carole Resort to see the views to the mouth of the Cua Can river. There are nice quiet beaches at the westernmost shores of the island, and the road east from Ganh Dau goes through dense forests. There are dozens of large colorful fishing boats in front of Ganh Dau in the afternoon.
- At the southern tip of the island is the fishing town of An Thoi. There are some fishing boats to see. You can also hire a boat to take you to the small islands south of Phu Quoc.
- The prettiest beach on the island is Sao Beach at the southeastern corner of the island, a couple of kilometers north of An Thoi, with a restaurant/cafe and sun-bathing facilities.
- A couple of kilometers east of Duong Dong there is a path (slightly more than 1 km) through the forest to the Suoi Tranh waterfalls. This is a major attraction when it has been raining. There is barely any water during the dry season from November to April, but the rock exposed by the river is interesting, and you can hear the sounds of the forest. You can plunge into the pool under the 2 meter waterfall in the end of the path.
- There are pearl farms on the western side of the island south of Duong Dong. The Phu Quoc Pearl Farm is about 10 kilometers away, and they have a cafe/restaurant and a shop selling pearl products.
- There are a couple of pepper farms that can be visited (shown on the tourist map.) The pepper plant is growing hanging from a long pole, with small green peppers in them. You can also buy pepper products to bring home as souvenirs, to impress your friends and relatives.
- Some of the fish sauce factories can be visited.
- Ham Ninh fishing village on the east coast across the island from Duong Dong may be worth a visit.
After dark – watch the chain of lights bobbing across the horizon as the local fishermen attach lamps to their boats to attract squid.
There is also a special breed of dogs that live on the island. They are extremely similar to normal dogs except for the fact that they have 2 special markings on their back, where the fur goes in the other direction.
What to do
- Try to get out on a boat one evening for some squid fishing yourself. Make a visit to Phu Quoc National Park and swim in a quiet pool.
- Motorcycles are plentiful and cheap, hire one off a local and go cruising around the island. Petrol can usually be purchased around the island at various beaches served fresh in glass bottles.
- Also Bicycles is a great way to observe the island. You can rent a mountain bike for around 50,000 VND per day at Saigon Phu Quoc Hotel or some local shops (be sure to write ‘xe dap’ because few Vietnameses here could speak English well).
- Some beaches stretch for kilometres with overhanging palms, no one else in sight what more could you want?
- Try SCUBA diving. Phu Quoc offers diving in two separate locations. Up North on western side of the island or Down south at An Thoi islands. Up north there are three main diving locations with all of them maximum depth of 10 they are especially great for beginners. Sites are surrounded by corals and funky rock formations which provide shelter to a variety of fish and species of Nudibranch. Down south there are up to 20 different dive sites around a group of 13 islands with depths ranging from 10m to all the way down to 40m. Majority of the islands are surrounded by coral. Majority of the islands are slowly being converted in to Marine Protected Areas thus you get a slightly better change of seeing more & bigger fish and lots of Nudibranches. South is not as well protected as the northern sites which means you might be in for rocky ride on the boat and mild to strong currents. Average visibility while diving is around 7-8m, but it chances a lot, which means it can worse and on the next day much better. Companies offering diving on Phu Quoc are Rainbow Divers, Flipper Diving Club, Cocodive and x-Dive. Dives cost a bit more here than in Nha Trang at about $65-75 USD for two boat dives.
- The snorkeling tour (US$ 15) picks you up at your hotel in the morning and brings you to the islands in the south. It usually includes the boat trip, snorkeling gear, lunch and transportation. Don’t expect to see a lot of fish and corals under water, though. But still a nice way to spend a day. Two companies mainly: John’s tour (0919.107086), Sunny boat trip (www.phuquocsunny.com)
- Also, watching the sunset at Pho Bo Cafe, a 2 storey place with the best view overlooking the lighthouse and the shrine, is the most romantic activity for couples and artist.
- Run the annual Phu Quoc Half Marathon, to be held on 11th May 2013 starting and finishing at Long Beach Resort.
- Later, try wandering around the night market (near Ferry landing in Duong Dong Town), where locals mingled with the tourists, a place that offered a selection of goods, pearls, seafoods, vegeterians, or even a playground for children.
Where to eat
Ocean Bar and Grill, 60 Trân Hung Dao, Duong Dong, ☎ 077 3 994 268. The Ocean bar provides excellent service and food. The seafood is fresh and cooked to order whilst the staff are highly trained and attentive. Michelle, the owner, speaks to every customer about their meal and keeps a photo and book of comments from all patrons. Highly recommended.
Buddy Ice Cream & Info Cafe, 26 Nguyen Trai St, Duong Dong Town, ☎ 077 3 994181. Great New Zealand icecream at 30,000 Dong a scoop. Also does toasted sandwiches and shakes. Free internet, wifi and had lots of information about the island. Gives out free Phu Quoc maps too!
Bich Nguyên, Tran Hung Dao, Duong Dong (Near Chez Carole, 20 meters down on the road to Kim Hoa resort), ☎ 0916 788 719. Small family owned restaurant srrving fresh Vietnamese food.
Night Market, Duong Dong. From 18.00 there are lots of small restaurants open on the street of the night market. Great, cheap local food. From 20,000 Dong.
The Dog Bar, 88 Trang Hung Dao, Duong Dong (Next to Chez Carole), ☎ +84-903814688. open til late. The Dog Bar serves good burgers and pizza’s, as well as a range of western, Vietnamese and seafood dishes. Watch live sports, play pool or darts, or just listen to the music and relax with your friends. They had live music when we were there. You can also book dive and snorkelling trips there with Rainbow divers and Anh Tu. They have ice cold beer, mixed drinks and cocktails and friendly English speaking staff. A good place to spend you’re evenings in paradise. Very reasonable prices.
Ganesh Indian Restaurant, 97 Trang Hung Dao, Duong Dong. Ganesh is probably the only Indian restaurant on the island. The food is OK, but not quite up to the standards you can experience outside India in countries like UK or Australia.
Mondo, 82 TRAN HUNG DAO, PHU QUOC, ☎ (0)773994930. 12-22. Small restaurant run by Swedish couple. Relaxed atmosphere, next to Long Beach main road. Mainly delicious worldwise food in tapas format, but also some salads and local dishes. Good wine list, coctails and more. Definitely place to eat at least once. From 45000 Dong.
Where to stay
Warning: unlike in most other East-Asian destinations, there is a substantial risk that all (affordable) hotels are fully booked if you arrive, so it is advisable to book ahead, also for back- and flashpackers. This applies at least in January, the dry high season and as of 2011 also in February, as the island gains popularity.
Mai House, +84-773-847 003. Consistently ranked the #1 resort choice on the island. Fourteen stylish, high quality thatched villas dotted around immaculate gardens on the beach fully equiped with sunloungers. There’s no fridge in the villa’s and no pool, but AC, safety box, tea coffee facilities,beach towel furnished, free wifi in lobby and restaurant. The restaurant menu is good. Most people who have stayed here, consider Mai House to be almost perfect. Villas: standard $50 low season, and $90 high season. Breakfast included. Gerard’s direct contact number is +84 918 123 796 should you have any difficulties.
La Veranda, 84-773-982 988. Fourty three rooms and villas spread around a pool and French style colonial main building. Standard and Superior rooms US$125 low season and $240 high season. The one bed villas are better value at USA$165 low season and $250 high season.
Mango Bay Resort, Ong Lang Beach, ☎ +84 77 981 693 (email@example.com). A wonderfully peaceful resort spread between the sea on one side and a forest preserve on the other, about 10 kilometers north of Duong Dong town. The resort beaches are small, but the adjoining beach is as yet undeveloped for tourism and features a decent reef for snorkeling. This is a low-key resort, where the lawns are mowed by a herd of cows with wooden cowbells, and the spa opens directly onto the ‘lawn’ running down the sea. Bungalows are tastefully set back from the sea and separated from each other. There is a vegetable and spice garden on the property, and much of the food served is grown there. There are several styles of bungalows, each with its own connected outdoor bathroom. This place is the antithesis of your typical Phuket tour-bus resort. USD 90-150.
Long Beach Resort Phu Quoc, tel:84-773-981818, continues with a ‘soft opening’ after 2 years now, and if management is lucky will become the first 5-star resort on the island upon completion. Rooms are large and spacious, the fittings lovely, and the bathroom has a large wooden tub for soaking.
Paris Beach Resort, Cau Ba Phong, Cua lap, Duong To (From Duong Dong go down Long Beach (south) and look for the sign on your right. If you see Eden Resort on your right, you just missed it.), ☎ 0084773994548. checkout: 11:00. Nice staff, very friendly owners, and one of the cheaper resorts. Owned and run by a French/Vietnamese couple – both professors – who enjoy running a hotel and having guests, it seems. Food is great and prices all rather reasonable. If there is no room at Paris Beach, try Beach Club Resort right next door – and vice versa 20$-40$.
Eden Resort, tel:84-77 398 5598. Eden Resort Phu Quoc is located on Western side of island, just down Tran Hung Doa Rd, about 3 kilometers south of Duong Dong and the island’s airport. The road from Duong Dong is sealed until the Eden Resort and continues unsealed further south. The spacious guest rooms feature a contemporary design, with a largish bed, flat 32″ TV (lots of channels but most with quite poor picture quality), sidetable/desk, 2 armchairs, minibar/fridge, airconditioning and a balcony. The bathroom has a bath tub. The main building has elevators, which are nice if your room is on the 3rd floor. The resort is located along a sandy beach and ocean, with a restaurant pool side, and a small bar. There is free Wi-Fi, and a small gym. The site has nice smallish gardens. The beach south of the resort is undeveloped (there are a couple unfinished older buildings a short distance away, and occasionally some small fishing boats at the beach). The beach right north of the resort is being developed to villas and is under construction (as of December 2011), and about 200 meters further north there is another large hotel, with a line of bungalows close to the beach. The views from the rooms on the northern side are not particularly good. The beach at the hotel is clean and suits well to sunbathing and swimming. There aren’t much trees to provide shade. The rate of the rooms in the main building at high season is $150, which is a bit high, as the hotel and facilities are not quite at the four star level. The hotel transports its guest to and from the airport when you notify them about your flight details.
Cassia Cottage, tel:84-773 848 395, Cassia Cottage is located along the Lovely Long Beach in the west of the Island. Has both Sea view and garden cottages ranging from $85.00 in low season to $170 in the high season.
Saigon Tourist Phu Quoc Resort. The oldest large three/four star hotel on the island, close to the center of Duong Dong and most of the tourist restaurants. There are regular hotel rooms (under $200), and 2 bedroom villas (starting from about $350 during high season.)
Chez Carole. Resort with one dozen bungalows, in a pretty remote location on the coast at the mouth of the Cua Can River, about 15 km north of Duong Dong and the airport. Access partly on slow, unpaved roads. There is a swimming pool, restaurant, bar, gardens. There is no beach, but small sandy islands at the mouth of the river are a short swim or boat ride away. Kayaking and canoeing are possible activities. Room rates during high season start from about $160. This is good for a quiet short holiday, without any crowds nearby.
Bargain Beach Bungalows. What’s still very special about Phu Quoc is the availability of small resorts built right on the beach with 8 – 16 cabins all at less that US$40.
Budget accommodation can be hard to come by but the best bet is to head to the south end of long beach. In low season en suite bungalows can be found for $10 and rooms for $8. Most budget place for sleep are Nhat Lan, Viet Thanh or lien hiep thanh. They are at about ~40min by walk or ~10min by moto taxi (10-20 000 VND) to Duong Dong.
Amigos Guest house, 118/10 Trang Hun Dao, Long Beach (next to La Veranda), ☎ 0917 707 456 (speak to Speedy) or 077 3 994 958. Amigos have immaculate bungalows with hot/cold water, AC, fridge, Satellite TV, queen bed in each. They are brand new having only been completed in October 2010. Amigos is located right on the beach and it has a great restaurant and bar area. Free internet and weekly promotions ongoing. There is even a children’s play area.
Lang Toi, Sao Beach, ☎ +84 773 972 123. There are only two hostels in the most beautiful beach- Sao Beach, and this one offers aircondition + hot shower, aircondition is not only for cooling off but also for getting away those mosquitos. Suggest to book the room in full-moon evening, you can watch the moon raise from the sea, as Sao Beach is in the east side of the island. fr USD 60.
Viet Thanh Bungalow, Khu Pho 7 – Duong Dong – Phu QUoc – Kien Giang (south of western long beach, same lane that La Veranda), ☎ 0122.9866 542 – 0979.46 36 07 (firstname.lastname@example.org). Mosquito net, hot shower, Free Wifi (only front bungalows) US$6-15.
Main articles to buy are:
There are ATMs in Duong Don.