My first travel out of the UK (*) was to Morocco from 15 to 21 December 2015. From a random tourist knowing nothing about Morocco, those great 6 days turned me into a total lover of the country. With great music, great food, beautiful handicrafts, vibrant urban livestyle, a diversed and interesting culture, stunning landscape, and most of all, wonderful people, the country has totally won my heart.
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Myanmar, with its numerous magnificent Buddhist temples, has become the most appealing and exotic destination in Southeast Asia, even to other ASEAN fellows. The country only opened up itself in 2012, and only from Oct 2013 could a Vietnamese passport holder like myself enter the border without having to acquire a visa.
Most people say now is the good time to visit Myanmar before it is fully touched by Western influence, but my feeling from a week rushing across the country (23-31 Aug 2014) is that it is already quite integrated. And someone even said to me Myanmar would develop fast, even quicker than Vietnam before. Perhaps.
A few things to be aware prior to the trip:
1. Traveling in Myanmar is NOT cheap. I often say traveling in Laos is more expensive than in Vietnam, then traveling in Myanmar is even more expensive than in Laos. Note that fact and prepare your budget. I say, modestly you would spend USD 300-500 in a week. There are entrance fees for Bagan and Inle Lake (we skipped Mandalay so I don’t know if there is any entrance fee there), there is no entrance fee for Yangon but tourists have to pay to go in almost all of tourists’ attraction sites here.
2. Internet in Myanmar runs at snail’s pace. It almost doesn’t work in Bagan, and is very limited and slow in Inle Lake and Yangon. Thus, write down and print everything you need in advance.
3. Burmese people are generally nice and lovable, even the street hawkers. Don’t be too hard on them, spend your money! (Probably this will change soon when too many tourists come in and ruin the people’s purity, just like what happened to Vietnam or Cambodia)
4. Don’t miss Bagan in your travel itinerary. It’s like Cambodia‘s Siem Riep or Vietnam’s Hue. It’s the country’s legacy. Probably visiting once is enough, but it’s a MUST. Read the rest of this entry »
So finally I’ve decided to do that trekking trip to the top of Mount Fansipan, the peak of three countries in former Indochina (Laos-Vietnam-Cambodia), located in the North of Vietnam, in the Hoang Lien Son mountain range.
Trekking up to the top of the highest mount to hug that triangle metal piece saying “Fansipan 3,143m” has become a long time tradition among young Vietnamese people. And obviously, Fansipan is also a kind of tourist attraction since it is very close to Sapa, a famous destination for tourists in the North of Vietnam, and a few adventurous and athletic travelers love to combine their Sapa trip with this Fansipan Mount trekking.
Before the trip my travel mates and I had quite a naive thought about the trek. We thought “it’s foot path and we can literally walk up to the top of the mountain(!), only 15km up and 15km down, will be easy, everyone is doing it, we’ll be fine”. However, the whole trip actually turned out to be an intensive training of physical rock climbing, which no one had told us before.
1. Tours and train tickets:
It is quite easy to organize for the trip. All you need to do is do is to book a package tour, then to buy train tickets. We booked a 2 day 1 night tour from this travel agency for 4 people at the price of VND1,420,000 per person (around USD70). Quite easy, just needed to make a few calls, send a few emails and deposit VND500,000 (USD25) 2 or 3 days before the trip.
The difficult thing was actually the train ticket part. To go to Fansipan and Sapa, you need to buy train tickets from Hanoi to Lao Cai then go by bus from Lao Cai to the town. And Sapa is so popular for both foreign and domestic travelers that train tickets sell like hot cakes, especially at weekends. Thus, you’d better go for them at least 2 weeks in advance, or else you may risk having no places at all. The best scenario is that you can buy tickets directly from the train station, however, they reserve only a small amount here so you should really go early (2-3 weeks to make sure!). If not, then you’ll have to ring the agents and buy over-charged tickets.
I only rushed for the tickets 10 days in advance so it was a bit tough. Of course there was nothing left at the train station and I had to call roughly a dozen agents to finally get 4 places in the hard sleeper class. In fact, Vietnamese trains are quite good if compared with the trains I knew in India or Poland. There are mainly 4 classes: soft sleeper (4 beds in one cabin), hard sleeper (6 beds in one cabin), soft seating and hard seating. Advice is to go for the sleeper or soft seating so that you can sleep a bit on the train (there are only night trains going to Lao Cai). Prices per way per person updated in September 2012 are around: VND 700,000 for soft sleeper (USD35); VND550,000 for hard sleeper (USD27.5); VND270,000 for soft seating (USD13.5). Be aware that the price will change quickly due to the skyrocketing inflation in Vietnam(!)
2. Tips before the actual trip:
“Small” mentioned here is applied for both luggage and travel group. Trust me, I’ve experienced enough pain traveling with big luggage and large group that I have learned “never to do it again!”
In my first trip abroad to Poland I brought with me a huge 23-kilo suitcase, plus a backpack, a small purse and a laptop, so those made 4 separate items in total. And it was funny how I ended up using only half of what I brought while still having to buy extra stuff during those 3 months. I carried with me high-heel boots, piles of clothes (since it was winter), hundreds of medicine types which I never used, but didn’t even think about bringing a hair dryer, slippers and an electrical adapter. Fail!
And another funny fact was that I managed to get my laptop lost right on the first day in Poland since I forgot it in the taxi from Warsaw airport to the bus station. However, during my solo and tiring trip across Europe under the snowy and gloomy sky I sometimes thought actually I was lucky not having to bring with me another 3-kilo laptop bag(!) Read the rest of this entry »