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An Introduction to Cambodia

Introduction to Cambodia

Introduction to Cambodia

Introduction to Cambodia
In spite of decades of suffering, persecution and poverty, the people of Cambodia love to laugh and you are sure to receive a warm welcome wherever you wander through this charming country. The Kingdom of Cambodia covers 181,035 square kilometres and bordered by Thailand to the west, Laos in the north, Vietnam in the east and the Gulf of Thailand in the south.

Most people travel to Cambodia to visit the magnificent Angkor Wat, located near the bustling town of Siem Reap. One of the seven wonders of the world, Angkor Wat is just one in a number of enchanting ancient temples in this area, while the capital city of Phnom Penh also has plenty to offer visitors.

Although this richly diverse nation is bordered on virtually all sides, there are still some pretty islands and beaches to explore in Cambodia, such as the beach resort of Sihanoukville and the nearby islands in Ream National Park. The mighty Mekong River flows through Cambodia from Laos to Vietnam and is a great way to travel through the country.

Cambodia’s natural beauty makes it a great place for trekking and there are plenty of dense jungles, unspoilt forests and paddy fields to explore, while the Cardamom and Elephant Mountain Ranges provide a spectacular backdrop.

Subsistence farming is the main occupation of this impoverished nation, and most people live in stilted huts in small village communities. Although the majority of people (about 95%) are Khmer, there are also about twenty different hill tribes, each with their own unique culture, believes and style of dress.

The official language of Cambodia is Khmer and it is spoken by most people, while some people also speak French, Laos and Vietnamese, especially near the country borders. Although many people speak English in tourist areas and you will often be approached by people who want to practice their English, it is a good idea to learn a few basic phrases in Khmer.

Buddhism is the main religion in Cambodia, with about 90% of the population following either Therevada or Hinayana Buddhism. Worship is an important part of Khmer life and you will find a large number of temples scattered around Cambodia, although a large percentage were destroyed during the tyranny of the Khmer Rouge.

Cambodia really comes alive during the numerous festivals and public holidays, and it is idea to time your trip to coincide with one of these festivals as the streets are filled with singing and dancing and people put on their best clothes and biggest smiles.
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An Introduction to Laos

laos_gibbon_experience_bokeo_3Poetically dubbed the “land of a million elephants”, the charming country of Laos is situated in the centre of the Indochina Peninsula. Bordered by China to the north, Myanmar to the northwest, Vietnam to the east and Cambodia to the south, Laos embodies everything that makes its neighbouring countries great.

You will be sure to find a warm welcome and broad smiles as you explore Laos and discover all that the country has to offer. Despite years of war and hardship, this former French colony has managed to retain its unique culture and stunning natural scenery. The pace of life here is gentle and as you explore you will be seduced by the chilled-out attitude of the people you meet.

Laos has only been part of the tourist trade for just over a decade, yet it has a lot to offer those with a strong sense of adventure. There are plenty of opportunities to get away from the tourist scene and discover the dense forests and wander along dusty back roads where you will be greeted by waving children and friendly families as you pass.

North-eastern Laos is still very underdeveloped and this is a great place to head if you want to escape the tourist scene and really get to know the country, while to the south you will find plenty of pretty islands and beaches and even the chance to view the elusive Kratie river dolphin.

However, there are several small towns and villages geared towards tourism, such as the enchanting village of Vang Vieng, where visitors are encouraged to relax with a good meal and a beer or two, surrounded by spectacular views of the limestone cliffs and sparkling river.

This is a great place to go trekking and explore the countryside, spending the night in a traditional village with a family. White water rafting, kayaking, rock-climbing and cycling are all popular, while to the south the Four Thousand Islands offer the perfect piece of paradise.

Travellers in Laos will never go hungry and there is a good range of dishes available for those with a sense of adventure. Lao food has been influenced by the French, Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese and throughout Laos you will discover culinary delights such as French baguettes, spicy Thai salads and Vietnamese noodles. 

Laos is a good place to explore at any time, but it really comes alive during its festivals, especially the New Year and Rocket Festival. It’s a good idea to time your trip to coincide with one of these festivals as the streets are filled with singing and dancing and people put on their best clothes and biggest smiles.

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Location and History of Laos

Location and History of Laos
Location and History of Laos
Location and History of Laos
Covering 236.800 square kilometres, Laos is a small landlocked country situated in the Indochinese peninsula. Bordered by Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand, the population of Laos is around 5 million.

With a tropical climate, Laos is a country of stunning natural beauty. The southern most part tends to be the hottest and here you will find a variety of pretty islands. The centre of Laos is covered with dense forests, while there are dramatic mountains to the north.

Laos’ past is somewhat turbulent and the country has suffered greatly from the effects of war and poverty. The people of Laos originated from Thailand and it can be observed that the culture of Laos has a lot in common with that of Thailand. It was also formerly a French-Indochinese state and you will still find French influences as well as traces of the Vietnamese and Khmer cultures.

After centuries of invasion from neighbouring countries, Laos took a severe beating during the French Indo-China war and again during World War II. Laos finally gained full independence from France under the reign of King Sisavang Vong in 1953, although peace still did not follow as the monarchy was opposed by the Laotian Patriotic Front. Years of warring followed, with the LPF forming an alliance with the group that would become the Viet Cong.

Finally, after years of instability cultural and bilateral trade agreements were signed with China in December 1987 and the political situation began to improve. Relations were improved with neighbouring countries and the west and the king retired in 1991, allowing a new constitution to form. Laos has been governed by the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party since 1975 and the political situation finally seems stable, allowing the country to rebuild and resettle.

Despite former hardship, the people of Laos are warm and welcoming and smiles are frequent and genuine. Today Laos is one of the world’s poorest countries, with agriculture the main form of economy. Laos’ main products are rice, pulses, fruit, sugar cane, tobacco and coffee, with coffee being the country’s largest export.

The official language of Laos is Lao, although a range of tribal languages as well as French, Vietnamese and English are also sometimes spoken. The majority of people are Buddhist, with a range of other religions such as animism, Confucianism and Christianity practiced by the tribes people.

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Savannakhet, Laos

Savannakhet, Laos
Savannakhet, Laos
Savannakhet, Laos
Located in the southern section of Laos, Savannakhet province is bordered by both Thailand in the west and Vietnam in the east. Many travellers pass this way on their way in or out of Thailand as the Second Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge spans the mighty Mekong River, connecting Savannakhet with Mukdahan in Thailand.

Another way to reach the town is by boat from northern Lao areas such as Vientiane and Tha Khaek or from Pakse in the south. Travelling through Laos by boat can be very relaxing and a great way to see the countryside at a leisurely pace.

The name Savannakhet means ‘city of paradise’ in the Laos language and this is Laos’ second-largest city. This is a good place to pause for a while as the town has a lot to offer tourists and there are a good number of guesthouses, hotels and restaurants serving international food. You will also find plenty of Asian delights such as curries and spicy salads from Thailand and Vietnamese noodles.

Savannakhet’s close proximity to Thailand and Vietnam means that you will discover a number of different styles as you explore. Take a look around the city’s old Vietnamese temples, French colonial quarters and Buddhists temples. Among the most popular temples are Wat Inghang and Wat Xayaphoum, while the large Catholic church provides an interesting contrast.

If you are interested in the history of this unique area, take a day trip to Heuanehine or Stone House. This rocky house was designed by the Kham people and is thought by many to be one of the most important and interesting sites in the province. The house was built somewhere between 553 and 700 AD and contains a collection of Khmer artwork.er important site is the That Phon stupa, which was built around the same time as the Stone House. Unlike most of the religious shrines and temples in Laos, this stupa is Hindu in origin and dedicated to Phra Shiva and other Hindu deities.

Before you leave Savannakhet, drop by the Dinosaur Exhibition Hall in the town of Khanthabouly at the heart of the province. Here you will find a collection of dinosaur remains that were discovered by an intrepid French scientist in the 1930s. This is one of the few collections of dinosaur remains in Laos and they make an interesting break from exploring the country’s temples and jungles.

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Angkor Borei and Phnom Da, Cambodia

Angkor Borei and Phnom Da, Cambodia
Angkor Borei and Phnom Da, Cambodia
Angkor Borei and Phnom Da, Cambodia
Located in the southern province of Takeo, Angkor Borei is one of the oldest sites in Cambodia, started in the 5th century and predating the famous Angkor complex. Angkor Borei was originally named Vyadhapura, and this picturesque town is divided into two halves by a gently flowing river and encircled by an ancient and gently crumbling wall.

Those who have a love for history and culture are sure to get a lot out of their visit to Angkor Borei, which was established more than 2,500 years ago. However, archaeological findings suggest that the town was established much earlier than this, as artefacts have been discovered here that date all the way back to the Neolithic period. To view these and a whole host of other interesting findings, visitors should check out the displays that can be found in the local museum.

Head 20 kilometres out of town and you will come to the hill of Phnom Da. Climb the hill of spectacular views of the area and to explore an 11th century brick temple commissioned by King Rudravarman as a tribute to the Hindu deity Shiva. Make sure you also check out the gently crumbling temple of Ashram Maha Rosei, which features unique decorations and intricate carvings.

A series of five manmade caves can be found around Phnom Da, which were originally created to serve as Buddhist shrines and were once the hideouts of the Viet Cong. One of the most striking and mysterious sites in this part of the world is the so-called floating bounder, which balances on three points so that seen from the right angle it appears to float in the air. This is also a good place to take in stunning views of the area all the way across the Vietnam.

An interesting way to get to Angkor Borei is by travelling by bus from Phnom Pehn to the city of Takeo and then taking a boat along the Prek Angkor River. The boat will stop for a while to allow enough time to explore Angkor Borei and then continue to Phnom Da.
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Phnom Bayong, Cambodia

Phnom Bayong, Cambodia
Situated in the heart of the countryside, this spectacular ancient temple is more than worth the journey, which takes you away from the usual tourist trail and offers an insight into traditional Khmer life.

A large number of people here travel to Phnom Bayong via the border crossing of Phnom Den–Tinh Bien, which is situated some eight kilometres north of the temple. Phnom Bayong measures a mighty 313 metres and those who want to climb to the very top will need to allow around three hours to complete the return journey. While this can be rather challenging for those who are not used to the heat and humidity of Cambodia, the stunning views across to Vietnam are more than worth the effort.

The best time to complete the climb is either just before dawn or at the end of the day. Those who time their trip carefully should arrive at the top just in time to see the glorious sunrise or watch the sun slowly sink behind the horizon at the end of the day. However, the climb is far from easy at any time of day and it is best to wear comfortable shoes and bring along plenty of water.

While in the area, visitors should take the time to check out Phnom Tchea Tapech, which is another ancient temple that is topped by a standing Buddha image. The temple is adorned with intricate stone carvings and also offers enchanting views from the summit.

Phnom Bayong is located 50 kilometres south of Takeo and it is possible to visit the site on a day trip. However, the pretty town of Kirivong is just 3 kilometres west and there are a few places to stay here as well as restaurants offering traditional Khmer food and a number of backpacker favourites such as sandwiches and French fries.

Within easy driving distance of Takeo and Phnom Bayong is the Kirivong waterfall, which is a great place to relax for a while or wander along the surrounding pathways.

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Stung Treng, Cambodia

Stung Treng, Cambodia
Stung Treng, Cambodia
Stung Treng, Cambodia
Also known as Stoeng Treng, this little town in north-eastern Cambodia is a good place to stop on the way to or from Laos. This is a great place to walk around and makes a fine introduction to Cambodia as well as a place to say a final farewell.

This area is well known for its weaving and there are many places around town where you can watch fabric being woven in the traditional way and perhaps pick up a bargain or two. The sunset in Stung Treng is simply spectacular, and this is a great time of day to meet people and chat over a beer or two as the sky suddenly fills with colours as the sun slowly sinks behind the horizon.

There are a number of pretty places to visit just outside Stung Treng. Walk four kilometres to Thala Bariwatt and you will find the Preah Ko temple, which was built in 7th century during the reign of King Javarman I.

Just six kilometers away, the village of Hang Kho Ba is a great place to walk to. There is a pretty pagoda known as Hang Kho Ba and this is a good place to try locally grown tamarind fruit and pava fish. There are also a couple of nature reserves nearby namely Phnom Preah Theat and Anlong Trey Phsot, which are great places to explore.

Stung Treng is ideal for those who want to relax and recharge their batteries for a day or two. There are a number of comfortable guesthouses here as well as bars and restaurants to indulge in. simply lay back in a hammock and listen to the wind in the trees for an hour or two or catch up on some reading.

If you are travelling through Cambodia between July and December, a great way to reach Stung Treng is by taking a boat up the Mekong River from Kratie. There is also an airport near Stung Treng with regular flights to and from Phnom Pehn, which is 485 kilometres to the south.

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Eastern Cambodia

Eastern Cambodia
Eastern Cambodia
Eastern Cambodia
Bordered by Vietnam, the eastern region of Cambodia is scattered with picturesque hill tribe villages. This is a good place for hiking and there is plenty of natural beauty to discover such as waterfalls, caves and forests.

Many people head straight to the town of Kratie to watch the Irrawaddy dolphins swimming in the river, while the town of Stung Treng is also a good place to relax for a while.

The mighty Mekong River runs through this region and travelling by boat is a great way to reach many of the area’s towns and cities. Fish is plentiful here and the local market is a great place to find freshly cooked fish dishes.

The region’s proximity to Vietnam means that visitors will discover an interesting blend of Khmer and Vietnamese styles in many of the border towns, which is particularly apparent in the designs of the temples, clothes and food. Spend some time in eastern Cambodia before hopping across the border to discover an entirely different side of life.

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Location and History of Cambodia

Location and History of Cambodia
Location and History of Cambodia
Location and History of Cambodia
Covering a total area of just over 180,000 square kilometres, Cambodia is one of the most diminutive countries in Southeast Asia. The nation is bordered by Laos in the north, the Gulf of Thailand in the south, Thailand to the west, and Vietnam in the east.
Sometimes referred to as Kampuchea, Cambodia people are known as Khmer. Visitors witnessing the warm and generous nature of the Khmer people could hardly guess at the hardship they have undergone for the last 500 years or so. Angkor fell in 1431 and since that time Cambodia has been pillaged by a number of nations.

Consequently the people of Cambodia are very poor, with many living on less than US$1 per day. However, the situation is slowly improving and the many monuments that were decimated or lost are being rediscovered and restored, while the rise in tourism allows businesses to open all over the country and employment rates to improve.

Up until the start of the 15th century Cambodia was a prosperous nation, and examples of this can be seen in the magnificent temple complex of Angkor Wat. When the nation fell Cambodia was largely dominated and became under French political control. Prince Sihanouk declared Cambodia’s independence during WWII, but his hopes for the nation were soon crushed.

Prince Sihanouk’s reign was not appreciated by everybody as he was criticized for restricting education to the elite and his obsession for writing and starring in movies. Many of the educated elite were angry over the lack of descent jobs and bad economic system and sought a solution in politics, joining first the Indochinese Communist Party, and then the Khmer Rouge.

The dawning of Second Indochina War caused the US to take an interest and Sihanouk abdicated and supported the Khmer Rouge, with many people following his example. After a five year resistance the Khmer Rouge captured Phnom Penh in 1975 and forced the evacuation of all towns and cities, with those who refused to leave being killed instantly.

For three years the majority of people in Cambodia were put through unimaginable hardships, with more than one million and probably closer to three million (more than half the population) dying from torture or poor conditions. Everyone was forced to live in the countryside and work for the Khmer Rouge, with families being separated and everyone living in fear as the consequences for refusing were horrific punishments and death.

When the Vietnamese finally put an end to the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror in 1978 there was no infrastructure left and the country had to be entirely rebuilt. There were elections sponsored by the UN in 1993 and since the end of the 20th century things have steadily improved. Leng Sary, Pol Pot's brother in law, is currently on trial for 'crimes against humanity'.
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Health Issues for Visitors to Thailand

bnhlogolargeBNH Hospital is one of Thailand's leading hospitals, dealing with the health isses of visitors and locals for over a century. If anyone is in a position to give good advice on health issues for visitors to Thailand, they are. Whether you simply need to know how to prepare for your trip, your concerns are current health scares, or you want to know how to benefit from the excellent medical services available to you while you are in Thailand, drop them a message and they will do there best to answer. All questions and answers will be shown on this page. Simply put your query in the form below and press send. If you have news on health issues, or simply want to pass on some good advice of your own, let us know what you have to say using the same form. Use the form below to have you health queries answered:   

Frequently Asked Questions answered here:

Yelena writes: "Hello, I will be traveling to Thailand Summer 2008 for three weeks. I think for the most part I will stay in the major cities, but i would also like to see the jungle. I know that i need Hepetitis A and Typhoid vacination. What about Japanese encephalitis? Thank you."

BNH Hospital answers: "Thank you for your inquiry. Japanese encephalitis is an important when you will be staying in Northern of Thailand for long period of time (more than 1 month). However, if you aren't to stay for long period of time you should protect of yourself by During the hours of darkness wear long trousers (pants) and long sleeve shirts. Using mosquito repellent. Staying in air conditioning room because this disease spread by mosquito. The illness is most prevalent in rural areas especially near pig farms. If you have any father inquiries, please, do not hesitate to let me know."

Nigel Andrews: Hi, I'm traveling to Thailand for ten days in two weeks time I'm spending 5 days in Phuket and 5 days Bangkok is it to late for jabs but what jabs do I need? Many Thanks Nigel.

BNH Hospital answers: Thank you for your inquiry. I would like to explain you about vaccinations you should get when you stay in Thailand. However, you should get before you come to Thailand 7-10 days. Are you traveling in Thailand now? So, it is too late. Therefore, I explain to you for next time. 1. You should receive Hepatitis A, Typhoid because these diseases transmission is primarily via person to person, generally through fecal contaminated and oral ingestion. The virus can be spread through contaminated food (such as uncooked fruits and vegetables), shellfish, ice and water. 2. If you like tattooing you should receive Hepatitis B also because this disease exposure to contaminated blood and blood products; use of contaminated needles, razors, dental and medical equipment, tattooing and body-piercing devices; and sexual contact with infected individuals. 3. Tetanus transmission typically occurs via contamination of wounds, burns and punctures so if you can protect yourself from these, you don't need tetanus vaccine. 4. Most of Thailand is malaria free except near the border areas of Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, national forest and Koh Chang. There is no vaccine available for malaria yet. Also malaria prophylaxis medicine is not 100 % protective against malaria. Currently dengue fever is a problem (there is not medicine or vaccine for dengue.) Best are repellents, long sleeve clothing, and sleep in netted areas. If you would like to take medicine, Malarone would be the best but is not available in Thailand and South East Asia. It would be the best if you can buy it from home.

Christine Carver writes: "Dear Sir/madam, my friend has visited Chiang Mai, Krabi and Phi Phi, leaving Thailand on 14/2/07. Over the last 10 days she has had high temperatures, headaches, nausea and general aches and pains. The nausea has settled but she now has a slight cough. she has been generally very weak. There is no rash. Could you advise us if she is at risk of any tropial diseases from visiting these places in Thailand? We wondered about malaria or dengue fever. is there anything else we should be concerned about? We are very grateful for any advice you can give. Thank you so much."

BNH Hospital answers: "Dear Ms. Carver, In this case it might be a viral infection. We would recommend you to see your doctor and have blood tests to confirm.

Finn Hjelmstrom writes: "We are going to stay for approx 3 weeks at the eastern part of Koh Chang in Jan/Feb next year. We do not know whether there is air con or not. Will this demand for any malaria prevention? Will our further trip to Cambodia (Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh) increase this demand? Thanks for your speedy reply Finn Hjelmstrom"

BNH Hospital answers: "Thank you for your inquiry. We recommend travelers to take anti malaria when they have to stay in forest or risk area for long periods of time (more than 1 month). Anyway anti malaria for Koh Chang and Cambodia is Doxycycline may cause photosensitivity, an increased frequency of candida vaginitis, nausea, vomiting. You should take 1 tablet one day before you leave your country and continue1 tablet daily during your stay in the risk area. On your returning home you should complete another four weeks course of tablet. So if you aren’t staying in forest or risk area for long periods of time, you should protect yourself from mosquito by wearing long trousers (pants) and long sleeve shirts, and using mosquito repellent."

Bob writes: "We are travelling to thailand with our 22 month old daughter and plan to stay for two months. we would prefer to avoid malaria risk areas so our daughter need not take any malaria pills. can you tell us whether any of the following possible travel destinations should be avoided: khao lak, koh lanta, kho phangan, kho tao, in the south and chang mai and pai, in the north... do you have any other recommondations for travelling with baby, other than sunscreen, mosquito nets and - repellent...?? thank you very much for having this forum available..."

BNH Hospital answers: "Thank you for your inquiry. We send file about risk area of malaria in Thailand for you. (See Malaria map in Thailand) I think this map can help you avoid malaria risk areas. We recommend travelers to take anti malaria when they have to stay in forest or risk area for long periods of time."

A visitor writes: "My daughter is visiting Koh Phi Phi Island and was bitten by a monkey. Does she really need the vaccine? Has there been rabies on that island?"

BNH Hospital answers: Vaccinations are available at every hospital in Thailand. There is no case of mokey bite but last year there was a dog found with rabies on the Island. To be safe she should take Rabbie vaccine and Tetanus as the monkey is wild monkey, you can never be sure if it has rabie or not. The wound should be wash throughly and make sure that it is clean. If the wound is very bad, or the monkey that bite your daughter is suspected to have rabbie, she should take Immunogloblin which is stronger than rabie too. The contact number is Phi Phi Hospital contact number is 03-501-7228 I tried to contact them but no one pick up the phone. They should have Rabie vaccines at ER. (Embedded image moved to file: pic22704.jpg) Another option is Krabi Hospital (2hrs from Phi Phi Island by boat) 075-611212 I have checked with Krabi Hospital. They have all the vaccines available at ER.

Samantha Edelsten writes: "I purchased a course of Malarone tablets(42) in the UK prior to travelling to SE Asia but have now decided to stay longer but need to purchase some more tablets. Is there anywhere in Bangkok I can do this or will I need to visit a doctor to get a prescription?"

BNH Hospital answers: Thank you for your inquiry. Malarone tablets is not available in Thailand. We available doxycycline (anti malaria tablet for SE Asia) may cause photosensitivity, an increased frequency of candida vaginitis, nausea, vomiting. You should take 1 tablet one day before you leave your country and continue 1 tablet daily during your stay in the risk area. On your returning home you should complete another four weeks course of tablet. I think if you aren't staying in forest or risk area for long periods of time, you should protect yourself from mosquito by wearing long trousers (plants) and long sleeve shirts, and using mosquito repellent.

Shari Lemieux writes: "Hello We will be travelling to Thailand from Canada on Dec.15th/ 2006 to Jan.2nd /2007. Probably to Bangkok and then down south and back up again to Bangkok (Phuket, Chang mai, river Kwai & Phi Phi). I am a nurse and I already have had my Hepatitis B vaccination and also my Tetanus. Should It be wise for me to also receive the HepatitisA and Typhoid vaccinations? Would you recommend the TWINRIX series of shots for me? IS there any problems in any area of Thailand that we should know about before visiting? Thanks for your help in advance.

BNH Hospital answers: "Yes, we always recommend vaccination against hepatitis A and Typhoid for traveller before come to Thailand. Twinrix is a vaccine that protection from Hepatitis A and B thus if you already have had hepatitis B vaccine, you should only receive Havrix (1440) vaccine for Hepatitis A."

Simona: "Do I need a prescription to buy Doxycicline from a chemist in Thailand? Will I find it in Koh Chang?"

BNH Hospital answers: "Yes, you will find it in Koh Chang. We recommend travelers to take doxycycline when they have to stay in forest or risk area for long periods of time because doxycycline may cause photosensitivity, an increased frequency fo candida vaginitis, nausea, vomiting. You should take 1 tablet the day before you leave your country and 1 tablet each day of your stay, if in a risk area. On your return home you should complete the course of tablets by taking one each day for a month.

Victoria Smith writes: "I will be travelling to Thailand in Dec/ Jan. I will be visiting Chaing Mai, Phuket, Khao Sok, Koh Lanta & Bangkok. Will I need to take Malaria tablets? What other precautions can I take other than wearing long sleeves to ensure I do not get bitten??"

BNH Hospital answers: "Thank you for your enquiry. Regarding malaria tablet, it's depend on how long is your trip? And where will you stay? If you stay in a hotel, no problem but if you do camping in jungle you should to take anti Malaria tablet and bring mosquitoes repellent with you."

Rik writes: "Hello. I am travelling in November 206, to Bangkok, Phuket, Koh Phi-Phi Don and Koh Samui. Please advise if I should take malaria tablets or any other vaccines."

BNH Hospital answers: "You should have HepatitisA and Typhoid vaccinations against diseases from food and water but not necessary for malaria tablet in Samui and Phuket because they are not risk areas."

Adam writes: "Myself and my girlfriend are travelling to Thailand in November for 3 weeks, we will be in Bangkok for 3 nights, Phuket for 4 nights, Krabi for 4 nights, Koh Samui for 6 nights and then back to Bangkok for 2 nights before flying home! Am I correct in thinking that we will need vacinations against HEP A and TYPHOID? Do we need to take any other precations apart being careful what we eat? Any help would be greatly appreciated!"

BNH Hospital answers: "Yes, you should have vaccinations against HepatitisA and Typhoid. The places you are staying are not malaria risk area so using mosquito repellents, wearing long sleeve shirts and stay in air-conditioned or netted aread should be sufficient."

Tracy Brown writes: "I am going to Bangkok and Pattaya for 11 days do I need to take malaria tablets?"

BNH Hospital answers: "Thank you very much for your inquiry. Regarding on your visit to Bangkok and Pattaya, both areas are not risk area. Wearing long sleeve shirt and apply the anti-mosquito lotions to prevent mosquito bite would be sufficient. Hepatitis A and Typhoid vaccination is recommended on your visit as infection of these can be through food and water."

Laura Ient writes: "My daughter age 16 has just returned from Thailand. She tells me that during one or two days (she has not told me exactly!) of her trekking phase she did not take her malaria tablets. Please can you advise what the likely risk is. She has had lots of bites to her legs and ankles. Also should she take more malaria tablets for longer given the laps?"

BNH Hospital answers: "Regarding the mosquito bites that your daughter has, she need not take any malaria tablet as it is only use for prevention. Observation is recommended, she should seek doctor's consultant in case she has any symptoms like fever or severe headache."

Maxine writes: "Family & friends (20) from New Zealand are coming to Thailand for my sons wedding in Burirum. We will be spending 4 days in bangkok & 5 days in Burirum and the day of the wedding in a village 45 minutes from Burirum. My questions are; 1 Is Burirum a Malarious Area. 2 For such a short stay is Typhoid & Rabies prevention required I have recommended to family & friends that they should have Hep A&B, Tetanus/diptheria."

BNH Hospital answers: "Thank you for your letter. Burirum is not a risk area. The vaccinations needed vary according to the length of time you are going to stay and the place where you are going to visit. For a visit less than two weeks Hepatitis A and Typhoid are required. JE Rabies and Tetanus/diphtheria are needed if you are staying over 3 months. The vaccination should be taken 2 weeks before the trip. However for a very short stay, paying more attention on food and drinks by not eating food from roadside and drink only from clean water bottles should be sufficient."

Camilla writes: "I am travelling to Thailand at the beginning of November for two weeks, i will be visiting Phuket, Phi, Phi and Krabi after flying into Bangkok - wondered whether there were any specific precautions to take for that area - eg vaccinations before hand."

BNH Hospital answers: "Camilla. Vaccinations recommended for a two and a half weeks visit are HepatitisA and Typhoid which can be infected through food and water.The vaccinations should be taken 2 weeks before the trip.If you are concious about malaria, wearing long sleeve shirt and apply the anti-mosquito lotions to prevent mosquito bite would be sufficient."

Kevin writes: Hello I need a Hep A boost before travelling around asia and also to take malaria tablets. Is it too late to do this on arrival to Bangkok or should i need to do it before i leave home.

BNH Hospital answers: "We would recommend you to take the vaccine at least 2 weeks before the trip for the vaccine to be fully function."

Amanda writes: "We are travelling to thailand for 6 weeks what vaccinations do we really need? do we need to get malaria tablets?

BNH Hospital answers: "Ms. Sheridan, Thank you for your letter. The vaccinations needed will vary according to the lenght of time you stay and the place you are going to visit. For a six week visit in Bangkok the vaccinations needed are Hepatitis A and typhoid. If you plan to visit the jungle or staying over 3 months, it would be necessary to take JE, Rabies and Tetatus/dihtheria too.The vaccinations should be taken at least two weeks before the visit. Bangkok is not a Malaria risk area. If you plan to stay only in the city, try to avoid mosquito bites by wearing long sleeve shirts and apply anti mosquito lotion would be sufficient. Again if you are going to visit the jungle or island we would recommend you to take malaria tablets. Malarone would be the best choice with the least side effect. You should purchase it from you country as it is not available here in Thailand and SEA. Doxycycline is cheaper and available here but may cause some side effects such asphosensitivity, Nausia/vomitting and increase candida vaginitis, thought it does not happen to everyone. For Malarone you have to take one week before the trip and one month after the trip. For doxycycline, 1 day before the trip and one month after the trip."

Linda writes: "I am going to Bangkok for one week at the end of October. Do I need any injections, I am staying at the Amari Watergate Hotel,also what about malaria tablets. Thankyou."

BNH Hospital answers: "For a business visit of one week in Bangkok vaccinations is not required. Some recommendation would be to pay extra attention to food and drink. Try to avoid street side food and drink water only from clean clear bottles. Regarding malaria tablet, Bangkok is not a risk area. Try to avoid mosquito bite by waring long sleeve shirt and apply anti-mosquito lotion would be sufficient as Malaria tablets may cause some side effects."

Ms Collard writes: "Can we get our travel vaccinations while we are in thailand. as we are spending 6 months in thailand before we do a round the world trip? Where can we get them done (we will be staying near mbk) and how much?"

BNH Hospital answers: "Dear Ms. Collard, Thank you for your letter. We would recommend you to take the vaccinations before coming to Thailand as some vaccinations needs to be done two weeks before the trip. The list of the vaccinations needed for a six months stay here are as followed:-
1. Influenza
2. Hepatitis A
3. Typhoid
4. JE
5. Rabies
6. Tetanus/diphtheria

Regarding the round the world trip, vaccination required will be according to your destination and length of stay at the particular place. You can get your travel vaccinationation here in Thailand. The Internal Travel Medicine Clinic (ITMC) Located at the BNH Hospital Hospital can provide you the service. It is not far from MBK and it has the update of any disburst and news directly from WHO weekly. For any further information please contact the International Travel Medicine Clinic (ITMC) BNH Hospital Hospital Tel: 02-686-2700 ext 1165.   

Darren writes: "Hi there can you confirm if Koh Chang is Malaria free or not .Thank you for your help?"

BNH Hospital answers: "Koh Chang is still a Malaria Risk area. For a short stay we suggest wearing long sleeve shirt and apply anti-mosquito lotion and try to avoid mosquito bite would be sufficient. If you are to stay over 15 days, you should take some malaria tablet. Malarone is the best choice but not available here in Thailand and SEA. We suggest Doxycycline, hospitals will have them in stock. Some caution is that it may have some side effect of phosensitivity,Nausia/vomitting and increase candida vaginitis, thought it does not happen to everyone. For Malarone you have to take one week before the trip and one month after the trip. For doxycycline, 1 day before the trip and one month after the trip."

Marie writes: "Dear Sirs/Dr I will be in Bangkok from 17th till 24th of this month, I will be staying in the bangkok area and will be staying at night in a hotel. During the day I will visit the city a bit. I would like to know if I need to take some malaria tablets. If Yes, could you please indicate which ones ( I beleive there are different ones for different degrees of resistance of the virus). Do I need to cover my skin with mosquitos repulsive lotion everyday? I beleive there will be 80% humidity so the lotion might go away quickly! thanks a lot for a precise answer. yours sincerely, Marie MORELLI"

BNH Hospital answers: "Regarding your visit here in Thailand, Bangkok is not a Malaria Risk area, for your length of visit we do not recomment you to take any Malaria tablets. We suggest that wearing long sleeve shirt and applying mosquito repulsive lotion would be sufficient. (Mosquito repulsive lotion normally last around six hours. For your information, there are a few types of Malaria tablets available. The best option would be Malarone which is not available here in Thailand and South East Asia, you should try to buy it from your country as It has the least side effect. The best available here are doxycycline, it is cheaper but may cause side effects such as phosensitivity, Nausia/vomitting and increase candida vaginitis, thought it does not happen to everyone. For Malarone you have to take one week before the trip and one month after the trip. For doxycycline, 1 day before the trip and one month after the trip."

Sarah writes: "Hello I am travelling to thailand at the beginning of November staying 3 nights in bangkok and 8 nights in Koh Samui could you please tell me do i need any vaccinations before i go and if so when should i take them."

BNH Hospital answers: "Dear Ms. Brooks, We are very sorry for the delay in reply. Vaccination required are .Hepatitis A and Typhoid, they should be taken two weeks before the trip. For your information Samui is still a malaria risk area, we suggest that you should wear long sleeve shirt and apply anti-mosquito lotions."

Marcus Mehlkop writes: "I will be in Thailand for one week and plan to visit Koh Samet. Is Koh Samet a malaria risk area? Do I need to take anti malaria tabletts? Is it a good advise to buy malaria tabletts for standby in Germany? What tabletts should I buy for standby in Germany? Many Thanks

BNH Hospital answers: "Regarding our question, yes Koh Samet is a risk area. However if you are well protected from mosquito bite by wearing long sleve shirt and apply anti mosquito lotion would be another option than having malaria tablets. If you would like to take malaria tablet there are a few choices, buying malarone from your country would be the best choice as it is effective and has the least side effect and is not availabe in South East Asia. Doxycycline is available here, it is cheaper but may cause side effects such as phosensitivity,Nausia/vomitting and increase candida vaginitis, thought it does not happen to everyone."

Michelle McCarthy writes: "Is it possible to buy Doxycycline for anti malaria over the counter at a chemist in Bangkok?"

BNH Hospital answers: "Michelle, Thank you very much for your enquiry. Doxycycline is not available at the chemist counter. At Khaosanroad most of them provide Metfloquin which is not so effective as there are resistant. However most of the hospital in Bangkok do have them in stock."

Denise Hoey writes: "I will be in Thailand for two and a half weeks and plan to visit Bangkok, the River Kwai, Chiang Mai (including trekking to hill tribes), Ko Samui and some of the National parks (including Khao Yai and Khao Sok). What vaccinations or protection do you advise for these areas? many thanks."

BNH Hospital answers: There are a few choices available for the anti-malaria tablets. Malarone is the best choice with the least side effect also the most expensive,( it is not available in Thailand and South East Asia.) Doxycycline is cheaper but some side effects of medicine could be make you phosensitivity,Nausia/vomitting and increase candida vaginitis although not everyone will get this side effects. We would suggest you to buy Malarone from your country. For Malarone you have to take one week before the trip and one month after the trip. For doxycycline, 1 day before the trip and one month after the trip. Other vaccinations recommended for a two and a half weeks visit are Hepatitis A and Typhoid which can be infected through food and water. If you have any further queires please don not hesitate to contact me. I hope you have an enjoyable holiday here in Thailand. Currently there are flood in some area of the North I suggest you should check it out before coming."

Coco writes: "What's happening with the bird flu? is it dangerous to eat eggs or chicken in Thailand?"

BNH Hospital answers: "Thank you very much for your inquiry. Regarding the bird flu I have checked with the BNH Hospital Hospital ITMC (International Travel Medicine Clinic) in Thailand so for there were no recent report, the latest incident report was 2 months ago in Karnjanaburi province. It is safe to eat eggs and chicken in Thailand provided that they are well cooked."

Heidi Henderson writes: "I am travelling to Thailand from Canada. I am 4 months pregnant and healthy. I want to be careful and ensure I have the vaccinations that are possible/necessary in my condition. I plan to travel north and to the islands. Any recommendations on what I should be doing/avoiding in terms of locations/food?"

BNH Hospital answers: "Thank you very much for your inquiry. We do not recommend vaccinations as it may have side effect with the baby. If you already have Hep B vaccination that would be good enough. Recommendations would be additional attention on food and water, make sure that the food is well cooked and drink clean water (available in bottles)."

To send your question, use the form below to contact a BNH doctor:

 

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Vietnam: The Road Less Travelled

Vietnam: The Road Less Travelled
Vietnam: The Road Less Travelled
Vietnam: The Road Less Travelled
Vietnam: The Road Less Travelled
Vietnam: The Road Less Travelled
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I only had a few days in Vietnam and, as enamoured with Hanoi as I was, I wanted to catch a glimpse of rural Vietnam. So, leaving behind Hanoi's cafes, lakes, tree-lined streets and deliciously smooth and hideously cheap draft beer I headed out west.
With a natural aversion to buses and not enough time for a trip on one of the painfully slow trains the only option seemed to be two wheels. Throwing common sense aside I opted for Russian over Japanese.

The Russian Minsk is more commonly known as the 'mule of the mountains' and favoured by the locals for its basic approach to transport and its ability to tackle the rugged highland terrain. Added to that it is cheap and there are spare parts readily available everywhere from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi and beyond.

Feeling oddly proud of my US$10 a day museum piece I secured backpack to seat and kicked the decades old two-stroke into action. Navigating through the mayhem and chaos of Hanoi's streets is an adventure in itself. Officially Vietnamese drive on the right but anywhere between, and including, the paths on either side will do. Street lights and road markings are purely decorative.

Once out of Hanoi the scenery is quick to change. Retail becomes heavy industry which in turn becomes agriculture. Houses become fewer, smaller and with greater distance between them. Eventually the flat rice fields around Hanoi start to incline towards the mountainous region of the west on route 6, where rice is grown in terraces.

The Minsk copes admirably with the hills and trundles along at a steady pace. With no electrics or battery on-board judging speed and fuel consumption is down to guesswork.

The road is generally single lane and of poor quality. Drivers are surprisingly polite even in the very rural areas and as you go further from Hanoi the bounds of what passes as a vehicle get stretched to the limit. Any motorised farm implement with wheels is quickly decked out with a seat and attached to a trailer. Instant tractor!

In Hanoi Minsks are thin on the ground but in the mountains their popularity is clear. Every well dressed Vietnamese owns one. Struggling up a steep mountain road I passed a farmer on a Minsk with a young buffalo trussed up like a chicken and strapped to a board, broadside across the back of the bike. Blue smoke belched from the exhaust just inches from the buffalo's nose as the two-stroke screamed its way up the mountain.

High in the mountains at around 1000m the temperature dropped and I regretted heading out in only a t-shirt. Stopping to pull another shirt from my backpack I was invited to drink tea with a man sat outside his house. Soon we were joined by two others, one holding a baby. None of them could speak English and I can't speak Vietnamese but we somehow managed to communicate with a few words from my Lonely Planet guide and sign language.

With an hour to spare before sunset I reached Mai Chau, a village-sized town set in a flat valley base of rice fields surrounded by steep mountains on all sides. Hidden off the main road down a long and bumpy lane Mai Chau leads me to Ban Lac, a small hamlet of traditional 'hill tribe style' stilted wooden houses.

The people of this region are said to ancient relatives of the Thais in Thailand and known as White Thai. The houses here are very similar to the traditional stilted houses found in the northern region of Thailand.

For about US$6 I got a room for the night, and dinner and breakfast. The room was devoid of windows or furniture and had an old, thin, fold-up mattress thrown down under a mosquito net as a bed. A ceiling fan hung from the rafters and one bulb gave just enough light to read by.

A delicious dinner was served alfresco beneath the house, overlooking the rice fields. Having managed to get the message across that I am vegetarian I was served home grown vegetables, tofu, rice and deep fried homemade crisps, all washed down with a few bottles of the excellent Halich beer.

After dinner I chatted with the lady of the house. Being a Thai speaker, well sort of, I was amazed to discover that distant as the White Thai are to modern Thais there are still some similarities in the language. We managed to have quite a conversation using common Thai words and English.

The view from my bed was a magnificent panorama of rice fields and the steep, rugged mountains beyond. I went to bed with the sounds of rice paddies in my head; lizards, frogs and crickets chirruping contentedly in the darkness. By 2am the local dogs burst into song as a response to several over zealous cockerels and at 5.45am I was roused from my slumber by the sound of cow bells down in the lane. The cool mountain air, dull dong of the cow bells and gentle plodding of the cattle on the dirt road gave the whole thing an air of the Alps.

After an icy cold shower and breakfast of crusty bread, cheese, jam and local coffee I walked through the network of lanes, dodging small herds of cattle ambling slowly in front of their herders. Thick cloud had descended and the mountains were completely shrouded, leaving only the valley floor visible.

The lanes were alive with the gentle hum of conversation and the tapping of hammers. In several locations new wooden houses were being erected. Craftsmen and women were busy shaping wooden beams and carving out ornate mouldings for doors and stairs. Women and children were weaving traditional hill tribe clothing and wicker baskets.

Later on the journey back to Hanoi was cold, wet and with poor visibility. Going over the mountains surrounding the valley in which I'd spent the night the traffic was reduced to nothing more than a crawl with visibility down to about two metres.

The Weekender

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Hanoi by Foot

Hanoi, Vietnam
Hanoi, Vietnam
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Hanoi, Vietnam
Hanoi, Vietnam
Hanoi, Vietnam
Further north than Bangkok, Hanoi is refreshingly cool and is a perfect blend of colonial French and Asia at its exotic best. I'd heard horror stories about this ancient city but couldn't find an awful lot wrong with it. My only complaint was that I'd not bothered to visit sooner.

The taxi from the airport to Hanoi centre took about 45 mins and cost US$10. The fare each way is pretty much standard so ignore any driver trying for a higher price. I checked into the Old Darling Hotel in the Old Quarter. I'd found the place on the internet and it sounded reasonable at US$15 a night for a room with en-suite, fan and air-con and a TV.

Hanoi's Old Quarter is something along the lines of a local Khao San Road, but bigger. It's a network of narrow streets with guest houses, hotels, food outlets, cafes, art galleries and travel and tour companies. The French influence is strong. Caf? culture is alive and kicking, art galleries are two a penny and I saw at least half a dozen old Vietnamese decked out in waistcoats and berets.

The traffic is something else. There are traffic lights and directions painted on the roads but it's not immediately clear why as no one seems to pay any attention to them. Motorbikes and mopeds rule the roads. Young Vietnamese girls glide through the streets on Vespas and their latest Japanese equivalent with a truly Parisian grace.

At intersections traffic moves in from all angles simultaneously. It seems impossible but it works. A friend who studied engineering once told me about some daft theory whereby if all the molecules of two solid objects were facing the same direction the objects could pass through one another. This is exactly as it seems to happen on the streets of Hanoi.

The best way to cross the road is slowly. Just position yourself on the pavement pointing in the direction you want to move and then slowly advance. Traffic will somehow move around you. It's scary but it works. I'm convinced you could close your eyes and get across unscathed; but never did pluck up enough courage to test the theory. Try it back in Bangkok and you'll get flattened.

The best place to observe Hanoi's vehicular chaos from is the excellent Papa Joe's caf?/restaurant on Cau Go, overlooking a ridiculously busy intersection and the scenic Hoan Kiem Lake. From the balcony you can watch Hanoi bustle by whilst sipping on a fresh juice or coffee.

Daytime the streets are alive and teeming with people. Street markets provide the familiar aromas so common with many Asian cities. Street vendors weave their way between pedestrians, carrying baskets of goods slung from poles across their shoulders. Everywhere you look someone is selling something and calling for your attention.

The streets were alive at night with foreigners and locals alike. Restaurants were generally busy and early in the evening gangs of people gathered for a gossip and some beer at street stalls selling the famous Bia Hoi.

Apparently the Czechs taught their knowledge of brewing to the Vietnamese and now there are micro-breweries everywhere. This un-preserved draft beer is available all over Hanoi. It's dirt cheap at something like 13 baht a glass (half litre) and is so smooth you'll want to keep them coming all night. 100 baht will get you almost 8 beers! These street-side beer stops are a very multi-cultural affair with locals mixing happily with backpackers and tourists.

By nine at night the streets had changed. Office workers and the night's early shift had dined, supped and moved on home, leaving party goers and less desirable types to come out to play. The only annoyance I encountered was the continual attention from motorbike taxi guys who are everywhere and seem to think that every foreigner is in need of a lift somewhere. Oh, and a street hooker and her pimp tried coercing me into a quick sex session which, I felt, would have left me severely out of pocket one way or another.

Out by six the next morning in time to watch the sun rising. Traders were getting into their stride, cafes and restaurants preparing for the early morning trade and motorbike taxis still hawking for business. On the wide path at the top of Hoan Kiem Lake ladies were practicing Tai Chi with red fans. It's therapeutic just watching.

Apart from art galleries and cafes the Vietnamese also inherited a love of fresh bread from their old colonial masters. Every few yards there were women with baskets of freshly baked crusty baguettes for sale. The smell is very inviting and hard to resist.

East of the Old Quarter on Pho Bien Dien Phu is the Army Museum. It's worth a look. It's basically a celebration of the most recent Vietnamese victories over first the French, then the US and finally China. There is a collection of captured and shot-down US and French hardware including a helicopter, rocket launchers, and numerous pieces of aircraft shot down and piled together as a piece of art. There are also weapons used by the Vietnamese in their military victories.

As expected the picture painted of the noble Vietnamese soldier is nothing short of saintly whilst the opposition are always evil, cloven hoofed and horned monsters hell bent on torture and destruction. One thing for sure, the Vietnamese are clearly a force to be reckoned with whatever they are armed with.
 
 
A long walk south from the Temple of Literature is Lenin Park. This is a huge recreational area set around Bay Mau Lake. This is where locals come to exercise, dance, eat, listen to live music, watch traditional dancing and generally chill. The entrance is lined with stalls selling local produce, ready to eat food, and gifts.
 
On a large stage by the top of the lake local girls were demonstrating traditional dance, similar to Thai dancing. Another stage had a modern singer belting out local favourites at deafening volume. Many people are simply using the park for exercise, a past-time that seems to be taken quite seriously here.
 
Back up to Hoan Kiem Lake and it seemed that the Vietnamese who weren't exercising in Lenin Park were here. Hundreds of locals were marching anti-clockwise around the lake in a grand display of communal fitness. Early evening has a very Chinese feel to it with families coming together for exercise and general interaction.
 
On the last morning I head out on foot again, after an excellent breakfast at the Paris Deli, for the Vietnam Revolutionary Museum and the Vietnam History Museum. Both are interesting and well worth the hike, despite the formers somewhat one-sided view of things.
 
This was my first visit to Vietnam and will certainly not be the last. The people are surprisingly welcoming and at the same time don't smother you with attention (with the exception of book sellers and motorbike taxis).
 
The level of English is lower than Thailand but there is more chance of a stranger trying to strike a conversation even if they can't speak a word of English. On several occasions I was invited to join people on the street for tea and a chat. No catch, no con and no payment, they just wanted buy me a tea, chat and try to learn a few words of English.
 
Hanoi can be a cheap destination. There are cheaper places than the hotel I stayed in and to be honest, it wasn't really worth the money. Food is very affordable and even the classier restaurants aren't prohibitively priced. As for beer, I doubt anywhere in this region can compete on that front.
 
With Air Asia offering return flights for around 5,000 THB all in it is no more expensive to get to than Singapore, Vientiane or KL.
 
There are many things to see in Hanoi alone even before venturing up country and I only touched on what the city has to offer. The leading tourist attraction is Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum. As much as I wanted to see it the queue was too much just to see another jaundiced communist leader stiff as a board in a glass case so Uncle Ho will have to wait until next time. 

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Hoi An – Strolling Through Vietnam’s Prettiest Colonial Town

Hoi An, Vietnam
Hoi An, Vietnam
Hoi An, Vietnam
Hoi An, Vietnam
Hoi An is the type of place that, on paper, sounds like an ideal overnight stopover for travelers journeying down the long spine of Vietnam. It's small, forever labelled "charming," and the famed tourist sites of traditional houses and bridges are all located in a tight, walkable circuit. Ask any traveler, however, and they will tell you differently. "Hoi An," they will inevitably say, "is a town you won't want to leave."
Located between the once-empirical Hue and breezy, beachy Nha Trang, this town's multicultural architecture offers a glimpse into the foreign influences that have shaped Vietnam. In the 16th century, this town was a shipping powerhouse, attracting overseas merchants who would sometimes settle wealthily in the town. These foreign influences are still resonant in the town's architecture, with centuries-old Chinese and Japanese buildings blending with French-style colonial structures. One of the biggest draws of this city is its historical feel, the fantastic absence of neon signs and skyscrapers. While the shops and restaurants are mostly tourist-oriented, the architecture and layout of the city remains beautifully uncompromised.

There's no shortage of hotels in this vibrant tourist city. Hoi An, famous for its dime-a-dozen tailoring shops, is a popular stopover with bus tours and travel groups looking to score some cheap Vietnamese souvenirs. As a result, hotels and guesthouses vary from the uber-elegant to the bare-bones minimum. If you're going to splurge, this is one of the best places to do it, with breezy, luxurious hotels like the Green Field Hotel (20$-35$/night for a double, www.hoiangreenfieldhotel.com). Budget travelers can take their pick from dozens of tiny guesthouses in the centre of the city. The popular Dai Long Hotel on Hai Ba Trung street, or the cosy Hop Yen Hotel on A Nhi Trung, offer rooms from 6$-10$ per night. These multi-purpose guesthouses will also help you with bus tickets, tourist maps, bike rentals, and even discounts on local tailors.

For sightseers, the heart of Hoi An lies over the Japanese bridge in the Old Town, where old Chinese shopfronts now boast tourist galleries and shops. For about 5$, visitors can buy a multipurpose ticket for five attractions. These tickets are available at most guesthouses. Some favourites of the tour include the Cantonese Assembly Hall (176 Tran Phu Street), whose cool chambers and ornate dragons are a photographer's paradise. Hoi An's three traditional old houses are a cross between museum and residences, where descendants of the founding families will show you around. The most attractive of the three is the Phung Hung house, also west of the Japanese bridge.

Hungry visitors will delight in Hoi An's mix of tourist friendly international cuisine, along with mouthwatering local dishes made with the freshest fish and vegetables. Prices tend to be inflated in the tourist areas, but some of the best (and most scenic) spots are down by the river, either at the Blue Dragon (who also sponsor a local children's charity), or across the water on Cam Nam island. Also on the island, the slightly-pricey Lighthouse Restaurant

offers unbeatable views along with its delicious food. Come sunset, many restuarants transform into lounges with dim lights and crowded patios. King Kong Bar on Cam Nam island is a friendly, funky nightspot. Backpackers also flock to the classy Tam Tam cafe on Nguyen Thai street, for drinks, snacks, and pool. Across the street from Tam Tam is a French-style bakery whose mouthwatering breakfasts will have you humming "La Vie En Rose."

For souvenir-hunters, Hoi An is most famous for its 400+ made-to-measure tailor shops, who can stitch up anything from suits to dresses to robes in a few days' time. There's no shortage of tailors in central Hoi An, and the best way to scout the good shops is by word of mouth from fellow tourists. If you want to keep shopping, a dense cluster of galleries sits just east of the Japanese Bridge. The Central market, by Cam Nam bridge, boasts all the souvenir kitsch you'll ever need, along with tasty local produce.

If you're seeking a glimpse of a more authentic Vietnam, head to Cam Nam island, across Cam Nam bridge. Here, there are still hotels and cafes with all the usual amenities. But the beauty of this island comes in the winding alleys where you can stroll for hours, catching glimpses of real Vietnamese life though doorways and windows. The area around the shipyard is dotted with artisan workshops, where you can watch craftsmen make traditional Vietnamese wares.

If you're keen to see some countryside, rent a bike from your guesthouse and head to Cua Dai beach, located a few kilometres outside of Hoi An. It's a scenic ride, past green rice fields and winding roads, and the beach is a great spot to relax. Here, the water is clean and local vendors will keep your belly filled with fresh fruits and cold beers.

Anne Merritt is Canadian and has an English Literature degree. She has worked as a journalist for a university newspaper. She is currently living in Ayutthaya as an ESL teacher and is sharing her experience of Thailand with KhaoSanRoad.com.

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On the Road in Vietnam: Da Lat’s Easy Riders take KSR for a the Ride of a Lifetime

de_lat_vietnam_1For the Vietnamese, Da Lat's cool altitude makes it an agricultural hotspot, while the pretty vistas and mountain landscapes makes it a honeymoon capital as well. The temperatures, which can dip down to freezing in the coldest months, has attracted overheated expats since the French colonial days. This quirky town boasts layers of personality, and the best way to see it all is with Vietnam's quirkiest tour group, the Da Lat Easy Riders.
 
First of all, let it be known that you don't need to go to a tourist office to find the Easy Riders. Odds are excellent that one of the group's 75 members will find you, spotting your rucksack a mile off and wheeling up with directions to hotels, tips on local food to try, and of course, promotion of their services. Though their touting may seem assertive, especially if you're just stepping off a long bus ride, these guides are some of the friendliest people you'll meet in Vietnam.
 
Even tourists who normally drive their own bikes will benefit from the guides' witty understanding of the city and its surroundings. Whether your passion is rural temples, exotic farms, or waterfalls, the Easy Riders will tell you the most popular sights in the area and help you tailor your itinerary to fit your tastes. Don't shrug off the odder-sounding sights, like persimmon storehouses or coffee plantations. The spots are likely run by friends of your guide, and they will give you demonstrations and offerings that no museum could.
 
On the morning of my tour, when the rain drizzled down on Da Lat, my guide showed up at the guesthouse with raincoats to spare. Throughout the day, he answered every question under the sun, from "who was Le Loi and why are so many streets named after him?" to "how do Vietnamese people feel about tourism?" with an impressive command of the English language. At the end of the day, with a head full of facts and a camera full of photos, I was all too pleased to sign my guide's comment book, which was dense with pictures and kind notes of other customers.
 
The Easy Riders will give you a heap of options for how to fill your day. Below are some of Da Lat's most popular destinations:
 
Crazy House
The daughter of a Vietnam's second communist president studied architecture in Russia before building this elaborate guesthouse, which looks like the psychedelic set of a children's show. It's worth exploring for the Smurf-village-like designs, and the ensuing discussion of "...but is it art?"
 
Lake of Sorrow
For a dose of local folklore, ask your guide to share the legend behind this popular honeymoon spot, where two young lovers met a Shakespearean fate.
 
Prenn Falls
Though waterfall enthusiasts may want to head further out of town for the bigger falls, this spot, a scenic 10km-ride out of town, is surrounded by pretty hiking paths.
 
Silk Worm Breeder
For any traveller who's dropped a few dong on silk souvenirs, it's interesting to see the rustic beginnings of this elegant fabric. Here, you can watch silkworm cocoons being boiled to unravel the threads, and ask questions to the patient staff (here, the Easy Riders will serve as interpreters).
 
Persimmon/Coffee/Strawberry Farms
Not only are the farmlands beautiful on the outskirts of Da Lat, it's interesting to watch the leafy green origins of the coffee plant, or the persimmon's lyme-curing process. More interesting is the insight you'll get into Vietnamese agriculture, and how its economics changed after the Soviet Union's collapse.
 
Old Train Station
If Da Lat's faux-Eiffel tower has you contemplating French colonialism, don't miss this French-built train station, which looks more suited for Lyons than Southeast Asia. While the museum-like station is a bit lacking in displays, the old-model locomotives and grand architecture are telling of France's high hopes for Vietnam as a colony.
 
While Easy Riders tours can vary in price, depending on whether you book several days with your driver. The 20$ I paid for a full day (and raincoat) was well worth it.

Anne Merritt is Canadian and has an English Literature degree. She has worked as a journalist for a university newspaper. She is currently living in Ayutthaya as an ESL teacher and is sharing her experience of Thailand with KhaoSanRoad.com.

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Halong Bay: Vietnam’s Jewel on the Water

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Halong Bay: Vietnam's Jewel on the Water
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The legend of Halong Bay is a fine one. In the time of Chinese invaders, the gods sent a family of dragons to Vietnam's coast in order to protect its people. The dragons spat jewels and jade into the water, forming beautiful islands which densely filled the Gulf of Tonkin, forming a barrier against invaders. Today, the only foreigners occupying Halong Bay are curious travellers from around the world, who come in peaceful hordes to see Vietnam's finest natural wonder.

Spanning 1500 square kilometres, the "Bay of the Descending Dragon" lies east of Hanoi and attracts tourists of all forms. Visitors can choose from a simple daytrip boat tour, a 5-day blitz of island exploration, or something in between. If you have time, we strongly encourage a 2 or 3 day tour of the bay to best witness its beauty. While the sky's the limit in terms of cruise luxuries (and costs), this traveller took a comfortable all-inclusive (minus alcohol, naturally) 2-day trip for 30$USD.

Because tour options are varied, travellers should have no trouble choosing a package to suit their tastes. Couples can soak up the romance of a smaller cruise; nature-lovers can opt for expensive cave tours, and sporty travellers can hike, bike, kayak and swim, all in one trip. When booking a tour, we recommend that you ask the agent to write out everything included in the package; sights to be toured, kayaking and biking options, et cetera. Some tourists are stuck with boat crews cutting back on activities to save travel time.

Once off the mainland and upon a tourboat, options are plentiful. Between big, delicious meals prepared by the boat crew, tourists can relax on the sundeck, swim, kayak, and snap pictures aplenty of the scenic islands. The boats make stops for guided tours of Ha Long's famous caves, full of stalactites and stalagmites and steeped in local folklore, explained by friendly guides. At night, tired tourists can put their feet up, taste some of Hanoi's local wine or beer, and looc up at the stars while chatting with other passengers. Your boat crew may speak of a a post-dinner karaoke affair, though be warned that the music is mostly tinny Vietnamese pop. Feel free to decline a turn on the mic, or else dive in and chalk it up to a cultural experience.

After a peaceful sleep in your ship's cabin, don't be alarmed if you wake up to the chipper "good mornings" of vendors rowing up to your boat on rafts laden with cigarettes, Coke, biscuits and other western staples. Despite its idyllic appearance, Halong Bay remains an iconic point on the tourist trail, and local people from nearby towns and floating villages know the value of this economy.

The next morning, those on 2-day tours can enjoy more swimming and scenery before the journey home. Travellers on longer trips disembark on popular Cat Bat island for hiking and cycling through its jungle terrain. Depending on the tour, they might also take a kayaking tour through Ha Long's caves. Whatever the itinerary, and whatever your tourist tastes may be, Halong Bay is a stunning, relaxing, must-see excursion for any traveller.

Anne Merritt is Canadian and has an English Literature degree. She has worked as a journalist for a university newspaper. She is currently living in Ayutthaya as an ESL teacher and is sharing her experience of Thailand with KhaoSanRoad.com.

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