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Monday, December 9, 2013

The White Villa

 Bach Dinh (or the White Villa) is a historical site in Vung Tau beach town and has become a popular tourist attraction for visitors to the seaside city.

Heading down the seaside streets of Ha Long and Tran Phu in Vung Tau, in the province of Ba Ria-Vung Tau, a white villa can be seen in a nearby forest.

Passing by Nui Lon (Big Mountain), visitors will see Bach Dinh (the White Villa) emerge through the trees.

Bach Dinh is situated on a six-hectare plot with trees, ornamental plants and flowers.

It is approximately 30 m above sea level, 28 m long, 15 m wide and stands 19 m tall.

There are two entrance points, one along a curvy road and one paved with blue stones.

Stepping into the area gives the feeling of walking into a deep, mystical forest.

In the old days, Nui Lon was an important strategic location for military experts.

A fortress called Phuoc Thang was built here in 1788 during the Nguyen dynasty to control the sea.

Gunshots from the fortress destroyed many French warships in 1859 as they passed by Vung Tau on their way to attack Saigon-Gia Dinh.

Today, rock cannons are still preserved as relics of the former fortress.

In 1898, the French governor of Indochina Paul Doumer, who later became France’s president until his assassination in 1931, had a villa built on the mountain at the site of the former fortress.

He named the villa after his daughter, Villa Blanche, or “White Villa” and had the three-story building painted a pale hue.

Visitors to Bach Dinh can also enter a museum with a large number of ancient Chinese ceramics excavated from a shipwreck off the shore of Vung Tau and there are great panoramic views of the city and sea from the balcony on the third floor.

Thanks to its beauty and peaceful forest setting, Bach Dinh has become a favorite place for many
Vung Tau residents and tourists to escape to.

A yearly international event celebrating world peace and the Buddha is set to propagate a message of harmony to all corners of the world

A set of stairs nestled in the forest leads to Bach Dinh (the White Villa) in the seaside town of Vung Tau

Ha Tien boasts eclectic mix of sun, sand, gemstones

 Despite having no major natural attractions or even facilities like quality hotels and resorts, Ha Tien Town in the southern province of Kien Giang is an extremely attractive place thanks to its primitive beauty.

Ha Tien, around 300km from HCM City, sprung up in the late 17th century amidst mountains, seas, and islands.

The town sits on Dong Ho Lagoon near To Chau Mountain’s green pepper gardens and the famous pagodas of Phu Dung and Tam Bao.

Legend has it that because of the region’s enchanting landscapes, Tien (fairies) would come there. Ha Tien derives its name from this saga.

It is said that Ha Tien has a little bit of the landscapes of all famous nature spots in the country. It has caves resembling those in the northern mountainous province of Lang Son, rocks erupting from the sea like in Ha Long Bay, and limestone cliffs like those found in the northern province of Ninh Binh.

Ha Tien also has mausoleums like those in Thuan Hoa region – the old name for Quang Binh, Quang Tri, Thua Thien-Hue, and part of Quang Nam provinces — in the centre and beautiful beaches like as those in Nha Trang and Ba Ria-Vung Tau.

Binh San Mountain is a terrific vantage point for viewing Ha Tien. The town, seen from the top, appears extremely fetching: on one side is the East Sea and on the other is the Voi Phuc (kneeling elephant) mountain. Scattered all around are limestone mountains.

Eight hundred meters from Ha Tien is Lang mountain. Close to it is a splendid lotus pond which used to be an irrigation canal built during the time of the Mac Thien Tich Dynasty.

The Thach Grotto, also called Van Son, is another attractive destination. Situated 3km from the town, the cave abuts a giant green rock. Inside the cave are hundreds of stalactites and stalagmites in bizarre shapes.

Other sights

Among Ha Tien’s other attractions are the area surrounding Dong Dinh Cave and Dong Dinh Lagoon, locally known as Dong Ho (east lake). Dong Ho is most beautiful on moonlit nights, but even during the day it is pretty as a picture and tranquil. For fishermen it is a natural refuge, offering protection from storms.

Close to the sea is Den Mountain. Standing on its top is an ancient lighthouse that has guided ships for over 500 years.

The sea off Ha Tien is widely known for its turquoise waters, clean beaches, and odd-shaped rocks.

Mui Nai Beach is an ideal place for swimming. It is not very deep, has clean, brown sand, clear water, and gentle waves.

Bang Beach is lined with hundreds of ancient sea almond trees (Indian almonds).

Phu Tu (father and son) Islet, which lies more than 100m offshore, is considered to be a symbol of Ha Tien. For tourists coming to Ha Tien, it is a magnet. A curious rock formation with one lying on top of another, called the Father and Son Rock, was destroyed a few years ago by the elements.

Chong Islet and Binh Tri and Hai Tac archipelagos are also great places to enjoy the ocean and try activities like swimming and snorkeling.

After visiting Hang Pagoda which lies in a deep cave adjoining the sea, tourists can take a 10-minute ride by canoe to get to Gia Long grotto which too has many beautiful stalactites and stalagmites.

In addition to its beautiful landscapes, Ha Tien also has many places of historical significance, such as ancient tombs and pagodas and the mausoleum of Mac Cuu, a Chinese migrant who is credited with building Ha Tien. The mausoleum is located on a large hill surrounded by giant old trees.

The night market in Ha Tien is another must-see. It sells odd and interesting souvenirs and other items, from simple handicrafts made of stone, shells, glass, and plastic to luxurious jewellery made of gold and precious stones.

Ha Tien’s cuisine is popular and extremely delicious. Canh chua ca kem (sour fish soup), chao trang va ca kho to (rice gruel with braised anchovy), hu tieu nam vang hai san (noodle with seafood), bun ken dua (ken dua vermicelli), and fruits like palmyra and durian are among the most popular with visitors.

Hotels to dish up feasts for moms

 On the occasion of the traditional custom of Mother's Day, which falls on May 1, children once again have a special day to honor and thank their mothers for their dedication to taking care of the family.

Small gifts, a phone call, a bundle of flowers or simply a short moment beside their beloved moms make them feel happy on that day. Hotels in town are introducing programs to create a venue for children who want celebrate the special day with their moms.

Caravelle Hotel

The hotel's Nineteen Restaurant will prepare royal feasts to honor moms, offering a special Sunday brunch and dinner buffet menu on Mother's Day. From appetizers to deserts, the brunch and dinner will feature succulent seafood, riveting roasts and savory sauces.

A photo featuring a cake served at Park Hyatt Hotel on occasion of the Mother's Day.
"Women do so much for their families every day," said John Gardner, the hotel's general manager, adding that the hotel wanted to roll out the red carpet and give everyone a chance to show their mothers how much she's appreciated.

To help pay tribute, the hotel's chef Timo Reus will prepare desserts, including a New York cheese-cake with ripened raspberries on top and a white chocolate fountain surrounded by juicy strawberries and marshmallows.

Diners can also enjoy the buffet with a selection of free-flowing Italian and Chilean wines, as well as unlimited margaritas and martinis.

Each buffet is priced at US$45++ per person with includes a high tea voucher at Lobby Lounge for all mothers.

Legend Hotel

Like other hotels, the hotel is also preparing a special food program for families celebrating the special day by going out for dinner together.

Sunday Brunch is priced at US$32++ per adult and US$16++ per child, while the dinner buffet is priced at US$40++ per adult and US$20++ per child inclusive of free flow wines, soft drinks, fresh fruit juices coffee, tea, and a special gift for every Mother.

Sofitel Hotel 

The hotel will celebrate Mother's Day with a special brunch for all families who want to honor and express gratitude toward their mothers. The brunch will feature festive delights such as foie gras and French delicacies. The program also includes red roses for moms. The brunch buffet is priced at US$40++ per person.

Park Hyatt Hotel

The hotel's restaurant Square One is preparing a special menu for lunch and dinner on Mother's Day. Chef Takeuchi Satoru and his team will prepare seafood on ice, featuring a variety of chilled shellfish and a smoked salmon fish cake among others. Price for the menu is at US$38++ per person.

Meanwhile at the Opera Restaurant, the hotel's pastry chef Victor will prepare cakes as special gifts for children to give their mother on that day. The cake, which is large enough for ten people, is priced at US$30++ each. It can be ordered with 48 hours notice. 

Dragon boats to race in Chau Doc

 In love with Vietnamese traditional culture? Excited by Vietnamese folk games? Do not walk away. You’re invited to join a festival in a sacred place in Chau Doc, An Giang Province.

The fourth “Dragon Boat Races” will begin on May 25 near the Chau Doc Sports Center and Victoria Hotels and Resorts to promote Chau Doc as a destination for local and foreign tourists.

The Dragon Boat Races are held annually as part of the Lady Xu Festival and take place on the Bassac River from the Chau Doc Basa Fish Park to the Victoria Chau Doc Hotel.

 Around 15 teams will compete this year.

 The races will take place at the April 30 Park – Basa Park from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m with prizes of up to VND2 million (US$125).

Later, guests can join the biggest festival in Chau Doc, the Lady Xu Festival, which is held annually at Lady Xu Temple from 23rd day to the 27th day of the fourth lunar month, or May 27-31 this year.

The washing of the statue is the main event of the festival. Although the temple was built fairly recently, the statue dates from the sixth century and is more reminiscent of statues found in India, Cambodia or Laos. 

Pearls in the East Sea

 Con Dao Archipelago, a group of islands off the shore of Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province, is an ideal getaway combining land and sea

Con Dao promises tourists a delightful and relaxing vacation this summer.
Earlier this week, we traveled to Con Dao on a well-equipped boat that had been upgraded from a fishing vessel.

The boat ran at a smooth speed of about 20 km/h, the perfect speed to relax, sightsee and take plenty of photos.

The vessel anchored one kilometer off the shore of Bay Canh Islet and our large group was divided in two.
One group went off to swim in the sea and the other began a diving tour.
Underwater, we discovered a world of brilliant coral.
Various species of colorful fish swam around the reefs and we were told we might even see a large, yet gentle sea turtle.

The best places for diving to view coral are Con Son Bay, Bay Canh Islet, Tai Islet, and Tre Islet.
Of these, Bay Canh Islet is the most favored by tourists as it is an ideal spot to swim, dive, have a delicious seafood lunch, and take a lazy nap outdoors.
At 5 p.m., in the center of Con Dao Island, we took a car to Tinh Yeu (Love) Peak.
As the sun began dropping below the western skyline, the whole area changed to luminous shades blue, red, yellow and violet.

It was truly spectacular.
The Con Dao District of Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province consists of 14 islands, the biggest of which is Con Dao (Con Lon/Con Son) Island with an area of 51.5 square kilometers.
Con Dao’s coastline stretches 200 kilometers boasting many beautiful beaches, mountains and forests.
To get to Con Dao Island, visitors can take a plane or boat starting from either the beach town of Vung Tau which is 185 km from the island or from Ho Chi Minh City which is 230 km away.

Beauty and the beach

 Lang Co is a quiet but breathtaking beach that so far has avoided the tourist boom, but for how long can this beach stay off the beaten track?

I’m probably not the only traveller who on the road to Danang from Hue has whizzed past a pristine, beautiful beach without even knowing it. For years Lang Co has been Vietnam’s most conspicuous secret. I first spotted this stretch of white sand going over the Hai Van Pass.

I remember thinking I would find out where this beach was and check it out on my next trip. Lang Co is only 40 kilometres from Danang – not that much further than the highly popular Cua Dai beach. Three years ago, however, it took forty minutes just to conquer Hai Van pass in a large tourist bus.

The climb over Hai Van, which means pass of the ocean clouds, was notoriously treacherous. Break downs and accidents were common. Now the drive to Lang Co from Danang takes less than an hour, thanks to the opening of Hai Van Tunnel, the longest road tunnel in Southeast Asia.

Accidents have occurred in the tunnel but it is much safer than driving over the pass with heavy trucks, buses and cars driving on a steep, winding road. By taking the tunnel road you will miss that magical feeling as you move through the cloud at the top of the pass as well as overlooking the cobalt sea below.

However you will get to Lang Co quicker and there you can dive into the very same cobalt sea while soaking up the spectacular views of the swaying pine trees and majestic mountains that lie inland. The beach, which seemingly runs endlessly, (a local claims it’s over 10km long), is also uncommonly empty. There are no hawkers, no postcard sellers or large groups of tourists. This is a hassle free paradise.

At midday in the restaurant at Lang Co Beach Resort you might find group of tourists stopping for lunch, who are either on their way to the former Imperial City of Hue or Hoi An. With the waiters occupied I decide to have lunch later on and stroll along the beach. Though it isn’t long before I find a hammock and decide there’s no need to be too ambitious when I have everything I need.

Happily I loll under the shadow of the palm trees and enjoy the sound and the smell of the sea breeze. It’s no exaggeration to say this is a heavenly experience for an urban dweller. Just yesterday I was breathing in toxic fumes while stuck in a traffic jam. Nearly 100 years ago, Emperor Khai Dinh was inspired by the beauty of Lang Co. He composed a poem to describe the area on a stone, which is preserved in a rarely visited mall village nearby.

However, Lang Co might not be a hidden charm for long. Local authorities hope that it will become a member of The Most Beautiful Bays of the World Club. Currently there are just a few resorts and a small number of guest houses. The largest is Lang Co Beach Resort with 70 spacious and private villas built in traditional Hue style. Right next door is Thanh Tam, a small resort which is currently expanding.

In the distance bulldozers are levelling ground for the construction of luxury resorts. The Singapore-based Banyan Tree group is said to be building a $1 billion resort in the area, featuring more than 1,200 rooms and a golf course. For the time being it’s just you and Mother Nature. All around Lang Co you can discover canyons, mountain springs and lagoons nestled in a tropical forest. One local I meet tells me I can go night fishing with local fishermen.

The thought of fishing reminds me it’s lunchtime. Seafood is foremost on my mind. Off the coast of Lang Co I’m told you can find lobster, crabs, squid and clams. Yet, there are no seafood restaurants on the beach. I walk towards Thanh Tam Resort but I’d rather enjoy seafood away from a resort. My friends have already consulted our driver who assures us he knows just the spot.

We drive back towards Danang and just before the entry into Hai Van tunnel, there’s a line of seafood restaurants on the banks of a lagoon. We choose Be Den, a rustic looking spot with a stunning panoramic view of the lagoon and majestic mountains above. A nice setting though the service at first is worryingly incompetent. Judging by the crowd the restaurant is well known to tour operators, truck drivers and expats living in the locale. At lunchtime the flustered staff can hardly cope.

Our first waitress answers ‘yes’ as if she heard our order clearly but then she disappears without a trace and our dish never materialises. When we complain to another waitress about the service, she quickly turns the tables and barks at us: “You should have ordered all your dishes at once.

We can not serve you plate by plate. We have a lot of customers to serve!” The seafood however is fresh and delicious. We order steamed squid, grilled clams, grilled shrimp, crab in tamarind sauce and plenty of Saigon beer to quench our thirst. Soon everyone is completely stuffed. Well, not everyone. For dessert one of my travelling companions orders another plate of steamed squid. “Hey, it’s really delicious and sweet,” he says in his defence. 

Sand, stones and surf

 Though there’s a lovely beach, people really come to Co Thach for the famous coloured stones. Long stretches of brilliant white sand, old pagodas and colourful stones are only some of the attractions at the Co Thach tourism area in the central coastal province of Binh Thuan.

With 78 hotels and resorts located along its beaches, Binh Thuan Province holds the record of having the most hotels and resorts in the country.

The province’s popular resort area Mui Ne is mentioned in Viet Nam’s Guinness Records for having the biggest sand dunes, which change shape with the wind, while Co Thach Beach in Tuy Phong District’s Binh Thanh Commune is popular for its beautiful stones and pagodas.

Co Thach is a rocky mountain created from thousands of large and small rocks piled on each other as though they were arranged by people, not nature. The rocks form many mysterious caves and grottos.

The tourism area, which lies between the rocky area and the turquoise water, has clean beaches and is distinctive because of the stones of different sizes and colours scattered on the beach.

Said to have existed for hundreds of years, the rocky area spreads over an area 1.5km wide and 20km long, also recognised as a Viet Nam Guinness Record for being the largest of its kind area in the country.

Tourists enjoy swimming and looking for beautiful stones in Co Thach. The stones, which have different shapes and sizes, appear in seven colours, including immaculate white, black, light yellow, grey brown, dark violet and cobalt blue.

Another attraction is the Hang Pagoda which is located inside the Co Thach Rock. The pagoda, about 64m above sea level, was built in the mid-19th century by Bonze Bao Tang.

It was restored many times from 1956 to 1964 and was officially recognised as a national relic by the Ministry of Culture in 1993. Its varied architectural style is derived from its many restorations over the years.

A three-door temple gate leads to a long path to the main hall, which is surrounded by tall blocks of marble.

On the right of the gate is a statue of a sitting tiger and on the left a lying elephant.

Ancestral temples, a preaching hall, and a refectory can be seen as well as a bell and drum towers.

The pagoda is adorned with solid altars made of valuable wood, on which stand dozens of Buddha statues of different sizes and ages.

Many rare relics are also kept in the pagoda’s buildings, including parallel sentences inscribed in gilded Chinese and Nom (traditional Vietnamese script) calligraphy and inlaid with mother-of-pearl, netlike panels, scrolls and other old documents.

The Dai Hong Bell and Sam Drum at the Hang Pagoda belong to early 19th century.

Southwest of the pagoda is a stretch of brilliant yellow beach. Legend has it that because of the region’s enchanting landscapes, tien (fairies) would take a bath there and then fly to a nearby well to drink. The Gieng Tien (Fairy Well) derives its name from this tale.

In addition to beautiful landscapes, Co Thach’s cuisine also lures travellers. Muc mot nang (cuttlefish dried in the sun) and dom nuong (grilled clams of different colours) are among the most popular dishes with visitors.