Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam offer some outstanding travel gems you may not have considered.
The past decade saw a tourism boom in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. High on everyone’s lists were destinations like Cambodia’s Angkor temples, Laos’s Plain of Jars, and Vietnam’s Hoi An and Hue cities. Those sights are fantastic. By all means see them. But much of Indochina’s best still remains off the radar, while many old favorites have begun reinventing themselves since they were first thrust under the spotlight. Below are ten such places that should be on everyone’s must-see list for 2010.
A temple festival at 7th century Phnom Chhnok, East of Kampot
Oozing French colonial charm, this scenic town nestled on the east bank of Kampot River is Cambodia’s most under-rated destination. If the crumbling French architecture, shady boulevards and riverfront dining aren’t cause for love at first sight, visits to Kep beach resort, the ancient Funan Empire-era temple ruins or a hike in Bokor National Park will ensure you’re permanently endeared to this Cambodian beauty spot.
Hotel Recommendation: Rikitikitavi, www.rikitikitavi-kampot.com, Kampot River Road, Kampot. Tel: +0855 (0) 12 235 102. Starting at around US$25, Rikitikitavi is a popular, smartly decorated hotel, restaurant and bar right on the riverfront.
A Bahnar communal lodge in Kon Tum, Vietnam
Kon Tum, Vietnam
Guidebooks send tourists to Vietnam’s far northern hill station of Sapa for hill-tribe encounters, long overlooking the architectural extremes of Kon Tum’s ethnic Bahnar suburbs. The provincial capital is surrounded by minority villages; their log homes with white-washed mud walls are raised on poles that encircle towering communal lodges called nha rong.
Hotel Recommendation Duc Binh Hotel, 122 Phan Dinh Phung, Kon Tum. Tel: +84 (0) 60 386 2019. Starting at around US$9, in the absence of any upscale accommodations in town, this sensible budget option downtown provides all the basic comforts.
The development of national parks like Phou Khao Khouay are important for the survival of Muntjac deer, which are hunted for meat and their unusual horns.
Phou Khao Khouay National Park, Laos
Phou Khao Khouay, or ‘Buffalo Horn Mountain’ Nature Reserve is Laos’s most accessible protected area, just 40km (25 miles) from Vietniane. Rounding out the attractions are wild elephant herds, Hmong village homestays and cascading waterfalls. The sandstone mountain range hides a further treasure-trove of biological diversity, including white-cheeked gibbons, clouded leopards and green pea-fowl.
Hotel Recommendation: Ban Pako Eco-Lodge, www.banpako.com, Ban Nabong, Pak Ngum District, Vientiane Province. Tel: +856 (0)21 45 1841. Starting at around US$29, this true eco-lodge leads treks in the park and a variety of relaxing activities.
For more information visit: www.trekkingcentrallaos.com and www.ecotourismlaos.com.
A sphere of writhing dragons forms a walk-in chapel at a Buddhist pilgrimage site near the foot of Chau Doc’s Sam Mountain.
Chau Doc, Vietnam
The Mekong Delta town of Chau Doc sits like an island above endless rice-paddies, rivers, canals and flood-plains. Its atmospheric synthesis of Khmer, Muslim Cham, Vietnamese and French cultures is key to its charm. Take a ferry across the Bassac River to visit Cham villages; their wooden stilt houses decorated with little rooftop spires, crescent moons, and stars, or head to the Buddhist pilgrimage site of Sam Mountain for vast sunset views.
Hotel Recommendation: Victoria Chau Doc, www.vietnamhotels.net/chau-doc/victoria-chau-doc-hotel/. Add: No.32 Le Loi Street, Chau Doc. Tel: (+84) 437 925 079/80. Starting at around US$138, Victoria is Indochina’s premier hotel and resort chain. Their Chau Doc location is typical: luxurious and perfectly situated on the Bassac riverfront.
A renovated villa in downtown Phnom Penh, with a tuk-tuk taxi in front.
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Though the pain of genocide will take generations to heal, with the ongoing Khmer Rouge Tribunal, Phnom Penh is turning a new corner and taking leaps toward the future. No longer just a transportation hub between Bangkok, Siam Reap, and Ho Chi Minh City, Cambodia’s booming capital is now a entrepreneur’s playground and a fashionable destination for boutique hotels, international cuisine and trendy shops selling some of the region’s best silk.
Hotel Recommendation: Raffles Hotel Le Royale, www.raffles.com, 92 Rukhak Vithei, Phnom Penh. Tel: +855 (0) 23 981 888. Starting at US$179. For a sense of history, atmosphere and romance, no hotel is better than Raffles.
Musicians in the Nghinh Ong Festival parade around the Ca Ty River, just West of Mui Ne in downtown Phan Thiet City. The festival combines elements of Chinese mythology and a local whale-worshiping cult.
Mui Ne Beach, Vietnam
It took a solar eclipse and 15 years to turn an isolated coconut grove into Vietnam’s top beach resort (Mui Ne was the preferred spot to observe the October 1995 eclipse). Though renowned for its kite-boarding, Saharan dunes and year-round sunbathing, the area’s cultural richness is yet unexploited by the tourism industry. Summer brings several fishermen’s whale-worship festivals, while the fall brings the Hindu Cham New Year and a Sorcerer’s festival.
Hotel Recommendation: Sailing Club Resort & Day Spa, http://vietnamhotels.net/phan-thiet/sailing-club-mui-ne/, 24 Nguyen Dinh Chieu, Mui Ne. Tel: (+84) 437 925 079/80. Starting at $72, elegantly landscaped tropical gardens afford maximum privacy. The poolside bar and elegant Sandals Restaurant offer broad sunrise views of the beach.
For more information visit www.Vietnamhotels.net.
Danang’s riverfront is developing quickly.
Often overlooked for neighboring Hoi An, Vietnam’s third-largest city has quietly blossomed into an off-the-radar resort destination with intriguing attractions like the Museum of Cham Sculpture, Ba Na Hill Station and Monkey Mountain. Danang’s China Beach, namesake of the old ABC television series, now hosts the new Montgomerie Links golf course and the luxurious Furama Resort.
Hotel Recommendation: Furama Resort Danang, http://vietnamhotels.net/da-nang/furama-resort/, 68 Ho Xuan Huong, Danang.Tel: (+84) 437 925 079/80 . Starting at around US$195, Furama is synonymous with 5-star beach-side opulence.
Golf Recommendation: Montgomerie Links, www.montgomerielinks.com, Thon 1, Dien Duong, Dien Ban, Quang Nam Province. Tel: +84 (0) 510 394 1942
A chapel at Wat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang.
Luang Prabang, Laos
Yes, Luang Prabanag has magnificent Buddhist temple architecture and the morning monk procession has erupted into one of Asia’s biggest, and at times circus-like, photo-opportunities. This cultural epicenter’s exalted perch on the banks of Mekong and Khan rivers, surrounded by mountains, doesn’t hurt the ambiance either. What is relatively new however are all the upscale spas, boutique hotels, great restaurants and the ever-expanding handicraft night market. This UNESCO World Heritage City is ground zero for the new Indochina Chic.
Hotel Recommendation: The Chang Heritage Hotel, www.the-chang.com, 93 Unit 03, Phoneheuang Village, Luang Prabang. Tel: + 856 (0) 71 253 553. Starting around US$60, this cozy colonial inn is a sister hotel to the nearby Chang Heritage Hotel. Perfectly located in the old town near Wat Xieng Thong and overlooking the Khan River.
Quy Nhon is blessed with immediate access to several sprawling sandy beaches.
Quy Nhon, Vietnam
Warm, dry weather for most of the year, with deep blue skies and clear waters, makes the beach town of Quy Nhon a prime holiday destination. It’s also one of the country’s most archaeologically significant cities, with half a dozen ancient Cham temples and the Cha Ban Citadel ruins all within a few hours’ drive.
Hotel Recommendation: Saigon-Quy Nhon Hotel, http://vietnamhotels.net/quy-nhon/sai-gon-quy-nhon-hotel/, 24 Nguyen Hue, Quy Nhon. Tel: (+84) 437 925 079/80. Starting at US$40, this government hotel is the nicest in town, just across the street from the municipal beach.
Sometimes the only living relatives to be seen from Jungle Beach are the monkeys.
Jungle Beach, Vietnam
Vietnam’s finest beach is hidden about an hour north of Nha Trang on a remote stretch of the Hon Khoi Peninsula. The boundaries of air and water are indistinct in the crystal sea, where night swimming with bioluminescent algae is on the regular activities list. The most intriguing views from this unique bamboo cabana homestay are the troupes of Black-shanked Douc Langurs, one of Indochina’s rarest primates.
Hotel Recommendation: Jungle Beach, www.junglebeachvietnam.com, Ocean Road, Ninh Phuoc Village, Khanh Hoa Province. Tel : +84 (0) 58 362 2384. Package rates include three meals and limitless lemonade.
This week the NYT headed off-the-beaten-path in Vietnam in search of a little respite from the hustle and bustle that is the rest of the country, and where they found it may be a little surprising: Con Dao (in Vung Tau province) — the infamous island chain known more for their prisons than for their visitors.
Until recently, the isolated 16-island archipelago of Con Dao (its largest island, Con Son, is commonly called Con Dao Island), 110 miles off the mainland’s southeastern coast, was a place most Vietnamese wanted to forget. For 113 years, this island was home to one of the country’s harshest prison systems, established by French colonists in 1862 and later ruled by South Vietnamese and American forces until Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese in 1975, at which point the prisons were closed.
Not surprisingly, with this history, few visitors visit the islands to this day. In fact, only about 20,000 visitors stopped by last year, and of those only 2,600 were foreigners. (They compare that number to the millions that head to the popular beach destinations Nha Trang and Danang every year.)
And what should you expect to find? Try some of Vietnam’s best coral reefs, empty beaches, varied wildlife, and a huge expanse of protected land (83% to be exact, including the country’s only marine reserve). In short, go to escape, go to avoid tourist, and just go.
The tear-shaped Phu Quoc (Vietnamese Phú Quốc) is part of the Kiên Giang province. The distance from Phú Quốc to mainland Viet Nam is 45 km to Hà Tiên and 120 km to Rạch Giá. The island is 50 km long (from north to south) and 25 km wide (from east to west at its widest part).
Surrounded by more than 40 km of white beaches decorated with coconut palms, Phú Quốc, situated in the Gulf of Thailand near the Cambodian border, is Vietnam’s largest island. Its western coastline is sparsely populated while the interior is largely covered with jungle and mainly deserted.
You can start exploring the island in Dương Đông, the biggest town on the island (west of Phú Quốc), where most of hotels and resorts are located. Going south, you can drive along Bãi Trường (Long Beach), which is a 20 km long, spectacular beach. You will see two pearl farms on the right, the second is worth a visit. At the end of the road turn left (you can’t miss it) and follow the signs, you will reach the fisherman village An Thới and the An Thới pier, the island’s southern tip. From here the An Thới Islands, a very nice snorkelling and diving area consisting of 15 small islands and islets surrounded by coral reefs in crystal clear water, can be visited by boat.
Continuing to travel north-east, you will see a sign to Bãi Sao (the sign is somewhat hidden, around 1 km away from the main road). Bãi Sao, with its marvelous white sand and green-turquoise water, is one of the most beautiful, quite untouched beaches on Phú Quốc Island. There are a number of simple, on-the-sand restaurants with tasty, fresh seafood in this area.
Before going back to Dương Đông, there are some recommendable springs and falls: Suối Tranh and Suối Đá Bàn. Suối Tranh (some 10 km north of Bãi Sao) is a stream connecting tiny ponds at different levels through small waterfalls. Suối Đá Bàn (a stony surface stream, north-east of Dương Đông) is an easily accessible white-water creek, gracefully flowing down huge granite boulders, on which you can wake; in some places there are natural pools waiting for a refreshing swim.
A stay on Phú Quốc Island would not be complete without visiting one of the factories producing Nước Mắm (fish sauce), one of the most popular ingredients of the Vietnamese cooking as well as one of the pearl farms with panels describing the formation of pearls and shops selling pearl jewellery.
The island has a unique species of dogs, the Phú Quốc Ridgeback, which has a ridge of hair that runs along its back in the opposite direction to the rest of the coat. Much of this island’s nature is still protected. Around 70% of the island, an area of 31,422 hectares, became a national park in 2001. The rainy season on Phú Quốc is from July to November and the peak season for tourism is midwinter, when the sky is blue and the sea is calm.
Travelers who know the Thai islands Ko Samui and Phuket often comment: “The island of Phú Quốc is still natural and untouched like Ko Samui 10 years and Phuket 20 years ago”. Not surprising, a larger international airport is being built on the island of Phú Quốc, expected to operate within five years. A golf course and a casino will also be completed. If you like untouched nature and pre-touristic surrounding, you should hurry up!
Travel to Phú Quốc
Vietnam Airlines (116 Nguyen Hue, HCMC, Tel. (08) 824 4482) offers daily flights from both Ho Chi Minh City (around 40 USD one-way, 4 flights daily) and Rach Gia.
Several companies operate high-speed hydrofoils going from Rach Gia to Phú Quốc. The boats leave the mainland daily between 7 a.m. and 8.30 a.m., and return from Phú Quốc between 12.30 p.m. and 1.30 p.m. (150-200 Thousand Viet Nam Dong, 2.5 hours). Tickets must be purchased in advance and most travel agents can book the passage. The most well-known hydrofoil companies (Tau Cao Toc) include Super Dong (Rach Gia 077-878 475, Phú Quốc 077-980 111) and Dương Đông Express (Rach Gia 077-879 765, Phú Quốc 077-990 747). Offices of these companies are located at the dock in Rach Gia and in Phú Quốc; the ride can be booked in most of the travel agencies in advance.
Very popular to more adventurous travelers is a round-trip between Ho Chi Minh City and Phú Quốc: travel overland through the Mekong Delta (Sai Gon – My Tho – Rach Gia – Phú Quốc, taking a ferry from Rach Gia to Phú Quốc) and, after staying and discovering the island, take the short one-hour flight back to HCMC.
Believed to be as old as Vietnams’ early dynastic era, an extraordinary musical instrument exists through time holding with it centuries of beautiful music incorporated into lifelong histories of lives of the Vietnamese people. The Dan Bau is known to create soft, serene sounds, which, every melody produced by it embodies the beauty of the country and its people. One of the only two musical instruments thought to be of pure Vietnamese origin, the Dan Bau is the unequivocal presentation of the country’s unique culture.
Legends talk of a blind woman playing sweet music from the instrument as a means of living while her husband’s at war. That, they say, was the beginning of how the instrument was discovered and the unmistakable emotional appeal of its melody began to be appreciated. Though there’s not much to substantiate such story, one thing’s for sure, the sounds produced by the Dan Bau sends a powerful message of love, longing and beauty that never cease to evoke the hearts and souls of its listeners.
A single-stringed musical instrument, the Dan Bau is simple yet very unique. Đàn, meaning a stringed instrument, and bầu, which means gourd, the device is exactly what is says. In general, it consists of a few components which includes the soundboard serving as its resonator, the spout, gourd, string and a tuning peg. Though originally, the instrument is made of four parts: a bamboo tube, a wooden rod, a coconut shell half, and a silk string. The string runs across the bamboo and secured on one end to the rod, which is perpendicularly attached to the bamboo.
Present day Dan Baus are constructed using wooden soundboards in place of the bamboo. The traditional silk string have also been replaced with an iron string. The instrument’s spout, which is a flexible rod that varies the string’s tension, is made of buffalo horn that is square-framed at the root, while flat and gradually bent at the top. It plays an important role in producing sounds of different pitches beyond fundamental overtones of the instrument. The gourd used to cover the spout where the string is tied, acting as a resonator, still exists though it had been replaced by wood and serves nothing more than a decorative feature. Its tuning peg, which could be made of bamboo or wood, is located at the inside frame towards the bottom of the wooden soundboard. The iron string goes through a small hole at the end of the instrument’s surface towards the tuning peg. A pointed stick made of bamboo or rattan is commonly used as pluck for this instrument.
Most of Dan Baus today now have modern tuning machines to allow adjustments of the string’s base pitch. Usually tuned to the C note, it uses harmonies or overtones. It is played by plucking the strings while touching it lightly with the side of the hand at a point producing a harmony. Though it does not require for one to be highly skilled in order to play the Dan Bau, a great deal of precision is needed to allow rise and fall of pitch along with lengthening and shortening of the notes with the aid of the flexible rod that permits the shifting tension of the string, thus, trills could be played. The technique involves gently tapping the string with the tiny finger of the right hand while the other fingers pluck the string using a long plectrum. With the left hand, the note’s pitch could be lowered by pushing the flexible rod using the index finger, or pulling the rod away with the thumb if a higher pitch is desired.
Used to be played solo or along poetry recitals, the instrument had now taken part in large orchestra to accompany stage operas. Music incorporating Dan Bau with their songs have taken a huge turn beginning the 20th century where players infused electrical pickups and amplifiers with the instrument to make its sound more distinct and audible to larger audiences. Still, solo performances are greatly appreciate and musical pieces exclusively composed for Bau solo, such as Vu Khuc Tay Nguyen (Dance of the Central Highland) by Duc Nhuan, Dong kenh trong (The clear channel) by Hoang Dam and Vi Mien Nam (for the South) by Huy Thuc are widely applauded.
Likened to the monochords of other parts the world, along which are the Tuntina of India, Cung of East Africa, Duxiangin of China, none can compare to the serene, melodious and inspiring tunes that reaches out to the emotions to wherever the wind carries its sound. Every pluck of the Dan Bau’s string is a tale of love and history in itself touching every listener’s heart while stirring their souls. The melody produced by the instrument may be viewed differently by every person as he connects with his own feelings. No matter how re-lived over the periods, and how time changed its visage, Dan Bau is one instrument that translates a great part of Vietnam and a true expression of emotions that will forever transcend time.
Collected by Vietnam Visa
The 2.018 meter-long project with total squares of 6.500m2 is an art construction playing a great meaning to welcome 1000th anniversary of Thang Long-Ha Noi and honor art heritages to patterns of history from the periods of Dong Son to dynasties of Ly, Tran, Le, Nguyen. The 2.018 meter-long project with total squares of 6.500m2 is an art construction playing a great meaning to welcome 1000th anniversary of Thang Long-Ha Noi and honor art heritages to patterns of history from the periods of Dong Son to dynasties of Ly, Tran, Le, Nguyen.
The road runs from Au Co Avenue through Nghi Tam, Yen Phu, Tran Nhat Duat, Tran Quang Khai and Tran Khanh Du roads. As planned, it comprises 21 sections of ceramic pictures with verities of interesting and colourful objects.
Taking part in this project, not only Vietnamese artists, Ceramic Road receives a very enthusiastic response of international artists. All with wishes to contribute a meaningful gift to bring beauty to the community as well to welcome 1000 year-old Hanoi Capital. Apart from the assistance of Michael Geertsen, a Denmark artist, and Dominique de Miscault from France, many other artists from many countries all over the world as UK, United State, Netherlands, Italia, Spain and Finland have registered to join. Ceramic Road is striving to set Guiness Record and become the longest Ceramic Picture in the world.
Since the beginning of this year, an estimated 30,000 Chinese tourists have visited Hanlong Bay, marking an increase of 25 percent against the same period last year.
Currently, around 400 to 500 Chinese tourists arrive in Vietnam via the Mong Cai Border Gate each day. During the recent Lunar New Year (Tet) Holiday 2009, nearly 1,000-1,500 Chinese tourists were visiting Vietnam every day.
Chinese tourists visiting Quang Ninh Province via other border gates have now reached an estimated 7,000 people. This comes as Chinese interest in traveling to Vietnam during Vietnam’s tradtional Tet Holiday increases.
Before, and after Tet, all hotels in Halong were filled to capacity. Large crowds of Chinese tourists stayed overnight in Halong, but they mainly slept in two to three-star hotels at costs of around RMB 8,00-1,000 per person.
In Lang Son Province, Chinese tourists also queued up to enter Vietnam. Deputy Head of the Huu Nghi Customs Deparment Nguyen Bao Ngoc said that the number of Chinese tourists entering to Vietnam during the Tet Holiday number several thousand. At the Tan Thanh Border Gate in Lang Son, many Chinese tourists said that they were coming to Vietnam to visit relatives and do businesses now that China had officially opened the border gate and relaxed restrictions.
In Lao Cai, statistics showed that nearly 10,000 Chinese tourists entered Vietnam via the Ha Khau Border Gate during the Tet Holiday until February 1st. This was the largest-ever number of Chinese tourists to pass through Lao Cai in only a few days, marking an increase of 30 percent against the same period last year.
Director of the Binh Minh International Travel Center Le Anh Dai said that because Chinese people were taking a longer vacation during the Lunar New Year, and had a custom to travel to the South in the Year of Buffalo, they chose Vietnam as an ideal destination. Moreover, a five package tour to Vietnam only costs around RMB 7,000 per person.
Sa Huynh is an area dotted with quaint fishing villages and sandy beaches in the central region’s Quang Ngai Province.Located off National Highway 1A, along milestones 983-987 on the coast of Duc Pho District and parallel to the national railway line, Sa Huynh abounds with golden sand.
The color of the sand changes during the day from an earthy brown early in the morning, to a shimmering gold around noon, followed by a pale blue hue on moonlit nights.
Sa Huynh is rich in local seafood and there are several restaurants offering up fresh meals from the sea.
The area is also steeped in ancient culture dating back to 1,000 BC. The Sa Huynh people are thought to be predecessors of the Cham, the founders of the Champa Kingdom.
Along with the Dong Son Culture in the north and the Oc Eo Culture in the Mekong Delta, Sa Huynh is considered one of the most famous ancient Vietnamese cultures of the Iron Age era.
Along the beach, stretching around 6km, and near the Sa Huynh Tourist Resort is an abundance of scenic highlights.
Visitors can rent motorbikes and travel around Ma Vuong Mound to see historic archeological sites.
In the culture of the ancient Sa Huynh people, the dead were cremated and buried in jars. In the early 20th century, French archeologists excavated these ‘tomb jars’ and found many were also buried with stone adornments and tools.
At Sa Huynh Hotel, about one kilometer south of the Sa Huynh Railway Station, visitors can enjoy the view of the vast blue sea, rest in the shade of green casuarinas, feel the cool breeze on their skin, swim in the sea by a sloping beach, and enjoy food specialties such as boiled crabs with salt and chili, rice porridge with sea urchins, and sour soup with groupers.
When visiting Sa Huynh, be sure to purchase a few kilos of nep ngu (a type of glutinous rice once offered to kings) and fermented urchin paste, which is only available in the summer.
It is not commonly known that the history of signboards of shops in Hoi An, Quang Nam province, is the history of the development of this ancient city.
There is nowhere like in this city where the past, the present and the future are as connected to business and nowhere like in Hoi An where signboards of shops can tell so much.
Some of the signboards in Hoi An have been around since the 18th century and they are still hanging on the doors of ancient houses like living proof of the ancient city’s history.
Culture of signboards
On ancient streets of Hoi An, old signboards prevail on doors, giving the ancient city a unique architectural characteristic.
Signboards of shops are very diverse and eye-catching. There are 75 old signboards on the road of Tran Phu and 40 on Nguyen Thai Hoc street, belonging to shops of Vietnamese and Chinese-Vietnamese.
According to the Hoi An Relics Preservation Centre, there are 45 signboards of 100-200 years old and 30 of less than 100 years. Many shops have been known for centuries, such as Duc Hung, Xan Thanh, Van Buu, Tan Ky, Tuong Lan, Chan Nam Hung, Thuan An Duong and Quan Thang San.
Mrs. Thai Thi Sam, 90, at No. 77, Tran Phu road, said: “Quan Thang San signboard is written in Chinese script. It has been used for more than 200 years, since the age of my paternal grandfather. It has been moved several times. Though my family doesn’t do business anymore, we still keep it because it is the brand of my grandparents.”
The old signboard Quan Thang San is now hung on the most beautiful old house in Hoi An. This house is a typical example of the architecture of Hoa Ha region in China. The house’s owner, Mr. Diep Bao Hung, is the 7th descendant of a Chinese captain named Thai Ke Trinh, who traded traditional Chinese medicines with Asian countries.
According to a survey of the Hoi An Relics Preservation Centre, most signboards were made based on the Chinese conception of prosperity and luck. However, the signboard of each house has its own special quality.
Most signboards of Chinese-Vietnamese are written in Chinese and made of wood. They are carved and gilded. Typical examples are Chan Nam Hung, Tuong Lan, and Tan Ky, which are decorated with leaves, flowers, dragons, and cranes.
There are some signboards made of concrete on walls, decorated with patterns, such as Thai Vinh Xuong, Nam Phat and Cam Thach.
Minh Duc Duong signboard, 120 Nguyen Thai Hoc.
The names of signboards tell the history of Hoi An, a commercial port established by the open door policy of the Nguyen Dynasty to boost trade with Chinese, Japanese, Dutch and others.
Signboards also express good things, combining with the names of shop owners.
The signboards like Hoa An Duong, Chan Nam Hung, Bao An Long, Nam Phat and An Thai express the wish to live and work in peace in this southern land by Chinese traders from Fujian, Chiu Chow, Hainan, and Guangzhou.
Annually, signboards are cleaned by a wiping cloth wet with alcohol but they are never painted again. During the lunar New Year holiday, they are decorated with red-cloth flowers. Below the signboards are scrolls of parallel lines of script: “Safe and Sound” or “Prosperous”.
Whenever a shop hangs up its signboard, the owner always chooses a good time and performs rituals with flowers, betel and areca, wine, steamed glutinous rice, boiled chicken, incense and votive paper.
At Chinese shops, there are some more offerings like a bowl of noodles, a piece of red paper on the plate of chicken and steamed glutinous rice to wish for luck and immortality.
Le Thi Tuan from the Hoi An Relics Preservation Centre said that as trade has been the foundation of Hoi An for several centuries so shop owners treasure their signboards. The position of major signboards will never be changed. Each shop has 2-4 signboards, one in the house’s centre, one in the living-room, and another hung outdoors.
“Even when a shop changes its business, the signboard is still kept out of respect to tradition,” Tuan said.
The famous La Thien Thai shop.
There is nowhere like in Hoi An where signboards contain intangible cultural values. By looking at signboards and talking with signboard owners, one can learn about the life, habits and trade history of a family and the prosperity of Hoi An from the past to the present. Thus, the local government has regulations to manage signboards.
According to the chief of the Hoi An Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, Nguyen Van Lanh, in 1997, Hoi An issued the first regulations on signboards in the ancient city. These regulations are very strict and based on the traditional way of using signboards at shops in Hoi An.
“Hoi An can both develop business, tourism while preserving its traditional values when it preserves its unique signboards,” Lanh said.
According to regulations, signboards must be clear, of standard size and suitable to the traditional style of Hoi An.
In region 1 of the ancient city, signboards must have brown, stone, dark yellow colours. The local authorities encourage traders to use wood to make signboards. The script on signboards must be Vietnamese.
Of nearly 1,000 signboards in Hoi An, around 70% are made of timber and done in the traditional style.
Hoi An will continue to introduce its culture to tourists through this system of unique signboards.
Visa to Vietnam can be applied on: Vietnamvisaexpress and Vietnam-visa
A trip aboard a ‘royal boat’ on the Huong (Perfume) River is a great way to discover the historic town of Hue.
The central town of Hue is well known for its dragon boat trips along the Huong (Perfume) River. It is a great way to learn about the unique culture and history of the central region. On most trips, visitors can travel via these boats to visit the Nguyen Kings’ mausoleums while enjoying ca Hue (traditional Hue singing).
The Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945) was the last monarchy of Vietnam and for a truly royal experience, visitors can opt to take a special royal boat adapted from the dynasty’s Yen Nhu boat. This type of vessel was featured at the Legend of Huong River Festival, part of Festival Hue 2008.
Compared with ordinary dragon boats that serve tourists, the royal boat is much bigger. It is 27 meters long, seven meters wide, and nearly six meters tall with seating for 120 people. Spectacular dragons and tigers are carved into the boat’s wooden floor and railings.
The cruise begins at Nghinh Luong Dinh Quay and lasts one and a half hours from 7 p.m. every night. On the voyage, visitors travel along the Huong River, from Truong Tien to Bach Ho bridges. The boat cruises gently past several scenic areas of Hue while traditional cuisine is served with musical accompaniment.
The trip is also enhanced by drama performances including royal songs, time-honored dances and poetry readings. Visitors can also share in the fun by trying on costumes like that worn by the kings and royal family during gala dinners.
Guests are sure to enjoy an evening of floating along the peaceful river while learning about royal culture and history.
A royal boat trip costs a base rate of VND50,000 (US$2.90) with optional activities costing more.