Archive | February, 2013

Con Dao Island

18 Feb

Con Dao Island sits on the East Sea about 97 nautical miles from Vung Tau City and is endowed with stunning beaches shaded with evergreen trees, fresh air, clear blue water, and primitive forests with an abundant wildlife flocking to the island’s sandy beaches.

Vietnam travel is famous not only for the beauty of nature but also for Vietnam culture and Vietnamese people. Travel to Vietnam, tourists can enjoy themselves with peaceful and fresh air which only Vietnam have. It’s really difficult to answer where is the most beautiful and the most famous place because everywhere in Vietnam is beautiful. And one of these idea place is Con Dao Island. It will be a wonderful travel tour to Vietnam for tourists when they come to Con Dao Island.

In travel tour to Con Dao island, after a 45 minute journey from Tan Son Nhat Airport in HCMC, tourists will reach Co Ong Airport on Con Son Island, the largest of 16 islands in Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province’s Con Dao District.

The road from the airport to the center of Con Dao island district is more than 13km, winding around the coastline with the sea on the left and on the right mountains and primitive forest. Along the road are scattered red paper flowers studded with white cherry.

The first impression of Con Dao center is a gentle urban area lying by the sea with clean roads under shades of almond trees and old bang lang trees. There is a lot of new infrastructure with offices, hotels, resorts, restaurants and residential houses which has livened up the area which used to be home to the gloomy images of the old prison.

Con Dao Island - vietnamtourism.org.vn

Con Dao Island overview

There are no taxis or buses but tourists can take a xe om (motorbike taxi) at VND300,000 per day to go around the island and the driver will double up as your local guide.

Tourists can also hire a motorbike from VND100,000 to VND120,000 per day or a bicycle at VND30,000 per day if you are feeling adventurous.

There are also canoes priced at VND5 million and seating 20 people. Visitors can stay overnight in resorts, hotels or make a camp.

Although part developed, the island is still thinly populated which is great for tourists who can appreciate the primitive atmosphere and of course the scenery and forget for a few days the cramped city life.

Con Dao Island is also famous because of the notorious prison. In the second half of the 19th century, after invading southern Vietnam, French colonists founded Con Dao prison where they imprisoned patriotic prisoners and Vietnam’s political leaders and managed it with brutal aggression.

In the 113 years under French colonialism and American invading forces over 20,000 Vietnamese prisoners died at the jail and were buried at Hang Duong Cemetery.

One of the stellar attractions in this region, the Con Dao Archipelago is slowly gaining attention for its startling natural beauty. Con Son, the largest of this chain of 15 islands and islets, is ringed with lovely beaches, coral reefs and scenic bays, and remains partially covered in thick forests. In addition to hiking, diving and exploring empty coastal roads and deserted beaches, there are some excellent wildlife-watching opportunities.

Con Dao Island - vietnamtourism.org.vnThe beauty of Con Dao Island

Con Son Island (with a total land area of 20 sq km) is also known by its Europeanised Malay name, Iles Poulo Condore (Pulau Kun-dur), which means ‘Island of the Squashes’. Although it seems something of an island paradise, Con Son was once hell on earth for the thousands of prisoners who languished in confinement during the French and American regimes.

Roughly 80% of the land area in the island chain is part of Con Dao National Park, which protects Vietnam’s most important sea turtle nesting grounds. For the last decade the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) has been working with local park rangers on a long-term monitoring program. During nesting season (May to September) the park sets up ranger stations to rescue threatened nests and move them to the safe haven of hatcheries.

Other interesting sea life around Con Dao includes the dugong, a rare and seldom-seen marine mammal in the same family as the manatee. Dugongs live as far north as Japan, and as far south as the subtropical coasts of Australia. Their numbers have been on a steady decline, and increasingly efforts are being made to protect these adorable creatures. Major threats include coastal road development, which causes the destruction of shallow-water beds of seagrass, the dugongs’ staple diet.

Con Dao is one of those rare places in Viet­nam where there are virtually no structures over two storeys, and where the traveller’s experience is almost hassle-free. One of the special things here for travel tour Con Dao, there’s even no need to bargain at the local market! Owing to the relatively high cost and the inaccessibility of the islands, mass tourism has thankfully been kept to a minimum.

Con Dao Island - vietnamtourism.org.vn

These days most visitors to Con Son are package-tour groups of former VC soldiers who were imprisoned on the island. The Viet­namese government generously subsidises these jaunts as a show of gratitude for their sacrifice. Foreign tourists are still few and far between, though their numbers are on the rise.

The driest time to visit Con Dao is from November to February, though the seas are calmest from March to July. The rainy season lasts from June to September, but there are also northeast and southwest monsoons in autumn that can bring heavy winds. In November 1997 typhoon Linda did a number here: 300 fishing boats were lost, reefs were wiped out and the forests flattened. September and October are the hottest months, though even then the cool island breezes make Con Dao relatively comfortable when compared with Ho Chi Minh city or Vung Tau.

Tra Co – Vietnam’s most romantic beach

18 Feb

Tra Co Beach is widely known as the first beach on the country’s map, the longest beach (17km) in the country, and Vietnam’s most pristine and romantic beach.

Tra Co is one of the most beautiful beaches in Viet Nam. Located in Quang Ninh province, next to Viet Nam – China border,  Tra Co – a good and charming place for vacations is only 8 -9 kilometers away from Mong Cai town.

Tra Co Beach is a popular attraction to tourists in Vietnam travel with broad fine sand beaches stretching for 17 kilometers from the cape named Got in the north to the cape named Ngoc in the south. The coastline is bordered by 3-4 meters high sand dunes and peaceful  fishing  villages. It’s widely known as the longest beach in the country and considered the most pristine and romantic one with deep blue sea the year around and smooth white sand.

Tra Co is considered the most romantic beach in Vietnam.

The beach is shaded by a range of casuarina, protecting the village from the wind and the sand. Tra Co beach is an ideal place for tourists in Vietnam tourism to spend holidays. If you spend your holiday on the fifth month of the lunar calendar, you can have a chance to take part in  Tra Co Communal House Festival organized from the 30th of the fifth lunar month to the 6th of the sixth lunar month.

Tra Co beach with its wide stretches of smooth white sand and deep blue sea all the year round

Tra Co has an abundance of fish so visitors in tours to Vietnam can enjoy several local specialties made from cuttlefish, crab, shrimp, oysters and squid. The best known local dishes are made from king crabs.

Sunrise at Tra Co beach

Next to Tra Co Beach is the beautiful Con Mang (Mang islet), about 5km from Mong Cai. The sand here is smooth and firm and you can easily ride a motorbike on it without being afraid of sinking or slipping. You can also enjoy the beautiful view at sunrise or sunset.

So, Tra Co’s beauty is due to many natural features, when you have an opportunity to go to Quang Ninh, you should not miss this place. Please come to Tra Co and explore this charming beach!

Banh Chung – Square rice cake in Vietnamese Tet

2 Feb

Banh Chung (Square rice cake) is a traditional Vietnamese for lunar new year rice cake which is made from glutinous rice, mung bean, pork and other ingredients. Its origin is told by the legend of Lang Liêu

History and Legend

The origin of Banh Chung can be traced to Hong Bang Dynasty – when the 6th Hung Emperor ruled the land (read Vietnam Early History). Sadly thinking he was too old to lead the country, Hung Emperor wanted to find the one to inherit his position and sit on the throne. Therefore, he held a cooking contest for his 21 sons, and who could fully satisfy his taste would be the winner.

Vietnam Square Cake with the glossy green when they are taken off the steaming pot

Most princes set out on their journey to find special, exotic and far-fetched food, except for Lang Lieu – the 18th son of Hung King, also the poorest and loneliest since he lost his mother at a young age. Not having enough money to afford such delicacies, Lieu just stayed around his house.

Thanks to the help of a fairy in his dream, Lieu came up with 2 types of cake called ‘Banh Chung’ and ‘Banh Day’ and started baking exactly like what he had been told. On a spring day on which all the princes’ labor had to be presented, Lang Lieu and his wife brought Banh Chung and Banh Day to the emperor while other princes presented such expensive and unusual dishes.

Others sneered at Lieu’s cakes, but Hung Emperor was deeply impressed by the special flavor of these cakes. He asked Lieu about the meaning of these cakes. Lieu said that he had cooked the glutinous rice, then molded it into a round rice cake, and called it Banh Day as it symbolized the sky we live under; he also cooked a square rice cake, stuffed it with cooked bean paste and ground meat in the middle, and called it Banh Chung, which was symbolic of the earth we live on.

After that, Hung Emperor decided that Lieu was the winner and passed his throne to him. Since then, Banh Chung and Banh Day become traditional foods during the Tet holiday.

Banh Chung today

Banh Chung can be served as it is or fried to make ‘Banh Chung Ran’ – a delicious for such cold February in Vietnam. In some other regions, especially the Southern part of Vietnam, Banh Chung can be wrap in a cylindral shape with same ingredients, called ’Banh Tet’. A similar one to Banh Tet is ‘Banh Tay’ or ‘Banh Chung Dai’ (Long Banh Chung), served solely in the North with mung bean and little or no pork, hence, can be preserved for a longer period.

There are also many variations of Banh Chung according to regions, religions and likings such as Banh Chung Gu (Humped Banh Chung) of San Diu people, Banh Chung Chay (Vegetarian Banh Chung) for vegetarians and Buddhists, Banh Chung Ngot (Sweetened Banh Chung), etc.

  (Fried Chung Cake is a popular variation of Vietnamese Square Cake)

In traditional context, the process of making Banh Chung is an occasion for Vietnamese family members to get together. Sitting around the warm fire, talking and telling each other past stories, they get ready for a New Year with lots of good wishes.

Although nowadays, not many Vietnamese families keep this habit anymore, Banh Chung is still an irreplaceable dish of Vietnamese ancestor altar on the occasion of Tet. It is the evidence of the Vietnamese loyalty and great gratitude to their ancestors.

The importance of Banh Chung has already gone into poetry:

‘Thịt mỡ, dưa hành, câu đối đỏ
Cây nêu, tràng pháo bánh chưng xanh’

Translation:

‘Rich meats, Salty onions, red couplets
Nêu tree, firecracker, green banh chung’.