Exploring the largest cave – Son Doong  

Visitors to the beautiful landscapes of the Far Eastern jewel of Vietnam are often struck by the country's sheer diversity. Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi are as bustling and cosmopolitan as anywhere else in the Far East; or, in fact, the world. The Mekong Delta and the bays of Ha Long contain fabulous landscapes. The central Highlands are a wonderful contrast of cultivated land and secretive indigenous villages. But travelling underground often displays Vietnam at its most breathtaking.
For visitors who don't suffer from claustrophobia, exploring below the ground can offer glimpses of a fabulous subterranean world. One particular cave, Son Doong, lay undiscovered for centuries, until a local happened across it. Located near the border with Laos, in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park in Quang Binh Province – lying in the portion of the country that was North Korea prior to unification – this cave is the world's largest. As well as being a vast subterranean lair, it also contains a large, fast flowing river.
Its discovery was attributed to a local, named Ho-Khanh, in 1991. This area was actually feared due to the strange whistling sound which persisted (which was eventually attributed to the underground river). Following his finding, researcher arrived from the British Cave Research Association, led by Howard and Deb Limbert. They were surveying the cave in 2009, until their research was cut short by a calcite wall.
That Son Doong was actually discovered to be five times the size of Vietnam's previously largest cave gives some indication of the scale of the 1991 discovery. There are only two known entrances to a chamber estimated at being 9,000 metres in length, and 150 metres wide. Its main chamber is over 200 metres high. A cave exit was discovered in 2010, with the intrepid group who finally scaled the 200-metre high wall discovering pearls ‘the size of baseballs'.
Guided tourists first entered the cave last year, paying $3,000 each for the privilege. These explorers came from the UK, the US, Australia, Norway and Russia. They camped in the dripping cave environment for seven days and six nights. Now that the door to exploration has been opened, future tours will undoubtedly take place on a more regular basis.
The large amount of flowing water inside is something of a hazard for future cavers in Son Doong. Additionally, the entrance to the cave is narrow – it's hardly surprising that its existence wasn't common knowledge until fairly recently.
The new cave was described by the exploratory team's Howard Limbert as ‘a thing of overwhelming beauty and grandeur'. He added that within the cave system, each separate grotto possesses its own beauty, although he was particularly impressed by Ca Xai, a large cave with a lake at its base. This was measured with a 200-metre rope – which didn't reach the lake bed.
Son Doong will not be developed as a tourist destination, in a bid to preserve its natural beauty. However, the existence of fabulous cave systems such as this in Vietnam will only serve to whet the appetite for potholers, cavers and intrepid adventure tourists to seek advice about the whereabouts of Vietnamese caves which are open for business!

A taste of Vietnam  

Throughout the world, people have developed a taste for Asian food, principally the dishes emanating from China, Japan or India. However, by travelling beyond these locations it's possible to immerse yourself in a diverse world of mouth-watering national dishes. Vietnamese cuisine is no exception.
When you travel to Vietnam, one thing you are bound to realize straight away is that food is readily available at every turn. As with other locations throughout the Far East, sumptuous dishes are hawked from stalls at every street corner, and in marketplaces throughout the countryside. As far as the actual menus go in Vietnam, there are hundreds upon hundreds of possible dishes to choose from. In addition, the menus vary from region to region.
Vietnam's larger cities, such as Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, will also offer you a taste of cuisine from any corner of the globe, as well as bountiful examples of indigenous cooking.
Rice
The ubiquitous cornerstone of dining in Vietnam, as with other parts of Asia, are bowls of rice or noodles. Where Western visitors are used to these side dishes forming a somewhat uninspiring part of their meal, really serving as little more than a filling for the more interesting main dishes, in Vietnam rice or noodles are integral to the meal. They can be cooked with an array of delicious sauces or gravies, with additional spices, giving them an extra ‘zing'. It seems particularly unfair to dismiss them as mere side dishes!
The ubiquitous cornerstone of dining in Vietnam, as with other parts of Asia, are bowls of rice or noodles. Where Western visitors are used to these side dishes forming a somewhat uninspiring part of their meal, really serving as little more than a filling for the more interesting main dishes, in Vietnam rice or noodles are integral to the meal. They can be cooked with an array of delicious sauces or gravies, with additional spices, giving them an extra ‘zing'. It seems partiIf rice is their staple dish, it is the boiled variety that is particularly popular, and is consumed with all three main Vietnamese daily meals. Tam thom or nahg huong are fragrant varieties, while grilled rice favourite in the autumn, and is eaten with bananas, eggs and sapodillas. Sticky rice cakes are also widely appreciated – known as banh chung. These are formed by mashing together glutinous rice, green bean paste and pork shavings. The cakes are then wrapped in banana leaves or bamboo.cularly unfair to dismiss them as mere side dishes!
Main dishes
The main dishes that you will be presented with as your choices on a Vietnamese menu are many and varied. You can expect to select from shrimp, shredded chicken, sliced pork, spring rolls, and an incredible variety of fresh seafood. There are also a range of more exotic possibilities including local shark fin, all manner of spices, and various unusual but tasty examples of locally-cultivated fruits and vegetables.
One of the best treats to keep an eye out for is pho – a spicy, meat-based noodle soup. It is very cheap, and comes in either pho bo (beef) or pho bo tai (fish) varieties.
How much to spend
When it comes to getting value for money for your dining experience, many tourists like to head off to the market stalls. Because these street hawkers are primarily catering for the local populace, the prices they charge are generally low.
If you want to actually sit down in a restaurant, the government-run establishments are comfortable enough, but can be quite sterile looking. There is also likely to be a 10% service charge added to the bill. Tipping is not a widespread custom in Vietnam, although it has become quite common in those areas favoured by visitors.
Family holidays in Vietnam  
Last century, Vietnam only made the news for all the wrong reasons. However, the destructive conflict that afflicted the country for many years remains an aspect of its distant past. Vietnam's present couldn't be more radically different. In the intervening decades it has steadily emerged as one of the Far East's, indeed, the planet's, most desirable holiday locations.
One of the reasons for Vietnam's enduring popularity is the fact it is ideal for family holidays. There is just so much to do and see in this wonderful country. Whether you enjoy tranquil landscapes, or the hustle and bustle of city streets, there is something for every possible taste.
Halong Bay, to the north of the country, is world-renowned for its spectacular limestone seascapes. There is every likelihood you have seen images of these turquoise seas lapping cliffs and islands; to actually experience the scenery at first hand is simply breathtaking.
In complete contrast, the streets of Saigon echo with a million and one different sights and sounds. Although this is a bustling cosmopolitan city that is as technologically advanced as any other world metropolis, turning a corner can still bring you face to face with the unexpected. Indeed, much as Vietnam's countryside will give you a host of memorable images from your holiday, it is the colourful, aromatic, and noisy city experience that is bound to have a particularly long lasting effect.
For family holidays, one of the most recommended ways of getting around Vietnam is to forsake modern transport and resort to traditional methods of getting from A to B. Bicycles and kayaks are a very popular way of seeing the sights. As well as traversing the landscape at a slow enough rate to allow you to absorb as much as possible, you will also be keeping yourself fit at the same time! What's more, you will be doing your bit for the Vietnamese environment.
Hanoi is well known for its water puppet show, a historic form of theatre that goes back centuries. But if you and your family would truly like to get away from it all, using kayaks to gently explore Vietnam's countless rivers and bays might be more tempting. There is also the option of donning a mask and snorkel and immersing yourself in the cool waters of Nha Trang. If your preferred mode of aquatic transport is something less demanding, there are numerous boat trips to be embarked on. A cruise along the Mekong Delta will offer many startling images for your holiday snaps. The rivers are teeming with interesting wildlife, and the jungles that encroach as far as the banks reverberate with the cries of hundreds of exotic species of birds and mammals.
After all the daily activity, it is a great feeling to kick back and relax. This is when you get the chance to savour some of Vietnam's superb cuisine. A mouthwatering choice of indigenous dishes is available, enabling you to not only experience completely new tastes, but also develop your chopstick skills. Many different types of vegetables, meat and fish dishes are popular, and no doubt by the end of your holiday you will have developed a particular list of favourites. You might even have found yourself demanding seconds of fried scorpion!
Kids activities during Vietnam vacations  

Are you thinking about visiting Vietnam but are unsure if there will be sufficient facilities to keep young charges occupied? Well, rest assured, you have absolutely nothing to worry about on that score. There is a wealth of activities for children to enjoy during Vietnam holidays.
Boat trips
Vietnamese love children. Every city or town, right down to the smallest village, has something to offer visitors of all ages. There are boat cruises, cycle trips, zoos, elephant rides, go-karting, water sports, and other activities too numerous to mention. There are also miles and miles of stunning sun-kissed beaches on Vietnam's shores that are ideal playgrounds for kids to enjoy. If they aren't building sandcastles then they can dip their toes in the South China Sea!
If you are visiting the south of Vietnam, then boat excursions along the Mekong Delta are to be highly recommended. This landscape is formed by nine tributaries of the mighty Mekong River, together with canals and swamps which all interconnect to create a veritable maze of waterways and forests to be explored. In addition, there are rice paddies where you might be fortunate to catch sight of traditional Vietnamese farming methods, complete with sturdy water buffalo.
Elephant riding
When you're giving your children various options to keep them occupied, few of them will offer any resistance when you mention the possibility of going to see elephants! Even better, what about actually riding elephants? The pastime of elephant riding is very popular in this country, as well as a fairly common means for rural communities for getting around. The best location to experience the thrills of riding on the back of elephants is to head to Da Lat, by Tuyen Lake. Here you will come across a large range of these creatures, fully harnessed and ready to go. As well as claiming aboard these magnificent animals for an unforgettable cross-country jaunt, the backdrop is of uniformly lush landscapes, making for a perfect experience. The further good news about riding elephants is that it is very reasonably priced.
Water parks
Children just can't resist playing on water. Vietnam is able to offer an increasingly diverse choice of water parks to its visitors. These theme parks can now be found in cities such as Ho Chi Minh or Da Lat. Saigon Water Park in Ho Chi Minh City's Thu Duc neighbourhood was Vietnam's first, although there are a great many equally popular areas to indulge in some no-nonsense water sliding throughout the country.
Zoos
Vietnam has an incredibly diverse ecosystem, with an incredible range of animals existing in several natural habitats, from the shoreline of Ha Long to the north-east, to the densely-forested interior, to the teeming mangrove swamps bordering the Gulf of Thailand to the south-west. Naturally, the best places to visit to see indigenous and imported wildlife are Vietnam's two main issues. Ho Chi Minh hosts the oldest, while there is also a well-stocked zoo in `Hanoi in the north. Have an excellent complement of animals, as well as many different exotic creatures from all over the world. Both these zoos have extensive grounds containing various attractions, such as temples and aquariums.

Recommended Vietnam hotels - The Church Boutique  

Located in Hanoi's Old Quarter, the Church Boutique is a relatively small international hotel (31 rooms), but what it may lack in stature compared to some of the country's larger hotels, it makes up for in customer service. Its situation is a mere 45-minute journey from Hanoi Airport.
Building manages to combine contemporary Vietnamese architecture with the more striking aspects of French colonial design. The overall effect of this is to create a unique style that enables the Church Boutique to stand out. From the moment you arrive at the front glass door, to be greeted by smartly-uniformed staff, you will find yourself entering a fabulously-appointed hotel foyer. The fixtures and furnishings manage to combine the best of old-fashioned colonial grace, with indigenous Vietnamese designs and modern furniture and finishing. The rooms are bathed in light, with lots of strategically positioned flora to catch your eye.
Hanoi's Old Quarter is a ubiquitous draw for tourists from various corners of the world, and this hotel makes the perfect location for a base camp. Here you can explore the area's picturesque streets, as well as a the host of visitor attractions which are right on your doorstep. The hotel offers visitors the opportunity to truly immerse themselves in the culture of this wonderful capital city. See reviews here.
Not only are you surrounded by historic buildings dating back to the French colonial occupation, you are fortunate enough to be right at the heart of the city's shopping district. In addition, the moment you step out of your hotel room you are faced with a gentle walk to the Dong Xuan night market, as well as the world-renowned water puppet theatre.
The hotel is particularly popular with couples, especially those celebrating their honeymoon win, as it offers a choice of scenic boat cruises, in addition to the cost of other activities.
Facilities
The hotel's 31 rooms are all fully air-conditioned. They contain ensuite bathrooms with a separate shower. There is a flat screen television, complete with international channels, and full cable access. There is free Wi-Fi, a telephone, a hairdryer, a safety deposit box, a mini bar, and tea and coffee making facilities. The classic rooms each have a twin bed and will sleep maximum of two adults. The deluxe rooms have king-sized beds, while the suites have a king-sized bed with spacious living area. There is a separate bathroom with a bath. These will accommodate three adults or two adults and one child up to aged 11.
Other services on offer include room service, laundry, luggage storage and a valet service.
Dining
The hotel's La Petite Eglise Restaurant opens its doors all day, offering a choice of Vietnamese or international cuisine. It is particularly recommended that you try the local cuisine, if you are unfamiliar with indigenous Vietnamese dishes, because you will find that your taste buds are in for a treat.
The waiters are renowned for being particularly attentive, and if there are any items amongst the local or international dishes you are unsure of, a full exclamation will be given.

 

Recommended Vietnam hotels - Sheraton Saigon Hotel  

Located in the Dong Khoi neighbourhood of District 1, on the doorstep of Ho Chi Minh City Hall, the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica and Ho Chi Minh Museum, the Sheraton is a mere 25 minutes from Ho Chi Minh City airport. Its enviable city centre location means that this hotel is perfect for sightseers and business travellers alike. A well-appointed hotel, it is regarded as the perfect haven for relaxing, whether your day has involved meetings with commercial associates in Ho Chi Minh's business centres, or soaking in the city's numerous visitor attractions.
The Sheraton is renowned for its accommodation, with comfortable guest rooms and suites, and a wide range of contemporary facilities. In fact, there are so many amenities in the hotel itself you may well be tempted to spend a significant portion of your Vietnam holiday simply relaxing here!
What better way to take advantage of the Far Eastern climate than taking time out by the Sheraton's swimming pool? After a few lengths or a gentle splash around, why not take to the loungers on the sun terrace. In addition, the hotel also boasts a fully-equipped health centre with a wide range of gym equipment, and a sauna. When it comes to blissful relaxation, the Sheraton's aqua day spa is where visitors love to be pampered with some head-to-toe indulgence. A variety of beauty treatments are available, ranging from traditional therapies to the highly-recommended Thai massage.
The Sheraton's central location makes it the perfect starting point for a diverse range of city ventures. Whether you wish to indulge your love of oriental cuisine, or your taste for culture and history, there are many places worth visiting within a relatively short radius.
Facilities
Are 470 rooms and suites hotel. These are divided between its main tower, and the luxurious 20 five-storey grand tower. All rooms are fully air-conditioned and contain 42-inch screen LCD TVs, DVD players, high-speed web access, a mini bar, a telephone, an electronic safe, and ironing facilities. In addition, executive suites feature BOSE surround-sound, a complimentary iPod complete with docking station and mobile phone rental.
The hotel also boasts some of the best recreational spots in the city, with an outdoor wine bar on its level 23 – a venue consistently voted as one of Ho Chi Minh's top ten facilities. This bar has an international-class wine menu, not to mention stunning views over the city. The hotel's Signature Restaurant offers a range of dishes, both local, Asian and world-wide, and makes the perfect location for celebrating any occasion. If you've just booked a table for a quiet, romantic dinner, don't be too put off if one of the other tables is hosting a birthday celebration. Experiencing Vietnamese festivities at first-hand will be a holiday memory for you to cherish.
Specialities on offer at the nearby Li Bai Chinese Restaurant include dim sum, as well as a range of mouth-watering Cantonese favourites.
Altogether eight restaurants and bars situated in the Sheraton. These range from restaurants to lighter snack facilities, such as Mojo, where you can enjoy pizzas and other light refreshments. Nightspot offers international bands on a daily basis.

 

Recommended Vietnam hotels - The Grand Hotel, Saig  

The Grand is one of the country's oldest and most respected hotels, having kept its customers satisfied for over a century and a half. Opening in Ho Chi Minh City in the 1930s, it provides modern travellers with an oasis of colonial-era elegance, slap bang in the middle of bustling modern streets.
Amongst the many traits responsible for this hotel's continuing popularity is its sheer accessibility. It lies within convenient walking distance of the city's riverside area, as well as its major entertainment and commercial centres. The Grand's reputation for superb hospitality means that, as well as welcoming new arrivals, there are many guests who continue to return here.
The hotel's upper floors are renowned for their plush accommodation. There is a luxury wing here, containing deluxe rooms. These fabulously appointed rooms offer superb views of the courts below. They also boast marble bathrooms, king-size or twin beds, and free Wi-Fi. There is also an outdoor pool and spa. When it comes to pampering, the Grand offers signature treatments. If you do happen to book into the Grand, then one of the highlights of your Vietnam holiday will undoubtedly be soaking up the city's unique ambience while dining at the Grand Café Rooftop Restaurant.
Getting there
Upon arrival at Ho Chi Minh City airport, transfer time from checkout to hotel is just under half an hour. You will find to the hotel makes a convenient location, given its central proximity to so much of what the city has to offer. What are your reasons for visiting Vietnam are purely for pleasure, or for business meetings, you won't have to spend much time getting to your respective destinations once you depart the beautiful colonial building each day.
Facilities
The rooms in the Grand occupy one building that is built on two wings, and 16 floors. Each of these rooms possesses a marble bathroom, complete with a bath and separate shower. The rooms are fully air-conditioned and come with a TV containing a full complement of satellite channels. Other facilities on offer include free Wi-Fi, a telephone, a minibar, a safety deposit box, a desk with stationery, and tea and coffee making facilities. The deluxe rooms that are situated on the hotel's upper floor include 32 m² of living space and a view of the inner court below. Here the sleeping facilities include either one king size bed or twin beds that will sleep maximum of two adults or one adult and one child up to the age 11. There are senior deluxe rooms which offer even more living space, as well as executive deluxe rooms located on the first to third of the ‘Ancient Wing' offering 40 m² of space.
As well as a pool and spa, there is a jacuzzi and a hair salon.
Restaurants
The rooftop restaurant and bar is open daily. from 7:30 am until 11 pm. There is a special recipe barbecue and grill cuisine on offer, with live music providing the background ambience. The Chez-Nous is open from 6 am until 10 pm. This serves a breakfast buffet, lunch and dinner. Bar Des Ami opens from 7am until 10pm, with a poolside bar. D'Palm Club, open 10 am until 2 am, is a luxury casino and bar.

ASEAN Foundation and SAP  

The ASEAN Foundation and SAP SE (NYSE: SAP) today announced a strategic partnership to create positive social impact in South East Asia, including social enterprises in Vietnam. This joint effort will focus on areas of Education, Volunteerism and Entrepreneurship. Through this partnership, the ASEAN Foundation and SAP aim to support the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in building a cohesive regional community and deliver inclusively-shared economic benefits by encouraging strategic and innovative participation of youths and social entrepreneurs.
The Memorandum of Understanding between the two organisations is a part of SAP's Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policy to equip youths with the skills they need to tackle society's problems and thrive in the digital economy; build the capacity of innovative social enterprises that put young people on the path to successful careers and build a skilled workforce for the IT sector with training and workforce development programmes. Key initiatives that will be executed under this agreement will focus on driving digital literacy to support sustainable growth for the communities that the programmes aim to benefit.
"A sustainable ASEAN community lies in the hands of ASEAN's youth. I believe that our joint initiatives with SAP will increase the involvement of ASEAN youths in national and regional activities to give them an opportunity to actively contribute to the ASEAN community," says Elaine Tan, the Executive Director of the ASEAN Foundation.
Youth empowerment has been a salient topic in ASEAN since the Declaration of Principles to Strengthen ASEAN Collaboration on Youth that was presented in Bangkok in 1983. "The three initiatives under the ASEAN Foundation and SAP partnership have touched upon five priority focus of the most recent ASEAN Work Plan on Youth 2016-2020 which include youth entrepreneurship, youth employment, youth awareness, youth volunteerism and leadership, as well as youth resilience," Elaine added.
"ASEAN represents not just one economic community; it also represents one social community. As ASEAN celebrates 50 years of deepening unity and rising prosperity this year, we are excited with the opportunities that are in store in this Growth Frontier region. With almost half of the region's population being under 30 years of age by 2020, there is a growing pool of talent that we can invest in and work with for a better future. Through our joint initiatives with ASEAN Foundation, we aim to help prepare young people for the digital economy and support ASEAN drive sustainable socio-economic growth in the Fourth Industrial Revolution," said Mr. Scott Russell, President and Managing Director, SAP South East Asia.
He added, "SAP's vision is to help the world run better and improve people's lives. This is our enduring cause. In service to this higher purpose, we are investing efforts in our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programme to equip youths with the skills they need to tackle society's problems and thrive in the digital economy. I believe that this partnership will help scale our CSR efforts to create greater reach and positively impact lives in this region".
Under this agreement, the ASEAN Foundation and SAP will roll out three initiatives in 2017 to address the ASEAN's economic, environmental, and societal issues, through three focus areas of education, volunteerism and entrepreneurship.
Education
Targeting tertiary students across all 10 ASEAN member states from any discipline, this data analytics competition -- "ASEAN Data Science Explorers" aims to enhance awareness and appreciation of the ASEAN community amongst young people through digital literacy intervention. By learning and using the SAP BusinessObjects Cloud tool, the initiative encourages participants to deliver data-driven insights for ASEAN across six United Nation (UN) Sustainable Development Goals, namely (1) good health and well-being, (2) quality education, (3) gender equality, (4) clean water and sanitation, (5) decent work and economic growth, and (6) sustainable cities and communities. The competition will be organized across all ASEAN member states with a regional final taking place in Jakarta, Indonesia in November this year.
Volunteerism
In collaboration with United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development of Germany, ASEAN Secretariat, ASEAN Foundation and SAP along with other partners have launched the Youth Volunteering Innovation Challenge (YVIC) in ASEAN. Under the theme "Impact ASEAN", the initiative supports young volunteers throughout the ASEAN countries in their journey to catalyze youth-led innovation for social impact and sustainable development. YVIC will provide entrepreneurship knowledge and skills through national workshops. The national workshop winners will be awarded micro-grants to prototype their ideas and later participate in the regional mentorship orientation in Bangkok, Thailand. In addition, employees from SAP will be volunteering their time to provide guidance and support to refine and scale up the youth's Impact Projects.
Entrepreneurship
Through structured capacity building and mentoring initiatives planned through local and overseas missions, high performing employees from SAP will support social impact intermediaries through mentoring and pro-bono consulting. The programme in association with several partners will impact close to 20 social enterprises across Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam in 2017.
About ASEAN Foundation
Three decades after ASEAN was established, ASEAN leaders recognised that: there remained inadequate shared prosperity, ASEAN awareness and contact among people of ASEAN. It was of this concern that ASEAN leaders established ASEAN Foundation during ASEAN's 30th Anniversary Commemorative Summit in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia on 15 December 1997. ASEAN Foundation is an organisation from and for the people of ASEAN. The Foundation exists because of one vision: to build a cohesive and prosperous ASEAN Community. As an ASEAN's body, the Foundation is tasked to support ASEAN mainly in promoting awareness, identity, interaction and development of the people of ASEAN. For more info about the ASEAN Foundation, visit: www.aseanfoundation.org
About SAP
As market leader in enterprise application software, SAP (NYSE: SAP) helps companies of all sizes and industries run better. From back office to boardroom, warehouse to storefront, desktop to mobile device -- SAP empowers people and organizations to work together more efficiently and use business insight more effectively to stay ahead of the competition. SAP applications and services enable more than 350,000 business and public sector customers to operate profitably, adapt continuously, and grow sustainably. For more information, visit www.sap.com.

 

River tours in the Mekong Delta  

There are many ways to explore the hinterland of Vietnam's lush Mekong Delta. Tours of this vicinity range from luxurious boat cruises to cycle tours to cross-country hiking. The latter are popular because the terrain is quite flat, and the roads are all in reasonable condition. But because the whole of the southwestern region of the country is criss-crossed by the Mekong's nine main tributaries and various canals, travelling by boat is undoubtedly the best way to visit the delta.
The good news for cyclists and hikers is that a large number of the passenger boats and cruise ships go out of their way to cater for these modes of transport. They offer facilities that allow cyclists or bakers to bring their vehicles on board, allowing them to use boats to navigate the more awkward parts of the waterlogged landscape. Many of the traditional sampans will also welcome bicycles on-board their little vessels, thus making allowances for the fact that the bike remains the staple form of transport in Vietnam – even in areas where there are abundant rivers and canals!
Much of the Mekong Delta gives the impression of having frozen in time. Sampans still float gracefully along the rivers, with fishermen persisting in their centuries old traditions. Farmers still use water buffalo to help them cultivate the rice fields. Throughout the dense covering of trees and mangroves, you will glimpse ancient pagodas and temples.
The actual vessels plying their trade on this river vary considerably. As mentioned, there are small sampans that allow you to gain an authentic feel for the river as you slowly coast along, a matter of inches above the rippling surface. Closer to the Gulf of Thailand, there are large ocean-going cruise ships, complete with bars and five star restaurants. The latter is surely one of the best ways to view life on the Mekong Delta. As you take your comfortable seat in the panoramic bar, you can enjoy cocktails while watching the world go by.
The more intrepid visitors often take the opportunity to actually get into the Mekong River. Scuba diving is very popular in many Vietnamese locations, but especially the Mekong Delta resorts, or the beaches south of Ho Chi Minh City, and around the town of Vung Tau. There are many interesting indigenous species of wildlife that can be viewed in the delta, although the waters can be fairly muddy, so the serious scuba divers tend to gravitate further north, especially to Ha Long Bay.
The costal resorts cater for a wide variety of activities. Scuba diving is just one of these; your hotels will also be able to point you in the direction of a range of watersports. If you would prefer to simply relax on the beach, then there are miles and miles of golden sands to be enjoyed. Golf is also available at the Paradise Golf Resort. One of Vietnam's best golf courses, this boasts 27 holes. Many of these are played while overlooking the azure grandeur of the South China Sea.

 

Scuba diving in Vietnam  

Vietnam's diverse natural seascapes, abundant marine ecosytems and tropical waters all lead to one thing: scuba diving has become one of the country's most sought-after holiday experiences.
Amongst the many fabulous resorts, one of the best known is Nha Trang. Basically a central coastal town (Nha Trang) surrounded by islands, the Hon Mun Marine Park was established three years ago. Since then it has gone from strength to strength, and is presently one of Vietnam's principal draws for visitors from all parts of the Far East and beyond.
Diving in this part of the world is particularly popular because of the crystal clear waters. While there are not as many vast shoals of bigger fish as in other parts of the world, with less likelihood of coming across manta rays or sharks, the vicinity is renowned for being teeming with large numbers of brightly-coloured reef fish and molluscs. The high concentration of marine life in a relatively enclosed area means that Nha Trang scuba diving is ideal for the beginner, while those with a bit more experience can spend time getting reacquainted with their favourite pastime.
Conditions
The environment beneath the surface here is extremely diverse. Coral reefs range from hard and soft and are uniformly in pristine condition. As such, the reefs form the ideal habitat for a large variety of marine creatures. The fish darting to and fro amongst coral, feeding on microscopic sea creatures or, indeed, smaller fish, seem to come in every conceivable colour or pattern under the sun. Often the coral beneath the fish is completely obscured by the huge quantities of damselfish, fairy basslets, and a myriad number of other species. If you are extremely fortunate, you may catch sight of the mysterious dugong – a secretive and extremely rare marine mammal that has often been regarded as the source of ancient mermaid myths.
Islands
There are numerous islands in the Nha Trang vicinity that form ideal launch pads for your undersea exploration. Con Dao is a tight-knit group of islands lying 180 kilometres from Vung Tau. The local population is around 5,000, and the main island's previous claim to fame was the fact it once housed a feared penal colony (you'll be relieved to know this closed in 1975).
Elsewhere in the archipelago, the World Wife Fund for Nature has been actively protecting dugong and sea turtles since 1995. Over 300,000 baby turtles have been released into the waters around here, and over 1,000 adults have been tagged during the same period of time.
Whale Island (or Nha Trang) allows shore diving to a depth of around 15 metres. Wall dives are possible to a depth of 40 metres, with coral gardens commencing at the 15-metre mark. Despite the island's name, sightings of whales, whale sharks or larger rays are rare – although not unknown. You might just be lucky.
Cu Lao Cham Marine Park is around 25 minutes away by speedboat ride. The eight islands that comprise this park are home to an incredibly diverse range of marine wildlife. In all, there are over 150 species of coral, over 80 species of molluscs, four lobster species and over 200 species of fish.

 

  
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