Monday, 19 August 2013

Phaung-Daw U Festival, Myanmar

Myanmar is the land of festivals! There is a festival every month whether specific to a town or nation-wide. The dates are based on the lunar calendar and useful to know if you are planning a trip to Myanmar! Phaung Daw U Pagoda Festival is the most famous held every year just after the rain stops in September - October.

The Phaung Daw U Pagoda is the most famous lake on the Inle Lake. The Pagoda contains five small gilded images of Buddha covered with in gold leaf. In fact the images where originally made from Sandal wood, but have been covered so many times with gold leaf, they now appear rather shapeless objects of pure gold. The images represent Kakkusandra, Kaunagamana, Kasatpa, Gautama and Arainmareya Buddhas of this world.

Every year when the rainy season ends around September time boat races are held on the rivers and lakes throughout Myanmar. The most spectacular festival takes place in October at the Phaung-Daw U Pagoda on Inle Lake near Taunggyi.

During the event, four of the five Buddha images are placed on the Royal Barge. The fifth Buddha image is left to take care of the monastery. The barge takes the shape of a bird, the Karaweik ('a mythical bird with a sweet voice'), and a procession takes place around the lake, stopping at each large monastery and village to spend the night before moving on the following morning to the next village in a clockwise direction. These visits represent those made by King Alaungsithu several centuries ago. The decorated royal barge is towed by several boats moving by leg-rowers of Inle Lake. The high point of the festival is on the day when the images arrive at the main town of Nyaung Shwe, where most pilgrims from the surrounding region come to pay their respects and veneration by boats. There are hundreds of floating boats from near and far. At Nyaung Shwe they spend three nights and then they return to the Pagoda via the right- hand side of the river.

The festival lasts 18 days and is held according to the Lunar Calendar of Myanmar. It begins on the first Waxing Moon day of Thadingyut and ends a couple of days after the Full Moon. On the final day of the festival there is a boat race. Each race is between three boats each containing around 100 people each. The actual Inle Lake is located in the heart of the Shan Plateau 900 metres above sea level. It is 22 km long and 10 km wide. Even if not heading to the Inle Lake for the festival, visiting the lake on your travel s to Myanmar is definitely worth it. Spending a day on a scenic boat trip along the lake you will discover many different ethnic people and experience their daily life.

In 2013 the festival takes place between the 05th and 22nd October. So if you are travelling to Myanmar during this period it would definitely be worth trying to co-ordinate your tour to Myanmar to include a stop at the Inle Lake. There is plenty of accommodation to meet a range of budgets but booking early is advised due to the high demand in of Myanmar and the new destination to visit.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

The famous caves of Dong Hoi, Vietnam

A little known town just south of Hanoi Dong Hoi is quickly becoming a must visit town. Not for the town itself but located just a short drive away are two recently discovered caves, Paradise cave and Son Doong Cave. Son Doong Cave is now the largest cave in the world. There are also remote and pristine beaches where you can unwind and enjoy this stunning location.

A short flight away from Hanoi is the small town of Dong Hoi the capital of Quang Binh Province. It can also be reached by train or a short drive from Imperial city of Hue. It has largely been left as an off the beaten track location. Although there is not much in the town itself the surrounding area is one of limestone karsts, rivers and mountain scenery and of course the local and world famous caves.

Paradise cave known to the locals as Thien Duong Cave was discovered by the British Cave research Association in 2005 and located in the Phong Nha - Ke Bang park's conservation area and is around 40 km from Dong Hoi airport and the flight takes just over 45 minutes.

Although just 200 metres above sea level, the cave is 31 km long and the longest dry cave in South East Asia. The name paradise cave was chosen due to its spectacular stalactites and stalagmites. With naturally primitive features Thien Duong Cave looks like a landscape painting with a series of white crystal stalactites resembling glass pillars and many other spectacular formations. The cave was thought to have formed over 400 million years ago from the streams flowing through the area and was made a UNESCO world heritage site in 2003.

Paradise cave is not the only cave in the area. Son Doong Cave was discovered in 1991 by local Vietnamese villagers and when the British Cave Research Association conducted a survey in the area in 2009. They concluded the cave was over 5 times as big as paradise cave. The biggest chamber of the cave is over 5 km long, 200 m high and 150 wide. Following their expedition Son Doong Cave has become the world's largest cave and stretches all the way to the Laos border.

For those worried about accommodation in Dong Hoi there has been more and more hotels and guesthouses opening up to cater to a variety of budgets. The area is seeing more and more tourism and that is great news for the local population. The area has an additional benefit of also being on the coast. There are plenty of resorts just a few minutes from Dong Hoi airport all along the Nhat Le Sea some with private beaches which have not yet seen a mass of tourism. That said there are all the facilities that you would expect if you are looking for some down time at the beach. You can try your hand at windsurfing, canoeing, water skiing or even jet skiing. For those on a romantic getaway there are variety of restaurants serving local and western food.

All in all for something different add Dong Hoi into your travel plans. The area has it all forests, pristine beaches, mountains and two of the most impressive caves in the world. It is also a great idea to visit now when on a tour in Vietnam before the area quickly develops into a mass tourism market.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Freedom Pass Asia

Freedom Pass Asia was launched a few weeks ago and is still in it's early stages. The site promotes open transportation tickets for independent travelers throughout Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand. Currently only the Laos section has been developed with the aim of pushing forward with the other countries in the near future.

Freedom Pass Asia allows the user to select and purchase their route of travel online. After a customer has made their purchase they can just login and book their sector. This has numerous advantages.
The main advantage is that prices are fixed and with Freedom Pass getting most of their commission from the bus companies the prices value is excellent. There is also no need to shop around for the best operator as Freedom Pass has already contacted and selected the most reliable transport operators throughout the country.

Another advantage is that the client can book online up to 12 hours before departure there is no need to go to the bus station and buy a ticket. They will automatically receive an eCode which they can use all they have to do is turn up to the departure point 30 minutes before. Simple and easy allowing them more time to enjoy their travels or recover from the night before!!

The system is designed for independent travelers and uses local transport be it buses or boats. There are also maps displayed for each of the routes and a timetable section showing arrival and departure points.

With so many people wanting to travel independently this may even catch on to agents who are able to book for their clients travelling!! In which case Xplore-Laos may consider working closer with Freedom Pass to provide increased travel solutions

For further information one can email directly to

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Part Three, Cycling the Mekong Delta

This post follows our travels in Phu Quoc, we had decided against taking the ferry from Phu Quoc to Rach Gia. Had we opted for this route we would have taken the option to cycle for the day from Rach Gia to Chau Doc. This is a great cycle route covering 92 Km on small quiet roads. Chau Doc is the border town bewteen Cambodia and Vietnam and Speedboats travel from Chau Doc in the morning arriving in Phnom Penh at noon. As time was a limiting factor we decided to fly to Ho Chi Minh where we were met by our excellent guide who accompanied us on this short two day trip of the Mekong Delta. Our company policy is to try to avoid dangerous highways so we transfered from Ho Chi Minh 2 hours to the My Tho in the Mekong Delta. From here after a quick adjustment of the bicycle seat we started pedalling on the quiet country lanes along the Tien River to Cai Be. This trip was definately not on main roads. We followed quiet narrow roads and paths criss crossing the maze of the Mekong Delta, passing banana plantations, sugarcane fields and lush rural landscapes. Where there weren't bridges we jumped on small ferry's including our ferry from Dinh Khao to Cho Lach. This cycle day was around 40 Km before we transferred to Can Tho but this was mainly due to our time constraints and this cycle route could be adapted to meet cyclists needs. In Can Tho we stayed at the Kim Tho Hotel, although this hotel is classified as 3*, I would give it a 4* rating and we would recommend it as the place to stay in Can Tho. The rooms were definately of a higher standard and it is a very centrally located hotel. The Victory Can Tho is much more expensive but located quite far away from the town centre on the other side of the River.

The following day we took a boat trip to see the Cai Rang floating market, the market is a great experience to see traditional River Life on the Mekong with people bartering and selling there goods. We continued by bike to Phong Dien floating market and along narrow lanes through the Mekong Delta and cycled around 30 Km. Again we decided today due to this being an inspection trip we would only be doing a short cycle but the options are endless for people wishing to arrange several days cycling in the area. After stopping cycling we transferred for lunch before spending the afternoon at the Chu Chi Tunnels.

The Chu Chi tunnels used to be more than 250 km long and three levels deep and even streched under the American army base. The Viet Cong used these tunnels to control a large rural area around Saigon and even included meeting rooms and a hospital. American Positions would be attacked with the Viet Cong then retreating back to the tunnels, the tunnels were also used to move supplies, and even heavy artillery. The Americans resorted to a bombing campaign in which the district of Cu Chi became the most bombed, shelled, gassed, defoliated, and generally devastated area in the history of warfare and anything that moved was considered a target. After a couple of Hours at Chu Chi we returned to Ho Chi Minh and check into our hotel. View our Photo Album of the trip and like us on facebook

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Part Two Crossing the Cambodian Vietnam Border at Prek Chak / Xa Xia and travelling to Phu Quoc

Travelling along this route was just as much as an inspection trip as a holiday and although we never wanted to leave Nataya Resort the time had come to pack our bags and head to the Prek Chak / Xa Xia Border Crossing for our Vietnam adventure. Our destination was the incredible Island of Phu Quoc and the boat only leaves once a day at 8am from Ha Trien. This meant a very early wake up call. From Nataya Resort to the border the distance is about 62 Km. This meant an early departure and we left Nataya Resort at 6am traveling east about 15 Km to Kampot then continued east past Kep. To our surprise the last few kilometers involved us turning off onto a dirt road. Travelling down this dirt road for about 15 minutes we finally came to the Cambodian Check Point! Immigration proceedings were quite swift there were no tourists here and once we had stamped out of Cambodia we then walked the 300 or so metres to the Vietnam check point. Arriving in Vietnam the contrast was visible instantly, a large immigration office and even an X-ray machine. We filled out our forms and jumped on a mototaxi. The road was approaching that of a highway. Time was getting on and it was already 7am, but the distance to Ha Trien was only 8 Km on sealed highway. Arriving in Ha Trien we stopped to buy our boat ticket before heading to the ferry terminal and boarded our 8am ferry to Phu Quoc, everything had run smoothly and according to plan this is normally a rare occurance when scouting new routes.

The ferry now was heading back in the direction back towards Cambodia. This is the case as Phu Quoc is closer to Cambodia than it is to Vietnam but we enjoyed the 2 hour ferry ride and it gave us a chance to get some well needed rest. The ferry pulled up to the port and we had finally made it to Phu Quoc. This is where our adventure ended and our luxury holiday resumed. We were met by the Chenla Team who arranged our transfers to the stunning Island Resort of Chen La. Hardly containing our excitement we jumped in the back of the minivan and we were informed it was another 14 Km to Chenla not too far to go. The Island of Phu Quoc is stunning and a nice quite break to explore there are few cars and it has that island feel to it which is very different to mainland Vietnam with things a little slower and more relaxed. Arriving at secluded Chenla we were more than impressed this place was an exotic paradise. A top class resort and the staff were incredibly friendly and helpful. We were helped with our bags and we then spent the rest of the day by the pool and the beach! Our rooms were sea view and that meant literally on the sea, opening the balcony

we would take no more than a few steps and be on the white sands of this private beach. The water was clear and the perfect temperature to take a swim. The food at this resort was also great top quality and prepared by local as well as international chefs. On our second night though we ventured into town where we would recommend the local night market serving lots of great fish as well being a great place to pick up a souvenir a taxi ride from Chenla to downtown costs around $5 US and takes about 15-20 minutes. The next few days consisted of sun, sea and sand and of course great meals! See our complete set of photos on our facebook album

After 3 nights at this incredible Island we had to continue this “Inspection Trip”. There were two options for the onward leg one was a flight to Ho Chi Minh which took about 40 minutes or a 3 hour boat trip to the mainland of Rach Gia from where we would continue on by car to the Mekong Delta. Having come by boat we decided to take the short flight to Ho Chi Minh. Our travels continue in Part Three Ho Chi Minh and the Mekong Delta.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Part One: Kampot, Kep, Overland to Vietnam & Nataya Resort

Xplore-Asia is continuously developing more overland routes and we have a commitment to researching the trip we sell personally. So this December brought about the inspection trip / holiday to Southern Cambodia and overland to Vietnam. The trip started out with a flight to Phnom Penh the bustling capital of Cambodia. After 2 nights in the Capital the adventure began with a drive south to the Cambodian Coast the drive took around 3 1/2 hours to cover the 160 Km as the road was being upgraded.

We decided to travel down to Kampot rather than stay in Sihanoukville as we were looking to inspect the quiet coastline with the idea to cross over the newly opened border to Vietnam near the town of Kep. Our first stop was the quiet Nataya Resort located about 15 Km from Kampot.

Nataya Resort was a great choice and just what we needed to relax! The infinity pool was excellent and facing the beach. The bungalows where built just metres from the beach and where great as one bungalow had 2 rooms with interconnecting doors which is perfect for a family or friends.
The Sea is quite shallow and although not the most pristine for swimming and quite shallow the Infinity pool makes up for it. For those wanting to spend a few more days you could try a day or overnight trip to Bokor Mountain just a few Km away. Bokor Mountain used to be a French Hill Station and the trip there involves a 4-Wheel Drive and a 2 hour trek to the old town at the top of the Mountain. For those visiting Bokor on a two day trip you will have more time to take in the ruins of this colonial town and trek to a waterfall nearby. On returning from Bokor you can go back to Nataya or visit the town of Kep or Sihanoukville close by. Our journey took us too the lovely resort of Kep 41Km from Kampot and just around 35 Km from the Vietnamese border. Xplore-Asia now plans to incorporate this route into Luxury Adventure holidays with a focus on Cycling as the road in this area is quiet and sealed which makes for an excellent road trip!
If you are planing a bespoke trip to Indochina get in touch with Xplore-Asia as we can certainly recommend some great package itineraries and offer advice on when and where to visit. Hotel booking for Nataya can be made with Xplore-Asia through our Cambodia Representative Office.
Pictures of this trip can be seen at our facebook page XploreAsiaUK. Follow our next post Part Two on Crossing the Cambodian Vietnam Border at Prek Chak / Xa Xia and travelling to Phu Quoc from Hat Tien.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Wildlife in Cambodia

Xplore-Asia is as ever promoting the Southern Laos and Northern Cambodia area. This month we have been featured in the Guardian Newspaper with an article about Travelling in Northern Cambodia and a stunning kayak tour to see the rare Irrawaddy Dolphins

We are also happy to announce the numbers of White-Shouldered Ibis have been on the rise in Northern Cambodia!!!

Check out the article in the Phnom Penh Post