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Holidays in the Galapagos Islands

by Meg Rulli @ Ecoventura

Happy 2018 from the Galapagos Islands! December is one of our favorite months here at Ecoventura as we celebrate the holidays with our guests. Each year we celebrate the season with two special holiday cruises, one for Christmas and one for the new year. Our holiday departures are very popular and already sold out for […]

The post Holidays in the Galapagos Islands appeared first on Ecoventura.

12 sites offering book now pay later flights and tours | finder.com.au

12 sites offering book now pay later flights and tours | finder.com.au


finder.com.au

Take the time to save up for your next holiday without losing out on the latest sale with these companies offering book now pay later flights and tours.

The top 5 from Virgin Holidays - My Virgin Money

The top 5 from Virgin Holidays - My Virgin Money


My Virgin Money

Virgin Holidays offer a range of worldwide destinations, with breaks sure to appeal to everyone –made more affordable with the discount of up to 5% off that all Virgin Money customers can enjoy. Lucy McGuire from Virgin Holidays selects her favourites. Virgin Holidays is the UK’s favourite worldwide holiday company and has been providing fabulous …

Virgin Holidays - Top 500 Company

Virgin Holidays - Top 500 Company


Top 500 Company

Created in 1985, Virgin Holidays is an award-winning travel company offering bespoke travel experiences right across the globe.

Heart of Hanoi

Heart of Hanoi

by Anonymous @ Virgin Australia - Vietnam

Discover the best of Vietnam’s historic capital, from its chaotic downtown to places of quiet contemplation.

Peeling back each layer, Hanoi emerges as a place where vestiges of history and nods to the future are seen right next to each other. Colonial buildings and socialist statues co-exist with shiny office towers and apartment blocks buried under scaffolding. Old men dressed in immaculate suits and berets ride rickety Peugeot bicycles, as hordes of children flood out of English classes. And where there are noisy horns and persistent street-side vendors, there are also peaceful lakes and parks with people huddled around chess sets and young couples posing for their wedding photos. No matter how long you stay in this city, you may never get to the bottom of all these layers. Hanoi is, after all, a colourful work in progress.

City Drawcards

Hanoi is a somewhat unlikely exercise-centric city and so there really is no better way to greet a morning in the capital than by joining the crowds in yoga classes, aerobics or tai chi sessions that throng Hoan Kiem Lake in the early morning. The lake itself is a feast for the eyes: a willow tree sways in the breeze, a curved red footbridge is bathed in warm sunshine and the Turtle Tower (a pagoda) stands proud on an islet in the middle of the water. It’s where a mishmash of wedding photographers, young couples, postcard hawkers and students eager to practise English with travellers cohabit harmoniously. It’s an oasis of calm in the middle of the mayhem of the city.

Only a stroll away is the Old Quarter, a microcosm of Hanoi where remnants of the past and booming capitalism meet head-on. Take a ramble through the twisting maze of 36 Streets, each named after the wares sold on it. Here, you’ll find narrow tube houses that cry out for renovation, Hanoi’s remaining artisans who work diligently to survive and barbers who doze off in chairs. When your feet scream with weariness, stop at a bia hoi (draught beer) stall or fortify yourself with a feisty black brew at the 56-year-old Café Nang. To catch a glimpse of traditional Vietnamese market life, head over to Chau Long market (corner of Chau Long and Nguyen streets), one of the few wet markets that has resisted gentrification. With fresh fish and eels, it’s a gourmet’s seafood dream.

Palate-pleasers

From casual street treats to upscale dining, Hanoi is home to a variety of delights.

Café: Cong Caphe is a communist-inspired cafe frequented by hip denizens. Awash in army green and festooned with a model Soviet-era plane, propaganda posters and books on Lenin, it extols the virtues of the classless socialist ideal that its owner lived through — and serves some of the best coffees in the city.

Restaurant: Pots ‘n Pans is a restaurant run by a group of graduates from KOTO (Know One, Teach One), a charitable culinary training centre for disadvantaged teens. Australian expat chef Joel Manton crosses Vietnamese cuisine with Western flair: think spiced pan-seared scallops.

Market Stall: Bun Cha Hang Nga is a stall manned by the third generation of the same family. It’s tucked down an alleyway off Dong Xuan Market and serves traditional bun cha (chargrilled pork patties with cold rice noodles), a Hanoian specialty.

Sleep in Style

Whether you want a romantic stay or a trip back in time, Hanoi has it all.

Chic: Silk Path Hotel makes a peaceful change to the bustling neighbourhood outside — its red-and-gold Oriental interior contrasts against the glass elevators and plush marble decor.

Colonial: Hotel Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi strikes a harmonious balance between colonial charm and modern comforts. Time warp to the days when Graham Greene penned The Quiet American; you can even visit a newly discovered 1960s war bunker here.

Boutique: Hotel de l’Opera, Hanoi’s five-star boutique hotel, exudes the glamour of an avant-garde theatre. Bathroom mirrors are framed with light bulbs to replicate the vibe of backstage dressing rooms, while the courtyard is dotted with canopied daybeds.

Nature: Perched over the water, the resort-style InterContinental Hanoi Westlake is a sanctuary of calm, which compensates for its distance from the city centre. The aptly named Sunset Bar is a good vantage point to catch the daily spectacle.

Business: Located in the central district, Meliã Hanoi is a business hotel popular with government guests and senior officials. It has a heliport on the roof and a new terrace bar with tapas on offer; rooms have a city view while being devoid of traffic noise. The hotel is a stone’s throw from the shopping belt of St Joseph’s Cathedral.

Diamond in the Rough

To the north-east of the city is the Long Bien Bridge, still bearing the scars of the Vietnam War. A few steps down the bridge is Middle Warp or Long Bien Island — a world away from the hubbub of the city. Middle Warp is a patch of land that juts out over the murky Red River. Once the site of a flourishing village (most of its inhabitants relocated to other districts of Hanoi when it began to erode), the island is now home to a cross-section of rural life. Brimming with corn and banana trees, vegetable gardens and stilt houses made from scraps, it’s a quiet backwater and serves as a breath of fresh air in the middle of a chaotic city.

Hidden Cultural Gems

Down a nondescript alleyway, Hanoi Cinematheque opens out onto a courtyard with classic film posters gracing the walls. It’s an art house cinema that screens Vietnamese classics, international films from the 1930s and award-winning independent movies. As for the nightlife? Although wild parties in Hanoi are almost non-existent, you can let your hair down at Hanoi Rock City, a live-music venue with a courtyard. The French also bequeathed to Hanoi a legacy of coffee and baguettes. Kinh Do Café inherited this in 1989 and has since evolved into a city favourite.

Don’t Leave Without

Taking a cyclo ride through town, an emblem of old Hanoi that will pedal you through the past and into the future. Just when the city stops to sleep, venture down to Quang Ba Flower market (Dyke Rd), a wholesale flower market which comes into full swing at midnight. A combination of the flower traders’ flashlights and bundles of flowers set the dark stretch ablaze. If you’re flagging at the late hour, switch your mind on with trung (whipped raw egg and milk) coffee, a Vietnamese interpretation of a cappuccino, which can be found at Giang Café, a family-run spot which has been in business for decades.

Scents and the City

French-born fragrance-maker Clémence Barbier has spent eight years living in Hanoi and searching for the ultimate Vietnamese aromatic sensation. She has channelled her passion for the city into a niche fragrance label, Dame Clémence, which echoes her experience in Vietnam. She offers a customised four-hour perfume workshop.

What drew you to Hanoi?

The opportunity to realise my dream in creating perfumes. The city and its people welcomed me and allowed me to do that. The young energy of the city was an inspiration, too.

Where do you find inspiration?

It depends… riding my motorbike, in my lab, lying on my bed. Hanoi smells are inspirational: pagoda incenses, street food, lotus ponds and flower markets.

Where are your favourite places to hang out?

I like ‘beautiful for the eyes’ kind of places: either in nature at the An Duong gardens, or in charming historic spots such as the Madame Hiên restaurant. I also like hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese cafes such as Cafe Duy Tri.

What’s your favourite thing to do in Hanoi?

I like to walk in the fields along the Red River at 5pm, then cruise around West Lake with a coconut juice.

Fun Things to Do in Amsterdam at Night

by VickyFlipFlop @ VickyFlipFlopTravels –

So, looking for fun things to do in Amsterdam at night? I’m guessing you’ve experienced all the daytime entertainment of the canals, the shopping, the cycling, eating and drinking? Time to take your trip to Amsterdam to the next level. Fun Things to Do in Amsterdam at Night 1. Go clubbing Obviously. The standard evening activity in any European city right? Amsterdam has some pretty cool clubs to check out […]

See Everything The Galapagos Has To Offer! Join Us On Back-To-Back Cruises (Itinerary A & B)

by Meg Rulli @ Ecoventura

Sustainable tourism is an important part of our work at Ecoventura, so when Alesha and Jarryd from NOMADasaurus started planning a trip to the Galapagos Islands we were at the top of their list for Galapagos cruises! These nomads traveled with us in September for two full weeks of adventures – spending one week on […]

The post See Everything The Galapagos Has To Offer! Join Us On Back-To-Back Cruises (Itinerary A & B) appeared first on Ecoventura.

Malaysian Food Culture

by Explorient @ Explorient

Malaysian cuisine is undoubtedly one of the most underrated in Asia and indeed the rest of the world. Most of us know about how good Thai, Vietnamese and Indian food is because there are so many restaurants show-casing these cuisines in the West. However, it’s quite rare to have any restaurants that are quintessentially Malaysian. This […]

Cambodia and Vietnam Holidays 2017 / 2018 | Kuoni

Cambodia and Vietnam Holidays 2017 / 2018 | Kuoni


@KuoniTravelUK

Award winning, ATOL protected Thailand luxury holidays. Great range of Thailand all inclusive resorts. Book with Kuoni, receive all inclusive value.

Got the winter blues? 10 ways to feel positive about winter, Scottish style

by globalmouse @ Globalmouse Travels

Having taken a winter trip to Ayrshire to find out everything there is to do in this region of Scotland in the colder seasons,...

The post Got the winter blues? 10 ways to feel positive about winter, Scottish style appeared first on Globalmouse Travels.

On the Radar: Hai Bung Trung, Hanoi

On the Radar: Hai Bung Trung, Hanoi

by belinda.landry @ Virgin Australia - Vietnam

Having resisted gentrification, and home to home to a populace of working-class people, Hai Bà Tru’ng has emerged as one of the most authentic neighbourhoods of Hanoi.

The district occupies the south-eastern corner of Hanoi and, while it may not have the glitz and glamour of the Tây Ho District or the commercial buzz of Hoan Kiem District, it remains the least gentrified, having resisted the pressure to smarten itself up just for international visitors.

It is home to a populace of working-class people, military retirees and pensioners, and scattered around are a handful of the now-defunct textile, liquor, mechanical and rice-grinding plants.

A sense of calm and peace is evident everywhere. Old men congregate around Pasteur Park watching cockfights, playing cards, smoking bamboo pipes and chatting. Others take delight in downing pints of beer and talking politics at bia hoi (roadside beer) joints. But while the lack of travellers makes the area one of Hanoi’s most non-touristy districts, it’s home to a growing number of neon-lit karaoke parlours, beer halls, cool bars, enticing restaurants and kitsch cafes. These, along with cheap rent and easy access to the heart of the city, have lured a steady stream of creative souls who are forging an intriguing new social scene.

Eat

Although pho is the classic breakfast treat in Hanoi, it would be a shame not to try some cheap comfort food at Cafe 129, a hole-in-the-wall no-frills cafe off Mai Hac De. This is where expatriate English teachers and foreign students taking Vietnamese classes at local universities head for a hangover cure, such as a full English breakfast or an American fry-up.

Chim Sáo (roughly translated as whistling bird) is a traditional Vietnamese bistro
set in a townhouse. It’s tastefully furnished with timber, Buddhist statues and Vietnamese calligraphy. Serving homey food, such as caramelised pork cooked in a clay pot, it also doubles as a mini art gallery.

Drink

In a city like Hanoi there is no shortage of coffee shops, but few are as original as Công Càphê. This shoebox-sized cafe is a shrine to socialist ideals. A model Soviet-era plane dangles from the ceiling, black-and-white wartime pictures and propaganda posters adorn the walls, while Tom Waits and The Velvet Underground play from the stereo - all matched by an equally cool clientele.

A cross between an underground speak-easy, a gig venue and an art space is Cama Atk. It hosts regular indie band nights, film screenings and also boasts an inventive cocktail menu.

Experience

Recently, the Hai Bà Tru’ng District saw the exciting transformation of a once crumbling disused 1960s-brutalist Soviet-inspired pharmaceuticals factory into a chic space called Zone 9 - a block of independent cafes, vintage shops and artists studios. But before it could reach its three-year lease term, it was shut down in December by city authorities as a result of a fire. An army of artists and entrepreneurs fought - and bitterly lost - a war with officials and developers. Many of the businesses in Zone 9 have, however, started to rise from the ashes.

Tadioto previously occupied a New York-style loft on the second floor of Zone 9 but now sits near the majestic Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel. It is identified by its long red doors and white walls. Tadioto is a cross between a workspace, an exhibition room and a drinking den. The eclectic decor represents the multifaceted lifestyle of owner Nguyen Qui Duc, a former US National Public Radio commentator, poet, scriptwriter and translator.

For your fashion fix, hit up Consignista, an to ode the classic adage: one man’s junk is another’s vintage treasure. It stocks clothing, homewares, furniture, accessories - so roll up your sleeves and dig. Art buffs should stop at Work Room Four, a space that formerly resided in Block E of Zone 9. As well as offering classes on Photoshop and pattern-making, it showcases urban artists such as Nguyen Van Sac, plus emerging artists such as shoemaker Rachael Carlson.

There are other signs of a revival. Barbetta Republic - a happening music-venue-cum-watering hole modelled on a 1970s socialist-era factory - is set to make a comeback with a prison theme. Meanwhile, 247Kaffe, a once-discarded-ambulance turned-coffee-cart, has found a new home at a quaint French colonial mansion.   

10 of the best day trips from Amsterdam, Netherlands

by globalmouse @ Globalmouse Travels

Amsterdam is a wonderful city for family travels, it’s as family friendly as they get. However there are also some wonderful things to do...

The post 10 of the best day trips from Amsterdam, Netherlands appeared first on Globalmouse Travels.

Travelling to a country with the Zika virus? Your refund and rebooking rights

Travelling to a country with the Zika virus? Your refund and rebooking rights


MoneySavingExpert.com

If you've booked a trip to a country where Zika is rife and are pregnant you should be able to rearrange or get a refund

Angkor Civilization’s Influences on Southeast Asia

by Explorient @ Explorient

Angkor’s Formation If South-East Asia had a civilisation that was equivalent to the Ancient Greece in Europe, it would have to be the mighty Angkor Empire that dominated all of what is now Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and several smaller swathes of Myanmar and Vietnam. It all started in 790AD, where Prince Jayavarman II declared – […]

10 Reasons To Cruise the Galapagos Islands With Ecoventura

by Meg Rulli @ Ecoventura

When booking your travel to the Galapagos Islands, you’re likely to come across a multitude of options given the increase in local tourism over recent years. You can rest assured that there’s no better cruise company than Ecoventura to show you the Galapagos Islands in an intimate, enjoyable, and eco-friendly manner. However, for those of […]

The post 10 Reasons To Cruise the Galapagos Islands With Ecoventura appeared first on Ecoventura.

Book An Ecoventura Family Departure in 2018!

by Meg Rulli @ Ecoventura

Looking for a Christmas or holiday gift that is out of the ordinary? This year, give your family the adventure of a lifetime and book one of our family departure Galapagos cruises! Make the most of your family’s next spring break or summer vacation while snorkeling with sea turtles and learning about Charles Darwin in the […]

The post Book An Ecoventura Family Departure in 2018! appeared first on Ecoventura.

Ecoventura’s Culinary Departure with local Celebrity Chef – New for 2018

by Meg Rulli @ Ecoventura

This season, many of you are busy preparing for holiday feasts with friends and loved ones.  Here at Ecoventura, we’re constantly working to perfect and enhance every guest’s dining experience. When you travel with us, we know that your culinary journey in the Galapagos is just as important as your daily excursions. After all, one […]

The post Ecoventura’s Culinary Departure with local Celebrity Chef – New for 2018 appeared first on Ecoventura.

Traveller's Guide: Vietnam

Traveller's Guide: Vietnam


The Independent

Loaded with historic interest, majestic mountains and national parks, ravishing sandy beaches and fascinating cities, and boasting a stupendous national cuisine, Vietnam is a compelling destination.

Ecoventura receives recognition at the Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Awards 2008 - Ecoventura

Ecoventura receives recognition at the Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Awards 2008 - Ecoventura


Ecoventura

Ecoventura has won in the Best in a Marine Environment category at this year’s Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Awards organized by responsibletravel.com. At a ceremony hosted at World Travel Market (WTM), Docklands, London, on Wednesday 12th November, distinguished judges noted that Ecoventura contributes to scholarships for education and helps local women develop micro-businesses. Ecoventura was …

Top Luxury Beach Resorts in Vietnam

by Explorient @ Explorient

For a country that boasts more than 3400 km of coastline, the beaches alone should be enough to warrant a journey to Vietnam.  With infinite stretches of powdery sand, pristine azure water, tropical islands, coves, spectacular seascape and lagoons, it’s no wonder that a growing number of big-name players had staked their brand along this […]

An Awesome Two-Week Itinerary for Vietnam

An Awesome Two-Week Itinerary for Vietnam


VickyFlipFlopTravels -

Halong Bay: The Most Beautiful Place in the World? 'Sleeping' on the Overnight Trains in Vietnam

Locals Guide Hanoi

Locals Guide Hanoi

by shannon.ford @ Virgin Australia - Vietnam

Meet your Guide

Nguyen Qui Duc is a writer and was a journalist for more than 20 years. He’s lived and worked in the US, England, Indonesia and Morocco and has been living in Hanoi since 2006 where he runs Tadioto, an events space described by CNN as “another venue that marks Hanoi out as artier than anywhere else in Vietnam. While most easily described as a bar, it’s also a forum for the arts with literary readings, installations, live music and exhibitions.”

Energetic, charming and crazy, that’s what they say about Hanoi. It’s overcrowded and there’s insane traffic, too. But it can be calm and the old streets are sheltered by rows of beautiful, massive trees. It’s always changing but is also full of history and romance. If the descriptions of Vietnam’s capital sound contradictory, that’s because they are. They reflect a city in the midst of a remarkable evolution.

Talk to older people and you get a sense that they still adhere to old traditions - and a way of life influenced by an authoritarian and bureaucratic government. They share difficult war and post-war memories and tell you about ancestors who lived in the city.

Meanwhile, the city’s youth crowd the streets with their screaming motorbikes and scooters. Zigzag, beep, beep. “Get out of my way!” The young here, like their counterparts elsewhere in the modern world, are in a rush, drooling over sports cars and spending money on the latest electronic gadgets or knock-off fashion items from Tokyo. The young seem to be abandoning patience and acceptance of tough circumstances. Hanoi is fast emerging as a metropolis, ready to buy and sell, to grow and reinvent itself at a reckless pace.

I’ve always thought that was the charm of the 1005-year-old city: an astounding coexistence between the old and the new.

Some of the transformations can happen in the same amount of time it takes to sip a cup of local coffee with condensed milk, so strong that some of us call it ‘rocket fuel’.

Sit for too long and the entire house in front of you will be bulldozed, just like that. Next week, work will start on a new building, its facade faking that of a French villa. That, or it will look exactly like a high-rise you might see in Singapore or Seoul. But even with all the changes, it isn’t hard to see that Hanoi has maintained its soul and charm.

If you’re an early riser (or if jet lag is denying you your morning sleep), hit the central lake, Hoan Kiem, at around five or six in the morning. That’s when the locals do their power walk - a tradition dating back decades, which is now taken up by younger people as well. It’s a mix of retirees trying to keep their hearts pumping, and health-conscious office workers full of adrenaline. Round and round they go, like soldier ants.

If that’s too early for you, meet me a little later for a leisurely coffee at Hapro Bon Mua. Let’s watch the morning commuters circle the lake and zip up the main streets to their offices or to their sidewalk shops. If I don’t show up, simply sit on one of the benches for a few minutes. Teenagers will come past, giggling, and ask about your marital status, age, profession - and your impressions of Vietnam. You are their opportunity to practise English. They might even offer to take you for a walk or to a museum (head for the Vietnamese Women’s Museum, it’s not too far, or the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology. You’ll learn a lot).

If the teenagers don’t show up either, stroll over to the north end of the lake.

Cross the red wooden bridge. On the other side is the Ngoc Son Temple (or Temple of the Jade Mountain), honouring Vietnam’s many military and literary heroes, as well as the giant turtles that have inhabited Hoan Kiem Lake for centuries.

As you leave, look left, right, in front and behind you before plunging into the traffic. In 10 years living in Hanoi, I’ve only been hit once, so just weave through and veer to your left to reach Hang Gai, the main drag. Here you can pick out a silk robe or have a blouse made for you, which will be ready tomorrow. 

Don’t miss Tan My Design’s four floors of beautiful silk and fine cotton clothing, linen table covers and bedding that will become cherished gifts for loved ones. A few doors down, Hanoi Moment offers teapots, sake cups and jewellery.

Alternatively, turn right and go to lunch. Look out for Cau Go Restaurant. When you arrive, ask for a balcony table to soak up the view of the lake and order the tofu dishes, or the banana flower and chicken salad, which are light and savoury. The food here is a little sweet compared with other Hanoi restaurants because it has southern influences, where they use peanut sauce, coconut and pineapple.

After lunch, take a stroll through the Old Quarter. Go against your better judgement and don’t use the footpath - that’s for motorcycles. You and me, we walk in the street.

You’ll linger and marvel at the locals who, with total grace, lower themselves onto stools that are inches from the ground. Watch the street vendors serve anything from sweet pudding to sticky green rice in banana leaves, or papaya salad. Don’t move: they’re passing a hot bowl of noodles to the guy right behind your knees.

If you’re with your mum, show her the window displays of silk sleeping bags in hot pink, or the taffeta backpack in three shades of green. Oh, look, items made with woven hemp - this street was known for its hemp shops once upon a time.

Hey, where’d you go? Oh, in that shop, looking at the lacquer trays, sandalwood boxes and sculptures. Yes, that notebook is exquisite, and no, you don’t want that Buddha’s head - it weighs a tonne.

Let’s get out of here: Manzi’s waiting. Manzi is a gallery and cafe in a classic French villa on a small street. If you’re lucky, Tram, the owner, will be there. She knows contemporary Vietnamese art and artists and chooses good stuff.

If you’re still browsing for gifts, stop at aN, a tiny lifestyle boutique behind the legendary Metropole Hotel. It has boots, leather bags, scarves, rare ceramic pieces and the owner is a designer who insists

on making only one piece of her clothing items. Simple and whimsical, hers are a perfect blend of tropical comfort with original cuts. No wonder people from Seoul to San Francisco order her products. And they’re not expensive.

OK, dinner. Don’s Tay Ho has long been a Hanoi institution. The view from the terrace overlooking the West Lake is unparalleled. Start with some oysters and a couple of tapas dishes. Then I’ll order a succulent beef dish, and you can go for something Vietnamese, or the amazing pasta. Don Berger is a versatile chef and a terrific host. He’ll offer a few slices of his truffle pizza, which is out of this world.

Another choice is PePe La Poule. It’s got a French name, but there’s a Japanese chef who expertly blends Chinese and European dishes, adding a Japanese bent.

Even as Hanoi changes, it remains a distinctly Asian capital. But with places such as Don’s, plus the amazing cultural activities of the Goethe Institut and the Japan Foundation, which have recently opened, the city is now truly being seen as an international destination.

Take Me to the River

Take Me to the River

by katherine.gibbs @ Virgin Australia - Vietnam

Cruising the mighty Mekong brings you up close to Vietnam’s traditional riverside life.

Cruising the mighty Mekong brings you up close to Vietnam’s traditional riverside life.

It would take a mighty stretch of the imagination to describe My Tho, gateway to the Mekong Delta, as a glamorous embarkation point. The sun might be bouncing off lazy swirls of water that has travelled more than 4300 kilometres from its source deep within the mountains of Tibet. The water’s surface may also reflect the golden cables of Rach Mieu Bridge, which crosses one of the waterways that make up the ever-shifting Delta - known locally as ‘nine dragons’. But no amount of sparkle and glitter could make My Tho, with its crane-filled skyline and passing cargo boats, anything other than an eyesore. 

Not that it matters. As soon as our bus from Ho Chi Minh City arrives dockside, we tumble out to get a look at our home for the next seven nights. The custom-built Cruiseco Adventurer, which launched in 2012, is nothing like the teak-and-brass river cruisers that are tied up alongside. Those boats, with their colonial-era styling, feature tucked-back cabins that open onto walk-around promenade decks. The Adventurer has none of that caught-in-a-time-warp vibe. Instead its contemporary design - all blocky, geometric lines in glass and steel - gives each of the 30 cabins its own private balcony. 

We canter up the gangplank - over the tangle of water hyacinth squeezed between ship and shore - to inspect our cabin. We like what we see. Our twin beds are positioned to make the most of the floor-to-ceiling views. There’s a cosy nook with armchair and a coffee table in front of a set of glass doors, polished timber floorboards, and a bathroom with a designer washbasin and a very spacious shower. Most importantly, there’s air conditioning that you can adjust to suit your own preferences. 

As for the rest of the ship, there’s both an air-conditioned lounge and an open-air shaded area up top for those who like to sprawl on a deckchair and watch the world go by while staying out of the fierce tropical sun. Pot plants bring a touch of the jungle to the top deck while the tiny whirlpool - as blue as Listerine - looks so inviting we vow to have sundowners in there soon. The dining room is tucked into the middle deck, while at the rear of the ship are the spa treatment rooms, alongside two pieces of gym equipment. The spa, which offers therapies ranging from an Indian head massage to a fresh-carrot facial, is booked up quick-smart. 

The River’s Edge

We cast off and set sail upstream, on a journey towards the unknown. Everything about the Mekong seems exotic, so most of the 48 passengers - they include an artist, a policeman and a doctor - spend their first few hours aboard simply watching Vietnam scroll past. The Mekong appears to be a transport super-highway, with a lot of cargo travelling through its lower stretches and into the South China Sea. 

Cruiseco’s chief executive, Steve Lloyd, says this part of the Mekong is where he’s noticed the most change in recent years. Things grow quieter, calmer, the further we push on. There are stops at provincial towns Cai Be and Sa Dec, where we head ashore to dive into local life. At markets we admire the wares of ladies wearing the conical straw hats (non la) that are a quintessential part of the Vietnamese national look. The women sit on low stools selling trays of prawns, fish, octopus and crabs, cooled with blocks of ice. One bowl holds live eels; others showcase three varieties of snail. Home cooks squat to inspect mini-mountains of fruit and vegies, with everything from limes and pineapples to potatoes and tomatoes. They browse buckets of lotus blooms, bunches of bananas and bags of Java apples.

Tourists flock to Sa Dec to see the former home of Huynh Thuy Le, the older man immortalised in Marguerite Duras’s 1984 erotic novel The Lover. The French author’s real-life youthful liaison with the wealthy Chinese heir inspired her prize-winning bestseller. The house’s 1917 facade (which was tacked on to the original 19th-century timber structure) is as ornate as anything you’d see on a Parisian avenue: it’s all elegant archways and balustrades, carved scrolls and leaves. The blooms of black mould mottling the white paint, and courtyard lotus pots framing the scene give away its humid waterside location.

Inside the high-ceilinged three-room house, we’re served tea by a woman wearing a fairy-floss-pink ao dai (long tunic split to the waist) and pants as we sit before a gilded altar to a deity that’s worshipped for power and prosperity. In 1992, The Lover was turned into an R-rated film. Copies of the DVD are given to us during the cruise, to watch in the privacy of our cabins. For the rest of the voyage, the movie and the lead actor’s attributes are a hot topic of conversation over dinners of eastern and western fare, such as crisp river prawns with sticky rice or roast lamb with ratatouille.

Cambodian Crossing

Before leaving Vietnam, we pile into bicycle rickshaws and are pedalled around Tan Chau. We head to factories that make fabric and straw mats, but it’s more fun being part of Vietnam’s road traffic, where cyclists balancing their wares in makeshift baskets mingle with motorbikes carrying families of four or a load of pigs.

Back on the river, we visit a family living in a floating tin shack that doubles as a fish farm. We gather around an opening cut into the floor to see the tilapia writhing in their pen; I marvel that the kids don’t venture near the platform’s unfenced edges.

To cruise the Mekong is to swing between life’s extremes. From this we cross the border to Cambodia and dock at Phnom Penh. Before we know it, we’re click-clacking over the silver floor tiles of the Silver Pagoda in the Royal Palace complex. The pagoda houses a gold Buddha encrusted with 2086 diamonds. We lunch underneath the canopy of a sprawling tree in the courtyard of Raffles Hotel Le Royal, a landmark that over the years has hosted famous faces such as Somerset Maugham and Jackie Kennedy.

From Phnom Penh, we leave the Mekong to veer up the Tonle Sap River towards Siem Reap. Along the way, we visit a village where the salesmanship of textiles is so intense that it’s a relief to return to the ship. Lloyd says that in some places, villagers have started selling factory-made scarves instead of handmade ones. (His message to those who want to experience the Mekong is to see it now before it changes too much.)

The journey is also filled with simple moments that stay with you. I receive a lesson in Cambodian from the village kids running alongside my oxcart as it bumps along a track above flooded rice paddy fields. Later, as we reboard the Adventurer to be greeted with cold towels and iced tea, the same children gather into a riverbank choir to sing a chorus of If You’re Happy and You Know It.

The last stretch of our 550-kilometre route takes us onto Tonle Sap Lake - South-East Asia’s largest freshwater lake. The river and lake edges are sometimes hard to define as they’re crowded with homes on stilts, floating churches and goose pens. It’s hard to farewell the Adventurer and its crew as we disembark for Siem Reap, but we know there’s something wonderful waiting for us. In between swanning around Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor and its huge emerald-green pool, we dive into the extraordinary temple complex of Angkor Wat. This architectural masterpiece is the largest religious monument in the world and the country’s most celebrated attraction. What a way to finish this journey.

Top 10 things to do in Ayrshire with kids

by globalmouse @ Globalmouse Travels

We loved our winter trip around Ayrshire with kids and really got to explore the whole region. Here are our top 10 things to...

The post Top 10 things to do in Ayrshire with kids appeared first on Globalmouse Travels.

Win a luxury holiday for two in Mexico with Virgin Holidays

Win a luxury holiday for two in Mexico with Virgin Holidays


HOLA

Win a luxury holiday for two in Mexico with Virgin Holidays.

Oktoberfest Around the Globe

Oktoberfest Around the Globe

by alice.nash @ Virgin Australia - Vietnam

Lovers of beer and pork knuckles rejoice, as Germany’s biggest festival export Oktoberfest gears up to take centre stage at destinations all over the globe.

What began in Bavaria in 1810 to celebrate Crown Prince Ludwig’s royal wedding, has exploded into the annual gala of pretzels and steins, beloved by modern-day revellers the world over.

Celebrations kick off in September, so pull on your lederhosen, don a dirndl and join in the festivities for some of our favourite Oktoberfest events. 

Oktoberfest Munich

The original and the best, each year more than six million people flock to celebrate Oktoberfest in Munich. As is to be expected, after 180 years hosting the festival, Munich has got it down to an art.  

An abundance of beer halls scatter the grounds, with a range of experiences to choose from based on your desired ambiance, musical styling and choice of beverage.  

Reserve a table in advance to ensure the best seat in the house, or make your pick of the day, pull up a wooden bench, and indulge in delectable German fare.  Fuel up on Würstl (sausages), Knödel (dumplings), Sauerkraut, and Reiberdatschi (potato pancakes) for long days of stein-swigging, yodelling and polka-dancing. 

  • Flights to Munich: Together with partner airlines Etihad Airways and Singapore Airlines, Virgin Australia operates flights to Munich via Abu Dhabi and Singapore respectively, from Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.

Oktoberfest Dublin  

Smaller than its Munich equivalent, but equally as merry, Oktoberfest Dublin is popular with locals and visitors alike, attracting more than 120,000 people to last year’s 18-day affair.  

Held under a marquee in the Docklands, the free event boasts performances by traditional Bavarian musicians, Die Alpen-show, plus a maze of markets.  Stein-swillers are served by authentic German barmaids, while food-loving festival-goers are treated to a range of mouth-watering German delicacies like Burgundian ham, Schweinshaxe (knuckle of pork), Brathendl (roast chicken), crepes, pretzels and pastries.  

Feeling adventurous? Partake in the Bavarian Games and try your hand at challenges like Schuhplattlern (traditional folk dance), nailing, stein-lifting, Fliegerlied dancing, and the yodel contest.  

  • Flights to Dublin: Together with partner airline Etihad Airways, Virgin Australia operates flights to Dublin via Abu Dhabi, from Brisbane and Sydney.

Oktoberfest Denver 

What began in 1969, when two Denver café owners honoured their favourite tradition by tapping a keg and serving pretzels, now attracts more than 350,000 people each year.  

An annual six-day celebration, Denver Oktoberfest keeps crowds entertained with all the usual German festival trappings, plus some slightly unusual customs of its own – the most quirky of which,  The Sausage Dog Derby, pits dachshund against dachshund for the honour of top dog.

Test your strength and endurance at The Annual Stein Hoisting National Championships. Pay tribute to the legendary David Hasselhoff in the downtown Denver Dashustlehof race. Warm up your stein-arm with a round of Keg Bowling. Or challenge yourself gastronomically with the Bratwurst Eating Contest.  

  • Flights to Denver: Together with partner Delta Air Lines, Virgin Australia operates flights to Denver via Los Angeles, from Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.

Oktoberfest Vietnam 

While it may seem like an unlikely location for a German festival, Vietnam embraces a strong beer-drinking culture, and this year celebrates the 21st annual Oktoberfest Vietnam in Ho Chi Minh City. 

Supported by the German Embassy in Vietnam and the German General Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City, the city’s Windsor Plaza Hotel conjures a traditional Bavarian beer-garden atmosphere, with fresh-brewed beer, comforting German cuisine and festive folk music.  

Hosting around 15,000 visitors each year, Vietnam’s Oktoberfest is a much smaller-scale production than its Munich relative, but meets the celebration’s expectations with authentic entertainment flown in from Germany, and traditional games, dancing, singing and beer-mug swinging. 

  • Flights to Ho Chi Minh City: Together with partner Singapore Airlines, Virgin Australia operates flights to Ho Chi Minh City via Singapore, from Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.

Oktoberfest Brisbane 

The best of Bavaria comes to Brisbane’s RNA Showgrounds for two weekends in October. Run by two Australian-German families, Oktoberfest Brisbane transforms the fair grounds into a German village, attracting more than 35,000 guests each year.

Outside, the biergarten’s traditional food stalls offer an endless array of scrumptious savouries and sweets. Try a schnitzel burger, tuck into a Schweinshaxe (pork knuckle) with traditional Bavarian crackling and sauerkraut, visit the German Sausage Hut for a wurst or frankfurter, and sample German pastries, strudels and cheesecakes from the King of Cakes. 

After a feast fit for Crown Prince Ludwig himself, head inside to the main tent to sit back and enjoy entertainment by traditional Alpenrosen dancers, cow bell ringers, yodellers, and a Bavarian Oktoberfest Band (pictured) flown in from Germany.  When the Hat Dance starts to play, it’s time to work off the wurst!  If you pride yourself on your physical prowess, join the Miss Oktoberfest Competition or the Bavarian Strongman Competition – where contests include nailing, keg rolling and a prize for ‘best dressed’.

  • Flights to Brisbane: Virgin Australia operates flights to Brisbane from all major Australian capital cities and international destinations including L.A., Nadi, Bali and Abu Dhabi.

Top Things to Do and See in Hanoi

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In many ways, Hanoi could not be more different when compared to Ho Chi Minh City in the south. To some degree, it swaps out the hectic swarms of scooters found in Ho Chi Minh City for bicycles, while its architecture – an eclectic mix of colonial French, Chinese and indigenous styles –  is refreshing […]

Family fun at France’s newest holiday destination – Villages Nature® Paris

by globalmouse @ Globalmouse Travels

Stepping into woodland to make dens, baking bread, splashing in a river and seeing animals run free on a farm. Some of the most...

The post Family fun at France’s newest holiday destination – Villages Nature® Paris appeared first on Globalmouse Travels.

Discover Ho Chi Minh City

Discover Ho Chi Minh City

by alice.nash @ Virgin Australia - Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City is an exhilarating and frantic city, where life, although seemingly chaotic, unravels at a melodic pace.

Home to exotic food, French colonial architecture, memories of war, and friendly locals, the Vietnamese metropolis is one of Southeast Asia’s most invigorating drawcards. 

Upon touching down in Ho Chi Minh, the first thing that visitors usually notice is the traffic. Crossing the road can be a nerve-racking yet exciting experience for apprehensive tourists. Motorbikes choke the wide streets, often laden with whole families, hurdling towards intersections at a swift but controlled stride. 

From road traffic to foot traffic, Ho Chi Minh’s markets also brim around the clock with constant activity. Open until midnight, the city’s most famous market, Ben Thanh Market bustles with more than 3000 hard-working vendors, hawking everything from local delicacies to imitation high fashion. 

Where the city’s traffic and markets showcase its rambunctious Asian character, its architecture strikes a stark contrast, carrying a distinctively romantic European feel. Formally known as Saigon, the city once stood as the capital of the French colony of Cochinchina. As a result its cityscape boasts grand boulevards lined with stately trees, magnificent villas, impressive structures like the Opera House and Notre Dame Cathedral, and scrumptious French bakeries. 

Saigon fell and was renamed Ho Chi Minh City after it was captured by the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. One of the most devastating wars in history, the Vietnam War and its effect can still be seen and felt in the city today. 

The War Remnants Museum documents the war through text and photographs and showcases retired military vehicles such as helicopters, attack bombers and tanks. Reunification Palace stands as a poignant reminder of Saigon's official surrender. While an hour’s drive from the city centre, the infamous Cu Chi tunnels have been preserved by the government and turned into a memorial park. 

Championed by US and allied troops, the war effort of the 1960s-1970s, transformed Ho Chi Minh into a thriving cosmopolitan hotspot. Today prominent wartime haunts like The Rex Hotel and Continental still stand proudly, offering cocktails bars and fine dining restaurants. 

An amazing family trip - our review of Universal Orlando Resort with Virgin Holidays - Globalmouse Travels

An amazing family trip - our review of Universal Orlando Resort with Virgin Holidays - Globalmouse Travels


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Money Hack: Bid for a flight upgrade

by Stephanie Yip @ finder.com.au

...Or at least to nab some added flight perks on your upcoming trip.

Vietnam | Flight Centre

Vietnam | Flight Centre


Flight Centre

Experience an amazing cultural feast with a Vietnam holiday. Enjoy the best of Southeast Asia with hot Vietnam holiday packages & deals only at Flight Centre!

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